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  • Harry Fane

November in Geneva

All The Fun of the Fair

'Gem Geneva', the relatively new fixture in the jeweller’s diary re-opened at the beginning of November after a hiatus caused by Covid.

How nice it was to be back in familiar territory, surrounded by familiar faces. There was a buzzy atmosphere, and everyone seemed positive and ready to do business. I thought there were slightly fewer vintage dealers and more gem dealers. The gems were spectacular but after seeing booth after booth stuffed full of diamonds, I am always left reeling and wondering how the diamond market holds up.

The vintage dealers were complaining there is nothing to buy, and pickings were thin. The few great Cartier pieces were snapped up fast.

This sentiment was reflected at the big jewellery auctions which were exhibiting at the same time…see below

Regardless, just being out and about and engaged with ‘our world’ felt familiar and happily exhilarating.

Auction Season:

November in Geneva is another important date in the jeweller’s diary. Sotheby's, Christie's, Phillips, Antiquorum and Koller all had exhibitions. The weather was lovely so trekking from one hotel to the next to see what was coming up was a pleasure. Back in the day, you would see dealers scurrying along carrying three or four heavy catalogues under their arms but now, with everything online, there wasn’t a catalogue insight. The auction houses are still printing catalogues and one can find them but it’s a dying trend and the auction houses are keen to phase them out because of the costs.

So far as I was concerned, there were very few things that excited me. The contents of the sales were mediocre at best. This must have been the result of Covid when neither consignors could get to the auction house nor could the auction houses send their experts to visit clients.

The vintage Cartier pieces could be counted on one hand.

Flash, bang, wallop:

Rumour has it that this superb 18.11 carat (G VS2) Cartier diamond ring from 1934 was chipped during the exhibition. It’s hard to imagine how that could happen. Regardless, it sold for over $1m, and the only reason I mention this lot is that the diamond was extraordinary and it was accompanied by a Cartier archive photograph showing the ring as it was in 1934. The more one learns about the 1930s, the more fascinating these Cartier creations become. In 1934, the world was still in the grips of The Great Depression so this must have been an exceptional sale for the House. To have a photograph of the ring from when it was originally recorded in the Cartier archives just ‘crossed the Ts and dotted the Is’ for this observer.

Royal Controversy.

Whilst today the British are suffering through the machinations of another controversial Royal Duchess, few women have achieved such notoriety as that attached to the late Duchess of Windsor. Was Edward VIII just a weak and spoilt man? Was she after the Crown? So many books and articles have been written about Wallis Simpson, there is an argument to support every opinion. One thing for sure is she could have walked away. Yes, he begged and begged her to stay, and whilst she did try and stop the abdication, she never completely removed herself from the scene. This controversy is one of the great historical

events of 20th Century history and one which remains as potent today as it was 90 years ago. If your rose-tinted glasses are firmly on, this story could be perceived as one of the great love stories of all times. Some years ago, I found myself at Frogmore House near Windsor where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor are buried. I asked permission to visit their graves. Seeing their white gravestones, lying next to each other under a huge Lebanon cypress, was quite moving. Here was the final act in their incredible tale.

At Sotheby's, I found myself handling one of the symbols of this ‘love’ story: A diamond and ruby bangle made by Cartier, Paris in 1937 and bearing an inscription ‘for our first anniversary of June third’ which was to fall in 1938.

It was poignant, to say the least, and it felt slightly ‘spooky’ handling something so intimate which must have meant so much to Edward and Wallis on that day.

As for the design, I did not care for it. It was clunky and the rubies were of very poor quality. I consulted with my friend Bernhard Berger who is one of the few acknowledged Cartier experts. He agreed that it was not Cartier’s finest design. War was approaching, he suggested. Cartier might have been dismantling bigger necklaces to make smaller and easier to sell items. By 1937 everyone knew the glory days were ending.

This might explain the ‘clunkiness’. Three elements, a bangle, and two big ruby elements joined in matrimony but not a natural pairing.

I felt sure this jewel would fly. What a piece of history to own. But it flopped…there were no takers. I am of the vintage where the tale of Edward and Wallis still has poignancy. Perhaps, for most others today, the story is being consigned to the past so her jewels carry less allure. Someone mentioned, Wallis’s name is sullied by her support for Adolf Hitler and this might be tainting her legacy and thus her jewels…

We know what happened to Wallis. Let’s watch and see what happens as history repeats itself today.

CRASH misses the mark by a small margin

Readers of this column will have heard enough about Cartier Crash watches that they will be begging me to stop writing about them.

However, Sotheby’s Geneva had a 1970 model which was so rare that it was always going to make a big price. And it did. $870,000 (approx). This watch was from the very first series. This is a close to the Holy Grail as one can get. I wonder if it had been a year or two earlier, a 1960s model, it would have pipped the $ 1 million mark. We will never know.

The significance and popularity of Cartier, London watches was also illustrated when a Cintree from Cartier London in 1975 made an astonishing $352,000. This watch, it must be said, is the ultimate in chic.

This long, curved (cintree) wristwatch first introduced by Cartier, Paris in 1921, has long been regarded as ‘The King’ of all the Cartier Tanks. By the time Cartier, London added their own mark onto this entirely classic design, a whole new look emerged. By removing the minute track (chemin de fer) and enlarging the numerals, a bolder and cleaner dial appeared making the London Cintree, in my opinion, the most elegant of all the Cintrees.

I wonder what a 1925 Paris, Cintree would make today. The London watches are sweeping the board right now.

A Sleeper?? Dream On...

Phillips Auctions had a watch sale last week in Geneva. Whilst everywhere in Geneva there were strict Covid checks, Phillips was so tough my colleague from New York was not allowed into their hallowed tent. Their Covid machines would not recognise his US pass and we were hustled into a dark cupboard to look at what we were hoping was the ‘sleeper’ of the week. For those of you not familiar with the term, ‘sleeper’ means ‘undiscovered or unrecognized treasure’.

This was a late 1960s Cartier Mystery Clock. It was tucked away amidst a flock of watches without any special attention drawn to it and with the deliciously tempting pre-sale estimate of $ 25-50,000. This was without doubt a $ 400,000 clock so you can understand the excitement.

The clock has a particularly large rock crystal dial with elegant diamond hands and a simple gold and diamond surround. All is good so far…where things fall apart is with the base. What were the designers and craftsmen at Cartier thinking? Whilst the shape of the base is good, the marquetry finish is of an indescribably repulsive, brown coloured material. I am not even sure what the stone is. It doesn’t matter, it was awful!! Some wag described it as 1950s Norwegian bathroom suite chic!!!

Irrespective, it was what it was, and at $ 250,000 it would still have been a steal. These Mystery Clocks remain at the pinnacle of Cartier’s clock-making skills and designs (please ignore the base of this clock…clearly an error). As such they will always attract buyers. Needless to say, this model found a new home with someone who paid $ 370,000.

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