White Paper; By: Jill Newman for LUXUS
Some are more elusive than a Picasso painting.
In May 2020, an iconic Cartier Tutti Frutti bracelet broke a world record when it sold at Sotheby’s for $1.3 million. Soaring past its estimate of $600,000 to $800,000, the colorful 1930s bracelet —widely considered a collector’s holy grail —was the most expensive jewel ever sold in a dedicated online auction.
But compared to a Basquiat or Picasso painting, that coveted jewel was a bargain. Collectors take heed: There are more Picasso paintings in the world than there are fabulous vintage Cartier Tutti Frutti bracelets, says Greg Kwiat, industry expert and CEO of the Fred Leighton vintage and collectible jewelry retailer. “There’s no reason why Cartier’s Tutti Frutti designs couldn’t be worth $5 million to $10 million one day,” he says.
The Cartier Tutti Frutti bracelet is in an elite class of collectible vintage jewelry designs that have been steadily rising in value over the past several years. Only a decade earlier, Kwiat says he knew where he could find a couple Tutti Frutti styles for sale, but today he doesn’t know of any available pieces.
What makes this Cartier piece so desirable? Tutti Frutti illustrates the French jewelry house’s visionary design and artistry, and it is instantly identifiable as a signature Cartier jewel. It was designed following Jacques Cartier’s visit to India, which unleashed an explosion of colorful new creations with an East-meets-West aesthetic. In the 1920s, the Tutti Frutti style, featuring a cornucopia of Indian rubies, emeralds and sapphires carved in the shapes of leaves, berries and flowers, was considered the epitome of chic.
Blue-chip collectible jewelry is attracting a new set of investors.
Today’s investors are diversifying their portfolios by acquiring hard assets, from cars and wine to diamonds and fine art. While this isn’t a new trend in the luxury space, the mounting interest is causing inflated prices in the art market, which has recently caused some wealthy collectors to be priced out. A great example is Christie’s sale of Paul Allen’s art collection in November, which raked in a record-breaking $1.5 billion in sales with five paintings exceeding a sale price of $100 million each and 20 artists setting new sales records.
In some ways, jewelry is a safer investment: It doesn’t require tailored storage or upkeep like wine, art and cars; it’s easily transportable; it’s valuable currency in any country; and it can be worn and enjoyed.
Collectible jewelry designs, however, are a far more nuanced purchase than diamonds and colored gemstones which are certified by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) or another lab. When purchasing a signature jewelry design, it’s wise to consult an expert to ensure it’s the finest example of that house, style or period.
“When you are investing in collectible jewelry designs, make sure that you buy the best in class,” says Caroline Ervin, a jewelry consultant and former Christie’s jewelry auctioneer and executive. That means you can’t buy just any Tutti Frutti design, but it should be an original, signed vintage style that is a beautiful example and of top-quality.
As in the art world, the most prestigious and highly recognizable names like Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Bulgari garner top prices. The demand for signature pieces from these premiere houses and certain designers are seen as the pinnacle of collecting. “Collectors all over the world are chasing these signature pieces,” points out Kwiat. Not only has the collector base grown, but the jewelry houses themselves are also buying back their most iconic pieces for their own collections, and some museums are building jewelry exhibits.
The premiere designs you need to know.
Industry experts say Cartier’s vintage signature pieces which, in addition to Tutti Frutti, include the Panthère and stand-out Art Deco designs, fetch top dollar both inside and outside the auction arena. A perfect example is the onyx and diamond Panthère bracelet that sold for $7.3 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2010. That price was bolstered by the fact that it had belonged to Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor.
Van Cleef & Arpels’ signature pieces like the Zip necklace which, not surprisingly, replicates a zipper using gold, diamonds and gemstones, and its Mystery Set pieces are some of the house’s most sought-after. “From an historical perspective, the mystery setting is one of the greatest jewelry techniques ever developed,” explains Kwiat about its appeal. “Van Cleef developed and popularized the technique and is synonymous with the style.” The most desirable models, he says, are from the 1930s and 40s.
Bulgari’s Serpenti jewels are a consistent draw for collectors who are captivated by the house’s La Dolce Vita period, when it produced the glamorous gold-and-diamond snake designs for celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren.
When it comes to collectible jewelry, the value of each design transcends the sum of the materials. French designer Suzanne Belperron, considered one of the most influential jewelers of the 20th century, often made large-scale pieces in rock crystal and semiprecious stones. Those original signature pieces can command far more than the price of a diamond. “A Belperron piece might be 100 years old, but it still looks fashion forward today,” explains Kwiat. “That is the genius of Belperron.”
Ervin points out that original vintage Belperrron, not to be confused with the new editions being produced today, are most desirable. “The older pieces are unsigned,” she points out. That’s how you know what’s old or new.
When it comes to contemporary designers, Ervin says only pieces by JAR have proven to consistently sell beyond expectations. Over the years, the Paris-based designer has produced only about 40 pieces per year, so very few of them circulate on the secondary market. Now well into his seventies, the designer of JAR, Joel Arthur Rosenthal, has said that when he passes away his brand will cease. “If he stays true to his word on that, then his jewelry will most certainly hold its value, if not rise in value.”
Jewelry with a provenance is almost always a good investment.
When Christie’s offered Liz Taylor’s jewelry in 2011, it commanded record-breaking prices. Yes, the actress was a passionate collector and had wonderful jewels, but their value increased considerably because of her name. The La Peregrina pearl, a 50.56 carat natural pear-shaped pearl on a ruby and diamond necklace, sold for a record-breaking $12 million dollars, four times its pre-sale estimate. In 1967, her then-husband Richard Burton paid just $37,000 for it at auction and had Cartier set it in a pendant necklace as a Valentine’s Day gift.
The bottom line is, if you buy the most collectible signed jewelry designs from the premiere houses and designers, there’s a good chance their value will rise, perhaps significantly. If it has an interesting provenance, even better. A limited number of these pieces were produced, and they reflect a period that simply can’t be recaptured today. It’s the best in design, craftsmanship and heritage, and that is always a good investment.