Behind the Gavel: Meet Violaine d’Astorg of Christie’s Paris

The jewelry department head talks about the diamond brooch that changed her life, and the enduring power of the Art Deco movement.

January 24, 2024  |  Sonia Esther Soltani
Violaine d’Astorg 1280x720 auctions Q&A USED 012324

When did you first fall in love with jewelry?

One day, when I was studying to become an auctioneer, my grandfather asked me to appraise an important 19th-century diamond brooch that could be transformed into a tiara. It was a complete surprise to me, as I had never heard of my family’s jewels. I fell in love with the jewelry world as I studied the brooch and tried to understand this new specialty.

When I arrived at Christie’s in 2018, the brooch was sold by my family in a private sale, and it is now part of an important private collection, which has given this brooch a new lease on life, and it is often exhibited around the world.

How did you get to your current job?

I started my career with many internships in various jewelry departments in France. In 2012, at 23, I got my first job as head of the jewelry department at Osenat Auctions. At the time, the biggest auction houses were my competitors, and it was very difficult to win collections against them. I had to be creative to offer different types of sales to the sellers, and I worked hard in the search for jewelry all over France, always going farther and farther afield.

In 2018, I received a message from Christie’s. I met several people who introduced me to the Christie’s jewelry department, and I was immediately seduced by Christie’s strength in the international market and the passionate expertise of the team. I also finally met [Christie’s Europe chairman] François Curiel, whom I had never met before, and it only took me a few minutes to realize that working in this department would be the best way for me to see incredible pieces of jewelry and to offer the best sales strategies to my clients.

Jean Fouquet necklace with a cut-cornered rectangular aquamarine weighing between 85 and 90 carats.
(Christie’s Images Limited)

How would you describe your role?

As part of a team of highly qualified and dynamic international specialists, I organize two sales a year as head of the Christie’s France department. I also have the opportunity to send jewelry appraised in France to various other Christie’s sales sites such as Geneva, as well as New York and Hong Kong, where the most prestigious jewelry auctions are held.

I travel the length and breadth of France with my Parisian team to find the most beautiful jewels and build sales that reflect the global leadership of the Christie’s jewelry department over the past 29 years. The year 2023 marked a new record for our jewelry department in Paris, with a total of $21 million sold in France.

The jewelry at Christie’s Paris always looks highly curated and extremely wearable. Would you say there is something typically Parisian about your offering?

Our Parisian sales reflect a vision of antique and modern jewelry that can be worn every day. We do try to curate the sales to make them accessible to a growing number of new buyers, sale after sale, through the online format of our sales.

We are eager to bring a pedagogical approach to our sales, presenting our jewelry by period, color and style. Our buyers are increasingly looking for unique pieces that represent the history of jewelry, and this is something that encourages us to pursue this direction.

Model wearing a Bulgari necklace and rings that sold at Christie’s Paris. (Christie’s Images Limited)

How important is working on styling the jewelry?

Our aim is to always focus with an eye toward showing buyers how antique and yet modern jewels can be worn every day. We have been working with various stylists who specialize in fashion shoots to present jewelry that is worn as a unique accessory. The time spent on this type of project is essential in order to reach out to new buyers who would never have imagined buying a piece of jewelry at auction for everyday wear.

Finally, our online sales reach the entire globe: Over 40 nationalities are represented in our online sales, and working with a model and posting pictures online allows buyers to relate to the pieces they are wearing, despite the distance, if they cannot attend our exhibitions.

What has been the most extraordinary jewelry you’ve handled in your career?

A unique jewel by Jean Fouquet emblematic of the power of the Art Deco artistic movement, reflecting industrialization in paintings, sculptures, architecture and jewelry: a necklace in platinum, silver and an important aquamarine, with typical Art Deco shapes and volume.

Earlier during my studies, I wrote a thesis on this jewel, but I never imagined that one day I would have the opportunity to open a box, touch the necklace, try it on and promote its sale. The collector who owned this piece has a rare and exquisite taste for art, and it was a great pleasure to work with him to promote his jewel in the best possible way, to give it maximum exposure and to win as many bids as possible.

Today, it is the most expensive Jean Fouquet jewel sold in the world, estimated between EUR 350,000 [approximately $383,000] and EUR 500,000 [approximately $547,000], and sold in our online sale in Paris in 2021 for $1.2 million.

I wrote a thesis on this jewel, but I never imagined that one day I would…touch the necklace, try it on and promote its sale.

What piece would you have liked to take home?

For sure, this Jean Fouquet necklace as a sculpture under a globe in my living room, which I could wear with a simple black dress or with a white shirt and blue jeans before going out to dinner, forgetting its $1 million value!

Any advice for an aspiring auctioneer?

Look at jewelry every day, without exception, starting with the reverse side of the jewel in order to understand how it was made and determine its period. Trust your knowledge and be passionate about what you are fortunate to do.

Main image: Violaine d’Astorg. (Christie’s Images Limited)

This article is from the January-February 2024 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.

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