A 'perfect' diamond and Peggy Rockefeller's beloved jewels: highlights from Christie's Magnificent Jewels sale in New York

Van Cleef & Arpels peridot and diamond necklace, part of a suite of jewellery that belonged to Peggy Rockefeller
Van Cleef & Arpels peridot and diamond necklace, part of a suite of jewellery that belonged to Peggy Rockefeller

Last month’s three-day sale of Peggy and David Rockefeller’s art collection was, as expected, the most valuable estate auction in history, raising $832.6 million (£614m) for their chosen roster of philanthropic organisations. And the charitable coffers are set for another boost as Christie’s prepares to auction 19 jewels from the Rockefeller collection in its upcoming Magnificent Jewels auction in New York.

Signed jewellery by the likes of Tiffany & Co, Van Cleef & Arpels and Raymond Yard - the Rockefeller family’s preferred jeweller - features in the sale, which includes the diamond ring with which David proposed to Peggy in 1940. The Rockefellers were renowned for their refined taste, collecting important stones alongside artistic pieces from the 1960s and 1970s. Such esteemed provenance is sure to attract collectors’ attention.

Outside of the Rockefeller collection, the sale features “the full spectrum of jewellery design,” says Daphne Lingon, Christie’s head of jewellery in New York. “Although it’s a smaller sale for us - only 189 lots - it’s a unique sale in that it has everything from beautiful art nouveau jewellery to contemporary pieces.”

She picks out her top lots.

Hemmerle aquamarine and aluminium earrings

hemmerle aquamarine emerald earrings
hemmerle aquamarine emerald earrings

Lot 82: Hemmerle aquamarine and aluminium earrings, estimate $12,000 - $18,000 (£9,000 - £13,500)

“We don’t see a lot of contemporary jewellery design at auction but these Hemmerle earrings, from the estate of Ruth Stanton, who was a Hemmerle collector, are particularly beautiful.

We are seeing a resurgence in aquamarine at the moment following the royal wedding. These are a really beautiful, spring-summer colour and I love the briolette cut. What’s also interesting is the pairing of a beautiful gemstone with an unusual metal, in this case a matte finish aluminium. It’s so modern: subtle and understated but with a beautiful presence which is typical of Hemmerle jewellery.”

Tiffany tanzanite and diamond brooch

tiffany tanzanite diamond brooch
tiffany tanzanite diamond brooch

Lot 85: Tiffany & Co tanzanite and diamond brooch, estimate $20,000 - $30,000 (£15,000 - £22,400)

“You have to see this brooch in person to understand its unique qualities. When I first saw it I thought that the centre stone was one large carved tanzanite but it’s actually several smaller beads of tanzanite mounted as a three-dimensional cluster. They are all beautifully transparent and well matched in colour. The curve of the beads then contrasts with the geometric spray of baguette-cut diamonds and platinum.

The construction is incredible - it’s quite a substantial piece with a great weight to it. Tiffany was the first big house to retail tanzanite, and this is almost a contemporary take on a late Victorian starburst brooch. We don’t know exactly which year it is from but it was made in the last five to ten years, so it’s another fantastic contemporary piece.”

Suite of peridot and diamond jewellery by Van Cleef & Arpels

“There are 19 pieces from the Rockefeller collection in the sale and this suite of peridot jewellery by Van Cleef and Arpels is my favourite. It comprises a necklace, bracelet, ring and earclips. I love the bright yellowish-green colour of the stones and the fact that Peggy Rockefeller wore it so often.

van cleef peridot and diamond earrings
van cleef peridot and diamond earrings

Van Cleef & Arpels peridot and diamond earrings, part of Lot 174, estimate $80,000 - $120,000 (£60,000 - £90,000)

There are many photographs of her wearing the entire suite all at once at special occasions. She’s smiling, she’s dancing; it’s such a happy, beautiful suite of jewellery that she clearly cherished.

We don’t know if she bought this suite herself or whether David bought it for her, but it’s clear from the pieces in the sale that they collected two distinct categories of jewellery.

On the one hand there are the very traditional pieces by Raymond Yard, who was considered the Rockefellers’ family jeweller. Mr Rockefeller’s father, John D. Rockefeller Junior, developed a relationship with Yard early in his career and encouraged him to go out on his own.

van cleef arpels peridot bracelet peggy rockefeller
van cleef arpels peridot bracelet peggy rockefeller

Van Cleef & Arpels peridot and diamond bracelet, part of Lot 174, estimate $80,000 - $120,000 (£60,000 - £90,000)

Yard was known for using beautiful, important stones - Colombian emeralds, Burmese rubies, Kashmir sapphires, and pieces in this sale are representative of that. But then there are pieces from the 1960s and 1970s like the Van Cleef & Arpels sautoir or this peridot suite so there was clearly also a focus on design and craftsmanship as well as the intrinsic value of the stones.”

20.47-carat D-Flawless diamond ring

d flawless diamond ring
d flawless diamond ring

Lot 168: a superb diamond ring, estimate $2.5-3.5 million (£1.9-2.6 million)

“The top lot in the sale is the 20.47 carat, old-mine, D-flawless cushion-cut diamond, which carries an estimate of $2.5-3.5 million (£1.9-2.6 million). It’s the perfect diamond. It’s the highest grade in terms of colour - D, which means it’s colourless - and is flawless, with no internal or external inclusions.

It has excellent symmetry, excellent polish, and is a Type IIa diamond, meaning it’s chemically pure. A lot of people associate Type IIa diamonds with the historic Golconda mine in India, although we don’t know exactly where this one was mined.

Old mine diamonds are always sought after, and the cushion cut has become more in demand over the past few years. It has more facets than an emerald cut, with a more rounded outline so it’s a softer look and is very appealing. It’s a beautiful ring and, considering it’s 20 carats, is wearable as well.”

Vintage engagement rings

The Berlin Ruby

“The Berlin Ruby is one of my favourite lots in the sale. It ticks all the boxes. It was gift from the American composer Irving Berlin to his wife Ellin on their 40th (ruby) wedding anniversary in 1966. He known for collecting beautiful gemstones; he really had an eye for it.

The Berlin ruby
The Berlin ruby

Lot 167: the Berlin Ruby, estimate $400,000 - $600,000 (£300,000 - £450,000)

He bought this 4.59-carat unheated Burmese ruby from Tiffany & Co, and the family tells us that he actually rejected several stones before he decided on this one. The colour is incredible: it just glows.

It has the provenance, it has the quality, it has the signature and it has the history: it’s an exceptional jewel. High quality, unheated Burmese rubies are probably the most difficult stones to find on the market and we’ve had a lot of interest in the ring, so we anticipate it achieving an above-estimate sale price.”

Christie's Magnificent Jewels and the Collection of David & Peggy Rockefeller Sale is on June 12 at Christie's New York; christies.com