The renowned New Orleans–based antiques dealer M.S. Rau somewhat regularly places advertisements in The Wall Street Journal. And, to its sheer delight, one ad recently caught the attention of someone in possession of a one-of-a-kind jewel by the famous artist Alexander Calder (1898–1976).
Best known for his sculptural mobiles, Calder was also a maker of jewelry, favoring spirals, concentric circles, and amorphous discs in hammered metal. With this in mind, the jewel in question—a custom ruby engagement ring from the 1960s (pictured at top)—encapsulates Calder’s aesthetic but also stands out in the best possible way as a bit of an outlier.
“The great body of Calder’s jewelry output was entirely metal work, with only a scant few pieces having set stones of any kind,” says Coles Loomis, sales associate at M.S. Rau, “and most pieces with a gold appearance were crafted of gold wire as opposed to hammered gold, such as the hammered gold spiral ring the artist designed for his own wife. Since this ring we have acquired was designed as an engagement ring, the artist obviously pulled out all the stops. This meant sourcing the finest material—18k gold—as opposed to inexpensive and malleable materials like copper scraps and silver wire as he did for many of his other jewelry pieces.”
The story behind the ring is that Calder offered to design it for Albert Fenner Milton, to commemorate the occasion of his engagement to Catherine Higgs in 1964. Milton was the son of Albert Fink Milton, who was Calder’s close friend and neighbor in Litchfield County, Conn. M.S. Rau acquired the ring through a member of the Higgs family.
“The piece is special in many regards. First, Calder repurposed roughly 15 carats total weight of cabochon Burmese rubies from a Milton family heirloom to incorporate into the one-of-a-kind piece,” says Loomis. “Secondly, the great majority of his jewelry designs were bracelets, necklaces, and brooches. Rings accounted for only a small percentage. The gold still bears a small mark where his pliers tweaked the spiral into the right configuration!”
Further contributing to the ring’s stature and appeal is the fact that appreciation for Calder’s work in the art market is booming.
“Not only did the Whitney recently exhibit some of his collection, but the Museum of Modern Art recently opened a gallery entitled ‘Alexander Calder: Modern From the Start,’ ” explains Loomis. “Although he is thoroughly celebrated for his incredible mobiles, his jewelry is incredibly exciting and rare to come by. Only very special friends and household names such as Peggy Guggenheim and Joan Miró were gifted such extraordinary treasures.”
I’d like to be next in line, please. How about you?
Top: Alexander Calder circa 1964 spiral ring in 18k hammered gold with 15 cts. t.w. cabochon rubies, $138,500; available at M.S. Rau
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