Lot 315 is a truly magnificent example of Tiffany & Co.’s late 19th century style. From the supple make to the outstanding quality of the gemstones; a dazzling sequence of matched Colombian emeralds; vibrant green in colour and pure in clarity. The necklace is further enhanced by the incorporation of the fleur-de-lys motif, a stylised lily symbolic of French royalty since the Middle Ages. While the fleur-de-lys has appeared in countless European heraldry over the centuries, it is particularly associated with the French monarchy and remains an enduring symbol of France to this day, appearing on French postage stamps and emblems across the nation.
The name Tiffany & Co. is synonymous with the very best gems, having received countless awards at worldwide exhibitions for their innovative jewellery designs. Founded in New York City in 1837 as a stationary and fancy goods store known as Tiffany & Young, by 1853 Charles L. Tiffany had assumed complete ownership of the business and Tiffany & Co was born. The business prospered and had risen to the pinnacle of commercial success by 1876, shortly before this superb necklace was created.
In the late 19th century the company embarked on a buying spree in Europe and quickly became one of the most prolific collectors of aristocratic jewels. They were the major buyer at the auction of the French Crown Jewels in Paris in 1887, and that style and fervour for European jewels can be seen in the design of this necklace.
They were also one of the most prolific buyers at one of the most famous sales of Royal jewellery, that of Isabella II, Queen of Spain in 1878. Isabella II was famous for collecting some of the worlds’ most fabulous emeralds, and a spectacular corsage ornament with very large emeralds averaging 55 carats each was exhibited at the London Crystal Palace exhibition in 1851.
Isabella II became Queen of Spain at the age of three, following the death of her father, Ferdinand VII in 1833. By 1843, with her mother having been exiled to France, she was declared of age to rule and was soon embroiled in a tumultuous marriage with her first cousin. Isabella’s personal affairs were eventually her undoing, and with the outbreak of revolution in 1868, she fled to France and abdicated in favour of her son Alfonso XII. Ten years followed and in order to finance the restoration of the basilica in Atocha as a memorial to his deceased wife, it was decided that the magnificent jewellery collection of Isabella would be sold. The proceeds came to around $1 million. It may well be that some or all of the emeralds in this magnificent necklace have originated from that historic sale in 1878.
Startling artistic pieces such as lot 315 are exactly the reason Tiffany & Co.’s international reputation as master jewellers for the wealthiest and most illustrious clientele of America’s high society became so firmly cemented by the end of the 19th century. Each collet, made by hand, set with old-cut diamonds, and exquisitely graduated circular-cut emeralds, makes this necklace a jewel for both museums and collectors across the world.