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Louvre Abu Dhabi

Beyond the fact that both cities have a Louvre, there seems little to connect 1920s Paris with present-day Abu Dhabi, the capital of a nation founded in 1971. But American art historian Maya Allison, the founding director of the art gallery at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), sees things differently.

‘Early in my life I read A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s book about Paris in the 1920s,’ she says. ‘And I’ve always been captivated by the idea of artists, writers and philosophers coming together and talking about their work, of communities of creative spirits supporting and sparking off each other’s practice and ideas.’

The notion of a creative community had resonated with Allison when she was curator at the influential Rhode Island School of Design in the USA. ‘The town of Providence has a really active underground scene,’ she says. ‘Many artists, even those who drop out of university, stay there and set up these groups.’ In 2002, five of them had work in the Whitney Biennial; another group has a cult following in Japan.

Maya Allison photographed at the Art Gallery at NYU Abu Dhabi

The UAE’s avant-garde art scene

To her surprise, Allison found something similar when she came to Abu Dhabi in 2012. There had been, she says, a ‘significant avant-garde art scene’ in the UAE since the 1980s, which had produced a number of important artists. But until the turn of the century, those artists were not well known outside the Gulf. ‘Very few scholars were studying the UAE’s historical art scene. And there were few accurate records, in English at least, so I decided to do an exhibition telling the history of avant-garde art in the Emirates.’

The result was the 2017 exhibition, But We Cannot See Them: Tracing a UAE Art Community, 1988–2008, and several of the artists it featured — most famously Hassan Sharif, his brother Hussain, and several of his students, among them Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, Abdullah Al Saadi, Ebtisam Abdulaziz and Mohammed Kazem — had, in the 1990s, congregated in a place they called the ‘Sand Palace’, out in the desert on the border between Ajman and Sharjah.

‘It wasn’t a café on a rainy night,’ says Allison, referring to Hemingway’s Paris. ‘It was a dune, because we’re in the Arabian desert. And if a bonfire was going, you knew that the artists were gathering.’

The Sand Palace also drew writers and poets: the community included artists in the broadest sense. ‘There wasn’t a formal art school, and there weren’t many spaces for exhibitions. So this network emerged, and the artists helped each other to survive. They were basically creating their own salon culture; they were aware of what they were doing, because they knew they needed each other to flourish. I like this thread of human ingenuity, of finding your kin creatively.’

Installation view at the Library at NYU Abu Dhabi

The Louvre Abu Dhabi

When Maya Allison arrived in Abu Dhabi eight years ago, the local population was not, she says, ‘in the habit of going to exhibitions’. But in November 2017, the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi changed all that, drawing more than a million visitors in its first year.

‘It’s been wonderful,’ says Allison. ‘It has really set a precedent that, yes, exhibition-going is a fun, exciting thing to do. Before, nobody quite understood what [the NYUAD Art Gallery] was doing, which was fine. It’s part of my job to bring experimental new exhibitions to life. But the Louvre Abu Dhabi really upped the ante in the sense of both artistic synergy and audience synergy.

And now, with the NYUAD Arts Center presenting a range of performing arts, the area feels like a creative hub. We do totally different things from the Louvre. But people pour from one to the other. It has multiplied our audience.’

abu dhabi art

Said to be the most expensive museum ever built, the Louvre Abu Dhabi was intended, in the words of its director Manuel Rabaté, to ‘tell the story of humanity from its earliest days to the present, because all the world’s cultures have something in common’.

The name is slightly misleading: although the new museum has paid the Louvre a reported $525 million for a 30-year licence to use the name, and almost the same again for loans and other services, only about half of the objects and paintings in the inaugural exhibition actually came from France (from the Louvre itself and other institutions, including the Musée d’Orsay, the Pompidou Centre, Quai Branly Museum, Versailles and Fontainebleau) and further afield (the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth).

‘Abu Dhabi is having its own moment, in the way that Hemingway’s Paris was too’

The majority belong to the emirate itself, which, under guidance from the Louvre, has amassed more than 650 important works since 2009, when it successfully bid for Piet Mondrian’s 1922 Composition avec bleu, rouge, jaune et noir  at the Christie’s sale of objects and works of art belonging to Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent (who used it as the inspiration for his 1965 collection of sack dresses). The price, with fees, was €21.6 million, and the museum acquired a stool by Pierre Legrain at the same sale. Over the past decade, the collection has continued to grow, and its acquisitions now span a dozen millennia.

Designed by Jean Nouvel, the museum is configured as a sort of stylised medina of 55 low, white buildings: there are 12 galleries containing 8,600 square metres of exhibition space; a dedicated children’s museum; a 200-seat auditorium; and a restaurant, café and shop. Not just a landmark, but a beacon of learning and a radiant symbol of enlightenment.

The art fair: Abu Dhabi Art

Dyala Nusseibeh, director of the emirate’s major art fair, Abu Dhabi Art, describes the show as ‘groundbreaking’, adding that Allison was one of the first to start ‘building up a timeline and mapping out’ the arts in the region, proving that it had had a thriving art scene for some time.

Although, as Allison says, ‘the biggest misunderstanding is the idea that the Emirati art scene is exclusively Emirati artists. Much like in New York City, the scene here reflects the actual population, which is densely diverse, with a concentration from South Asia, the Arab world, Africa and Europe.’

The art Nusseibeh collects reflects this, too. Her London home is filled with works she has bought at Abu Dhabi Art — by Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, the Jordanian artist Mona Saudi, and an affecting piece by the British-Lebanese artist Aya Haidar (from her Soleless series, made during a residency working with Syrian refugees, it consists of abandoned shoes, the soles of which were embroidered by Haidar).

Dyala Nusseibeh, director of the emirate’s major art fair Abu Dhabi Art

‘It’s a very cosmopolitan place,’ says Nusseibeh of Abu Dhabi. ‘The number-one visitor group is now Chinese. A significant effort has been made to establish meaningful partnerships with China, and culture and art are central to that.’ (Last summer, the UAE signed 13 bilateral agreements with China, and decided that 200 schools would start teaching Chinese.)

Certainly, Abu Dhabi Art — which, unlike most fairs, is a government initiative, overseen by the Department of Culture and Tourism — attracts a wide range of visitors. Hence Nusseibeh’s commitment to involving curators and artists from beyond the Gulf.

For the 2019 edition, for example, she invited the Italian curator and artist Paolo Colombo to consider archaeological and heritage objects from Abu Dhabi’s Al Ain National Museum (the first museum to open in the UAE, in 1971), in the context of new works by artists such as Lamya Gargash, Alaa Edris and Nima Nabavi, and existing ones by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Hamra Abbas, Kamrooz Aram and Kiki Smith, among others.

