A Sparkling Fair for the Masters

New York Times, May 12, 2011

LONDON — When the Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair closed for good in 2009, ending a run of 75 years, it left a gaping hole in London’s cultural calendar. But nature abhors a vacuum and within a year a group of Grosvenor House veterans created Masterpiece London to fill the gap.

This year’s second edition of the Masterpiece London fair opens on June 30 on the grounds of the Chelsea Royal Hospital for military pensioners — London’s 17th-century equivalent of the Invalides in Paris — and will run for six days.

Thomas Woodham-Smith, a founding partner of the fair, said the organizers had aimed to broaden the original antique fair’s formula to include exhibitors from across the arts, antiques and contemporary design worlds, while adding some more transient pleasures to the mix. These include catering by Urban Caprice, the company that owns the venerable Le Caprice restaurant in central London; and drinks by Harry’s Bar, a revered name among watering holes for the rich and famous.

“We have a focus on sybaritic pleasures,” Mr. Woodham-Smith said.

Among the more sybaritic, but less transient pleasures on offer at this year’s fair will be some exceptional jewelry. Of the 150 companies bringing their finest wares to the event, 15 are jewelry specialists who have vowed to make up in quality what they may lack in volume.

“We’re trying to showcase the very best of each genre,” said Sophie Jackson, a jewelry expert at Symbolic & Chase, a five-year-old Bond Street dealer specializing in collectible jewelry and watches from the late 19th century to the present day.

Miss Jackson said a big draw would be the firm’s collection of pieces by René Boivin, the French jeweler whose iconoclastic style — evident in a ruby, emerald and diamond “feuille” leaf brooch, circa 1937, available for $160,000 — helped set the tone for designers of the 20th century.

A handful of prestigious English dealers, known for their period jewels and antique silver, will ensure the fair offers a top-quality selection of 20th-century masters.

Stephen Burton, managing director of Hancocks, said that one of the highlights of the 200 or so pieces he intended to show would be a superb 1928 Cartier Art Deco bracelet in the “Tutti Frutti” style, designed as a foliate strap of carved ruby and sapphire leaves set amidst emerald and onyx beads. It will be priced at about $2 million.

For visitors in search of contemporary styles, the fair’s exhibitors will include Theo Fennell, a British society jeweler with a penchant for jawbreaker-sized gemstone cocktail rings. Also represented will the American-born, Paris-based Joel Arthur Rosenthal, otherwise known as JAR, a legend among modern-day jewelers.

Although Mr. Rosenthal will be showing only his scent and some aluminum jewelry, his presence lends the event considerable clout.

So, too, does the return of the New York-based Verdura jewelry house, created and led by the Sicilian playboy and fabled jeweler Duke Fulco di Verdura between 1930 and 1973, and last seen at the Grosvenor House fair seven years ago.

Ward Landrigan, the former Sotheby’s jewelry expert who purchased the company in 1985, said he would be bringing approximately 150 pieces to the fair, mixing new designs with some vintage Verdura masterpieces and a number of pieces that fuse vintage and modern elements. These will include a $44,500 black jade cuff decorated with an original Verdura rose gold and diamond crisscross motif.

For the pleasure of collectors, Landrigan said he would also be bringing “some historic pieces, just for flavor.”

Among 15 jewels that Verdura will showcase from its permanent Museum Collection, a company-owned historical archive, will be a pair of Maltese Cross cuffs originally designed for Coco Chanel. For jewelry connoisseurs, these pieces are elusive totems of 20th century history.

“The original cuffs are almost impossible to find,” said Elizabeth Anne Bonanno, a jewelry consultant in New York. “They are the holy grail. I don’t know anyone other than Verdura who has them.”