Animal and Plant Motif Jewelry Appearing at Public Auctions

  • The use of plant and animal motifs in jewelry designs is an ancient historic theme, prevalent since the time of ancient Egyptians and Greeks, and used during the various jewelry periods in history, reaching its climax during the Art Nouveau period at the turn of the 20th century between 1890 to 1905, and continued to prevail well into the 20th century, with modern jewelry designers like Jean Schlumberger, Paulding Farnham and others elevating the art to sophisticated and refined levels, receiving international acclamation. At every public auction conducted by the leading auction houses such as Christie's and Sotheby's such jewelry pieces incorporating plant and animal motifs, had featured and performed impressively. Creating a thread to bring together such impressive pieces following the success of the Kashmir sapphire, Ceylon sapphire, and Alexandrite threads, occurred to me as a regular participant in updating the successful threads.


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    Lot 169 at Christie's Jewels at South Kensington Sale held on April 7, 2009 was a - Diamond, Emerald And Ruby Butterfly Brooch - from the late 19th-century Art Nouveau period. The butterfly designed with yellow gold was bezel set with a pear-shaped emerald on the thorax, three cushion-shaped old brilliant-cut diamonds on the abdomen, and two circular-cut rubies on the head, representing the eyes. The end of the yellow-gold antennae are set with small pear-shaped rubies. The wings of the butterfly are set with 3 or 4 rows of circular or cushion-shaped old brilliant-cut diamonds, and the edges of the wings are set with a single row of circular-cut rubies. The overall appearance of the setting looks like a natural butterfly, a living testimony to the perfection this art of jewelry designing had achieved during the Art Nouveau period. The lot sold above the pre-sale estimate of US$5,222 - $6,714 for US$19,320.

  • Thanks AnitaP for starting this thread. As you said several such pieces are featured at every public auction, and bringing together such pieces would be interesting and informative.


    I was just able to fish out two such interesting pieces that appeared at Christie's auctions in 2009.


    An interesting animal motif lot that appeared at Christie's "Jewels : The London Sale" held on June 10, 2009 was Lot 38, titled A Pair of Gem Set Lion Brooches, by Van Cleef & Arpels. The lion brooches designed with textured yellow-gold, have their muzzles pave-set with white circular-cut diamonds, the nose made of black enamel and the eyes set with emeralds, with prominent yellow-gold whiskers and mane. While one lion brooch is 4.6 cm high, the other brooch is slightly shorter with a height of 3.2 cm. The brooches with a pre-sale estimate of US$6,464 - $9,696 sold above the upper estimate for US$12,263.




    Another important animal motif lot that appeared at Christie's Jewels : The New York Sale held on April 22, 2009 at the New York, Rockefeller Plaza, and made a significant impact, was Lot 168, titled - An Antique Ivory And Multi-Gem Elephant, which sold for US$170,500 above the pre-sale estimate of US$80,000 - $120,000. The lot designed by an unknown jewelry designer from Sri Lanka consists of a carved ivory elephant, bedecked with gem-set robes covering the sides of the animal and its trunk; the relic casket made of gold and covered with a canopy of gold, being carried on the howdah placed on the back of the elephant. The bedecked ivory elephant is actually a miniature model of the bedecked "perahera" elephant that carries the Buddha's sacred relics, in an annual pageant of the Temple of the Tooth" situated in the City of Kandy, in Central Sri Lanka, in which hundred of elephants take part.


    The eyes of the ivory elephant are set with chrysoberyl catseyes. The robes covering the sides of the elephant and its trunk are set with vari-cut, multi-colored sapphire, rubies, emeralds, star sapphires, star rubies, and cat's eye chrysoberyls. The feet and the tusk of the elephant are decorated with gold bands and the toe nails set with gold. The dimensions of the elephant are 8.5 x 9 x 4.25 ins. The bedecked ivory elephant is believed to have been designed around the year 1900. However, such bedecked ivory elephants were produced in Sri Lanka until recently, when the international ban on the trade in ivory and ivory products came into force in 1990.

  • Lot 195, 196 and 293 are three human and animal motif brooches that apeared at Christie's New York Rockefeller Plaza, Magnificent Jewels Sale held on April 11, 2001.


    Lots 195 and 196 are blackamoor brooches designed by the renowned Venetian jewelry designer Nardi, based on the famous Venetian icon - the Moretto, depicting the head and shoulders of a turbaned Moor of Venice, with its gem-encrusted turban and tunic. Nardi's blackamoors became very popular in the 1920s and 1930s.