The British artist Oliver Beer was also commissioned, to make an installation for the Al Jahili Fort and Qasr Al Hosn watchtower, as was Leandro Erlich, whose immense cloud sculpture, The Heart of Water, stood in the Al Qattara Oasis, a Unesco World Heritage Site an hour’s drive outside the city, ‘where people from Abu Dhabi would traditionally go in the summer because it’s a few degrees cooler’.

art fair abu dhabi art

In the three years she has been in charge of Abu Dhabi Art (having previously worked at London’s Saatchi Gallery, then run Art International in Istanbul), Nusseibeh has been instrumental in creating a host of art initiatives across the emirate.

To nurture new collectors, she has added a second, smaller, more local fair to the calendar, which is held in March and features 10 galleries selling works costing less than 10,000 dirham (about US$2,700). ‘They might be works on paper, or by emerging artists,’ she says.

Public art on the island of Al Reem

She is also a champion of public art, having recently commissioned Etel Adnan, Nadim Karam, Noh Jun, Wael Shawky, Pascale Marthine Tayou and Mehmet Ali Uysal to commemorate last year’s Special Olympics World Summer Games, and local artists Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian to make work for the skate park in Reem Central Park.

‘It looks amazing,’ she says of the areas they have painted, next to which are what she describes as ‘five monumentally big walls’ painted by Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, ‘with symbols that form a sort of language, like five chapters in a book that can be read from either end’.

All that is to be found on the island of Al Reem, but the best-known of Abu Dhabi’s islands is Saadiyat, a previously uninhabited triangle of land 500 metres off shore, linked to the mainland by a bridge. Saadiyat is home not just to the Louvre Abu Dhabi and NYUAD, but to the forthcoming Zayed National Museum and the emirate’s planned branch of the Guggenheim.

NYUAD campus

As well as its art gallery, NYUAD also has a separate project space for smaller exhibitions, and a growing collection of public artworks by the likes of Hassan Sharif, Etel Adnan and Wael Shawky. ‘Alice Aycock has made one of her tornado sculptures, Whirlabout (Dynamo),’ says Allison. ‘And Tomás Saraceno has done a major installation for the ceiling of our library.’

Titled On Cosmic Clouds, it consists of clusters of skeletal polyhedrons inspired by the Weaire-Phelan structures of aggregating soap bubbles, suspended from a huge spider’s web. As anyone who saw the artist’s work at last year’s Venice Biennale might have read, these works are, in the artist’s words, a ‘post fossil-fuel emergent cloudscape’.

A commitment to education and culture

But then Abu Dhabi’s commitment to education and culture has been inspired, in part, by the need to build a knowledge economy and a tourist destination lest its resources begin to dwindle, and as demand for fossil fuels is supplanted by renewables.

‘People sometimes think technology is one thing and creativity another, but they often combine,’ says Nusseibeh, who read anthropology at Cambridge. ‘At Abu Dhabi Art, for example, we run an artist’s residency at the leading technology university, Khalifa, which enables artists to work with engineering students. It brings home the idea that creativity is in everything.’

Artists are keen to collaborate with other bright minds, she says. Hence Bait 15, a shared studio and gallery space set up two years ago by Afra Al Dhaheri, Hashel Al Lamki and Maitha Abdalla: a more practical, permanent place than the Sand Palace was a generation ago, but nevertheless a base where artists support each other.

I mention Allison’s comment about Hemingway, and Nusseibeh pauses to consider it. ‘Abu Dhabi is having its own moment in the way that Hemingway’s Paris was having a moment too,’ she agrees. Like Paris at the dawn of modernism, Abu Dhabi is cosmopolitan and forward-looking, and art is at the very heart of that.

Adrien Meyer

Christie‘s Global Head of Private Sales on How Christo Changed His Life, Finding the Missing Links in Collections, and an Astonishing Encounter With the Heir to Monet’s Descendants

My dream city would be Paris, but with a New York spirit. I speak as a born Parisian lucky enough to live in New York. Paris would benefit from some of New York’s human magic.

My job is to hunt for works of art. As head of private sales, I spend a great deal of time meeting collectors and trying to understand what they want. I flip through old exhibition catalogs to identify works that might still be in private hands. It isn’t so much about getting the work for sale as connecting with people and creating relationships.

Private sales are a kind of reverse dynamic. Whereas auctions are driven by sellers, private sales are led by buyers. Say, for instance, you are longing to buy a great Georges Seurat Conté drawing, it may take years until you find the right one at auction, whereas we can try to locate one privately, which may then become available.

Private sales often trigger transactions that otherwise would not have happened. We don’t only think about what clients already own, but also about the missing link in their collection.

Always show up. I once got a call from a friend who asked me to meet a client of his at a highway toll gate — on Christmas Eve! My friend said, ‘This person wants to remain anonymous, but just trust me.’

So I set off early in the morning and drove to the designated toll station. There, we met up with a gentleman who asked us to follow his car to a little town outside Paris.

We arrived at a modest apartment and were greeted by the man’s mother, who revealed an astonishing portfolio of works tucked away under the bed, in cupboards and down in the basement. Among them was a gorgeous Monet Nymphéa painting. But also, illustrated letters from Paul Signac, a lost Rodin watercolor, even a pair of Monet’s spectacles. She was the heir to Monet’s descendants — and nobody knew that Monet had descendants!

‘The most successful auctioneers manage to remain themselves in the rostrum. Easier said than done!’

I caught the auction bug when I was seven years old. Every weekend my father took me to the local salerooms of the Drouot auction house. I was fascinated by this other world — by the Proustian atmosphere, messy, full of charm and discoveries. I would watch the auctioneer up there selling books, wine, furniture, pictures. I relished the theatricality of it all.

My first recollection of a work of art was at the same age — and I walked on it. I will never forget the astonishing project of Christo, who had wrapped up the Pont Neuf in Paris. It was the first time I saw his work, and the first time I set eyes on that bridge. Christo’s radical and poetic approach in revealing something while hiding it astounded me.

Auctioneers live with the unexpected. Until proceedings begin, you have no clue how the room will respond, how a particular painting will fare. That’s exactly why I get a kick out of it. And when you think that the sale of a single lot — an event that is over and done with in a matter of seconds — might be the culmination of months and sometimes years of work, that is a rewarding part of the job. I guess the most successful auctioneers manage to remain themselves in the rostrum. Easier said than done!

Why do we have art at all? The interesting paradox is this: art is anything but a necessity, yet we all need it in our lives. We are all drawn to beauty, one way or another, and art is a way for humankind to create hope. It elevates us to a plane where we find meaning. As Duchamp said, it is the viewer who gives the meaning to the picture.

Cartier Art Deco Diamond Bracelet

The six auctions across Christie’s New York Luxury Week totalled $83,570,188, with strong sell-through rates and registered bidders from over 44 countries.

