An Illustrious Past
To mark its 150-year-anniversary, Wartski, a family firm of art and antiques dealers, published a book that tells the tale of a colorful and storied past. “Wartski — The First One Hundred and Fifty Years” weaves in the firm’s connections with royalty, aristocracy and show-business legends with masterpieces of fine jewelry, gold boxes, silver and works of art by world-renowned master jeweler Carl Fabergé.
By Kimberly Turner Quevedo
“It is a pretty heavy cocktail of people, jewelry and goldsmiths’ work,” says Geoffrey Munn, author and managing director of Wartski. “It is not a scandalous book in any way, but it is full of eccentricity and strange and wonderful characters. It is also a book about an elite, in a strange way — not financial elite, but the literary, scholarly and royal elite.”
The 300-page book begins with the early establishment of Wartski in the United Kingdom, where Morris Wartski opened shop in 1895, and, early on, was honored by the patronage of King Edward VII. Munn winds the tale through Wartski’s collections of Carl Fabergé’s Imperial Easter Eggs to its dealings with a gold chalice made for Empress Catherine the Great to its pieces of 18th-century goldsmiths’ work. The beautiful pieces are highlighted by the people who were fascinated by them, and the chapter The Great and the Good is devoted to the rich spectrum of Wartski customers, including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Joan Rivers. Wartski also intertwined with a few royal families, such as the British Royal family.
“It has been a voyage of discovery about people and objects,” says Munn. “The connection with the British family has been very close for six generations, which is really quite remarkable. We literally made the wedding ring for Prince William to give to his wife.”
The book concludes by looking toward Wartski’s future through its sponsorship of contemporary jewelers. It gives the reader new insight into the jewelry trade and the fascination of collecting.
“Wartski is like an archeological site,” says Munn. “We don’t have a trowel or brush, but we are constantly finding new things and adding to the knowledge of them.”
This impressive, Art Deco-style, platinum necklace with aquamarines and baguette diamonds was designed by Olga Tritt, a refugee from Russia, who began as a visiting pearl stringer in New York. The aquamarines for this necklace may well have been supplied to Tritt by the Brazilian government in the hope of promoting trade at the World Fair of 1939. “When you look at jewelry, you want them to evoke the period from which they came,” says Munn. “Nothing evokes it better than this necklace, which is from 1939.”
The Fabergé Imperial Easter Egg of 1887 was made by the chief jewelry work-master, August Holmstrom, and it is signed with his mark on the base. The egg takes the form of a neoclassical tripod, which, in the manner of an Arcadian altar of love, is garlanded with colored gold roses and set with three sapphires. The simple gadrooned gold egg contrasts with its richly decorated stand. It also has a watch made by Vacheron Constantin. The dial is revealed by the action of the star-shaped, thumb-push, set with a brilliant diamond, which releases the hinged lid.
Emperor Nicholas II gave the Winter Egg by Fabergé to his mother, Empress Marie Feodorovna, in 1913. It is made from rock crystal, platinum, diamonds, white quartz and nephrite. There is also a diamond-set platinum basket of flowers apparently frozen within the body of the ice egg. This large and dramatic masterpiece of goldsmiths’ work was in Wartski’s stock in 1934 at a cost of 450 euros.
This gold tiara is set with emeralds and diamonds in silver from the French Crown jewels. It was made by Evrard and Frédéric Bapst between September 1819 and July 1820 for the Duchesse d’Angoulême, daughter of Louis XVI. Made up in part of stones from the crown collection, it was a favorite of Empress Eugénie. The tiara was sold at auction by the French government in 1887.
This Venetian gold amorino is holding an emblem in each hand — one a cockerel on a tower, the other a coiled snake. These are presumably of heraldic significance and are likely to refer to the Venetian family of Castelli. Designed by Gasparo Balbi, the marble base is later. It was purchased by Jaime Ortiz Patiño at Wartski in 1963.