Sense of Style: Sotheby’s to Auction Iconic 20th Century Jewellery Collection

Hold onto your bejewelled hats, ladies and gentlemen, because the world of luxury jewellery auctions is about to be rocked by a sensational single-owner offering in May 2024. Sotheby’s Geneva will present one of the most important private collections ever to come to auction under the banner ‘Iconic Jewels: Her Sense of Style’. There are more than 250 pieces to explore, including the largest selection of René Boivin pieces ever put on sale. If you’ve aspirations of curating your own luxury collection, this is all the inspiration you’ll ever need!

Firstly, a quick note on ‘signed jewels’. These are pieces with authentic heritage and recognisable engraved logos, marks or identifying features that pinpoint a specific artist or brand. The practice of ‘signing’ pieces began in the late 19th century, and while it is not essential for a creation to be beautiful or important, this kind of creative signature can skyrocket the value of a piece. Now imagine that Sotheby’s Geneva has its hands on a collection of more than 250 signed jewels from a single, knowledgeable and highly curated private collection… the excitement is palpable!

‘Iconic Jewels: Her Sense of Style’ (total estimate 4.7M – 7.3M CHF ($5.4M - $8.3M)) is a luxury sales extravaganza that will open for online bids for more than 200 pieces on May 2, 2024. The most outstanding lots from the collection will be part of the Magnificent Jewels live sale on May 14, during Sotheby’s Luxury Sales in Geneva, in which 46 lots will go under the hammer. Before we dive in, let’s talk about the mystery woman who owns this collection, at least for a few more weeks! Sotheby’s describes her as an “inspirational woman with an educated eye who is genuinely passionate about jewellery and design”. She has reportedly built this eclectic offering of 19th-century, 20th century and modern-day pieces over five decades and, thanks to an “infinite knowledge,” has some items by lesser-known but creatively significant designers.

Sotheby’s jewellery specialist Marie-Cécile Cisamolo described seeing the collection as a “heart-stopping moment” that she’ll never forget. She continued: “This collection, with its many dazzling signed jewels from the most beloved and sought-after design periods in jewellery history, is truly one of a kind and one of the most important private jewellery collections I’ve ever seen. It is an incredibly powerful and sophisticated love letter to jewellery from an enlightened private collector, which I know will inspire other collectors and connoisseurs all around the world.”

Clockwise from left to right: Bulgari brooch and earrings (estimate CHF 55,000-75,000), Cartier Leopard bangle (estimate CHF 250,000-350,000), Van Cleef & Arpels onyx and diamond belt buckle, circa 1922 (estimate CHF 20,000 - 40,000), and Lucio Fontana 'Spatial Concept With Slit' gold bangle, circa 1967-1968 (estimate 40,000 - 60,000), part of the Sotheby’s ‘Iconic Jewels: Her Sense of Style’ auction in May 2024

From a 20th-century perspective, ‘Iconic Jewels: Her Sense of Style’ is encyclopaedic in its breadth and variety. There are high jewels by Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari, Boucheron, Chaumet, David Webb, Mauboussin, Marina B, Sterlé and Mellerio, plus pieces that are emblematic of key design movements, such as Art Nouveau, Belle Epoque, Art Deco and Modernism. Sotheby’s describes the European collector as having an “unerring curatorial eye – judiciously balancing the more iconic jewellery collecting with a self-assuredness in actively seeking more unusual, often eccentric, sometimes unique, or specially commissioned pieces”. A woman after our own hearts, for sure! As a result, there are some surprises among the lots: conceptual artist jewellery pieces from the interwar period by Jean Dunand and Jean Després; abstract machine age jewels by Italian artists Arnaldo Pomodoro and Alberto Giorgi dated to the 1960s and 70s, and avant-garde pieces by Din Vanh and Aldo Cipullo.

“The collector’s passion and sense of style shines through the diversity within the collection, its many bold and colourful pieces and a penchant for intricate craftsmanship from the world’s very best jewellery houses.”

It’s lovely to see the volume of colour that runs through the auction lots, too. Our eyes were drawn to a coral, sapphire and emerald demi-parure by David Webb, a Cartier ‘Tutti Frutti’ bracelet, a pair of Verdura nephrite and gem-set Maltese Cross cuff bracelets, and a Suzanne Belperron cabochon emerald ring from the 1930s, but we could easily highlight many more. Sotheby’s has its own sale highlights, including a pair of Bulgari earrings set with two fancy intense yellow diamonds weighing just under 10 carats each (estimate 400,000 – 600,000 CHF) and a rare Bulgari Serpenti bracelet-watch named ‘Theodorus’, accompanied by an original drawing dated 1968 (estimate 200,000 – 400,000 CHF). There’s also a choker and earring set by Marina B, intricately mounted with carved amethyst that’s said to be a “great example of the power styling so readily associated with 1980s jewellery” (estimate 30,000 – 50,000 CHF).

Clockwise from top left: Bulgari 'Serpenti' bracelet-watch, aka 'Theodorus' (estimate CHF 200,000-400,000), David Webb 'Hindu' necklace (estimate CHF 60,000-80,000), Bulgari earrings (estimate CHF 400,000-600,000), and Marina B 'Esclave' diamond and gold ear clips, circa 1980 (estimate CHF 12,000 - 18,000), part of the Sotheby’s ‘Iconic Jewels: Her Sense of Style’ auction in May 2024

Finally, we have to mention René Boivin. The eponymous designer founded his business in Paris in the 1890s, and today, the Boivin name is considered one of the most significant in 20th-century jewellery. Sculptural and naturalistic René Boivin jewels make up a significant and important facet of ‘Iconic Jewels: Her Sense of Style’. In fact, this is the largest private collection of the brand’s works to ever be offered at auction, incorporating early pieces by Madame Jeanne Boivin (who took over following her husband’s death in 1917) and Juliette Moutard, in addition to later pieces from the 1980s and 90s. Highlights include a Bouquet de Violettes brooch and earring set (estimate 25,000 – 35,000 CHF), an Algae necklace (estimate 20,000 – 30,000 CHF), a Noeud de Passementerie brooch (estimate 15,000 – 20,000 CHF), and a seal flacon pendant, (estimate 30,000 – 50,000 CHF).

Although there will be plenty of excitement surrounding this sale, what excites us most is the knowledge and nuance demonstrated by the collector herself. During her time amassing these pieces, she was creatively brave and astute, demonstrating a kind of museum-level awareness of design history. If this isn’t inspiring for young collectors rising up through the ranks, we don’t know what is!

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