The top lot of the series was ‘The duPont Ruby’ from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which achieved $8,957,750 in the Magnificent Jewels auction. “The duPont Emerald,” also sold to benefit future acquisitions at the Museum, realised more than three times its low estimate to realize $1,635,000.

Du Pont Ruby

In the same sale, which was 93% sold by value and 91% by lot, the Property from the Rothschild Collection achieved exceptional results, led by an Art Deco bracelet by Cartier that sold for $771,000.

Cartier Art Deco Diamond Bracelet

The Important Watches and American Icons sale totalled $6,206,750, led by a Patek Philippe, ref. 5016P, which realised $471,000. The American Icons section of the sale was 100% sold, which featured two pocket watches belonging to Ernest Hemingway and Charles C. Ritz that sold for more than double the estimate, selling for $43,750.

Patek Philippe Platinum Perpetual Calendar Minute Repeating Tourbillon

The Handbags x HYPE online auction featured an inaugural section, dedicated to global streetwear brand Supreme, which was 95% sold. Two separate lots, an Hermes matte white Himalaya Niloticus Crocodile Birkin 30 and the Supreme x Louis Vuitton Monogram Malle Courrier 90 Trunk, doubled their low estimates to realise $125,000, the top price of the sale.

The Finest & Rarest Wines and Spirits closed out the series with sell-through rates of 92% sold by value and 88% sold by lot. The sale commenced with The Property of a Gentleman, one of the most comprehensive private collections to ever appear at auction. The collection realised 110% above the estimate.

Aline Sylla-Walbaum

During the Dubai Watch Week 2019, the WATCHESPEDIA team had the amazing opportunity to interview Aline Sylla-Walbaum, Global Managing Director of Luxury at Christie’s.

Aline Sylla-Walbaum is Global Managing Director of Luxury at Christie’s, overseeing the international Wine, Jewellery, Watch and Handbag teams. Auction and private sales in these categories are held in New York, London, Paris, Geneva, Hong Kong, Dubai and online.

Full interview with Aline Sylla-Walbaum:

Previously she had worked as Managing Director of Christie’s France from 2012 and 2014, and as Director of External Affairs and Strategy at Unibail-Rodamco SE, where she sat on the Management Board. She served as cultural and communications advisor to the office of the French Prime Minister from 2007 to 2008 and from 2002-2007 was Director of Cultural Development at the Louvre Museum. Away from work Aline is a Director of Lagardère Group.

Aline Sylla-Walbaum was a speaker at Dubai Watch Week’s Horology Forum:

  1. Luxury Time Travel (Nov. 21, 2019)
  2. Six ways from certified and the wisdom to know your place (Nov. 21, 2019)
LOT 111 _ DRAGON Five

Moritz Grossmann auctions twelve special models with Christie’s.
Dresden artists combine Schönstes deutsches Handwerk with the ancient culture of Chinese astrology.

• The independent watch manufactory Moritz Grossmann is pleased to announce a partnership with Christie’s
• A selection of handmade special models in the form of one-off pieces will be auctioned together with Christie’s in an online auction from 18 November – 2 December 2019
• The collection is aimed at lovers of independent brands who want to experience Schönstes deutsches Handwerk in conjunction with ancient culture of Chinese astrology
• Regional artists from Dresden have put their personal interpretations of Chinese zodiac signs onto canvas. Their works have been painted onto the fine dials by a miniaturist using the finest drawing techniques. These works of art will be auctioned together with the watches.
• As an expression of its links to the Saxony region, Grossmann Uhren GmbH will donate a portion of the proceeds to a regional aid organisation from Dresden

The upscale Glashütte watch manufactory Moritz Grossmann was founded by Christine Hutter using the name of the famous Glashütte watch pioneer in 2008. The watches by the Saxon watch genius and initiator of the German School of Watchmaking (1878), Moritz Grossmann, are reflections of modern thinking in the form of classic, yet contemporary design and perfect mechanics. Moritz Grossmann manufactures timepieces to the highest standard of craftsmanship. The watches are unique in their beautiful finish and manual hand production. The manufactory represents Schönstes deutsches Handwerk combined with great history and Saxon watchmaking tradition.

Inspired by the ancient Chinese art of reading the stars, Moritz Grossmann will auction twelve one-off pieces this year, each of which artistically showcases one of the Chinese zodiac signs. The manufactory, which is located near Dresden, thus creates the perfect link between Schönstes deutsches Handwerk – made in Germany – and traditional Chinese culture.

As a homage to the Saxon watchmaking tradition in Glashütte and to celebrate free art, the fine timepieces will be auctioned together with the paintings by Dresden artists. The artists put their own personal interpretations of Chinese zodiac signs onto canvas. Their works of art were then painted onto the fine dials of the Moritz Grossmann timepieces by a miniaturist with the finest attention to detail.

Collection and highlight piece

A selected unique piece in a fine case made from 750/000 rose gold was manufactured as the highlight piece of the collection. RAT One is all about the year 2020, the year of the rat in Chinese astrology. The one-off piece celebrates the rat, which is the first of the Chinese zodiac signs. In Chinese astrology, the rat is seen as highly intelligent with foresight and a keen sense of its environment.
All other models are presented in fine stainless steel cases.

The whole collection was manufactured in High Artistic Finish with the calibre 100.1. The movement is visible though the generous transparent back made of sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating on one side. The pillar movement with well-proportioned components made of untreated German silver with various finishes forms different levels. On the characteristic 2/3 plate with broad horizontal ribbing, the signet is engraved by hand. The Grossmann balance is visible in the curved plate cut-out and is borne by the cantelevered, hand-engraved balance cock with the typical fine micrometer screw.

LOT 107 _ RAT One

One-off piece made from rose gold, hand-painted as a miniature drawing according to the artistic design of Laura Heyne. Including original painting of the artist.

Intelligent, beautiful and faithful – the artist sees these qualities in the rat. Thanks to her personal love of rats, the choice of motif was not too difficult. She herself used to keep a rat as a pet and learned to love these qualities. By arranging several rats in a circle, the artist symbolises the good social behaviour of the animals and expresses their beauty through the flowers.

In Chinese mythology, the rat symbolises intelligence and foresight as well as exaggerated passion and unscrupulousness. In the emotional realm, rats are characterised above all by sensitivity and keen intuition, but they often hide their feelings and show their feelings only in a very restrained way.

The hands, handcrafted in the manufactory, are annealed over an open flame in the typical Moritz Grossmann brown-violet colour and harmonise with the solid silver dial.

LOT 108 _ OX Two

One-off piece made from stainless steel, hand-painted as a miniature drawing according to the artistic design of Tony Käseberg. Including original painting of the artist.

The side view of the ox shows off the animal in all its glory. With his sketch style, the artist breaks up the familiar grid of a detailed drawing and gives the motif a ‘wild’ touch. The increasingly intense colour gradient shows the tonicity of the ox, which increases from the legs to the horns.

