The $109m (£87m) sale (conducted as a partnership between Christie’s and art-advisory firm The Fine Art Group) comprised close to 400 Mughal and Mughal-inspired jewels – much of it bought during the remarkable spending spree of ‘the world’s greatest art collector’, Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al-Thani of Qatar (1966-2014).
Many observers were intrigued as to why an incomparable collection – recently on exhibition at major museums from the V&A in London to the Palace Museum, Beijing – was being sold. A change in collecting taste by the Qatari ruling family, a belief that the market has peaked or the disposal of material acquired by an unfavoured son were all suggested as reasons why these pieces will not form part of a new Al Thani museum space in Paris scheduled to open next year.
The market response to the unexpected re-emergence of this blue-chip material was largely positive, although a recent market history is occasionally a handicap.
The sale on June 19 was topped by an extraordinary Cartier ‘devant-de-corsage’ brooch. Made to order in 1912 for the South African diamond miner Solomon Barnato Joel (1865-1931) – he provided his four best stones for the project – it was last sold at auction at Christie’s Geneva in May 2014 for a premium-inclusive SFr15.8m (around £10.5m) and again by London dealer Symbolic & Chase at the Masterpiece London fair that same year. Estimated at $10m-15m, it sold this time at $9.1m (£7.28m).
Also pictured below is a Cartier emerald, sapphire and diamond belt buckle that was made for display at the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts held in Paris in 1925. Centred by an octagonal step-cut emerald of 38.71cts, it was designed for Sybil Sassoon, Marchioness of Cholmondeley (1894-1989), to complement the chic low-waisted dresses that were in vogue at the time. Doubling hopes at $1.275m (£1.02m), it was one of many jewels in the sale that mixed courtly Indian colours and form with Western style.
Many observers were intrigued as to why this incomparable collection was being sold
Sold just below estimate at $450,000 (£360,000) was an aigrette or turban ornament c.1910 incorporating an antique Mughal emerald. This remarkable jewel, that despite its date is more Art Deco than Belle Époque, was one of 11 designed by Paul Iribe and made by Robert Linzeler. It was worn by Iribe’s wife, actress Jeanne Dirys, both in her play Le Cadet de Coutras and for a cover illustration of Comoedia Illustré dated March 1911.
Some will recall that a decade ago (September 2010) it came up for sale in Dorset where – its designer unknown by the auctioneer – it sold for a five-figure sum. Later offered for sale with its full history by the London dealer Lucas Rarities, it joined the Qatari family collection in 2013.