To Masterpiece London on the site of 18th century aristocratic playground Ranleigh pleasure gardens in Chelsea in the delightful company of La Farmer looking rather colonial in a cream linen pant suit. Came, ES fashionisto Maurice Mullen and Vogue jewellery editrix Carol Woolton for cocktails at the Scott’s bar. Now in its fifth year, Masterpiece has emerged as the spiffiest showcase for fine art, antiques and magnificent jewellery noted as much for the civilised, rather patrician invitees as its exceptional exhibitors.
As my friend Ros Milani Gallieni puts it, Masterpiece is ‘whispering wealth from every corner of the marquee’. We began the ground tour at the Wartski stand where the divine Mr Munn was holding court with transatlantic social x-rays with what can only be described as flameproof platinum hair who probably ovulate Fabergé eggs. My magpie eye was immediately caught by an aquamarine and diamond Olga Tritt necklace set in 1939 that was a masterpiece of Deco decadence.
Mr Munn has probably handled more Fabergé masterpieces than the Russian Empress Maria Feodorovna. I was enchanted by a gold box decorated with a portrait of the last Tsar surmounted by a miniature of the diamond Imperial Crown. The wealth of the Romanovs would make the Mittal family look modest by comparison. Everyday objects such as paper knives, cigarette cases and picture frames are crafted in nephrite, jade and gold and embellished with intricately set precious stones.
Largely thanks to Lady Woolton Masterpiece has become an unbreakable date for collectors of exceptional jewellery. La Farmer and I spent a mad half hour with Messers Fane and Landrigan handling pieces of heaven designed by Coco Chanel’s beloved Count Fulco di Verdura who made for the creme m’dear. Seeing the Verdura gold and diamond ‘lily’ cuff worn by Marlene in the famous photographs of Dietrich recording Lily Marlene in New York in the 50s was a moment as sacred to me as Catholics kissing The Pope’s ring.
A former director of jewellery at Sotheby’s, Mr Landrigan has one of the most remarkable collection of signed jewellery belonging to legendary ladies and gentlemen such as Cole and Linda Porter, Joan Fontaine, Joan Crawford, Mademoiselle Chanel, Greta Garbo and Cecil Beaton which will be exhibited in New York for the first time later this year.
Masterpiece is a masterclass in jewels of historic provenance and one would be forgiven for thinking that these beauties are still relatively common on the secondary market. This is absolutely not the case. International jewellers reserve their fire power for Masterpiece knowing full well the competition will judge them by the treasures shown cheek-by-jowl with their peers. It is of course true that the great marques such as Fabergé, Van Cleef, Cartier and Chaumet were incredibly prolific in the golden era between 1880 and 1939 but do bear in mind how many of their masterpieces were sold and broken for the stones and precious metals when fashion or finances fluctuated.
I am a terrific fan of Hancocks in the Burlington Arcade and pose in a flaneur fashion staring into their window on a weekly basis because it is quite frankly an education in signed jewellery that will always outsmart shares as an investment. I was particularly impressed by the collection of yellow gold Cartier pieces such as the divine feathered collar set with superb diamonds. Yellow gold and white diamonds is a marriage made in heaven.
After a snifter with La Farmer and Maurice, Countess Carol and I paid a visit to the Siegelson stand that was in essence a biography of the greatest important collections of ingenious, seductive jewels. We were privileged to see the Cartier scarab demi-parure set by Cartier for Cole Porter’s wife Linda in 1924 and jewels from the collections of Millicent Rogers, the Duchess of Windsor and society beauty Princess Natasha ‘Babe’ Paley.
No visit to Masterpiece would be complete without a giggle and a gossip with Theo Fennell who is in my humble opinion one of the most creative jewellers in London if not the world. Theo understands entirely that jewellery must speak on an emotional as well as an aesthetic level. His work always has a narrative and understands that the ego of the client punches with equal weight as the ego of the designer.
If I were in the market for a collection of significant jewels that fascinates and is a financial safe bet I would always choose Grima. Andrew Grima was one of the most influential, innovative jewellers in the history of the craft. His handling of gemstones and yellow gold raised the barre and is at once so recognisable a signature and so timeless a style as to seduce anyone with romance in their soul and fire in the belly. Grima’s work is bold, beautiful and seductive.
I only popped in to Masterpiece for an hour and found myself lingering for three. You do meet the most extraordinary people apropos an encounter with Tatler‘s legendary editor Jane Procter. I was in awe of Jane Procter ever since as a teenager I would subscribe to her seismically important fashion journal W as a schoolboy living in a small village in Derbyshire. As an editor she had wit, dash and a reckless sense of humour.
I was fortunate after graduating from Saint Martins to spend six months in the offices of Tatler in Condé Nast Towers on Hanover Square. In retrospect, Jane Procter had gathered the most remarkable talent on a single floor of Vogue House. It was a thrilling time for the magazine when the late Diana, Princess of Wales was still their poster girl and La Procter ruled with an iron fist in a velvet glove. Magazine editors don’t have the balls any more and publishing is a duller world to inhabit without fearless leaders like she. End of.