pride and prove­nance

The story be­hind a watch or an­tique jewel, lived by a colour­ful cast, can yield as much value as its fea­tures and carat weight, says Melissa Pearce

Prestige (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

The story be­hind a watch or an­tique jewel, lived by a colour­ful cast, can yield as much value as its fea­tures and carat weight

More and more men are as­pir­ing to buy a piece of jew­ellery that has a unique and no­table his­tory, whether that means some­thing once worn by a Hol­ly­wood star, ac­claimed sports­man, head of state or roy­alty, or an item of his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance that has sur­vived cen­turies of tur­moil or so­cial change. Few fac­tors can stoke the value of a vin­tage watch like its once hav­ing adorned a bona fide celebrity, es­pe­cially one from a pe­riod be­fore fame hinged on In­ter­net acreage. The Omega Ul­tra Thin worn by John F Kennedy when he took the oath of of­fice as Pres­i­dent of the US, for in­stance, went for US$420,000 on auc­tion in 2005. It now be­longs to the Omega Mu­seum in Bi­enne, Switzer­land, which pur­chased it.

Even some of the most unas­sum­ing watches worn by great lead­ers can gen­er­ate buzz, such as an­other watch owned by Kennedy that pre­dates his po­lit­i­cal as­cen­dancy. In 2013, his gold-plated Bulova watch was of­fered by US auc­tion house RR Auc­tion in a sale of Jfk-re­lated items to com­mem­o­rate the 50th an­niver­sary of his as­sas­si­na­tion. The watch, which was last in the pos­ses­sion of a Kennedy staffer who re­ceived it af­ter his death, is not par­tic­u­larly smart. In fact, the watch was open-faced at auc­tion as Kennedy had cracked the watch crys­tal more than once and its scratched dial fea­tured a bro­ken-off blued steel hour hand. None of these were of con­se­quence to the very

re­spectable $25,428 that was reached for it.

Col­lec­tors can only dream of Barack Obama’s TAG Heuer, Jorg Gray and Vul­cain Cricket (the clas­sic Amer­i­can time­keeper that has been re­lied on by at least four pres­i­dents) ap­pear­ing at an auc­tion one day.

Less well-known as a horo­log­i­cal con­nois­seur was James Dean. The cult star was fond of vin­tage pocket watches and at An­tiquo­rum Hong Kong’s Im­por­tant Mod­ern & Vin­tage Time­pieces auc­tion in June 2013, his pocket watch cre­ated a flurry of at­ten­tion across the globe, with an es­ti­mated price of around $5,000 su­per­seded by more than eight times to reach around $42,000 as paid by a pri­vate phone bid­der based in Europe.

The key­less pocket watch was made by Stan­dard USA and fea­tures an Amer­i­can­made El­gin move­ment that dates to around 1889. Dean, who bought the watch in 1951 in New York, is said to have con­sid­ered it his good luck charm, even in­sist­ing to the cha­grin of di­rec­tor Elia Kazan that it dan­gle from his belt loop, dur­ing the film­ing of East of Eden.

More re­cently, as­tro­naut Dave Scott’s Apollo 15 lu­nar sur­face-worn watch sold through RR Auc­tion for $1.6 mil­lion. A Bulova chrono­graph, it is the only pri­vately owned time­piece to have been worn on the moon, as Nasa’s stan­dard is­sue Omega Speed­mas­ters are con­sid­ered gov­ern­ment prop­erty. Scott’s own per­sonal watch, the Bulova, was worn dur­ing his third and fi­nal moon­walk of the mis­sion, af­ter dis­cov­er­ing that the crys­tal of his Omega had popped off. It was with this watch that he saluted the Amer­i­can flag against the ma­jes­tic back­ground of Hadley Delta.

In the case of Sean Con­nery, it seems, a dis­tin­guished stone trumps any of­fer to learn the wiles of a dashing se­cret agent. The for­mer 007 sold two jew­ellery pieces last year through Sotheby’s Geneva — a 15.20-ct fancy pear-shaped or­ange-pink di­a­mond brio­lette pen­dant, which achieved a record bid of US$4 mil­lion and a 5.18-ct di­a­mond ring, also with a pear-shaped stone, for $249,300.

Christo­pher Becker, di­rec­tor of An­tiquesArt-de­sign, a Syd­ney-based dealer spe­cial­is­ing in modernist Scan­di­na­vian sil­ver jew­ellery in­clud­ing Ge­org Jensen, de­fines prove­nance as “whence some­thing came: Not nec­es­sar­ily who made it but who com­mis­sioned it and owned it. And not just its orig­i­nal owner, but its suc­ces­sive own­ers to the cur­rent date”.

The pa­ram­e­ters of col­lectabil­ity seem sound enough, but it is the more re­cent his­tory of an item that can be the hard­est to con­firm.

“Word of mouth, hearsay or fam­ily leg­end does not con­sti­tute prove­nance,” ex­plains Becker. “You can of­ten as­cer­tain, from the mak­ers’ marks, en­graved in­scrip­tions, pat­terns or records about the item, who made it and some­times as a re­sult, who it was in­tended for, but it is much more dif­fi­cult to prove its jour­ney from point of cre­ation to the cur­rent time. With the word ‘prove­nance’ comes the bur­den of proof.”

Some­times a crafts­man is as wor­thy of bi­o­graph­i­cal at­ten­tion as their cap­tain-ofind­us­try client. Take the case of Alexan­der Calder (1898-1976), one of Amer­ica’s great­est sculp­tors, known par­tic­u­larly for his mo­biles, who also hand­crafted one-of-a-kind jew­ellery for his fam­ily and friends.

