Lareef A. Samad B.Sc. (Hons)
The name refers to a pair of antique natural pearl and diamond ear pendants designed by Cartier, that appeared at the Christie's "Jewels : The Geneva Sale," held at the Geneva Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, on May 12, 2010, and made a tremendous impact at the auctions by fetching an enhanced price of US$ 419,710, which was almost four times the upper pre-sale estimate, and the highest price ever recorded by a natural pearl and diamond ear-pendants at a public auction. The enhanced price realized also signified the recovery of the strong auction market for antique natural pearls, after the recent global economic recession. A strong auction market for antique natural pearls first became apparent with the turn of the millennium, when the Barbara Hutton Pearl Necklace of 17th-century origin, consisting of 44 graduated natural pearls of the size range 8.7-16.3 mm, and a total weight of 1,816.68 grains, sold for US$ 1.47 million, at a Christie's auction in Geneva, held in November, 1999. When the same necklace came up for auction for the first time, seven years earlier, in May 1992, also at a Christie's auction in Geneva, it fetched only US$ 580,000.
Cartier's Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants
As all other ear-pendants, the pair of pearl and diamond ear-pendants are designed in two parts, a fixed upper part and a movable pendant lower part. The fixed upper part, right at the top of the pendant is mounted with a large circular-cut diamond, that looks-like a modern brilliant-cut diamond with a large square-shaped table. The movable lower pendant part is long, whose main component is the large drop-shaped pearl suspended by a long line of five graduated bell-shaped links, one fitting into the other, and gradually increasing in size from top to bottom with the pearl suspended from the lowest link. The bell-shaped links are pave-set with tiny diamonds, whose shape and cut are not known, but appear to be single-cut diamonds. A rectilinear-cut diamond also known as a rectangular step-cut diamond is mounted on top of the line of bell-shaped links by interlocking loops, which represents the uppermost section of the lower movable pendant, by which it is suspended from the upper fixed part by interlocking circular loops. Thus, there are two movable joints in the pendant, above and below the rectangular step-cut diamond, which act as the pivots for the dangling pendant part. The entire pendant earrings have a length of 6.4 cm. The metal employed for the ear pendants are either platinum or white gold as seen in the photograph, but not yellow gold.
The two drop-shaped pearls are not exactly identical. The pearl on the left is slightly larger than the pearl on the right. The dimensions of the drop-shaped pearls, such as the widest and narrowest diameters and the length are not given, but the weight of the two pearls are given. The largest pearl on the left weighs 101.2 grains and the smaller pearl on the right weighs 94.0 grains. The length of the two drop-shaped pearls appear to be approximately equal, but the widest diameter of the left pearl is greater than that of the right pearl.
The shape of the drop-shaped pearls are also not identical. The left drop-shaped pearl has a more regular shape than the right drop-shaped pearl, but the left drop-shaped pearl is more oval than drop shaped. The right drop-shaped pearl is perfect on its left side, but bulges out on the right side, distorting its drop shape.
The color of the pearls are not stated but from the photographs appear to be silvery-white or silvery-grey in color. In the absence of a definite statement that the pearls are grey in color, it must be assumed that the pearls are actually silvery-white. White is the body color of the pearl and silver an overtone color.
The luster and orient of the pearls, two optical properties caused by the reflection and refraction of light respectively, are in keeping with the saltwater origin of the pearls. Both properties depend on the thickness of nacre, and being natural pearls made entirely of nacre, these properties are at an optimum level in these pearls. Saltwater pearls usually have a luster and orient superior to that of freshwater pearls.
Surface quality of the pearls are also exceptional, both pearls having a smooth, apparently blemish-free surface, that enhances both the luster and orient of the pearls. A surface with blemishes can interfere with both the luster and orient of the pearls.
