Published 24th March 2013
Diamonds have a sort of mythological quality in that one only has to mention the word and images of quality, durability, eternity, beauty and value come to mind. Men have made and lost fortunes mining them, with many diamond rushes over the years leading to fortune or disaster for so many intrepid men and women. The careful control exercised over the production and marketing of the stones by de Beers has certainly played a significant part in maintaining the mythology, but the extraordinary qualities of the gem itself also explains why it has come to represent so much to mankind.
The facts are well-known but bear repeating: Diamond is a metastable allotrope of carbon which, because of the close-bonding of its atoms, has remarkable properties of strength, hardness and thermal conductivity. These give it it's importance in industry in cutting softer materials.
It is its optical properties which mark its importance for use in jewellery. Because it is so rigid, it is less liable to contamination by properties which would affect its otherwise clear appearance. Occasionally, these impurities lead to even rarer coloured diamonds. But it is the high optical dispersion of the diamond that leads to its associated lustre and which gives its timeless appeal. Their mass is measured in carats.
As often as not, diamonds are mounted as single stones in rings and this is frequently how the most valuable diamonds are displayed, as in the case of lot 293 in our next Fine Sale on the 24th/25th April 2013: a diamond single stone ring (FS18/293), with circular, brilliant cut diamond approximately 4.5cts in curtain claw setting, 4.2gm total weight, estimated at £8,000-£12,000. This relatively simple setting is designed to show the stone off to its best advantage.
A slightly more exotic formation is afforded the diamonds in lot 294: a platinum and diamond two stone cross-over ring (FS18/294), with cushion-shaped old brilliant-cut diamonds, approximately 9.5mm x 6.1mm and 9.5mm x 5.8mm, estimated to weigh 3.5cts and 3.4cts in a cross-over claw setting between brilliant and baguette-cut diamond shoulders, 8.3gm total weight. This ring includes diamonds with two different cuts that compliment each other. The estimate of £15,000-£18,000 makes this a very exclusive buy indeed!
Contemporary designer jewellery makes an appearance in this sale with lot 152 by Charmian Harris. An 18ct gold and tourmaline bead necklace of graduated 'sugar loaf' tourmaline beads of pinkish green, separated by textured gold coloured beads, the clasp with makers mark CH for Charmian Harris, together with a leather case. Charmian Harris originally worked in ceramics and developed into metalwork and jewellery, with her skills being largely self-taught. She is still exhibiting and producing and her work is highly collectable.
Antique Jewellery unsurprisingly is one of the mainstays of Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood's jewellery auctions and lot 235 is no exception: a Belle Epoque platinum, diamond and sapphire bar brooch (FS18/235), with central old European-cut diamond approximately 1.15ct, millegrain-set at the centre of a bar, channel-set with a line of rectangular sapphires amongst circular diamonds estimated to weigh a total of 3.5cts, 75mm long, 10.6gm total weight.
The Belle Epoque period lasted from around 1870 to the start of World War I and is associated with stylish designs of an art nouveau nature and which call to mind the society of Oscar Wilde and his contemporaries, and the last flashes of decadence which were lost after the great war and came out in the design of French jewellery of this period.