In line with its second position in the Chinese zodiac, the ox’s self-confident gaze is directed towards 2 o’clock.

The ox is very hard-working, reliable, ambitious and determined. Oxes are extremely honest and sincere. Oxes work tenaciously and with a lot of patience until they reach their goal. But first they have to draw up an exact plan.

The polished stainless steel hands, handcrafted in the manufactory, harmonise with the solid silver dial.

LOT 109 _ TIGER Three

One-off piece made from stainless steel, hand-painted as a miniature drawing according to the artistic design of Jaroslava Werstler. Including original painting of the artist.

The artist chose the tiger as her motif because it is a very strong, lively and energetic animal. It has the strength and courage of a predator on the one hand and the exotic beauty of a wildcat on the other. The tiger does not sit around and wait – it searches, looks ahead, communicates.

The artist painted the tiger as a moving entity and chose strong colours for her picture. Instead of a simple graphic, the artist opted for a detailed painting with acrylic paints on canvas in order to honour the upmarket appearance of Grossmann’s timepieces.

People under the sign of the tiger are considered passionate, daring and combative. They are full of energy and accept the challenge to achieve their goals with enthusiasm and a large portion of optimism. They love variety and adventure.

The polished stainless steel hands, handcrafted in the manufactory, form a calm contrast to the colourfully painted dial in solid silver.

LOT 110 _ RABBIT Four

One-off piece made from stainless steel, hand-painted as a miniature drawing according to the artistic design of Julie Pietschmann. Including original painting of the artist.

Rabbits enjoy calmness and represent a peaceful life. But rabbits also love luxury. The artist has tried to bring the grace, the friendly nature and the longevity of the rabbit to the canvas using acrylic colours. Delicate gold leaf paper on the dial rim symbolises the rabbit’s penchant for luxury.

Rabbits tend to be gentle and calm as well as elegant and vigilant, friendly, patient and particularly responsible. Generally speaking, people who are born under the zodiac sign of the rabbit have a very kind character. The rabbit embodies grace, feeling and longevity. It is a tactful master of life and a sensitive lover of beauty.

The hands, handcrafted in the manufactory, are annealed over an open flame in the brown-violet hue typical for Moritz Grossmann and harmonise with the mother-of-pearl dial in a white grey shade.

LOT 111 _ DRAGON Five

One-off piece made from stainless steel, hand-painted as a miniature drawing according to the artistic design of Christiane Schneider. Including original painting of the artist.

The dragon is a mystical and imaginative animal and triggers fear and fascination at the same time. This is exactly what the artist finds exciting and impressive about them. The status of the dragon in the dragon world is determined by the colour of its skin. The yellow dragon is the most important of all and radiates power and strength. The luminosity of the yellow hue is emphasised even more by the acrylic colours.

The dragon of the Chinese zodiac stands for luck and authority. People who were born in the year of the dragon are often natural leaders who sweep others in their environment away on a tide of enthusiasm. They are full of energy and zest for action. The dragon firmly believes in happiness and does not shy away from any challenge.

The polished stainless steel hands, handcrafted in the manufactory, form a calm contrast to the expressive dial in solid silver.

LOT 112 _ SNAKE Six

One-off piece made from stainless steel, hand-painted as a miniature drawing according to the artistic design of Tony Käseberg. Including original painting of the artist.

In a graceful wave movement the snake meanders through flowering orchids and green plants. In the Chinese horoscope, the orchid is considered a ‘lucky flower’. The snake fascinates the artist as it enjoys the reputation of being mysterious, unfathomable and very wise. With the connection to nature, the artist wants to express inner peace and relaxation as well as liveliness and freshness at the same time.

The snake is the sixth sign of the Chinese zodiac. Accordingly, its gaze is directed towards 6 o’clock in the painting. Using acrylic colours as well as a sponge and a dab technique, the artist was able to realise the colour gradients well.

People born under the sign of the snake seem puzzling and mysterious. They are difficult to read, do not like to show their feelings and prefer to act in secret. Even if they are emotionally agitated, they still appear calm and cool to the viewer. Snakes are also considered very sensitive, thoughtful and like to pursue philosophical questions. And what you might not have suspected: they actually have a good sense of humour.

The hands, which were handcrafted in the manufactory and annealed over an open flame in a brown-violet hue, harmonise with the solid silver dial.

LOT 113 _ HORSE Seven

One-off piece made from stainless steel, hand-painted as a miniature drawing according to the artistic design of Caroline Kortrijk. Including original painting of the artist.

Even as a child, the artist loved to draw horses most of all as she loved their grace and beauty. For her, horses are elegant and powerful, yet good-natured and peaceful.

With the wild, smooth application of colour, the artist aims to express the activity and liveliness of the horse. The green colour in the picture and the calla lily in the horse’s mouth are intended to bring happiness to this sign of the zodiac.

People born under the sign of the horse are exceptionally agile, mentally as well as physically. They love to be on the move, are usually sporty and never miss a chance to travel. Everything new and unknown must be seen and experienced. At the same time, the horse is compassionate and likes to help others.

The polished stainless steel hands, handcrafted in the manufactory, harmonise with the solid silver dial.

LOT 114 _ GOAT Eight

One-off piece made from stainless steel, hand-painted as a miniature drawing according to the artistic design of Svetlana Hantusch. Including original painting of the artist.

Home and family are important components of life. The artist is originally from Russia, where her family still lives. In order to feel a little closer to her loved ones, she decided to paint her father’s zodiac sign – the goat. The colour blue particularly stands out in the picture. With this, the artist wants to express the introversion as well as the strength and wisdom of the goat.

Gentle, profound, patient – the goat is one of the most empathetic and sensitive signs of the zodiac. They have a deep and sincere need to listen to their fellow human beings and give them a feeling of security and understanding. But they also have passion and intelligence.

The hands, which were handcrafted in the manufactory and annealed over an open flame in a brown-violet hue, harmonise with the solid silver dial.

LOT 115 _ MONKEY Nine

One-off piece made from stainless steel, hand-painted as a miniature drawing according to the artistic design of Martina Hanzsch. Including original painting of the artist.

Spontaneity and creativity go very well together. The artist behind this picture spontaneously came up with an idea for the monkey zodiac sign in her head and immediately started to realise it. She was inspired by an artist who shapes pressed blossoms into faces. They are intended to express the calm and clarity, but also the curiosity of the monkey. For a few days she dried and pressed leaves from the delicate fern plant in her own garden, which she then arranged and glued onto the canvas to form an imaginative silhouette.

Monkeys have a large circle of friends in the Chinese zodiac. In the animal kingdom the monkey stands out thanks to exceptional intelligence and astuteness. Its spiritual alertness and curiosity bring it much admiration. People born under the zodiac sign of the monkey appear self-confident and at peace with themselves.