Cartier's pair of natural pearl and diamond ear-pendants that appeared at the Christie's Geneva Sale 1374, on May 12, 2010, attained a selling price of US$ 419,710. This is the highest ever price recorded for a pair of natural pearl and diamond ear pendants that appeared at a public auction. The following table gives details of some of the natural pearl and diamond ear pendants that appeared at public auctions and the prices recorded at the auction :-
Some of the natural pearl and diamond ear pendants sold at public auctions and the prices realized
|S/N||Name of Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants||Weight of the Pearls||Dimensions||Auction House and Year of Salle||Price Realized at the Auction|
|1||Marie Mancini pearl and diamond ear pendants||Each pearl weighing approx. 200 grains||not known||Christie's, New York, October 1979||US$ 253,000|
|2||Pair of Antique Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants||107.44 grains
|21.1 mm x 14.3 mm
21.18 mm x 13.45 mm
|Christie's, Dubai, April 29, 2008||Presale estimate US$ 180,000-250,000.
Price realized US$217,000
|3||Fine Pair of Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants||not known||15 mm x 9.38 mm
14 mm x 9.23 mm
|Christie's Dubai, April 29, 2008||Presale estimate US$ 60,000-80,000
Price realized US$ 157,000
|4||Pair of Diamond and Pearl Pendants||Each pearl weighing approx. 120 grains||not known||Sotheby's Geneva, May 11, 2010||Presale estimate US$ 17,300-26,000
Price realized US$ 168,500
|5||Pair of Art Deco Natural Pearl and Diamond Pendant Earrings||not known, but approx. 70 grains from the conversion table for spherical pearls||13.45-13.50 mm x 11.50 mm
13.25-13.30 mm x 10.90 mm
|Christie's, Geneva, May 12, 2010.||Presale estimate US$ 99,268-144,390
Price realized US$ 165,176
|6||Cartier's Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants||101.2 grains
|not known||Christie's, Geneva, May 12, 2010||Presale estimate US$ 76,707-112,805
Price realized US$ 419,710
According to the above table the prices realized at the auctions in descending order are 1) US$ 419,710 2) US$ 253,000 3) US$ 217,000 4) US$ 168,500 5) US$ 165,176 6) US$ 157,000.
The highest price of US$ 419,710 is recorded by Cartier's Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants, followed by US$ 253,000 for Marie Mancini Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants and US$ 217,000 for the Pair of Antique Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants.
A comparison between Cartier's Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants and the Pair of Antique Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants is more appropriate, because of comparable weights of the pearls, and fairly close periods of the two sales. Whereas, the Cartier's Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants have pearls weighing 101.2 grains and 94.0 grains, the Antique Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants, have pearls weighing 107.44 grains and 91.28 grains. The former was sold at a Christie's Geneva sale on May 12, 2010, and the latter at a Christie's Dubai sale, on April 29, 2008, at the height of the recent global economic recession. The price realized by the former was US$ 419,710 and the latter US$ 217,000. Given the comparable weights of the pearls in the two pairs of pendants, the price realized by the Cartier's Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants shows a significant increase in the price, compared to the prices obtained two years ago at the height of the global recession. The price increase registered is almost US$ 200,000. A possible explanation for the enhanced price realized, is that pieces of jewelry containing antique natural pearls, are now realizing their actual potential values, which they were not able to realize during the global recession. Both ear pendants do not have a clear-cut historical provenance associated with them, but both of them have antique value attached to them, the Cartier Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants originating in the Art Deco period and the Antique Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants originating much earlier than that in the mid-Victorian period. Thus, the Antique Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants have a greater antiquity than the Cartier's Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants. The Cartier Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants, despite being more recent in origin, from the Art Deco period, may still have certain rare design features that enhances its value. Moreover, the value of the two large brilliant-cut diamonds and two rectangular step-cut diamonds may have significantly contributed to the enhanced price realized by the Cartier ear-pendants.
