By Anthony DeMarco
TEFAF Maastricht, originally scheduled March 7 – 15, was forced to close four days early in an attempt to halt the spread of coronavirus and following an announcement that an exhibitor tested positive for COVID-19. It’s the shame because this was the strongest showing among the high jewelers for the five consecutive years that I attended the fair.
The six high jewelers who exhibited at the fair held in the southern city of Maastricht, Netherlands, accounted for a small portion of the 280 art galleries and dealers at TEFAF Maastricht, but their contribution is significant. Attendance for the two preview days (March 5 and 6) were lighter than in past years, but people still clamored to view the one-of-a-kind jewels and meet the artists behind the creations. This level of interest extended to several of the 15 or so dealers who specialize in vintage jewels.
Nearly all of the jewelers said they were largely unconcerned about having fewer buyers in attendance. First time exhibitor, Viren Bhagat, said he was happy to see that his clients who made appointments actually did come.
“We were waiting to see if people would come and they did, which was fantastic,” he said on March 6. “We are quite pleased with the sales we made. It’s a completely new audience so we’re very happy.”
Bhagat created 30 pieces for TEFAF at a slightly lower cost than he would normal charge. These jewels display his focus on traditional Indian themes with contemporary designs. Among the pieces was a ring centered by a cabochon blue sapphire with flat diamond disks that go down the length of the shank. At each end are two more blue sapphires. It looked as much like a sculpture as does a ring. Other jewels were created with rubies, pearls and diamonds, his favorite gem. Most of his pieces display his characteristic use of “flat” or “sliced” diamond and gems, and his technique of hiding the metal as much as possible. These two techniques allow the light to shine completely through the gems, he says.
A couple of the high jewelry artists only brought only a few new pieces to fair. For example, Wallace Chan brought three new jewels, which he displayed with his older pieces, including a few on loan by his clients. Two more pieces he was planning to show were sold just weeks before the start of the fair. The jewels, old and new, highlighted personal philosophical meanings that range from the beginning of time to a future filled with technological breakthroughs. He combines time-honored precious materials, such as statement diamonds and colored gems, with new-age metals like titanium, in fluorescent colors.
Several of the jewels were made with “Wallace Chan Porcelain,” a colorful, unbreakable porcelain invented by the Hong Kong-based high jewelry artist. One jewel, “The Snowflake,” is a large brooch that combines several precious gems and other materials, including yellow diamonds, aquamarines, green tourmalines, sapphires and his unbreakable porcelain, all set in titanium. Chan says the colorful piece examines the change that water undergoes. It has two layers with the top layer designed and engineered to move in a circular pattern that locks into place at different stations, giving the brooch another appearance. This piece, he says, examines the changing nature of water as well as the endless patterns of snowflakes.
Then there’s the “Unknown,” a ring featuring a 25.68-carat aquamarine and three significant sapphires irregularly-angled, using different setting techniques that strike a balance between securing the stones and displaying as many facets of its beauty as possible. The gems are mounted in Wallace Chan Porcelain and titanium and can be seen from atop, the girdle, pavilion and the sides. The ring is further enhanced with sapphire and diamond pavé and emanates different shades of blue.
Taiwanese high jewelry artist, Cindy Chao, presented five new jewels this year that floated and sparkled in darkened display cases. One stunner was the “2020 Black Label Masterpiece III Green Plumule Brooch” was a feather brooch made of 487 fancy-cut emeralds, her favorite material, of different shapes and sizes, totaling 172.58 carats. Seventeen of the emeralds are from Colombia, with the largest being 30.06 carats. Each angle and height is calculated with the emeralds are set in an interlaced- and embossed-like manner to create a three-dimensional contour for the brooch that portrays an airy appearance. A total of 14 barbs, all linked to the yellow diamond-paved rachis with flexible joints provide motion. The rachis on the back of the brooch is painted with a layer of black enamel with diamonds and yellow diamonds. All of the gems are set on lightweight and strong titanium so despite being 15 centimeters long and filled with gems, it weighs less than 49 grams.
