Are jewelry treasures hiding in your home? For these five New England families, the answer was yes.
By Kim Knox Beckius
Nov 01 2018
An Artist’s TouchPhoto Credit : Photo provided by Skinner
Sponsored by Skinner
Kaitlin Shinnick can count on a jewelry surprise practically every week. She isn’t a princess or heiress. She’s senior specialist in the fine jewelry department at Skinner: the Boston-based auction house known for unearthing treasures and gaveling them at record-shattering prices. There’s another intriguing twist to this modern-day fairy tale. Many of the most exquisite jewelry pieces Shinnick receives—the ones that fetch hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars—spent years hidden away in New England homes, mixed in with Grandma’s things or forgotten at the bottom of a jewelry box.
If you doubt your ancestors’ bling is worth much of anything, you’re not unlike consignors who have walked through Skinner’s door unknowingly clasping treasures. “When something rare comes in, it’s an exciting moment,” says Shinnick. “We get a really great surprise here three or four times per year: something that really knocks our socks off,” she says. These stories of five of her favorite finds illustrate how a jewelry piece’s value isn’t always obvious to the untrained eye.
Not Just Any Sapphire Ring
The cushion-cut sapphire, framed by diamonds, was so abraded it was almost opaque. “You couldn’t even see inside the stone,” Shinnick remembers. But there was something about its beautiful color that made her and her colleagues suspect this was no ordinary sapphire. American Gemological Laboratories confirmed their hunch, and they were able to delight a Martha’s Vineyard family with the news their heirloom ring had at its center a sapphire from the remote Kashmir mines in India. “The Kashmir mines stopped producing in the 1880s, so they’re very rare stones; they have an unusual, velvety, blue-violet color that is very distinct,” Shinnick explains. Despite the ring’s condition, it sold for $135,000 at auction—more than double the estimate.
The Purest Type of Diamond
When a heart-shaped diamond weighs more than 30 carats, there’s no doubt it is a special stone. This gem, from a Rhode Island consignor, had been in the family since it was purchased in France in the late 19th century. Originally a pendant and reset in a ring, the diamond’s fabulosity wasn’t merely due to its size and romantic shape. “It was also a D color, which is the whitest type of diamond,” Shinnick explains. What really sent the value through the roof, though, was its classification as an exceedingly rare type IIa, the most chemically pure diamond. “It had incredible optical transparency” and seemed whiter due to its purity, says Shinnick. The winning bid for this stunner topped $3.9 million.
An Artist’s Touch
It isn’t always the intrinsic value of the materials that makes a jewelry item sought-after. “Sometimes, it’s the design and the artistry of the piece,” Shinnick says. A Massachusetts family learned this first-hand when the Art Deco brooch they consigned sold for nearly $190,000—more than double the estimate—at one of Skinner’s quarterly fine jewelry auctions. Made by Boucheron with intricately set diamonds, cabochon coral, lapis, and jadeite, it wasn’t the stones but the composition that attracted bidders’ attention. The incredibly beautiful design—inspired by the Ballets Russes—was the work of French sculptor and painter Lucien Hirtz, who spent a portion of his career collaborating with royal jeweler Boucheron. Adding to the brooch’s pedigree: It was exhibited in 1925 at the Exposition Universelle des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.
A Scarcely Seen Style from a Famous Maker
Anyone with even a passing interest in jewelry knows the name Cartier. But the experts at Skinner are among the few who have ever seen a bracelet this delicate and unusual bearing the famous maker’s mark. Passed down through generations of a New England family, the circa 1920 platinum, diamond, and onyx bracelet was set on a grosgrain ribbon and had an onyx Chinese button clasp. This incredible Art Deco piece “had everything,” Shinnick says. “It was rare, it was by a well-known maker, and it just had this incredible beauty of design.” The new owner bid more than a quarter-million dollars for the privilege of taking it home.
Emeralds and Diamonds and Rubies, Oh My!
Estate pieces often have remarkable backstories. This long, articulated Art Deco brooch featuring three carved emeralds, 56 rubies, and 115 diamonds had been on the auction block once before. The piece, made in France by Chaumet, was purchased from the famous Lillian S. Timken Collection of Precious Stone Jewelry in 1960 and traveled from New York to the Midwest: a gift from the prominent owner of a department store chain to his wife. Two generations later, the couple’s New Hampshire-based grandchildren brought this “very unusual, exceptional piece” to Skinner for evaluation, Shinnick says. Its estimated worth of $150,000 to $200,000 was conservative. The brooch sold for $385,500.
If these tales of treasures found inspire you to take a closer look at vintage pieces you own, Shinnick has these tips:
If it’s the opportunity to view and own lovely pieces with unique New England stories that has you curious and excited, check here for Skinner’s next auction. “Anyone can come in and watch an auction, and we often get people who just observe for the entertainment,” Shinnick says. Phone, online, and absentee bidding are options, too, but nothing beats the thrill of registering, getting a paddle, and participating the old-fashioned way.