Pair of antique pearl and diamond ear pendants
The Marie Mancini Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants with larger pearls weighing almost 200 grains each, does not fall into this comparison, because it was sold almost 30 years ago, when the strong auction market for antique natural pearls was non-existent. The pendants incorporating high quality, white, perfectly drop-shaped, saltwater pearls, weighing approximately 200 grains each, and with a well-documented, over 400-year-old historic provenance, dating back to the 16th-century, sold at a Christie's auction in New York, in 1979, only for US$ 253,000. This is a very low price by today's strong auction market for antique natural pearls. Whenever, the unknown owner of the Marie Mancini Pearls decides to put up the historic pearls at a public auction, the pearl pendants will undoubtedly realize its full potential value, in keeping with the current strong auction market for antique natural pearls.
Except for the fact that the pair of natural pearl and diamond ear-pendants was the property of a lady, nothing is known about the historic provenance, if any, of the piece or its probable period of origin. But the design features and materials used in the ear-pendants, and the cuts of the diamonds used, might give a clue as to the possible period of their origin. Features that give a possible clue to the period of origin of the ear-pendants.
1) Long dangling earrings and ear-pendants first became popular in the Edwardian period (Belle Epoque period) between 1901 to around 1920, but their popularity continued into the next period, the Art Deco period, from 1920 to around 1940. The ear-pendants were complementary to radical changes in women's hair styles, with a tendency for cutting the hair short.
2) The white on white color scheme seen on the ear-pendants first became popular during the Edwardian period. Jewelry pieces with white diamonds and pearls mounted on platinum, was preferred during this period. Platinum as a metal for jewelry was also first introduced during this period. Such soft color combinations continued into the early Art Deco period, though later in the period they were replaced by bold, bright color combinations, making use of diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires. Apart from platinum, the use of a cheaper alloy known as white gold, was pioneered during the Art Deco period, in the 1920s. In these alloys the yellow color of gold was bleached by alloying with metals such as nickel, palladium, silver or zinc. The carat value of white gold is usually less than 21-carat gold. Carat values more than 21-carat will impart the yellow color to the alloy. The Cartier Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants makes use of white gold, which indicates that it originated in the 1920s or afterwards.
3) The use of round brilliant-cut diamonds at the top of the ear-pendants also gives an indication as to the probable period of origin. The round brilliant-cut was first invented by Gabi Tolkowsky in 1919. Thus, the use of diamonds bearing this cut shows that the piece originated after 1919, most probably in the Art Deco period.
4) The use of rectangular step-cut diamonds also known as rectilinear-cut diamonds, became popular in the Art Deco period, a period during which new geometric cuts for gems, went hand-in-hand with the symmetry and streamlined look of Art Deco jewelry. Thus, the use of rectangular step-cut diamonds confirms that the Cartier's Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants originated during the Art Deco period.
Considering the above facts the possible period of origin of the Cartier's Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants is the early Art Deco period. The Art Deco period extended from around 1920 to around 1940. Early Art Deco period, is the decade from 1920 to 1930.
We can now summarize the Art Deco features in the Cartier's Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants :-
1) The long length of the ear-pendants is an Art Deco feature, as such pendants were popular during this period.
2) The use of white diamonds and pearls on white gold, the so-called white on white color scheme, is a carry over from the previous Edwardian period into the early Art Deco period.
3) The use of white gold as the metal in the ear-pendants, is a feature pioneered during the Art Deco period.
4) The use of round brilliant-cut diamonds is another feature that was introduced during the Art Deco period.
5) The use of rectangular step-cut diamonds also known as rectilinear-cut diamonds was popular during the Art Deco period.