A suite of very mod­ern, ham­mered sil­ver wire Calder pieces once in the pos­ses­sion of Nel­son Rock­e­feller, vice-pres­i­dent of the US un­der Ger­ald Ford and the only son of the founder of the Stan­dard Oil Com­pany, once

the largest oil re­finer in the world, is cur­rently of­fered by New York fine jew­ellery dealer Siegel­son. A cu­ri­ous in­clu­sion is a sil­ver cape clasp circa 1936. Coat clasps, more com­mon at the turn of the 20th cen­tury, would be sewn onto a coat or cloak on ei­ther side, with the clasp in the mid­dle.

To stum­ble upon a gem from both a gilded pe­riod of his­tory and a cel­e­brated jew­eller as­sures a col­lec­tor is in good stead, es­pe­cially if in­vest­ment is the pri­mary goal and they have a size­able bud­get.

More of­ten than not, it is an il­lus­tri­ous gem­stone with a tale that sets a world record at auc­tion. The Hope Spinel is suit­ably steeped in his­tory and in­trigue and when the huge rose-hued gem came up for sale by Bon­hams Lon­don for the first time in nearly a cen­tury in Septem­ber 2015, all eyes were on the 50.13-ct oc­tag­o­nal-cut stone, set in a 19th-cen­tury sil­ver and gold brooch.

The size of a small plum, the Hope Spinel, which can be traced to an­cient mines in Ta­jik­istan, was one of over 700 gem­stones that once formed one of the world’s great­est pri­vate gem col­lec­tions. In 1917, it com­manded £1,060 — the equiv­a­lent of £80,000 to­day — at a Christie’s sale, but in Septem­ber, it far ex­ceeded Bon­hams’ £150,000 to £200,000 es­ti­mate to set a world record price of £962,500 (roughly $30,000 per carat).

The Hope Spinel’s prove­nance is equally fas­ci­nat­ing. It was pur­chased in the early 1800s by Henry Philip Hope, a Dutch­man from a dy­nasty of rich mer­chant bankers, who to es­cape po­lit­i­cal up­heaval, set­tled in Lon­don with his el­der brother, where they used their tremen­dous wealth to form sig­nif­i­cant art col­lec­tions. Among the trea­sures of his col­lec­tion were the Hope Blue Di­a­mond (once owned by Sun King Louis XIV and val­ued at $200 mil­lion-$250 mil­lion), the Hope Pearl (then the largest baroque nat­u­ral pearl known) and an emer­ald from the tur­ban of In­dian ruler Tipu Sultan.

Hope never mar­ried and gifted his col­lec­tion to a nephew to avoid death du­ties, but the col­lec­tion stoked a pro­tracted in­her­i­tance feud, with the Hope Spinel and sev­eral of the most valu­able gems even­tu­ally sep­a­rated from the col­lec­tion. In 1917, the Spinel was bought by a dealer be­fore it went into the col­lec­tion of Lady Mount Stephen, a close friend of Queen Mary. The most re­cent cus­to­dian of the gem, a di­rect de­scen­dant of the aris­to­crat, ap­par­ently had al­ways sim­ply known it as “Aunt Gian’s Hope Spinel”.

Corner­ing prove­nance can be an elu­sive task. Any doc­u­men­ta­tion that sup­ports a maker’s mark is cru­cial and if it also re­veals an item’s pur­pose and their maker’s ca­reer, surety builds.

Se­ri­ous buy­ers might con­sider a Fabergé Im­pe­rial pre­sen­ta­tion men’s ring on sale by Ro­manov Rus­sia for $125,000, which comes with a copy of its orig­i­nal award cer­tifi­cate, signed by the head of the Cab­i­net Cham­ber­lain of His Majesty’s Court with an ink seal of the Cab­i­net of Em­press Maria Feodor­ovna. The finely crafted heavy ring, in 14k gold with bluish grey guil­loche enamel and bril­liant- and rose-cut di­a­monds, was given to its re­cip­i­ent by the Em­press in 1915.

An item might also come with doc­u­men­ta­tion of reg­is­tra­tion of a work in the archives of an artist’s or jew­ellery house’s foun­da­tion, con­di­tion re­ports, pho­to­copies and pho­tographs of the iden­tity wear­ing it, news­pa­per ar­ti­cles, or let­ters of au­then­tic­ity from pre­vi­ous own­ers, rel­a­tives and aca­demics.

Scott’s Bulova chrono­graph wrist­watch, for in­stance, came up for sale with a de­tailed five-page let­ter, in which the Com­man­der of Apollo 15 wrote: “Among the de­ci­sions I made, the mon­i­tor­ing of time was per­haps most im­por­tant.”

How­ever, time is not al­ways so gen­er­ous when it comes to sup­ply­ing the unerring ev­i­dence of an item’s life to the present day. But some­times just the trace of a faint back­story weaves enough of a spell for the buyer.

James Dean con­sid­ered his gold 19th- cen­tury El­gin pocket watch a lucky charm. He even in­sisted he be able to wear it on the set of East of Eden

James Dean gifted the El­gin pocket watch to his friend Til­lie Star­ri­ett. The let­ter, writ­ten by Star­ri­ett, ex­plains how the watch came to her pos­ses­sion

Clock­wise from left: As­tro­naut Dave Scott wore the Bulova ( far left), which sold for US$ 1.6 mil­lion, to the moon; The Hope Spinel set a world record price of £ 962,500; The Fabergé Im­pe­rial pre­sen­ta­tion men’s ring; Sean Con­nery’s Fancy orangy pink di­a­mond brio­lette pen­dant went for US$ 4 mil­lion

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