“This is my second year at the fair and I feel like you can see the character the entire fair is very different due to circumstances,” Chao said on March 5. “A lot of people haven’t come so far but I think it’s one of the best fairs in the world that attracts all of the galleries and collectors. It’s very different and unique.”
Another piece of note was Cho’s 2020 Black Label Masterpiece VI “Reflection Bangle,” which the artist says depicts a natural organic landscape in water in the form of an impressionist painting. Seven bright non-heated Ceylon sapphires, ranging from 8 to 18 carats, with a subtle purplish tint, serve as the centerpiece of the creation. They are contrasted by another cluster of rose-cut sapphires to create a mirroring effect. Brilliant-cut diamonds and fancy-colored diamonds are spread over on both sides of the bangle, symbolizing shimmering ripples. The central vein is a branch-like motif that Chao has been using in many of her recent creations to pay tribute to her family legacy. It is composed of 1,500 yellow diamonds from light yellow to deep brown and contains six flexible articulations. The gems are mounted on 18k white and yellow gold.
Hemmerle, the family owned German high jewelry firm, brought an extensive collection of jewels created with refined designs and traditional artisan techniques complimented by materials that span time. Among them was a necklace in several shades of blue. It was centered with an 86.05-carat translucent aquamarine surrounded by circular rough aquamarines. The cord for the necklace is made of rock crystal and silk and uses an old Austrian knitting technique. Another example of this knitting technique was used for a necklace centered with an ancient Java bead framed by African blue sapphires. Each of the 89 tassel strands are made of agate beads completed with a dumortierite quartz bead. The strap for the necklace is made of agate and silk and is threaded together with silk using the same Austrian knitting technique.
In addition, there was a pair of earrings that depicted pine cones in exceptional detail. They are made entirely of small slices of aluminum anodized to a brown pine cone color. Another standout was a pair of rounded earrings that feature a melo and a conch pearl that create dual-tone hues enhanced by pave-set round orange and Sri Lankan padparadscha sapphires.
Statement diamonds were prevalent among the vintage dealers this year. The best example was from the London firm, Symbolic & Chase, which featured a 14.23-carat fancy intense emerald-cut natural pink diamond that hasn’t been on the market for 10 years. It was last sold at auction for $23.1 million in 2010. Named the “Perfect Pink,” it was unearthed at the Argyle Mine in Australia, which is set to close.
Tiaras were also a source of intrigue at the fair. Hancocks London, perhaps had the most important headdress with a diamond tiara owned by Henry Cyril Paget, the 5th Marquess of Anglesey (1875 – 1905), who was known as the black sheep of the family because of his flamboyant lifestyle and his squandering of the family fortune. The tiara, circa 1890, which has remained in the family for generations, is formed of a graduated row of more than 100 carats of old European and old mine-cut diamonds, which can detach to form a rivière necklace.
Some vintage jewelry dealers also present works by contemporary jewelers. For example, New York-based FD Gallery is the exclusive retailer for Sabba, the high jewelry brand founded by Alessandro Sabbatini. Among his pieces on display were large, circular titanium and diamond earrings. The metal is in its natural grey color. Sabbatini, who is at the fair, said he prefers titanium in its natural color while most jewelers who work with the metal prefer to take advantage of its color-changing qualities.
Spanish dealer, Deborah Elvira, whose gallery specializes in jewelry created prior to 1800, featured pieces from Madrid contemporary artist, Luz Camino, who creates nature-inspired jewels that are layered, colorful and vivid. An example of this is the colorful Betta Fish brooch, which uses a translucent enameling technique. The piece is further adorned with sapphires, diamonds, aquamarine, paraiba tourmaline, all set in silver and gold.
Coronavirus caused the prestigious art fair to close early but it didn’t dampen the sparkle of the unique jewelry creations.