Diamond tiaras are a girl’s best friend: rare gems at auction this week

A 1960s Bulgari serpenti bracelet watch and an art nouveau ‘pansy’ ring are among gems on sale

Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, the famous line in the jazz song sung by Carol Channing in the original Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1949 and later by Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film, became a popular cultural reference to the already well established associations between luxurious jewellery and social status.

People’s fascination with antique jewellery remains connected to the provenance of the piece, the prestige of the jewellery designer/maker, and the value of the piece on international markets.

Adam’s auctioneers on St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, hold three big fine jewellery and watches auctions each year, complemented by four smaller jewellery and watches auctions, titled the Jewellery Box.

Claire-Laurence Mestrallet has been the head of the jewellery and watches department at Adam’s for the last eight years. “I came here with continental tastes – having worked in Switzerland and London. I source pieces in France, Italy, Austria and Germany, and my aim is to bring pieces here so Irish clients don’t have to go to London or Paris to buy what they want,” she says.


Mestrallet, who is passionate about her métier and knowledgeable about gemstone mining and the craft of jewellery making, says jewellery is more than something to wear.

“They are collectable pieces and valuable investments too,” she says. And, while she respects classic tastes of cluster rings and three or five stone diamonds, she likes to introduce clients to art deco jewellery, retro pieces from the 1950s and 1960s, and even second-hand rings and bracelets, which are still available on the retail market.

Some of the sensational items for sale at Adam’s Fine Jewellery and Watches auction on May 14th include a rare enamel and diamond serpenti bracelet watch made by the Italian jewellery house Bulgari in 1960 (estimate €40,000-€60,000). Snake motifs date from Egyptian, Chinese, Greek and Roman times but in the 1960s, Bulgari became a global trendsetter when it introduced more vivid colours and animated expressions accented by precious gemstones into their jewellery designs. “I’ve been dying to have a serpenti Bulgari piece. It will create quite a buzz on the day of the auction,” she says.

A Bulgari ring – this time with a cushion-shaped Burmese ruby, two pear-shaped diamonds with a cut-diamond surround, all of which has been certified by gemmologists at the Swiss Gübelin laboratory – is another highlight (estimate €40,000-€60,000). An art nouveau enamel and diamond “Pansy” ring, made in about 1900 by Charles Magloire Rivaud (estimate €15,000-€20,000), will also appeal.

The French jewellery maker Rivaud pioneered electroplating techniques, and gained prominence for his collaborations with renowned sculptors and painters of the time. During the era, floral jewellery became popular, and the pansy conveyed thoughts and affection of the giver towards the recipient, often associated with platonic or even unrequited love.

More affordable, and yet still strikingly beautiful, are rings in the auction including a coral and mother of pearl cross over ring (estimate of €1,500-€2,000), and an elegant gold “Trinity” ring by Cartier, made of three polished interlocking bands in yellow, white and rose gold (estimate €700-€900). There is also an interesting selection of banded bracelets from the 1940s and 1950s, which are perfect for wearing for social occasions.

Watch for O’Reilly’s

O’Reilly’s Fine Art on Francis Street, Dublin will hold one of its biannual design sales on May 15th. This auction will feature mainly jewellery and watches, with a small number of artworks included.

Natasha Bernon from O’Reilly’s suggests a vintage diamond and black enamel ring by British jeweller David Morris (estimate €58,000-€65,000), as one of the highlights. Morris designed jewellery for various royals and James Bond films. Some of his pieces are on permanent display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Morris’s son, Jeremy, is now the principal designer and director of the store on New Bond Street, London, which opened in 1996.

Bernon says that three Jaeger Le Coultre Reverso lady’s watches will also attract buyers. An 18ct yellow-gold silver-dialled wristwatch, with separate minute dial and moon phase, has an estimate of €3,000-€5,000. Another Reverso silver face, with Arabic numerals, has an estimate of €2,800-€3,500, while a similar design with a stainless steel bracelet strap guides at €1,500-€2,000.

“Just as with jewellery, a watch can hold memories while you wear it – memories of the place where you bought it, the excitement of wearing it for the first time and the meaning behind it – all the while offering the useful function of time keeping,” says Bernon.

Matthews auction rooms in Kells, Co Meath, will also hold a jewellery, silver and gold auction on May 18th. The 570 lots includes plenty of affordable rings, brooches, bracelets, pendants, watches and costume jewellery, in the midst of some more exquisite investment pieces from various executor sales and other sources.

Finally, Sotheby’s is selling a 1960s Chaumet diamond tiara (Swiss francs, 110,000-160,000/€130,000-€164,000) previously owned by Anne Gunning Parker (also known as Lady Anne Nutting), at its “magnificent jewels and noble jewels” auction in Geneva, Switzerland on May 14th. Gunning Parker was one of the top models of the 1950s and the house model for famous Irish fashion designer Sybil Connolly.

adams.ie; oreillysfineart.com; matthewsauctionrooms.com; sothebys.com

What did it sell for?

Samuel Beckett, oil on canvas painting by Louis le Brocquy

Estimate €40,000-€60,000

Hammer price €88,900

Auction house Sotheby’s

A Shining Palace, Venice by William Leech

Estimate €40,000-€60,000

Hammer price €50,800

Auction house Sotheby’s

Two Clowns Fooling, Camille Souter

Estimate €5,000

Hammer price €21,950

Auction house Sotheby’s