The hands, which were handcrafted in the manufactory and annealed over an open flame in a brown-violet hue, harmonise with the solid silver dial.

LOT 116 _ ROOSTER Ten

One-off piece made from stainless steel, hand-painted as a miniature drawing according to the artistic design of Caroline Kortrijk. Including original painting of the artist.

The proud rooster wants to be radiant and stride ahead self-confidently. The deep blue and the bright orange as complementary colours give the rooster a lively and expressive look. The artist was inspired to produce the curved lines and shapes by traditional rustic-style farmers’ paintings. She was introduced to these by her grandmother.

People born under the sign of the rooster are supposed to be very attentive. They are characterised by diligence, ingenuity, courage and talent as well as a certain self-confidence. They love being the centre of attention, are always active, cheerful and popular with other people.

The polished stainless steel hands, handcrafted in the manufactory, harmonise with the solid silver dial.

LOT 117 _ DOG Eleven

One-off piece made from stainless steel, hand-painted as a miniature drawing according to the artistic design of Timo Miura. Including original painting of the artist.

The dog fascinated the artist right from the beginning because of its positive qualities and charming character. In his artistic design, the joyful and happy dog forgets time as he swims across the thundering river at dusk. Only his head and tail protrude from the water.

The irony of the story of the dog, which reaches the finish line in eleventh place due to its playfulness despite the fact that it is a very good swimmer, moved the artist.

People born under the sign of the dog are considered friendly and lovable. They prefer to move in a familiar circle and with people who mean something to them. The dog is a good listener and vigilant but also closed and can be very stubborn at the same time. The dog prefers to rely on loyal friends and family. If it can help other people, that makes it happy.

The hands, manually crafted in the manufactory, are annealed by hand in a brown-violet shade.

LOT 118 _ PIG Twelve

One-off piece made from stainless steel, hand-painted as a miniature drawing according to the artistic design of Laura Heyne. Including original painting of the artist.

2019 is the year of the pig. For the artist, the pig is her personal symbol of happiness and so she was quick to choose which motif she wanted to draw. With an artistic idea in her head, she immediately set about realising it. The artist worked with a stencil and spray technique. With targeted splashes of paint she gives the picture movement and depth.

The pig is a symbol of happiness and wealth. It is the optimist among all the signs of the zodiac. The pig makes the most of the conditions and sees a ray of hope even in the darkest storm. But despite all its frugality, the pig also knows what is good and enjoys its life to the full.

The hands, handcrafted in the manufactory, are annealed over an open flame in the typical Moritz Grossmann brown-violet colour and harmonise with the colours of the solid silver dial.

Patek Philippe

The Christie’s annual Hong Kong autumn auctions (22-27 November) achieved a total of HK$2.6 billion / $337 million (including buyer’s premium), and saw artist records established for Asian and Western artists, including Sanyu, Kim Whan-Ki and Eddie Martinez.

Patek Philippe

Almost 14,000 visitors came to see the extraordinary breadth of objects spanning 20th Century and Contemporary Asian Art, Chinese Paintings and Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, as well as jewels, handbags and wine. The series, which spanned five days and 17 live sales, drew bidders from 50 countries and a new generation of collectors, with over 20 per cent of buyers classified as ‘millennials’.

Patek Philippe

Among the many stand-out results of the season were a Patek Philippe Ref. 2523 in pink gold, which realised HK$70,175,000, becoming the most expensive wristwatch ever to be auctioned in Asia; and an exceptionally rare six-bottle case of Romanée-Conti Grand Cru 1999 burgundy, which fetched HK$937,500 in the Fine & Rare Wines and Spirits auction.

Supreme Set of Three Rammellzee Skateboards

Supreme’s transformation from hip, downtown New York skate shop to global powerhouse has been nothing short of extraordinary. From humble beginnings in 1994 on the then unfashionable Lafayette Street, Supreme has become ubiquitous worldwide, its distinctive logo a signifier of edgy authenticity, cultural diversity and, now more than ever, must-have-it desirability. Inspired by the propaganda art of Barbara Kruger, that logo is the currency for a brand valued at more than $1 billion.

From 26 November to 10 December, Christie’s presents a curated online auction of the rarest and most sought-after Supreme collaboration pieces — ‘the best of the best’, as Head of Sale Caitlin Donovan puts it. The items range from skateboard decks produced by the biggest names in contemporary art to ‘exhibits’, in what author and cultural commentator Byron Hawes describes as Supreme’s ‘alt-design museum’. The latter includes short-run collaborations with heritage brands in hardware, homeware, sport, leisure, music and beyond.

Supreme Set of Two Copyright Skateboards

‘Over the past 20-plus years, Supreme has gone from a brand servicing skaters who were often considered rebels, to becoming a highly respected, highly sought-after collecting category in its own right,’ says Donovan.

‘It was the first of the streetwear and “hype” brands to forge the path to an entirely new market and audience of collectors,’ she adds. ‘Supreme has been a cultural lightning rod. Through supply and demand it has transformed young male retail shoppers into secondary market collectors and connoisseurs.’

Supreme White Fender Stratocaster Guitar

As well as selling T-shirts, hoodies and decks that change hands for dizzying sums, Supreme has put its stamp on a quite bewildering array of products. ‘From a cultural perspective, it makes sense,’ states Hawes. ‘If you think about these objects through the lens of Duchamp and his “Readymade” series, they are cultural pieces, art pieces.’

Noah Davis, a post-war and contemporary art specialist at Christie’s, agrees: ‘Seeing the Supreme box logo stamped onto utilitarian items like bolt-cutters, basketballs and harmonicas is like Duchamp famously scribbling “R. Mutt” on a urinal. Anything is fair game, and once it’s been anointed by Supreme it becomes elevated, collectible — to some, even holy.’

Supreme might not present itself as a cultural arbiter in the same way that a museum self-consciously does, yet its flagship store in downtown New York feels like a cathedral for youth culture. ‘In the same way that the MoMA does for modern art,’ insists Davis. ‘The really impressive thing is how organically, seemingly effortlessly, this has happened.’

So what is its secret? ‘Our formula is, there is no formula,’ Supreme’s founder James Jebbia famously once said. Hawes, who has authored two books on the Supreme phenomenon, smiles: ‘Maybe he was alluding to the broader point that Supreme cannot be put into one box. They never did anything accidentally. It was always very articulated.’

Supreme and the ‘Artist Series’ skateboards

 As Byron Hawes says, ‘Nobody looked at a skateboard before Supreme and saw a canvas waiting to be utilised’. The company released its first deck — the Copyright — in 1998, and its first ‘Artist Series’ deck in 2001. Since then the artists who have designed boards for Supreme represent what the writer describes as ‘a veritable who’s who of contemporary art’.

