This November, Sotheby’s will conduct a series of sales offering the extraordinary collection of the late Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon. The matriarch of the Mellon dynasty was adamantly private, so very few have had the rare opportunity to see her incredible collection of art and jewelry prior to her passing earlier this year. An amateur collector with an eye for buying what she liked rather than what would be a profitable investment, Mrs. Mellon amassed an art collection that rivaled those of the Fricks, Carnegies and Morgans.
Not only did she have a sharp eye for fine art, Mrs. Mellon also had a deep passion for jewelry. Extraordinary period pieces from Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Black Starr & Frost abound in her collection, but the most telling – and exquisite – jewels are those specially commissioned by her from designers Fulco di Verdura and Jean Schlumberger.
Mrs. Mellon maintained close relationships with both Verdura and Schlumberger, who created some of their finest jeweled works of art for the passionate collector. Schlumberger, in particular, produced a bounty of highly imaginative jewelry and jeweled objets, only the latter of which will be offered in Sotheby’s auction from her collection. In her will, Mrs. Mellon generously donated the majority of her Schlumberger jewelry to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.
Among Schlumberger’s many special orders from Mrs. Mellon, two stand out in my mind as being incredibly reflective of the special bond of the jeweler and his client. The first is the “Méduse” clip designed as a jellyfish of cabochon moonstones and diamonds with sapphire and textured gold tentacles. Though several were made, the original brooch was purchased by Mrs. Mellon to commemorate an attack by a Portuguese man-o’-war.
The second jeweled item by Schlumberger, the “Flower Pot”, is a touching homage to Mrs. Mellon’s love of horticulture. Her immense talent in landscape design and gardening can be seen at any one of her many properties, but is most apparent at her 4,000-acre Virginia estate, Oak Spring Farms. A close friend to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the self-taught horticulturist also famously designed the White House Rose Garden during the Kennedy administration. With her green thumb in mind, Schlumberger’s “Flower Pot” jewel was designed using a terracotta pot from Mrs. Mellon’s very own garden. Out of the black garnet ore within the pot sprouts a charming golden sunflower with a large amethyst at its center, which can be removed and worn as a brooch.
Though neither of those two pieces will be included in Sotheby’s auction, a number of other equally impressive jewels will be offered in the sale. The most magnificent jewel, and certainly the one with the highest estimate, is a rare Fancy Vivid Blue diamond pendant weighing 9.75 carats, of VVS2 clarity and potentially internally flawless (est. $10 – $15 million). The sale will also offer another blue diamond, an important 9.15-carat Fancy Blue diamond pendant of VS1 clarity (est. $1 – $1.5 million).
Other highlights include: