Block Party: Highlights From Bonhams’ California Jewels Sale

The West Coast auction takes place Sept. 26

Bonhams’ Los Angeles is located on a prime block of Sunset Boulevard, a 15-minute drive from my house, but until a few days ago, I’d never been to the famed showroom. What a missed opportunity! The auction house, formerly Butterfields, the West Coast’s premier auctioneer, is a great place to discover period jewelry, from Victorian mourning rings to retro pink gold brooches, at supremely affordable prices.

When I learned that a preview for Bonhams’ California Jewels sale, which starts Sept. 26 at 10 a.m. PT, was taking place over the weekend, I finagled my friend and frequent JCK contributor Randi Molofsky to join me at the showroom, which wasn’t difficult, given that she lives two blocks away. Bonhams also had jewels from its Fine Jewelry sale, scheduled for Oct. 14 in New York City, on display, and the two of us spent a good hour trying on the pieces that caught our attention.

Until two years ago, the California Jewels sale was known as the Salon Jewelry sale and took place in San Francisco, said Claire De Biasio Paris, a jewelry specialist at Bonhams. At its new home in LA, the sale tends to attract an eclectic crowd of buyers, including both privates and members of the trade. While pieces from all eras do well, Art Deco jewels are bestsellers, said De Biasio Paris. She added that she’s noticed a trend: Younger buyers seem especially drawn to Victorian jewels.

I didn’t realize how groovy and contemporary those jewels could be until I saw a showcase of standout pieces from the sale, including a late-19th century upper-arm bangle made of 14k gold with a floral motif rendered in black enamel, estimated at $3,000–$5,000 (lot 149), and an antique gold fringe necklace, circa 1870, estimated at $1,500–$2,000 (lot 159).


California Jewels, lot 149: late-19th century enamel and 14k gold upper-arm bangle bracelet ($3,000-$5,000) 



California Jewels, lot 159: antique gold fringle necklace, circa 1870 ($1,500–$2,000) 

The California Jewels sale, which is stocked with styles that tend to sell for less than $5,000, also includes a number of great retro jewels, such as a geometric gold link bracelet featuring a row of square-cut synthetic rubies and round brilliant diamonds, on offer for $2,000–$3,000 (lot 405). What a find!


California Jewels, lot 405: retro diamond, synthetic ruby, and gold bracelet, circa 1940 ($2,000–$3,000) 

The Fine Jewelry sale is no slouch either. Diamonds, such as the mega-bracelet with cool marquise-shaped stones, shown below, are par for the course, but so are amazing retro pieces, such as a Van Cleef & Arpels 18k gold, enamel, and blue sapphire cigarette case, circa 1945 (lot 25, estimated at $5,000–$7,000) and a distinctive 14k gold brooch set with an unusual 23 ct. hexagonal-shape aquamarine (lot 31, estimated at $3,000–$5,000).


Fine Jewelry, lot 88: bracelet featuring 11.4 cts. t.w. marquise-, round-brilliant-, and baguette-cut diamonds ($75,000–$95,000) 


Fine Jewelry, lot 25: Van Cleef & Arpels 18k gold, enamel, and sapphire cigarette case, French, circa 1945 ($5,000–$7,000) 


Fine Jewelry, lot 31: 14k gold and aquamarine brooch ($3,000–$5,000) 

There are so many reasons to buy period jewels at auction, from the craftsmanship associated with earlier eras of jewelry to the unbeatable prices, but the best part about them, in my opinion, is how strongly they radiate history. Consider the VCA cigarette case show above. The loving inscription noted inside?

Spring at Neuilly
Never a falter
Brave Peggy
Who loves her?

(Photos courtesy of Bonhams)

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