Supreme Set of Five Ryan McGuiness Pantone Skateboards

‘The artists chosen by Supreme indicate that the brand never saw skate culture as narrow,’ Hawes says. ‘To do four decks with Peter Saville, the guy who designed the album covers for Joy Division — that’s not the specific culture people would have associated with a downtown New York skate shop. The same goes for George Condo and Christopher Wool.’

The connection with a street artist such as KAWS or a young, downtown New York artist like Nate Lowman might seem more obvious, although KAWS, like many of those the company has worked with, did not have the profile he enjoys today when he designed his first Supreme decks in 2001. The decks designed by Wool, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Marilyn Minter, on the other hand, demonstrate that Supreme ‘saw parity between all these different aspects — and recognised how they would coagulate’.

Much of the credit for the ‘Artist Series’ must go to James Jebbia’s long-time friend and collaborator, Neville Wakefield. The British curator has organised exhibitions at Mary Boone and MoMA PS1, and is the founder of the Desert X art fair in Palm Springs. As Hawes explains: ‘Jebbia credits Wakefield’s savoir faire and exceptional taste with many of the artist decks, particularly in the early years, when a major artist working on a skateboard with a small shop in New York seemed almost laughable, until they consistently got it done.’

Noah Davis sees skate culture and art as sharing ‘the same kind of potential for anarchic creative freedom as rap and punk music’. This isn’t to say that all art is free reckless, or even dangerous but, according to the specialist, ‘the art that is rhymes well with the spirit of skate culture, which is equally about the balance of independence and community, risk-taking, expertise and performance.’

Supreme Set of Three Marilyn Minter Eye, Necklace & Shoe Skateboards

‘These are serious pieces of art,’ insists Hawes. ‘There’s a lot to be said for putting them under glass, keeping them, and watching them appreciate. They are a crystallisation of high meets low — expository rather than assimilatory.’ In other words, quintessential Supreme.

Supreme’s ‘alt-design museum’

 In the preface to his book Art on Deck: An Exploration of Supreme Skateboards from 1998-2018, Byron Hawes makes the point that ‘the collective history of creativity is awash in homage, responsivity, reactivity, and outright theft’. Noah Davis puts a slightly different spin on it: ‘when Supreme does its Duchamp thing with an object, it becomes sanctified.’

Supreme Coleman CT200u Mini Bike and a Fox Racing Red V2 Helmet

Supreme has been collaborating with brands for over 20 years, taking a considered, highly curated approach to who and what it leaves its mark on. The objects, says Hawes, are ‘very specific and not really based on any theoretical idea of hype’.

They are also produced by heritage brands — the Coleman Mini Bike, the Spalding basketball, the Everlast Punchbag, for example. This attention to detail and authenticity feeds directly into Supreme’s brand values. Or, as Hawes puts it: ‘Supreme really does always choose the realest item in any given world’.

The online sale at Christie’s focuses on the most important and collectible objects and accessories. Certain objects, like the Stash Box Bible, are instantly identifiable as a Supreme piece. It speaks to the ethos of the brand: cheeky, clever and very well done.

One of the interesting things about the art world, of course, is that an object is worth precisely what anyone will pay for it at any given time. The secondary market for Supreme items is currently at fever pitch, fuelled by Jebbia’s appropriation of luxury brand tactics — cohesive branding, the stoking of hype, and a scarcity cultivated through ‘drops’ of items produced in small edition sizes — and the pervasive power of social media.

‘You look at the objects,’ says Hawes, ‘and you think, “Okay, it’s a fire extinguisher”. But nobody’s going to put out a grease fire in the kitchen with a Supreme fire extinguisher. These things are, essentially, sculptural entities.’

He likens Supreme’s approach to ‘DJ culture’, suggesting it is ‘remixing and mashing up all of these various, theoretically unrelated cultural signifiers to create a more cohesive whole.’ The Supreme brick is a perfect example.

‘Think about these objects as under-represented design objects, and the brick becomes the single most important industrial design piece of all time,’ he says. ‘But no one’s going to buy one Supreme brick and make anything out of it. It is a very cheeky, very subtle acknowledgement that these things are going on shelves.’

Supreme Stern Pinball Machine

While many of Supreme’s collaborations might appear arbitrary, Noah Davis also recognises the sophistication that underpins them: ‘If you understand the lifestyle of skateboarding and its significant overlap with graffiti, especially in New York, then you immediately get the significance of bolt cutters (the street artist’s keys to the city) and fire extinguishers (hackable tools to create mural-scale tags by filling them with paint).

‘These things have that magical “if you know, you know” quality that is at the heart of why Supreme remains relevant and vital. They don’t care if you don’t get it, and if you don’t get it, you know deep down, you kind of want to.’

Handbags X HYPE featuring a collection of Supreme skateboards and accessories is open for bidding from 26 November

The Pink Legacy

American jeweller Harry Winston (1896-1978) founded Harry Winston Inc.  in 1932 in New York City. Over the course of his dazzling career, Winston handled some of the world’s most famous diamonds, coloured gemstones and pieces of fine jewellery, earning himself a reputation as ‘The King of Diamonds’.

From the 1950s through to the 1970s, his boutiques were the destination of choice for royalty, Hollywood stars and business moguls alike. Acknowledged as a visionary in the field for his pursuit of excellence, Harry Winston’s combination of passion, discretion, intuition and knowledge was greatly appreciated by his high-profile and discerning clientele.

Jeweller to the Stars

Harry Winston started dressing celebrities as early as 1935, the year that he purchased the 726-carat diamond, The Jonker. Winston took the rough gem on a tour of the USA and had it photographed with famous actresses, including Claudette Colbert and Shirley Temple. The Jonker was subsequently cut into 13 very important stones, numbered I to XIII. The Jonker V (below) was sold at Christie’s in Geneva in 2019 for £3,015,000.

Winston was also the first jeweller to dress a celebrity for an Academy Awards show. In 1944 he loaned diamond jewellery to actress Jennifer Jones, who had been nominated for her role in The Song of Bernadette. Harry Winston jewellery has graced the red carpet ever since.

In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Marilyn Monroe sang Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, which includes the lyric: ‘Talk to me Harry Winston, tell me all about it.’

The Court of Jewels tour (1949-1953)

While Winston acquired many notable private collections, diamonds and gemstones, perhaps the most recognisable was the Hope Diamond, the largest-known deep blue diamond in the world. Winston acquired the jewel, which weighed 45.52 carats, in 1949 from the estate of the American socialite Evelyn Walsh McLean.

From 1949 to 1953, Winston toured the gem around the United States as part of his Court of Jewels exhibition, with proceeds benefitting charitable organisations. The tour was a defining moment in the jewellery industry, with Harry Winston presenting famous jewels as an art collection, telling the story of their historic provenance. In 1958 Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., where it remains today.