    Lot 195 is a carved hardstone blackamoor, wearing a 18k gold turban, set with oval-cut tsavorite garnets and circular-cut diamonds, surmounted by a mabé pearl, with diamond collet ear-pendants. The 18k gold tunic is encrusted with alternating semi-circular rows of oval-cut tsavorite garnets and circular-cut diamonds.


    Lot 196 is another Nardi blackamoor brooch carved out of blackonyx, wearing an 18k gold turban set with a circular-cut ruby, with 18k gold earpendants, and the tunic set with circular-cut and oval-cut rubies, and multi-colored sapphires, such as yellow, orange, pink and blue sapphires.


    Nardi's blackamoor brooches are highly collectible and lot 195 sold for US$11,750 above the pre-sale estimate of US$6,000 - $8,000.


    Lot 293 that appeared at the same Christie's New York auction, was a Cartier duck brooch made up of agate, coral, sapphire and diamond. The body of the duck was carved out of orangish-white agate and the bill and feet made of coral.The eyes were set with circular-cut blue sapphires. The duck was wearing a yellow-gold crown, and an old European-cut diamond necklace, enhanced by gold wiretwist and mounted in 18k gold. The lot sold above the pre-sale estimate of US$2,500 - $3,500 for US$4,935.


  • Two plant motif brooches also appeared at the same Christie's New York Rockefeller Plaza, Magnificent Jewels Sale held on April 11, 2001. These are lots 206 and 242.


    Lot 206, A Turquoise, Sapphire And Diamond Brooch, designed as a reeded gold and pave-set sapphire spathe of an Araceae (Aroid) inflorescence, set with an oval-shaped turquoise spadix and further enhanced by a pavé-set diamond sepal. The stem and leaves are made of reeded gold, enhanced by circular-cut diamonds mounted in 14k gold. The lot sold for US$5,288 above the estimated range of US$3,000 - $4,000.


    Lot 242, was an Attractive Diamond Flower Brooch designed as a flower of two whorls of three petals each, pavé-set with circular-cut diamonds, accented by yellow-gold veins, and the center of the flower occupied by a bunch of circular-cut diamonds representing the stamens and pistil of the flower. The lot sold within the estimated range of US$20,000 - $30,000 for US$21,150.


  • Several Animal and Plant Motif Jewel lots appeared at Christie's New York Rockefeller Plaza, Jewels : The New York Sale held on April 22, 2009. These lots are 4, 6, 7, 8, 161, 188.


    Lot 4 - An Enamel, Diamond And Multi-Gem Lion Brooch - by David Webb - Sold for US$6,250
    Lot 6 - A Rock Crystal And Gold Elepant Pendant Necklace - by David Webb - Sold for US$10,000
    Lot 7 - Catseye Chrysoberyl And Gold Cat's Face Brooch - by Tiffany & C0. - Sold for US$32,500
    Lot 8 - Set of Onyx, Diamond And Haematite "Pisce" Jewelry - by Bulgari - Sold for US$6,000
    Lot 161 - Pair of Diamond and Black Diamond Hedgehog Ear Clips - by Jar - Sold for US$86,500
    Lot 188 - Ruby Diamond and Gold Pineapple Brooch - by Jean Schlumberger - Sold for US$16,250


  • Each of the six lots highlighted by Mikegem created by internationally renowned jewelry designers, show stunning creative features of the highest order, that elevated them to the ranks of greatest creative designers in the world. However, if I am given the freedom to choose the best among the six, I would pick the Cat's Face Brooch, the Lion Brooch and the Pineapple Brooch. This is just my personal preference.

  • Frankly speaking Joan your choice seems to be in perfect order. Schlumberger's ruby, diamond and gold pineapple brooch is indeed fantastic. The pineapple appears to be carved out of a single large crystal of ruby and is topped by another cabochon-cut ruby. I would like to know whether such large crystals of ruby do actually occur in nature.

