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Antiques: Shining examples of marvellous gems; Richard Edmonds says it is not only diamonds that are a girl's best friend.

In May, Sotheby's will be selling an outstanding collection of fine jewels in Geneva. These beautiful things once belonged to Marie Vergottis and the collection is estimated to fetch somewhere in the region of $5 million - but, as always with sales like this, you can add on another million since the world will turn up in Switzerland.

Marie Vergottis, who died in May 1999, was born of Greek parents in 1914. She married a Greek shipowner in 1938 and the following year the couple moved to an apartment on 5th Avenue, New York.

It was here that Marie, a woman of great beauty and elegance, began to collect paintings, furniture, Chinese porcelain and jewellery. Apparently, her jewellery was chosen through her fascination for precious stones especially emeralds, rubies and sapphires.

Marie was a great admirer of beautiful things, but value was of little importance to her - as it is to any true collector. When she put on her best jewels she could outshine royalty, which she did on several occasions.

The majority of the 130 jewels which Sotheby's will be offering are by either Van Cleef & Arpels or Gerard, two jewellers who Marie Vergottis much admired.

A stunning sapphire and diamond necklace by Gerard which is decorated with 18 graduated sapphires set within frames of brilliant-cut diamonds is estimated to fetch a million dollars. But equally sensational is a ruby and diamond ring from the same jeweller which contains the wonderful ruby which glows with the fabulous pigeon blood red colour sought after by every fine gem connoisseur. The estimate for that little number is between $300,000/$500,000.

In 1933, Van Cleef & Arpels invented the serti mysterieux (or invisible mount). This exquisite and skilled art of setting precious stones in a way where you cannot see any sign of clips or casing has been adored by almost every elegant society woman ever since.

In 1936, the theme of leaves was introduced into their repertoire and in November of that year Edward Windsor purchased a beautiful clip of holly leaves made in emeralds and diamonds which he presented to Wallace Simpson months before their marriage, as a Christmas present.

Wallace Simpson's holly leaf clips are shown in detail along with her slinky 'Great Cat' jewels made by Cartier, in Famous Jewellery Collectors by Stefano Papi and Alexandra Rhodes (Thames & Hudson: pounds 29.95), where the jungle and the jeweller got together to produce for Wallace some of the loveliest designs of the 1950s and some say some of the most vulgar.

The bracelets, diamond necklaces and solitaire diamond rings are all shown in the book in the section on Wallace, (many other women are also included from Ava Gardner to Joan Crawford) including a couple of gold coins mounted in a circular frame of precious stones. Wallace pinned these objects on to the pocket of her hip length jacket producing an effect that is totally crude, to my mind, reminding me of those gold sovereigns which scrap dealers have made into rings.

Merle Oberon's jewels are also here.

Here was a woman who rose to fame from a bumpy beginning as an Anglo -Indian working at the Bombay telephone exchange until she was eventually picked up by Mr Right.

Oberon also worked long before her movie career as a dance hostess, in several London establishments until the doors opened and Hollywood lay at her feet. Her portrait in this elegant, highly readable book, shows an exquisitely beautiful woman looking out at you rather provocatively with those famous cat's eyes.

But Merle loved antique jewellery, therefore, she is a welcomed guest in this column. Her star piece was a fine 1860s emerald and diamond necklace, which she wore both on and off screen. She eventually married Alexander Koada, the film producer, who, on her wedding day gave her three diamond roses by Cartier.

The Duchess of Marlborough grew up with diamonds on her serviette rings. The child of wealthy Americans, she married into the British aristrocracy like so many well-heeled women, including Consuelo Vanderbilt. One of the most magnificent of Gladys Marlborough's tiaras was Russian.

Set with diamonds and trembleuse pearls, it was originally the property of a Russian grand duchess and was sold off at a public auction by the Bolsheviks after the Russian revolution. Gladys - or at least her husband - paid pounds 3,500 for that piece in May 1927 via a London jeweller, and this at a time when a man thought himself lucky to earn 25 shillings a week and when you could buy a house for pounds 125.

When Prince Johannes von Thurn und Taxis married a local girl called Gloria in 1980, the world gasped. Gloria was a commoner, he was the heir to something which, in terms of sheer wealth was scarcely calculable.

A few years ago Gloria became a widow and sold off the family treasures while elderly members of the Thurn und Taxis family no doubt committed suicide in a quiet and discreet way.

Sotheby's catalogues for the sale were wonderful and in this fascinating book there is a picture of the tiara in diamonds and pearls originally made in 1853 for the Empress Eugenie. Gloria had little compunction when it came to flogging family bits and pieces and although she wore the Empress Eugenie's tiara at her wedding, it nevertheless went the way of much else which will never, ever, come together again.

In the picture shown in the book, Gloria is wearing the tiara on her wedding day while she holds on to the arm of a man who looks rather like a heavily built German traffic policeman.

If you are attracted by good antique jewellery remember that Fellowes, the Birmingham auctioneers, have regular sales of exquisitely beautiful pieces which often cost much less than you think.
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Author:Edmonds, Richard
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 25, 2000
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