Gems & Gemology, Summer 2017, Vol. 53, No. 2

Book Review: Hidden Gems: Jewellery Stories from the Saleroom

Larry S. Larson
Hidden Gems Book Cover
By Sarah Hue-Williams and Raymond Sancroft-Baker, 312 pp., hardcover, illus., publ. by Unicorn Press, London, 2016, US$50.00.

True stories sell. In Hidden Gems: Jewellery Stories from the Saleroom by Sarah Hue-Williams and Raymond Sancroft-Baker, 40 highly captivating and significant stories are recounted in celebration of the 250th anniversary of Christie’s auction house. Various chapters focus on Hollywood icons and their jewelry, the historical pieces of English lords and ladies, and designers important to the industry. The book includes details on important objects interspersed with homey tales of quiet personages simply wanting someone else to have their turn with beautiful jewelry.

The authors tell entertaining stories of Christie’s opening in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s. The multiple tales regarding the sale of the late Eva Gabor’s jewelry quickly grabs the reader’s attention, especially when documenting the auction house’s experiences with the world’s most glamourous executrix: Eva’s sister Zsa Zsa Gabor. Not only do you get to feel the dance of negotiations—“But dahlink, you know I always use Christie’s” while pursuing negotiations with other auction houses—we learn that the potential star of the auction, Eva’s diamond engagement ring, was nothing more than a glorious, eye-catching fake. The authors assure the reader that the faux piece was quickly pulled from the sale.

Balancing Hollywood glitz, stories abound in the elegantly composed book about English nobility quietly deaccessioning passé Victorian pieces, too-fussy Edwardian tiaras and stomachers, even artful Art Deco jeweled cases for a lady’s evening bag. No compilation of tales about an English auction house would be complete without a story or two about classically eccentric English ladies of means. The detailed conversation between a house-bound collector and Christie’s representative strike a resonant chord with anyone that has ever cultivated a sales relationship with a highly valued client, but the gemological history of her ever-increasing collection of Victorian jewelry also serves as a great teaching aid to interested readers. The Hull-Grundy collection, which an entire chapter is devoted to, explores the art of the cameo as executed by two famous artists, Fortunato Pio Castellani and Tommaso Saulino.

The authors go to great lengths to be accurate and fair when relating information about the gems and jewelry sold at Christie’s. The final section in the book carefully delineates gemological standards and information; these are indeed much like the sections within the auction house’s sales catalogues. The section then takes it a step further and gives the reader a tour of the world’s jewelry centers, including London’s Hatton Garden.

To hold your interest, all 40 stories in this cherished work are accompanied by high-quality photographs of the sold lots. There is an art to telling a story and an art to photographing jewelry; this book succeeds on both counts. The captivating snippets of the backstories of items in an auction catalog truly intrigue the reader. Until now, it was unclear that some of the pieces offered were the result of careful cultivation of the client after viewing their private menagerie. In particular, stories about customers coming to Christie’s with large diamonds wrapped in tissue pulled from pocketbooks strike a chord with this reader.

When you read this book—and you should—relish the way the stories flow in an intimate conversational manner, note the careful vetting of gemological lore and knowledge and, most importantly, admire the fact that if you work at Christie’s you want to pick up the phone. You never know what will be offered.

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