The ‘Wow’ Factor: Rare Jewels Dazzle at TEFAF

by Wendy Sy Photographed by Siegelson, Reza, and TEFAF
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Just like that, it’s back again: The European Fine Art Fair. TEFAF, for short—which started in Maastricht 30 years ago—kicked off its third New York Fall edition on Friday. The Opening Night took place under cascades of purple orchids hanging from the ceiling of the Park Avenue Armory. It was hosted by The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) and sponsored by Natura Bissé and Etro.

Within two floors are 93 international dealers showing the best in art, furniture, and yes, jewelry, spanning from antiquity to 1920. Based here in New York, there’s world-renowned gallery Siegelson, known for its offering of rare collectible jewels, many of which take after the Art Deco movement. “Vintage or old can be a bit tired, and I think the challenge for each exhibitor is to bring a certain level of freshness,” says Lee Siegelson, third-generation gem and jewelry dealer who inherited the family business in 1994.

At stand 360, Siegelson’s pieces are carefully curated in not-too-busy glass cases, allowing each jewel and object to truly shine. It’s all museum-quality, but the goal is to present the work in a way that makes it approachable—alongside each are historic photos, sketches, and other documents to show when it was designed and who wore it. “My hope is to tell each part of the story and what makes it important.”

Among key pieces includes the legendary Claudette Colbert starfish brooch measuring 4 x 4 1/4 inches, with 71 cabochon rubies and 241 small pavé-set amethysts mounted in 18-karat yellow gold. Designed by Juliette Moutard for René Boivin in Paris in 1937, this is the ultimate holy grail for collectors. The brooch is so rare that there are only three, made in similar variations. There’s a book devoted entirely to these gems and covers the late women who once owned them: film star Claudette Colbert, oil heiress Millicent Rogers, and socialite São Schlumberger. Written by Cherie Burns, Diving for Starfishwhich was published in March of this year by St. Martin’s Press—features insight from notable jeweler Christopher Walling, who stated that more recently, jewelry designer Ann Ziff owned two of the brooches. She ended up selling them through Christie’s in New York in 2014, four years after she opened her company Tamsen Z. 

“One would have to travel the world to see all of this art, but here it is all together,” Jamee Gregory, president of The Society of MSK, tells AVENUE, in between having her photos taken at the step and repeat. Wearing a pair of floral ruby Van Cleef & Arpels earrings and a black lacquer panther David Webb cuff, she says she’s on the lookout for something special to add to her collection. “Every piece has been vetted by an expert so it’s better than going to ten museums in ten countries. At a fair like this, you can get close to the objects and ask dealers questions. It’s really an opportunity for collectors and would-be collectors to learn a lot.”

Over at stand 204 is Parisian design house, Reza. There, CEO and artistic director Olivier Reza is also is carrying on his father’s legacy by running the family business and modernizing designs to make it relevant today. Among the selection of gems on display is a new ring inspired by one of Reza’s favorite contemporary sculptors, Antony Gormley. “It has a body that takes one of his sculpture series’ surfaces shapes and culminates in two matching 4-carat D-color internally flawless type II A diamonds,” he says. From start to finish, this ring took two years to make. “We recut the stones in order for them to match and developed them to be carried in a 3D harmonious sculpture.”

Speaking of modern times, by all means, snap and share your Reza photos at TEFAF. Of course, the best etiquette is to ask each dealer before posting as preferences may vary, but overall, the fair is Instagram-friendly. “We’re often surprised by how long a customer has been following us [on social media] before they get to meet us and discover our work in person,” says Reza. “It allows us to touch a larger audience and continuously prove that we can surprise them over and over again by developing original works.”

Other jewelers on display, to name a few, include Munich-based Hemmerle, New York-based A La Vielle Russie, London-based Wartski.

“One of the terrific things about the fair is that many gallery owners treasure items found throughout the year, tucking them away and saving them to unveil now,” says Fiona Druckenmiller, co-underwriter and chair of the Opening Night. Proceeds from the event benefit The Society of MSK’s patient care, research and education programs.

“That’s what you want at TEFAF…for people to visit and say ‘wow,’” Siegelson adds. Although photos can be beautiful in its own right, it doesn’t do the works justice. Come and stay a while—see and shop the pieces at TEFAF New York Fall, open until October 31.


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