Issue 32, Autumn 2012

Editor's letter

Apart from providing a showcase in which to display some of the highlights on offer, Bonhams Magazine likes to surprise readers. Perhaps even change firmly held views. This issue is no different. For instance, take the Mongols. I had them pigeon-holed as marauding savages who destroyed any vestiges of culture with a scary variety of weaponry. But when Colin Sheaf, Chairman of Bonhams Asia, told me about an exquisite Yuan jar in the Fine Chinese Art Sale that had been created because of the Mongols' rule, I thought we should know more. We asked John Man, the author of Kublai Khan and Xanadu, to explain how this infamous dynasty made exquisite ceramics rather than smashing them.

Another artefact – an Enigma machine on offer at Bonhams Knightsbridge – prompted another question. Was the Battle of the Atlantic really won with the help of a wooden box and a roomful of lateral thinking codebreakers? We called upon historian, Andrew Roberts for an expert explanation.

This issue also offers an insight into the taste of three notable Englishmen. The Duke of Devonshire inherited Chatsworth from his father in 2004. Since then, he has breathed fresh life into the house, and last month, he unveiled a museum-standard gallery in which to display his Old Master drawings. Celia Lyttelton went to visit the Duke to hear his views on mixing the old with the new.

Hamish Bowles, International Editor of US Vogue, and Gordon Watson, the celebrated art dealer, are fully paid-up members of this school. Both have endured considerable hardship in order to acquire their collections – as a student, Hamish ate nothing but Ryvita for a month so that he could afford a print by Etienne Drian. At Bonhams New York, they have joined together to hold a sale of the many things they have bought over the years. As with most collectors, one suspects it is so they clear space to buy even more... Enjoy the issue.

Lucinda Bredin

  1. A George III sabicu, padouk and gilt-brass mounted serpentine commode attributed to John Cobb

    Page 15

    Inside Bonhams: Forget flatpacks

    Furniture is about to have its moment, says Fergus Lyons, Head of Furniture at Bonhams New Bond Street. "We all tyre of the same look and appearance, and there is an indication that people are bored of wrestling with Allen keys and flatpacks, and have realised that solid oak – rather than cheap veneer – is enormously good value, considering its quality ...

  2. Studio Job Industry Table designed 2008  black pigmented tulip tree, white pigmented birdʼs eye maple, high gloss finish  29 15/16 by 94 1/2 by 35 7/16 in. 76 by 240 by 90 cm.

    Page 18

    Eye for an objet

    What a rare treat this sale is – and what an opportunity. Furniture, art and wonderful objets from the private collections of Gordon Watson and Hamish Bowles, two of the best, most eclectic and most passionate collectors of our time – both famous, though quite different, tastemakers, both armed with huge amounts of knowledge, both with an impeccable eye and both with ...

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    Page 22

    Sparkling set

    What does it take to make a great jewellery house? You need skilled craftsmen, certainly, but also talented designers and diplomatic salesmen. Van Cleef & Arpels had all these but, more than that, from its foundation in the early 20th century, it had an unsurpassed understanding of gems. Which is why it was their jewels that glittered on the crowned heads of Europe, sparkled at the ears of heiresses and duchesses, and encircled the necks and fingers of the world's most celebrated beauties.

    The value of a stone rests in its clarity, cut, crystal and,
    above all, many would say, its colour – and Van Cleef and Arpels were particularly skilled in sourcing stones of unusual depth and beauty. They were equally adept at acquiring the truly magnificent single gem necessary to form the centrepiece of some of the world's most spectacular jewellery.

    In 1961, for example, a 30.35 carat emerald, bought from an Indian dealer in Geneva, became the inspiration for a sumptuous collarette that was composed of 22 precisely matched emeralds and 412 diamonds with a total weight of more than 70 carats. And in 1969, Jacques Arpels travelled to Ceylon in person to acquire a 43.16 carat sapphire, a perfectly crystalline, flawless stone that was subsequently mounted in a ring and flanked by two pear-shaped diamonds. Both these extraordinary jewels are now being offered by Bonhams in November's Eight Exceptional Jewels from a Private Collection sale in Hong Kong.

    "What is particularly exciting, is that it's incredibly unusual to know precisely where a stone comes from," says Matthew Girling, chief executive of Bonhams. "Here we have documented evidence that the sapphire was selected by Jacques Arpels himself".