A number of the exceptional gems and jewels from the Court of Jewels  tour are now considered historic pieces, with a majority entering important private collections or museums. These include the Indore Pears that Harry Winston bought from the Maharajah of Indore, and which were sold at Christie’s in November 1987 for $2.7 million.

As well as show-stopping diamonds, the tour made Harry Winston’s name synonymous with coloured gemstones of exceptional quality. One such is the 22.86-carat Burmese ruby featured in the above diamond and ruby ring, which sold at Christie’s in Geneva in 2019 for CHF 7,198,500 — more than double its high estimate.

Cluster design

The concept of the ‘cluster’ or ‘clustering’, now regarded as Harry Winston’s signature technique, was formulated in the 1940s. Comprising pear-shaped and marquise-cut diamonds set with minimal metal and at varying angles, the idea revolutionised jewellery design to create clusters of remarkable brilliance.

One of the most iconic and sought-after Harry Winston ‘cluster’ designs is the ‘Wreath’ necklace, inspired by a holly wreath the jeweller had hung on his front door. He was immediately inspired to recreate the design using different cuts of diamonds.

In a wreath necklace, the stones are held in place by very fine prong settings, which allow the diamonds to appear to float on top of the wearer.

Among the celebrities known to have once owned a ‘Wreath’ necklace is socialite Betsy Bloomingdale. Her necklace, made in 1961, was the pièce de résistance of her collection.

The ‘cluster’ remains a trademark of the firm and a sign of the finest quality of setting, which only a true Harry Winston jewel can possess.

An enduring legacy

Nayla Hayek, the present CEO of Harry Winston, has continued Winston’s legacy, adding one-of-a-kind diamonds to the Winston collection.

Brilliant examples include the Winston Blue, an exceptional 13.22-carat flawless vivid blue diamond; the Winston Pink Legacy, an extraordinary 18.96-carat fancy vivid pink diamond, which was once in the collection of the Oppenheimer family; and the Winston Legacy, a formidable 101.73 carat D flawless pear-shaped diamond.

Patek Philippe Minute Repeating Wristwatch

Getting on for 100 years old, this rare minute repeater was the first Patek Philippe wristwatch ever owned by the 20th century’s most celebrated watch collector. Sabine Kegel, Head of Watches in Geneva, explains why it is such an important object.

On 16 June 1928, Henry Graves Jr. walked into the headquarters of Patek Philippe in Geneva — located then, as now, at 41 rue du Rhône — and collected the watch pictured above, a yellow gold tonneau-shaped Patek Philippe minute repeater, which he had ordered a year earlier.

Graves had another three complicated pocket watches on order from Patek Philippe at the time, as well as the Supercomplication, which would become for 56 years the most complicated watch the world had ever seen. But the man was insatiable. His passions ranged from paperweights to motorboats to Old Master prints. Yet more than anything, he loved to collect watches.

‘He was American aristocracy, the son of the financier Henry Graves Sr., and became extremely rich through banking and investments in the railroad,’ explains Sabine Kegel, Christie’s Head of Watches in Geneva, where the watch sold for CHF 4,575,000 in November 2019. ‘Among watch collectors he is a legendary figure.’

The Supercomplication for which he is most celebrated had a remarkable 25 complications — including a sky chart that displayed the correct spacing of the stars in the Milky Way above his Manhattan home at 834 Fifth Avenue.

Patek Philippe Minute Repeating Wristwatch

Between 1922 and 1951 Graves ordered no fewer than 39 watches from Patek Philippe. To realise them, the manufacturers engaged the services of not only the finest master watchmakers of the first half of the 20th century, but also the most brilliant astronomers and mathematicians. It’s probably fair to say that Graves’ commissions would help to keep the company afloat after its finances were damaged by the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

‘After three years in development, Graves needed to sign off the final drawings for the Supercomplication,’ Kegel continues. ‘Graves and his wife Florence sailed for Europe in the RMS Olympic, the sister ship to the Titanic. It was in the midst of doing this that he acquired this minute repeater — his first Patek Philippe wristwatch, and also thought to be the first minute repeating wristwatch made by Patek Philippe.

Sabine Kegel, Christie’s Head of Watches in Geneva

‘Bear in mind that wristwatches had only evolved some 20 years previously, and were often little more than modified pocket watches,’ the specialist continues. ‘A wristwatch fitted with a minute repeater, in an age when watches were entirely made by hand, presented enormous challenges.’ Indeed, throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Patek Philippe is thought to have made fewer than three dozen minute repeaters.

Graves owned three of them. In 2014 Christie’s sold a Patek Philippe with a cushion-shaped platinum case for CHF 1,205,000, then equivalent to around $1.34 million. Another platinum minute repeater, but tonneau-shaped like this gold one, is housed in the Patek Philippe Museum Collection. Which means that the Geneva auction represented possibly the last opportunity to purchase a Graves minute repeating wristwatch for a very long time.

The Graves Family Motto, Esse Quam Videri

‘Not only is it a very good-looking watch, it is also an attractive size,’ says Kegel. ‘At that time men’s watches were smaller, more like the size of women’s watches today. This is huge — almost 4cm long — even by today’s standards.

‘It has the added advantage of improving the sound of the minute repeating mechanism, which is also enhanced by the relative softness and malleability of gold, in comparison to platinum.’

John Reardon, Christie’s Senior International Watch Consultant, is equally enamoured of this rare treasure. ‘Few watches capture my imagination more than this one — it was Henry Graves Jr.’s first wristwatch repeater, and it was a watch that he actually wore on his wrist and used occasionally, unlike his pocket watches, which were typically hidden away,’ he comments.

‘Everything about Henry Graves Jr. was discreet, and the understated elegance of this watch is trumpeted with the Graves family crest and motto, Esse Quam Videri [To Be, Rather Than to Seem] on the caseback. For watch collectors, owning a piece from Henry Graves Jr.’s collection is the ultimate grail. To be able to own an oversized complicated wristwatch owned by Graves surpasses even that dream.’

Two Gem-Set and Diamond Panther Brooches, by Cartier

An expert overview of the illustrious maison, the jeweller of choice for kings and queens, celebrities and tycoons. Illustrated with historic and beautiful Cartier necklaces, bracelets, rings, brooches and clocks sold at Christie’s.

The history of Cartier

The House of Cartier was founded in 1847 when the 28-year-old Louis-François Cartier took over a shop at 29 rue Montorgueil in Paris. His son Alfred took control of the company in 1874, by which time it already had an excellent reputation. However, it was Alfred’s three sons — Louis, Pierre and Jacques — who would go on to establish Cartier as a world-famous jewellery brand.

