A JEWEL AND OBJECT OF ART
'Mont Saint Michel and Its Bay' and 'The Star of Kimberley'
Rising forth from the waters on the northern coast of France is the magical island of Mont Saint Michel. The magnificent abbey that crowns the geological sugarloaf mount is a majestic medieval structure. The quiet, restrained strength of the Romanesque evolving into the graceful curves and ribbed vaulting of the Gothic represents the finest example of French architecture during the middle ages. Built between the eleventh and sixteenth-centuries, the abbey was originally a simple sanctuary honouring the Archangel Michael who appeared to Bishop Aubert of Avranches in the early eight-century, commanding the abbott to build a church atop the rocky islet. Over the centuries, this modest and unadorned church grew into a colossal scheme of elaborate stonework that was gradually piled round the conical mass of rock, forged into its natural granite. This matrimony between the heavenly and earthly set a great fortified monastery amidst jagged, craggy slopes, evoking one of the most romantic sights of the world. Besieged by powerful tides, the waters surrounding the island rises and recedes 'as swiftly as a galloping horse' (Victor Hugo), so that the island appears like a floating castle in a fairytale, ethereal and dream-like. And on its summit, standing high above the world, with wings upspread and sword uplifted, is the golden statue of Saint Michael watching over this sacred realm.
Known as the 'Wonder of the West' for its artistic and cultural importance, Mont Saint Michel and Its Bay was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. Like many, Mitsuo Kaji - a Japanese art-jeweller, was also drawn to this solitary island for its breathtaking, illusory beauty and thereafter sought to create a miniature of this distinctive historical site. Lot 1633 is a sculpture of the monument and island, cast in over 2 kg of platinum and 450 pieces of diamonds. The production of this object entailed a period of two years and is unquestionably a labour of love. From the textured rugged terrain to the delineation of the masonry and diamond-studded windows, church tower and ramparts, the model of Mont Saint Michel and Its Bay is lavish and beautifully articulated. However, the more delightful and charming features of the object are the cleverly-concealed compartments (storage for jewels), echoing the numerous secret chambers, corridors and passageways of a monastery. While the right compartment consists of a trapdoor that lifts up, the back compartment slides out like a drawer. The left compartment opens to reveal the abbey's medieval refectory and an interior filled with diminutive furniture, chandelier and ruby lamps. The overwhelming wealth of fine architectural detail is remarkable with the arched doorways, vaulted halls, rounded pillars and columns, as well as a spiralled staircase. The statue of Saint Michael is erected above the abbey tower (which can be lighted), his right wing suspending a 1.00-carat diamond that serves as a striking contrast to the larger diamond stationed just below.
Sitting upon a three-claw support secured to the abbey spire is The Star of Kimberly, offered as Lot 1632 - an immense and exquisitely chiseled diamond weighing 40.86 carats, whose 82.55-carat crystal rough was found in 1999. The present specimen is a fine example of the type of large yellow gems uncovered at the diamond mines near the town of Kimberly in South Africa. Its discovery led to the immediate purchase by William Goldberg, the world-renowned New York-based diamond purveyor famed for cutting the 137-carat Premier Rose and the 89-carat Guinea Star. With their expert cutters, The Star of Kimberly emerged as a gleaming light yellow diamond. The gem is classified as Type Ia - its yellow colour due to the presence of nitrogen atoms in its carbon structure, resulting in the pleasing yellow hue of this jewel. Fashioned into a cushion-shaped brilliant style, an 'old mine-cut' that dates back to the seventeenth-century, the diamond displays a four-fold symmetry - square-shaped with rounded corners, high crown and larger culet. The change in popular tastes favouring the modern round brilliant with its circular outline, thinner crown, negligible sized culet and eight-fold symmetry began at the turn of the twentieth century. Yet today, there are many who seek the older cushion brilliant for that rare charm and romanticism of the old world.
Mitsuo Kaji is a Tokyo-based jewellery designer whose creativity stems from his love of blending the antique with the modern. Mont Saint Michel and Its Bay and The Star of Kimberly forms part of The World Heritage Collection, a series of bejewelled objects that depict World Heritage Sites. Produced in conjunction with the twentieth anniversary celebration of Kaji's jewellery firm, the collection is symbolic, expressing the precious value of cultural heritage, their historical importance and legacy to the world.