    Like many family firms, Van Cleef & Arpels had a long tradition of expertise. Its roots lay in Amsterdam, the historic centre of the diamond trade, where, in the 1860s, Charles Van Cleef became renowned for his talent as a gem-cutter. It was, however, the marriage of his son Alfred in 1895 to Estelle Arpels, the daughter of a dealer in precious stones, that established the foundation of a dynasty. Soon after, Alfred joined forces with his brothers-in-law, Julien and Charles Arpels, to launch Van Cleef & Arpels.

    These three young men, with diamonds in their DNA, instinctively understood what women really wanted, and from the outset the business was a success. By 1906, they'd opened on Place Vendôme, in convenient proximity to the Ritz hotel, quickly followed by branches that mirrored the social whirl of pre-war high society – in Deauville and
    in Biarritz, in Vichy and on the Riviera.

    At the cusp of the new century, Paris was the unrivalled pinnacle of the fashionable world and no American steel magnate's daughter or English aristocrat would have considered her wardrobe complete without regular visits to the city's hautes couturiers and equally hautes joailliers. Van Cleef & Arpels became a must-visit destination for anyone with pretensions to chic, as renowned for its accessories – the jewellery house's bejewelled minaudière (a combination
    of a clutch and necessaire) was the Prada handbag of its
    day – as for its timepieces and tiaras.

    But, as French journalist and essayist Robert de Beauplan noted, its clientele was as comprehensive as it was affluent: "Grand Dukes of Slav origin and Indian Rajahs, Spanish marquises and Corned Beef kings, great ladies and ladies of the demi-monde, crowned heads and crooks, financiers about whom one hesitated to predict whether they'd be worthy members of the Légion d'Honneur or guests of the Santé Prison, politicians in favour and fashionable painters touting for American women who wanted their portraits painted".

    In the coming decades, the house was the place to shop for life's more memorable moments. It was here that the Prince of Wales bought Wallis Simpson the sapphire-and-diamond clip and sapphire-and-diamond bracelet she wore to set off her blue satin Mainbocher wedding gown. Here, Prince Rainier ordered the pearl-and-diamond necklace with matching bracelet and earrings on his engagement to Grace Kelly, and here, too, that John F. Kennedy found the emerald-and-diamond ring he slipped on the third finger of Jacqueline Bouvier's left hand.Movie stars from Dietrich and Garbo to Elizabeth Taylor, and political style icons, such as Eva Perón (who commissioned a brooch of the Argentine flag), all possessed at least one, if not more, Van Cleef gem in their jewellery boxes.

    The firm's dominance of this elevated marketplace rested not only on its relentless drive for perfection and astute commercial judgement, but on consummate technical skill and constant innovation. Of the last, its most celebrated departure was the creation of the serti mystérieux or mystery setting. This revolutionary technique, patented in 1933, allowed stones to be set without any apparent means of support, creating the impression of a solid mosaic of colour, a dazzling pavement of gems. This sleight of hand was only made possible through superlative artistry: the underside of the jewel was first formed out of a lattice of gold channels. The stones were then individually incised with a groove, which allowed them to be slotted into their allocated place, while a specially devised cut provided four additional facets, producing a miraculous contrast of light and shade. To create one of these covetable pieces took hundreds of hours.
    Matching and selecting stones, however, is as much a part of the jeweller's art as devising the perfect setting, and the quest for desirable gems was aided by a worldwide network of agents, operating in secrecy. The most senior family members would be called in when negotiations became particularly delicate.

    In 1956, for example, Claude Arpels, son of Julien, travelled to India to visit the Maharajah Sahib Bahadur of Rewa, whom he understood wished to dispose of certain stones. His stay coincided with the capture of a white tiger, and Claude was eventually led to admire the noble prisoner. En route, he discovered, arranged in the middle of a grove, a myriad of jewels draped on trees and pinned to flowers, from which he was invited to make his selection. Even then, the deal was not complete. The Maharajah had first to consult his astrologer. Evidently, the signs were auspicious, since a week later two emissaries appeared at Claude's hotel in Delhi bearing a casket, which included a cabochon emerald of more than 100 carats, amongst other items.

    It was this personal attention that ensured that Van Cleef & Arpels remained at the pinnacle of this very competitive game. As Julien Arpels once explained to a shop assistant who admired his skill in selling: "It's very simple. I myself bought the stone; I had it recut to make the most of its brilliance; I devised a mount that would display it to best advantage. In a sense, this jewel is my child. That is why I can ...