While Louis retained the responsibility for Paris, in 1902 Jacques went to London and only two years later received the Royal Warrant, thereby supplying jewellery to King Edward VII and his court. Pierre travelled to New York where, in 1917, he famously acquired 653 Fifth Avenue for two strands of the very finest pearls. This piece of prime real estate remains a flagship store to this day.

Since then the Maison has expanded globally, becoming what many consider to be the finest jewellery house in the world. Its clientele has encompassed royalty, film stars and business tycoons. King Farouk of Egypt, The Duchess of Windsor, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Clark Gable all made their way to Cartier to buy or have their jewellery made.

An Exquisite and Very Rare Multigem and Diamond Art Déco Fob Watch, Cartier

Important pieces and collections

Masterpieces and great Cartier collectors

King Edward VII of England used to refer to Cartier as ‘the jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers’. This reputation was such that at the coronation of King George V in June 1911, 19 of the tiaras worn at the ceremony were by Cartier. From Spain to England, Belgium to Russia, India to Siam, Kings and Queens around the world made Cartier their official supplier of royal jewellery.

Socialites and movie stars followed suit and Merle Oberon, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Gloria Swanson were all great collectors of Cartier jewellery.

Even the most discerning of diamond collectors would go to Cartier to have them mounted. Such was the case of Salomon Barnato Joel, who had made his fortune in the South African diamond mines, being the director of Barnato Brothers as well as De Beers Consolidated. In 1912, he asked Cartier to mount four of his best diamonds. Cartier created an outstanding stomacher or devant-de-corsage brooch, so fashionable during the Belle Epoque.

A Belle éPoque Diamond Devant-De-Corsage Brooch, by Cartier

Designed around a central pear-shaped diamond of more than 34 carats, two navette-shaped diamonds and a heart-shaped diamond, this devant-de- corsage is a great example of the subtle and delicate ‘Lily-of-the-Valley’ setting used by Cartier around 1910 and mastered by their famous workshop ‘Atelier Henri Picq’ in Paris.

Up to this day, Cartier remains a favourite amongst great jewellery collectors and royal families. As an example Catherine Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge, chose to wear the Cartier Halo diamond tiara for her wedding to Prince William in 2011.

Ballerina Brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels

Jewellery specialist Raymond Sancroft-Baker describes the history of the French jewellery house favoured by film stars and royalty for more than a century. Illustrated with pieces previously sold at Christie’s, plus upcoming lots at the bottom of the story.

 

The history of Van Cleef & Arpels

Alfred Van Cleef (1872-1938), the son of a diamond cutter, married Estelle Arpels, the daughter of a dealer in precious stones, in 1895. The following year Van Cleef and his father-in-law, Salomon Arpels, formed Van Cleef & Arpels.

After Salomon died in 1903, Alfred and two of his brothers-in-law, Charles (1880-1951) and Julien (1884-1964), officially founded Van Cleef & Arpels with the opening of their shop in 1906 at 22 Place Vendôme, where the firm remains today. The third Arpels brother, Louis (1886-1976), joined the firm in 1912, no doubt to cope with their expansion, as branches had been opened in Nice, Deauville, Vichy, Lyon and Cannes, all between 1910 and 1920.

Alfred’s daughter, Renée Puissant (1897-1942), took control of the company’s artistic direction in 1926, and for the next 12 years worked closely with the talented designer René-Sim Lacaze.

It was in 1930 that the firm invented the ‘minaudière’, reportedly inspired by the opera singer Florence Jay Gould (née Florence La Caze), after she had met Claude Arpels with her belongings contained in a Lucky Strike cigarette case. Claude set to work creating a case that could contain all of a woman’s ‘necessities’ such as a comb, lipstick, watch, cigarette holder, lighter, mirror and compact.

Mystery Set Ruby Emerald and Diamond Brooch

Always at the forefront of innovation, Van Cleef & Arpels patented its ‘Mystery Set’ — a technique that allows for the setting of stones so that no prongs are visible — in 1933. Originally used for adorning minaudières, the Mystery Set allowed for swathes of colour unbroken by the flash of metal.

In 1935, the three sons of Julien Arpels — Charles, Jacques and Pierre — joined the firm. At the end of the 1930s, for a time, Van Cleef & Arpels transferred most of its business to the United States — it had opened a branch in Palm Beach in 1940, and a shop in New York was acquired in 1942 at 744 Fifth Avenue, where the jeweller still trades today.

Following the Second World War the firm continued to expand, creating jewels for royalty, film stars and wealthy entrepreneurs. A growing emphasis on a more relaxed type of jewellery, however, led Van Cleef & Arpels to introduce an accessible range in 1954 that became well-known for its naturalistic forms and light-hearted themes. Diamonds were still used, but only as highlights. These attractive and wearable jewels were very popular in the 1950s, as confidence returned to a world that had been ravaged by war.

Van Cleef & Arpels has for almost the past 20 years been owned by the Richemont Group.

Important pieces and collections

Ear Pendants

Worn by film stars, heiresses and royalty

Van Cleef & Arpels has been associated with the wealthy and the famous since its inception. From Gloria Swanson to Greta Garbo, films stars have never been far from the Maison’s front door. In 1938 the jeweller created a ruby and diamond Jarretière bracelet, one of the most spectacular pieces it had ever made, for Marlene Dietrich. Princess Faiza of Egypt, one of the five sisters of King Farouk, had the Art Deco emerald and diamond necklace shown below made for her in 1929. When it was sold at Christie’s in 2013, for $4 million, it was acquired by Van Cleef & Arpels for its own collection.

One of the House’s most famous clients was the Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986), who was born Bessie Wallis Warfield. In March 1936 the Duke of Windsor bought his future wife a bracelet of faceted rubies and diamonds; further purchases were made the following year, both before and after their marriage on 3 June 1937 at the Château de Candé in France.

When Christie’s sold Eva Perón’s Flag brooch (above) in 1998, which she had commissioned from Van Cleef & Arpels in the late 1940s, we did not realise that its heady mix of fame and quality would prove so potent. The brooch was estimated at $80,000-120,000, and sold for a staggering $992,500 after a bidding battle of more than 10 minutes.

When Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels were sold for $115 million in December 2011 at Christie’s in New York, she had 22 pieces by Van Cleef & Arpels in the evening session. They included the Lamartine bracelet and the Puertas ruby, both pictured above, given to her by Richard Burton. The latter, presented as a gift for Christmas 1968, sold for $4,226,500.

Mirror of Paradise

‘Mirror of Paradise’ a Diamond Ring

  • Rectangular-cut diamond of 52.58 carats, tapered baguette-cut diamonds, platinum, ring size 7 ¼
  • GIA, 2019, report no. 1132889310: 52.58 carats, D color, Internally Flawless clarity, Type IIa
  • Gübelin, 2013, report no. 13090169: 52.58 carats, D color, Internally Flawless clarity, Type IIa, appendix and ‘Golconda’ letter
Mirror of Paradise