Collecting is an art itself, one that is certainly not limited to the fine and decorative arts but spans across many arenas. Jewelry has historically counted among the favorite domains for individuals to build collections that resemble their unique preferences. The most memorable collections are those exhibiting not only the collector’s keen sense of style but their visible passion for collecting jewelry. Lily Safra, Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, and Bunny Mellon all had extraordinary collections reflecting their personal tastes, each different from the other but all sharing the same cultivated predilection for truly special jewels. Next month, Leslie Hindman will auction the jewelry collection of Rita Dee Hassenfeld, a woman with the same sharp eye and exacting taste as the most notable 21st century collectors.
On September 16th, the Chicago-based auction house will offer the exceptional – and expansive – assortment of jewelry encompassing magnificent creations by esteemed jewelry houses, like Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, David Webb, and Verdura, as well as whimsical pieces by a number of esteemed contemporary designers, such as Nicholas Varney and Christopher Walling. What’s more telling, this consummate collection is a sparkling representation of the couple behind it.
A New York City native, Rita Dee Hassenfeld, née Greenberg, married Harold Irwin Hassenfeld at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1948. The groom was the oldest son of Henry Hassenfeld, who founded the toy company Hassenfeld Brothers – now Hasbro – with his two brothers Hillel and Herman. Before the marriage, Mr. Hassenfeld served as President and Chairman of the Board of Hassenfeld Brothers, Inc. but moved to Nashville in 1946 to head the Empire Pencil Company, a core component of the company’s business. The couple had three children, whom they raised in their homes in Nashville and Palm Beach.
Throughout their life together, jewelry played an important role. They shared an passionate love of jewelry, enraptured by the hunt for the most collectible and rare while mesmerized by its incomparable beauty. “Mr. Hassenfeld particularly enjoyed the negotiation process of buying jewelry,” says Alexander Eblen, Director of Fine Jewelry and Timepieces at Leslie Hindman. Jewelry.
The couple’s insatiable jewelry collecting even dictated many a family vacation. Inevitably, travel and jewelry went hand in hand with the Hassenfelds, as their children recalled to Mr. Eblen. The close-knit family traveled often to New York and London, and jewelry was always on the itinerary, usually bringing a piece or two back home with them.
The single-owner sale is comprised of more than 200 pieces the couple purchased over the course of their entire relationship, more than five decades of carefully curated collecting. A mix of fanciful casual wares and glamorous evening pieces, each jewel is collectible in its own right. On one end of the spectrum lie the obvious gem-laden highlights: a 9.12-carat pear-shaped diamond ring, by Harry Winston (est. $375,000-425,000); an 11-.31-carat Colombian emerald and diamond ring, also by Harry Winston (est. $70,000-90,000); and a diamond necklace, by Van Cleef & Arpels, with a detachable cultured pearl and diamond pendant (est. $60,000-80,000).
However, the most noteworthy of the high-priced highlights is an Art Deco emerald, diamond, onyx and enamel lapel watch, by Cartier (est. $100,000-150,000). A true collector’s jewel, the exquisite piece represents the culmination of Cartier’s design creativity during the Art Deco period. The mix of exceptional carved Indian emeralds with diamonds and onyx, a color combination Cartier used often in the 1920s, set in geometric fashion renders the jewel a veritable treasure. The extraordinary piece can be alternatively worn as pendant, as Mrs. Hassenfeld often did. What’s more, the watch is in superb condition and even works!
Like most important jewelry sales, there are always great diamonds and precious gem-set jewelry made by the great jewelry houses. However, Mrs. Hassenfeld had a chic eye and playful nature that is best captured in her seemingly casual pieces. The most alluring among that faction is the suite of jewelry by Suzanne Belperron – a ring, pair of earclips, necklace and pair of dress clips – which will be sold in separate lots. The ring (est. $7,000-9,000) is made of one carved aquamarine set with a green beryl set in a silver bezel mounted within the aquamarine base. At size 6.75, it is believed to be the largest finger size for a carved stone ring that Belperron ever made.
The real ‘wow’ piece in this suite is the pair of dress clips (est. $30,000-50,000) of green beryl and grey chalcedony in various shades of greenish blue. Their striking design, with a central domed motif flanked on both sides with collet-set oval green beryls, is simple in composition but makes a grand impression, rendering them a fitting closing lot as the sale’s grand finale.
For Mr. Eblen, a Seaman Schepps bracelet (est. $12,000-18,000) is a clear standout not to be overlooked for its understated elegance. “It has an interesting design that translates well today,” he says. The bracelet’s unique design of overlapping cabochon sapphires, which Eblen has seen only a few similar examples ever, dances airily on the wrist, the various shades of blue, violet and purple catching the light differently with each movement.
In addition to collecting vintage jewels, Mrs. Hassenfeld appreciated the works of a number of contemporary designers, including Nicholas Varney whose work is well-represented in the sale. Among Mr. Varney’s pieces in her collection, perhaps the most notable is an impressive starfish brooch (est. $8,000-12,000), which centers upon a smooth freeform fire opal that brilliantly captures the vibrant colors and life of a coral reef.
Important Jewelry from the Estate of Rita Dee Hassenfeld will be offered for sale at auction at 5:30 PM on September 16, 2015, followed by Leslie Hindman’s Important Jewelry two-day auction on September 17th and 18th. The sales will be hosted on two online platforms, LHLive and Bidsquare.
For those living in or around New York City, Leslie Hindman will be hosting an exhibition that is open to the public at the Waldorf Astoria beginning Monday, August 31st to Thursday, September 3rd, with the following times:
Monday, August 31 | 10am-5pm
Tuesday, September 1 | 10am- 5pm
Wednesday, September 2 | 10am-5pm
Thursday, September 3 | 10am-2pm