“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” – Confucius


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Visitors to Baselworld could see a very interesting booth at the Hall of Vision. Antique and estate jewellery were showcased here instead of novelties, new developments or innovative solutions.

Siegelson is a name that dedicated fans of classic pieces are well familiar with.  The New York-based company established in 1920 has a superb jewellery collection, encompassing the 1850-1960 period, and possess the most exclusive pieces from French, Italian and American jewellery houses. One of the most preferred periods of the founder’s grandson Lee Siegelson is Art Deco, thus we could admire quite exceptional pieces from this era in Basel too.

Art Deco is an art movement that originates in France, which was at its height in the 1920-30s. It greatly influenced architecture, fine art, sculpture and the world of jewellery too.  The movement had a particularly strong influence in Europe and America. The foundation of Art Deco is rooted in Art Noveau and the Secessionist movement, but elements of other movements are also to be found, including geometric shapes from Constructivism, modern elements from Futurism, and motifs from Egyptian and Asian art. Art Deco is a vastly popular style which to this day makes a comeback again and again; fashion trends, interiors, movies and design continue to feed on it.  Trends may come and go, but the aesthetic principles of Art Deco and the masterpieces created in this period stand the test of time.

I always find it exciting to gain insight into the lives of enterprises which are based on family traditions. Customs and traditions surround the business that is passed from father to son (or daughter). What does it take for someone to assemble such a renowned jewellery collection that many exhibitions and museums turn to in order to borrow pieces? Naturally significant capital and expertise are required as well as a risk-bearing ability. A good eye and sense of proportion are also essential. I wonder how much of this can be learned and what influence does the family or the environment in which one grows up bear? Is aesthetic refinement and good taste genetically coded “von Haus aus”?

Lee Siegelson attended Cranbook, a well-known school in Michigan. The school that has been operating since the 1920s was designed by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, and many artists worked on creating the furniture, textiles and other objects which surround the children of the school. Thus it can be considered an inspirational environment. The principles embodied by the school, such as striving for individuality and the attention to detail have had an effect on Lee Siegelson’s later work and career.  These ideals are also realized in the selection of jewellery and fine objects.

An assembly of beautiful creations were showcased in the displays of the booth at Baselworld. It would be difficult to list them all, but without being comprehensive I would like to highlight a few pieces.  One of the emblematic jewels is the Dutchess of Windsor’s floral Chalcedony Suite. The necklace designed by Suzanne Belperron is composed of a double-strand of chalcedony beads and a large flower head clasp with carved blue chalcedony petals centring cabochon sapphires and old-European cut diamonds. The complementary earrings are also made of chalcedony beads set with diamonds.

We could view a rather large jewellery graphic on one of the walls. By its side, the finished masterpiece: a vintage Van Cleef & Arpels brooch. The characteristically Art Déco piece was commissioned by oil magnate Sir Henri Deterding for his wife Lady Lydia Deterding (Lydia Pavlovna Koudoyaroff). The jewel was most probably perfect for the taste of the jewel-collector lady: the motif is decorated with brilliant- and step-cut baguettes and single- and rose-cut diamond, five natural saltwater pearls and the two center pieces are a 13.57 ct. emerald and a drop-shape natural pearl.

The cigarette case designed by French jeweller Raymond Templier originates in the heyday of male dressing and style. The silver Art Déco case is decorated with enamel (in red, green, black, and white), lacquer, and so-called eggshell lacquer and onyx.

Siegelson is not only known for antique objects and particular contemporary pieces, but the collections also include the highest quality diamonds and precious stones including emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and fancy colour diamonds. The Maharaja Sunset is one of such pieces: it is unpaired in colour and purity, the 49.31 ct yellow diamond originates from the famous Indian Golconda mines and it adorns a ring designed by Siegelson.

Perhaps the highlight of our visit to the booth was when Ari Goosen presented a truly unique and extraordinary piece, an Art Déco Cartier watch. The citrine, ebonite, diamond and enamel Mystery Clock was created by Maurice Coüet around 1920. The Mystery Clock is a technical feat in itself, the octagonal citrine dial, diamond hand masterpiece encased in ebonite and gold is truly stunning.

Mr. Siegelson shared with us that affinity and skill are necessary for not only finding but appreciating such rarities. Only truly well-informed and educated markets can value rare pieces of antique and estate jewellery.

The Masterpiece Fair in London, 27 June – 3 July, where Siegelson will also be exhibiting may prove to be an exciting summer outing for those who are interested in unrepeatable jewellery.


Photo credits: Siegelson, Loupiosity.com.
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