Legacy and heritage pieces only ever make brief public appearances and while their beauty is astonishing, how they were acquired and created can be just as fascinating.
It’s hard not to feel pure rapture when looking at enchanting precious stones. Their innovative if not whimsical designs, and not to mention the mind-bending price tag they usually come with, make them an absolute rare commodity and a statement piece not to be ignored. Dig deeper though and you’ll find in these precious pieces fascinating stories of intriguing indulgences, mystery, and discovery, making them...priceless.
We looked through the archives of some of the oldest jewellery maisons and found five stunning examples of such relics.
EMPRESS JOSEPHONE'S CHAUMET 'EVERYDAY' PARURE
While he was used to creating spectacular ceremonial gems for Empress Joséphine’s official appearances, Marie-Étienne Nitot—founder of French house Chaumet and official jeweller to the Emperor Napoleon—also crafted pieces for her that were lighter to wear and intended for less formal occasions. These everyday wear pieces were typically made with coloured stones. The Empress was known to have developed an appreciation for the intense green of malachite, and so it was common to find the gem on many of her ‘day’ parures like this one. She eventually gave this set made in gold, malachite, pearls, and tortoiseshell (circa 1810) to her daughter-in-law, Augusta-Amelie of Bavaria. The set is supposedly among the very few parures to have survived intact.
MARIA FELIX'S CARTIER SNAKE NECKLACE
Commissioned to Cartier by Mexican screen legend María Félix in 1968, this audacious snake necklace essentially ushered in the graceful serpent into the Cartier universe and today holds a key role among the maison’s animal mythology. Félix was known for portraying larger-than-life characters and was also known for her impeccable and unique style. When she commissioned Cartier to do this piece, she knew what she wanted: a fully articulated, flexible serpent that was studded with diamond scales on the back, and enamel on the stomach. It was not a piece for the faint-hearted. The result was an extraordinary 57-cm long snake necklace made in platinum, white gold, and yellow gold set with 2,473 brilliant and baguette-cut diamonds, weighing a total of over 178 carats, with two pear-shaped emeralds for its eyes. Not only are the stones incredible the techniques used were superb. Its stunning sinuous body and undulations brought to light the brilliance of Cartier’s jewellers, who worked several months to complete this now iconic piece.
PATRICIA BEMBERG'S BULGARI SAUTOIR
Celebrated as one of Italian jeweller Bulgari's most exciting finds, this stunning 1969 sautoir features an amazing 127.35-carat, heart-shaped emerald pendant, and a chain set with cabochon rubies, amethysts, citrines, topazes, turquoise, and emeralds, and enhanced with brilliant-cut diamonds. Aware of its existence, Bulgari searched for this piece for decades and it finally emerged at a Sotheby’s auction in Geneva in 2018. There was a lot of interest in it and after intense bidding, Bulgari acquired the piece, which they learned was once owned by Patricia Bemberg who resided in Switzerland and is now in her 90s. The sautoir was gifted to her by her husband while they were in Rome to celebrate their 23rd wedding anniversary. In 1969, the extraordinary piece was worn by a renowned model called Verushka for a shoot that was published by Vogue US.
CHOPARD'S GARDEN OF KALAHARI NECKLACE
An exceptionally large 342-carat, D colour, flawless rough diamond emerged from the depths of the Karowe Mine in Botswana, and Chopard’s Co-president and Creative Director Caroline Scheufele immediately flew to Africa to see it in the flesh. She was not disappointed. The jewel would be known as The Garden of Kalahari diamond, which at Chopard’s atelier in Geneva was cut into 23 diamonds, five of which over 20 carats: a 20-carat cushion cut, 25-carat pear shape, 50-carat brilliant cut, 21-carat emerald cut and 26-carat heart shape diamonds. These extraordinary diamonds served as the transformable necklace’s main stones. The extraordinary floral-inspired diamond piece featured five detachable pendants in the form of a banana blossom. It took a full year to complete and five more jewels that include a cuff bracelet, two rings, a secret watch and a pair of earrings make up the set.
TIFFANY & CO'S FANCY YELLOW DIAMOND NECKLACE
Arguably the only thing that upstaged Lady Gaga at the 91st Academy Awards during her performance alongside Bradley Cooper was the massive fancy yellow diamond that dangled around her neck. That epic diamond would be the Tiffany Diamond, one of the finest and at 287.42 carats, largest fancy yellow diamonds in the world. The stone was unearthed from the Kimberley diamond mine in South Africa in 1877, which Tiffany & Co founder Charles Lewis Tiffany bought for US$18,000. The rough stone was brought to Paris where it was cut into a modified cushion-cut brilliant weighing 128.54 carats with an unprecedented 82 facets—24 more facets than the traditional 58-facet brilliant cut. Before Lady Gaga, only two other women have ever worn the Tiffany Diamond: Mrs Mary Whitehouse, who wore a lavish necklace set with the diamond for the 1957 Tiffany Ball in Newport, Rhode Island, and Audrey Hepburn, who donned a Jean Schlumberger necklace of diamond ribbons surrounding the diamond in publicity photographs for the 1961 film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”