  4. William Scott R.A. (British, 1913-1989) Brown Still Life

    Page 26

    Space at the table

    William Scott was alone at home when his father returned from the First World War in 1919. His mother, Agnes, was finding seven children and a dog hard to cope with in a small house on her own. She decided that the dog should be put down and had left with him under her arm, most of the children running ...

  5. An Enigma Code Machine in original oak case,No. 13598/jla/44

    Page 30

    Key to victory

    The British politician Lord Hailsham once said, "The one case in which I think I can see the finger of God in history, is Churchill's arrival at the premiership at that precise moment in 1940." Another candidate for the intervention of the Almighty in the Second World War might be the Allied cracking of the German codes encrypted by ...

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    Page 34

    In the wall zone


    Being a graffiti writer is a bit like being in the Mafia: once you're in the gang, you never really leave. Over the years, I've spoken to lots of people who've done graffiti in the past – and even though they have now stopped, they still say it affects the way they look at the world.

    The ...

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    Page 38

    Modern master

    Even under the grey skies of Derbyshire, Chatsworth looks resplendent, golden and honey-coloured, set in Arcadian parkland and gardens of fountains and Grecian statuary. Since Peregrine, the 12th Duke of Devonshire, inherited the estate, he and his wife, Amanda, have injected new life and art into it and undertaken an extensive restoration programme, including creating a new gallery to mount ...

  8. An important blue and white 'peony and lotus' scroll jar, guan Yuan Dynasty

    Page 42

    Mongol hoards

    A wonderful blue-and-white peony scroll jar, the
    very essence of artistry and high culture, is a survivor of a time when China was ruled by the Mongols, a people noted for their barbarity.

    Object and context seem to inhabit different universes. But they don't. The one made the other. To resolve the paradox, look at the two founders of ...

  9. LEARY, TIMOTHY. 1920-1996.  The Periodic Table of Energy (Correspondences Among: the Periodic Table of Elements, the Neurogenetic Theory of Evolution, the Tarot, the I Ching, the Zodiac). Transmitted by Joanna and Timothy Leary.

    Page 46

    Dropping a line

    How many businessmen, tuning up for a major presentation with a 15-minute session of Transcendental Meditation, realise that they owe the trick chiefly to Timothy Leary, a man who was once described by President Richard Nixon as "the most dangerous man in America"?

    How many housewives, sitting cross-legged on yoga mats, chanting and then chatting over green tea about Buddhist ...

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    Page 48

    Maine attraction

    For almost a century, the Wyeth family has cast an influential shadow on the American art world. Three generations of wildly successful painters, each displays a particular talent for capturing personalities and the simplest moments in life through their art. The family has resided in Maine since the 1930s, and much of their oeuvre includes elements of the surrounding landscape ...

  11. Demetre Chiparus 'The Dolly Sisters' a large bronze and ivory group

    Page 50

    Double trouble

    They were probably the first people in the world who were famous merely for being famous. Their story also perfectly epitomises the evanescence of that state of being. In the 1920s, the Dolly Sisters were celebrities on a scale that dwarfed most movie stars, plutocrats and princes. Cecil Beaton, writing from Le Touquet in 1927, said: "The greatest thrill in ...

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    Page 55

    Wine: Nectar of the gods

    Italy has 4,000 native grape varieties and twice as many attitudes to wine-making so, in this country of consummate individuality, clusters of well-managed, actively promoted vineyards are most likely to capture international attention. Foremost among these is Piedmont with its big-hitting Nebbiolo reds from Barolo and Barbaresco. Of the producers here, Angelo Gaja could certainly claim to be the ...

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    Page 56

    Travel: Ode to modernity

    As the undisputed art hub of South America, São Paulo is often compared with New York City. Thanks to some far-sighted curators and a new generation of collectors, Brazil's most populous city has spawned some remarkable galleries and around a dozen dynamic, well-endowed museums.

    The city can also lay claim to the second oldest Biennale after Venice, an event ...

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    Page 72

    My favourite room: Andrew Marr

    After filming a world history in rooms ranging from rare traditional Japanese homes to Inca prisons, Buddhist temples to mud mosques in Mali, one place has burned itself into my imagination: the eerie, overwhelming Dormition Cathedral in Moscow's Kremlin. Gold-domed, it dates from 1479. Ivan the Terrible was crowned there. It has suffered many indignities since. It was looted ...

  1. Lucinda Bredin
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
    Work +44 20 7468 8363

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