Given the possible period of origin of the Cartier's Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants as the early Art Deco period in the 1920s, we can now predict the possible source of the natural pearls on the assumption that the pearls used did not come from a dismantled older piece of jewelry, and originated from natural pearl sources that were being actively exploited during this period. Around this time there were three natural pearl fisheries in the world being actively exploited either for the shell-button industry or for natural pearls. These were :- 1) The natural pearl fishery in the Persian Gulf, the most ancient pearl fishery in the world, based on the oyster species Pinctada radiata (Oriental pearl oyster), mainly exploited for their natural pearls. The shell of this species was considered to be brittle and not suitable for the shell button industry. 2) The natural pearl oyster fishery in western and northwestern Australia, centered around Broome, based on the oyster species Pinctada maxima (silver-lipped pearl oyster), mainly exploited for the shell-button industry. Broome was the main supplier of mother-of-pearl for the shell-button industry for the entire world during this period. The occasional natural South Sea pearls produced was a by-product of this industry. 3) The natural pearl oyster fishery in the Gulf of California in Mexico, centered around Baja California, based on the pearl oyster species, Pinctada mazatlantica (closely related to Pinctada margaritifera, the black-lipped pearl oyster), mainly exploited for the shell-button industry, with the occasional black pearls produced as a by-product.
Out of the three natural pearl fisheries during this period, white pearls were produced mainly in the Persian Gulf and in the waters off western and northwestern Australia. The pearl produced in Baja California, were mainly black or grey colored pearls. Thus, the most probable source of the white drop-shaped pearls incorporated in the ear-pendants was either the Persian Gulf or northwestern Australia.
Again based on the size of the pearls we may be able to pinpoint the exact species from which the pearls originated, and thus decide on the exact source of the pearl. The size of the two pearls are given only in terms of their weight and not dimensions. The weight of one pearl is 102.2 grains and the other 94.0 grains. The dimensions of two other pearls in the pair of Antique Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants, have almost corresponding weights as the Cartier ear pendants - viz. 107.44 grains and 91.28 grains, whose dimensions are 21.1 x 14.3 mm and 21.18 x 13.45 mm respectively. By comparison we can arrive at an approximate estimation for the length and width of the drop shaped pearls in the Cartier's ear-pendants. An approximation of 20 mm x 14 mm for both pearls, may not be quite far from the actual dimensions.
Out of the two oyster species, Pinctada radiata and Pinctada maxima, the species that can produce a size range of 20 mm x 14 mm is undoubtedly Pinctada maxima, with its enormous size that can reach a maximum diameter of 30 cm, and correspondingly large gonads where pearls are usually produced. The normal size range of spherical pearls produced by Pinctada maxima is from 9 mm to around 20 mm. Thus, the production of drop-shaped pearls with dimensions of 20 mm x 14 mm inside Pinctada maxima is a distinct possibility. On the other hand the average size range of spherical pearls produced by the much smaller oyster species, Pinctada radiata is from 3 mm to around 8 mm, apart from the large number of seed pearls produced, of less than 2 mm in size. On very rare occasions pearls greater than 8 mm in diameter have also been produced in Pinctada radiata, but these are extremely rare. Thus, the most probable oyster species in which the pearls originated was Pinctada maxima, and the source of the pearls is western and northwestern Australia.
The Cartier's Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants was lot no.77 at the Christie's "Jewels : The Geneva Sale" held on May 12, 2010. The lot was accompanied report no.27807, dated January 5, 1995, issued by the Swiss Gemological Institute (SSEF), certying that the two drop-shaped pearls are natural saltwater pearls. A moderate presale estimate of CHF 85,000-125,000 (US$ 76,707-112,805) was placed on the lot. However, after a keenly contested bidding process, the natural pearl and diamond ear-pendants sold for a much enhanced price of CHF465,000 (US$ 419,710), which was almost 4 times the upper estimate and 5.5 times the lower estimate. The price realized was the highest ever for a pair of natural pearl and diamond ear pendants at a public auction. The possible causes for the enhanced price realized was discussed earlier.
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1) Christie's "Jewels : The Geneva Sale," 1374, May 12, 2010. Lot No.77 A Pair of Pearl And Diamond Ear Pendants, Mounted by Cartier.
1) Christie's "Jewels : The Geneva Sale," 1374, May 12, 2010. Lot No.77 A Pair of Pearl And Diamond Ear Pendants, Mounted by Cartier.
2) A History of Antique Jewelry - www.topazery.com
3) 200 Years of Jewelry - Bijoux Inspired Jewels. www.bijouxjewels.com
Dr Shihaan Larif
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