SLICE of HISTORY
“You have to remember, in the 19th century, Queen Victoria was in mourning and lots of people found themselves walking around in all black, being depressed. Then the art deco period used some of that in a much better way—as a way of making these clashes of different colours, like black and white.”
Period jewellery holds unique brand value—another quality that makes it a hot commodity at auction. Many of the world’s finest jewellery houses, such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Bulgari, were still family-owned businesses in the 20th century. “Iconic designs that are representative of a brand or a period are highly sought after at auction,” says Quek Chin Yeow, the deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Asia and its chairman of international jewellery for Asia.
The renowned Hutton-mdivani necklace, recently shown at Cartier’s flagship store in Central, is “a great example that checks all the boxes for period jewellery,” says Quek. The jadeite bead, ruby and diamond Cartier necklace, dated circa 1933, belonged to American socialite Barbara Hutton, who was a collector of fine jewellery. Auctioned at Sotheby’s, the piece was bought back by Cartier for the brand’s archives for an aweinspiring HK$214 million—and surely Louis, Pierre and Jacques would be impressed at how the house has grown. When you buy period, you buy an inherently different type of jewel. That extra ageing on a gem gives it distinct qualities—and many would say advantages—compared with more modern pieces. Certain gemstones, for example, can only be found in a period item. “Golconda diamonds from India are the most sought-after diamonds in the world; however, the mine stopped production more than 250 years ago,” Warren says. “If you’re interested in such a stone, you would have to refer to period jewels.”
The process of designing and manufacturing a jewel before the modern era was entirely different as well. Most pieces were completely handmade, with metalwork individually