  • Rubies and sapphires belong to the same group of minerals called corundum, which is a crystalline form of aluminum oxide. The red color of rubies is caused by chromium atoms which displace some of the aluminum atoms in the crystal structure of aluminum oxide. These chromium atoms that impart color to the rubies also interfere with the growth of the crystal leading to the formation of cracks and fissures in the crystal. Thus the ruby crystal can only grow to a limited size without flaws in the crystal. This explains why most of the high quality rubies with the minimum of flaws are mostly less than 100 carats in weight. High quality rubies greater than 100 carats in weight are extremely rare. Enormous rough ruby crystals weighing thousands of carats do sometimes occur in nature. However, such crystals are not of gem-quality and contain lots of cracks and fissures. The single large crystal of ruby used to carve out the pineapple in Schlumberger's brooch appears to be such a large non-gem quality naturally occurring ruby crystal.

  • Schlumberger, Webb and Jar are common names one usually come across when talking about quality jewelry, but may not mean much to the common laymen not involved in the jewelry manufacturing industry and trade. Could anyone give a brief introduction to these reputed individuals for the benefit of the laymen and uninitiated.

  • Jean Michel Schlumberger (1907-1987) was a French jewelry designer well known for his work at Tiffany & Co. He was born to a well-to-do family involved in textile manufacturing in the town of Mulhouse in eastern France, close to the German border. He showed extraordinary artistic talents since his youth, which was continuously discouraged by his parents. Schlumberger began his career with Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli for whom he designed buttons in the 1930s and later costume jewelry. He fought with the French army in World War II, surviving Dunkirk in 1940; serving under General Charles de Gaulle in England and the Free French Forces in the Middle East.


    After World War II, Schlumberger relocated to New York where he began designing clothing for Chez Ninon. In 1946, he began designing his own jewelry, opening his first jewelry salon in partnership with Nicolas Bongard. Ten years later in 1956, Walter Hoving, the president of Tiffany & Co. who was impressed by Schlumberger's jewelry designs, persuaded him to join the Company as chief jewelry designer. He had his own workshop at the company until his retirement in the late 1970s as a Vice-President of the Company. For Schlumberger jewelry designing became a medium and outlet for the expression of his inborn artistic talents that were suppressed by his family at an early age. While at Tiffany his designs inspired by natural forms such as animals, plants and sea creatures, became famous for their creative features, given expression with materials such as yellow-gold, silver, white-gold, platinum, colored gemstones, pearls, corals and diamonds. Schlumberger was given the freedom to sign his own work by Tiffany's during his tenure as designer for the firm.


    One of the most famous pieces created by Schlumberger was the "Bird on a Rock" brooch that incorporated the 128.54-carat Tiffany Yellow Diamond, which is still in the firm's collection. His clients included royalty and celebrites such as the Duchess of Windsor, Mona von Bismarck, the Duchess of Kent, Jacqueline Kennedy, Greta Garbo, Gloria Vanderbilt, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and Diana Vreeland. He died in Paris in 1987.



  • It is highly unlikely Jack. As Peter has already pointed out, Schlumberger was held in high esteem by Tiffany's that he was among the few designers employed by the company, who were given the freedom to sign their own work. Lot 7 was just signed as Tiffany & Co. which necessarily means the anonymous designer of this piece was not granted the same privilege as Schlumberger.

  • David Webb, founder of David Webb Jewelry was an American jeweler born in Asheville, North Carolina in 1925. Webb was a self-taught jewelry designer, whose designs included dragon bracelets, Maltese cross brooches and animal motif jewelry. The Duke of Windsor purchased a David Webb bracelet for his wife in 1964. Among his other distinguished clients were Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedey Onassis, Barbara Streisand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner and Diana Vreeland former editor of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue Magazines. Unfortunately, David Webb died of pancreatic cancer at the relatively young age of 50 years in 1975, but fortunately not before leaving an unbelievably rich and diverse collection of exquisitely designed, intricate jewelry to be treasured and preserved for many generations to come.


  • Thanks John for your update on David Webb and the beautiful images. Surely, David Webb was a designer par excellence as revealed by his unique creations. It's a pity that the cruel hand of fate snatched away his life at a relatively young age, before he could fully accomplish his mission in life. May his soul rest in peace.

  • Joel Arthur Rosenthal who prefers to be known by his initials JAR, is a reclusive contemporary American/French Jewelry designer, born in Bronx, New York City in 1943, the only child of a Bronx postal worker and a Biology teacher in public high school. He grew up in an area in Bronx called Parkchester and spent his summers with his parents at the Castle Hill Beach Club in East Bronx. During his young years he spent a lot of time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the American Museum of Natural History, spending a lot of time at the Metals and Minerals Galleries.


