Why Private Collections Have Public Appeal

The power of personality: With the Christie’s spring sales full of pieces from prominent owners, the stories of these figures help capture buyers’ interest.

May 23, 2023  |  Kate Matthams
Anne Eisenhower Christie's

It’s been a big year for estate jewels at Christie’s, and pieces with glamorous provenance are now more desirable than ever. May saw the Heidi Horten collection — the most valuable private jewelry collection to come to auction, according to the house — go under the hammer in Geneva.

On June 7, the Anne Eisenhower collection is set to go on sale in New York. Upcoming auctions will also offer jewels that once belonged to film stars Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, as well as the Getty and Rockefeller families.

“Private collections have always been a way for Christie’s international clientele to acquire important estate jewelry,” says Claibourne Poindexter, senior specialist at the auction house’s New York jewelry department. “An individual’s jewelry collection is the most personal reflection of taste and style.”
And when that individual is a famously elegant woman with impeccable taste, the value is likely to rise. While “materials come first when pricing a jewel,” Poindexter says, “we know that provenance will become a factor.”

A reflection of taste

To reach the right collectors, Christie’s creates a narrative that combines the jewels’ history with the story of the previous owner.

“Sales in which the jewels are superb and the personality of the owner comes through are my favorite part of the job,” relates Poindexter.

The Eisenhower collection, for instance, reflects the late philanthropist and interior designer’s refinement and energy, showing “an eye for quality that is rarely found in collections being built today,” he says. As a jewelry collector, Eisenhower focused on diamonds and the Big Three. The lot list includes a diamond and ruby Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet that once belonged to Dietrich and that’s expected to sell for up to $4.5 million. Eisenhower also commissioned the maison to make a necklace and earrings to match.

Big houses like Cartier, Boucheron, Harry Winston, and Tiffany & Co. will all be present in the Christie’s spring sales. Horten, an Austrian philanthropist, had over 130 pieces by Bulgari, spanning more than 50 years of the jeweler’s history. Meanwhile, June’s Magnificent Jewels sales in New York and Geneva will include the largest array of JAR designs ever to go up for auction.

Diamond and jadeite peapod earrings from the Horten sale.

One of the most significant pieces of the season is a Cartier ring featuring the famous 25.59-carat Sunrise Ruby. Horten was the most recent owner of the stone, which broke records when it sold at Sotheby’s for over $30 million in 2015. However, it failed to meet its $15.7 million estimate at the May Geneva sale, which was blighted by controversy when it was revealed that Horten’s husband made the family’s fortune in Nazi Germany. Despite this, the auction has so far surpassed expectations to reach a total hammer price of $202.2 million, with a second online sale set for November.

For the rest of the season, Poindexter predicts “record prices, particularly for exquisitely rare gemstones and important pieces of jewelry design.”

Cartier Art Deco diamond bangle bracelet from the Eisenhower sale.

Market value

Whether it’s for the allure of a glittering backstory or the beauty of craftsmanship and materials, buying antique jewelry is an appealing investment. These often one-of-a-kind pieces appreciate well and let wearers express their own identities.

In the coming months, Poindexter expects to see exponential growth in the Christie’s client base. He already reports increasing numbers of younger collectors seeking not only distinctive jewels to wear, but also valuable assets for their portfolios. Most collectors have particular areas of interest.

“Do you like natural pearls? Are you looking for pieces which were made by the most important houses? The answer is often a combination of factors, which is what makes collecting jewelry an art form in itself,” he says.

This article is from the May-June 2023 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.

Main image: Anne Eisenhower. (Christie’s)


Anne Eisenhower Christie's Why Private Collections Have Public Appeal

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