    Initially, he went to the High School of Museum & Art in New York, with the intention of becoming a professional painter. Later, he attended City College where he spent a semester studying linguistics. His interest in languages subsequently help him to attain proficiency in languages such as French, Italian, and Yiddish apart from English. He gained admission to Harvard in 1964, majoring in Art History and Philosophy, accelerating his program and finishing in two years instead of three.


    Soon after graduating he moved immediately to Paris, where he believed he could advance his artistic talents. He began by writing English and French movie scripts. He then met Pierre Jeannet, a Swiss Psychiatrist who became his friend and permanent business associate. Together they opened a Needlepoint Store in Paris, where JAR painted the designs for the tapestries and experimented with unusually colored yarn. There clientele included designers from Hermes and Valentino. JAR having always had a fascination for jewelry, then took up an appointment with Bulgari New York as a salesman for a short period. In 1977, he returned to Paris, where he was asked if he could design a mount for a gemstone. As destiny would have it, this assignment sent his career in a new and final direction, that eventually elevated him to the most popular and much sought-after contemporary jewelry designer in the world.


    JAR began experimenting with jewelry, designing pieces using inexpensive stones like coral, moonstone and semi-precious stones in assorted colors, such as red, violet, pink, and green. In 1978, JAR and Pierre Jeannet, opened a jewelry business on Place Vendôme in Paris. His designs quickly became famous not only for its vibrant colors but also organic shapes, such as flowers, butterflies, or animals. He used a dark metal alloy for his settings to highlight the gems color. He used pavé setting for his pieces, setting small stones closer together, making the settings virtually invisible and forming a pavement/carpet of tiny colored gemstones, with a gradation of color from the subtle to the vivid.


    Apart from His partner Pierre Jeannet, JAR works only with four assistants and uses four workrooms in Paris, Geneva and South of France. According to JAR he manufactures between 100 to 120 pieces of jewelry every year. In spite of the limited production he says his business has been profitable eversince he started and has remained entirely independent. There had been many lucrative offers to open JAR Stores in London, Geneva and other Jewelry Capitals of the world, which JAR always turned down. He says, "I don’t want to be beholden to anyone, I don’t want to be owned by anyone." JAR's Store at Place Vendôme refuses to advertise, keep regular hours or display its jewelry in window cases. In spite of his scorn for modern marketing principles JAR's jewelry has a cult-like following and is highly sought after on the auction market. Among his notable clients were Elizabeth Taylor, Ann Getty, Elle MacPherson, and Barbara Walters.


    "Jewels by JAR" an exhibition of around 400 pieces of JAR's jewelry creations, loaned by 145 of his living clients was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City from November 20, 2013 to March 9, 2014
    The exhibition was the first retrospective of his work in the United States and the first retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum devoted to a living contemporary artist of gems.


  • JAR's Pansy Rings set with colored stones and diamonds on silver and gold, shows the use of pavé-set tiny colored stones forming a carpet of tiny colored gemstones, with a gradation of color from the subtle to the vivid.


    Considering each of the five Pansy rings in the image below clockwise from top left :-


    Pansy Ring 1 - Designed in 2009, is set with green garnets of various shades and diamonds mounted on silver and gold.
    Pansy Ring 2 - Designed in 2009, is set with rubies, pink sapphires, black spinels, green garnets and diamonds on silver and gold.
    Pansy Ring 3 - Designed in 2011, is set with garnets, sapphires, spinels and diamonds mounted on silver, gold and platinum.
    Pansy Ring 4 - Designed in 2010, is set with emeralds, demantoid garnets, spinels and diamonds mounted on silver and gold.
    Pansy Ring 5 - Designed in 2012, is set with sapphires, garnets, tourmalines, chrysoberyls, spinels, citrines and diamonds mounted on silver, platinum and gold.

    Another brooch designed in 1989 by JAR, as three stylized leaves pavé-set with emeralds, peridots, garnets, citrines and zircons, also show a gradation in color from yellow to yellowish-green, and light-green to vivid green. The scrolling stem centering upon a cushion-shaped emerald is pavé-set with diamonds, mounted in platinum and gold. The lot appeared at Christie's Geneva Magnificent Jewels Sale held on November 12, 2013. A pre-sale estimate of US$511,565 - $718,367 was placed on the lot which sold much above the upper estimate for US$1,181,346.


  • Out of the six Animal and Plant Motif jewelry lots that appeared at Christie's New York Rockefeller Plaza, Jewels : The New York Sale held on April 22, 2009 and highlighted by Mikegem on August 29, 2014, the lot that realized the highest price of US$86,500 at the auctions was Lot 161 - A Pair of Diamond and Black Diamond Hedgehog Ear Clips designed by JAR. What are the possible reasons for the high price recorded by the JAR jewel ?

  • The quality of his jewelry using a combination of colored gemstones and diamonds, with an almost invisible pavé-setting, mounted on a dark metal alloy, highlighting the color of the gems, and the use of plant and animal motifs is undoubtedly the primary reason for the popular demand for his jewelry. This fact combined with the designers unconventional methods, such as his scorn for modern marketing techniques, had served to enhance the demand for his jewelry.

    Some of the factors that had served to enhance the demand for his jewelry are :-


    1) Limited production - producing only about 100 to 120 jewelry pieces every year.
    2) Laying emphasis on the quality of the jewels produced rather than on the quantity.
    3) Refusing to adopt conventional marketing methods such as advertizing, showcasing of products, and maintaining regular opening hours.

    The cult-like following enjoyed by the designer combined with the limited production and unconventional methods had served to increase the demand for JAR's jewelry to unprecedented levels, making such jewels the most sought-after at public auctions. This explains the highest price recorded by the Pair of Diamond and Black Diamond Hedgehog Ear Clips designed by JAR out of the six plant and animal motif lots that appeared at the Christie's New York Rockefeller Plaza, Jewels : The New York Sale held on April 22, 2009. The staggering US$1,181,346 recorded by a JAR jewel highlighted by sunil above, designed in 1989 as three stylized leaves pavé-set with emeralds, peridots, garnets, citrines and zircons at a Christie's auction in Geneva on November 12, 2013, serves to further strengthen this fact.

  • At least four Animal and Plant Motif Jewelry Lots appeared at Christie's London, South Kensington, Jewels At South Kensington Sale, held on April 7, 2009. These lots are Lot 3, Lot 136, Lot 138 and Lot 140. These lots except for Lot 136 were designed by unknown designers and did not make much of an impression at the auctions. Yet these lots are worth considering in detail due to the artistic excellence of these pieces.


    Lot 3 - Pre-sale estimate - US$1,492 - $2,238 Price realized - US$3,680
    Lot 136 - Pre-sale estimate - US$2,984 - $4,476 Price realized - US$4,048
    Lot 138 - Pre-sale estimate - US$2,984 - $3,730 Price realized - US$4,048
    Lot 140 - Pre-sale estimate - US$1,790 - $2,238 Price realized - US$2,208


    Lot 3 - is an antique "Victorian Diamond Bird Brooch" designed in the Late Victorian Period around 1890. The brooch is designed as a pavé-set diamond swallow with cabochon-ruby-set eyes, mounted on a pavé-set diamond crescent moon.


    Lot 136 - is a "Diamond, Coral and Emerald Owl Brooch - by Gübelin," signed with the maker's mark for Gübelin. The brooch is designed as a stylized wirework owl perched on a branch of a tree made of yellow-gold. The body of the bird and head is covered with navette-shaped coral feathers, so are two leaves of the branch. Each of the eyes are set with pave-set diamonds and a single cabochon-cut emerald.


    Lot 138 - is a "Set of Three Diamond and Gem Bee Brooches" - Each of the bees is set with calibre-cut blue sapphires, rubies or emeralds in addition to diamonds.The abdomen of the bee is set with calibre-cut colored gemstone and diamond. The thorax is set as a cluster of colored gemstone center and diamond surround. The eyes are set with cabochon-cut rubies. The wings are set with diamonds and the legs of yellow-gold wire.


    Lot 140 - is a "Colored Diamond and Sapphire Butterfly Brooch" - The thorax and abdomen of the butterfly is pavé-set with brown diamonds. The eyes are set with blue sapphires. The antenna made of yellow-gold is set with a brown diamond at its distal end. The wings are pavé-set with blue sapphires, and the borders and veins in the wing pavé-set with brilliant-cut brown diamonds. The rear wing terminals are pavé-set as clusters of brown diamonds.


  • Lot 136, "A Diamond, Coral and Emerald Owl Brooch" a signed jewel by Gübelin performed only moderately at the auctions despite its impeccable credentials. Are there any possible reasons for its moderate showing ?