15 April 2014

Jewel History: Brilliant Gems to Be Sold (1907)

Mrs. Lewis-Hill, ca. 1890 [1]
"Brilliant Gems to Be Sold"
(originally appeared in the Washington Post, 14 Apr 1907)

There were placed on view yesterday at Christie's the dazzling jewels which were the personal ornaments of the late Mrs. Lewis-Hill, better known by her first married name, Mrs. Sam Lewis [2]. Such a display of precious stones has not often been seen in a London auction room nor anywhere else. Experts say the sale of these rare gems, which will take place on Monday, will rank with the Dudley Gordon Lennox [3] and Anglesey [4] dispersals.

Viewed as a collection, as they appear in the show cases, brilliantly lighted by electric lamps, it seems almost impossible that they should have been the property of one woman, and that woman not of very high rank in life. Great bunches of pearls, wonderful aggregations of diamonds, superb examples of rubies, emeralds, and sapphires greet the eye, and constitute a picture of extreme loveliness. The three most important items of the collection are a pearl and brilliant necklace, a brilliant tiara, and a great rope of pearls.

The necklace is composed of fifteen huge drops, each comprising a bouton pearl, a large brilliant, and a very large and wonderful pear-shaped pearl. The fifteen drops depend from a band of lovely diamonds.

The tiara is a great work of art. Sprays of diamond foliage bank the sides. Twenty-six collet brilliants fill up the center, surmounted by a great pear-shaped diamond of dazzling luster.

The rope of pearls is made up of 229 gems, every one a thing of beauty, all artistically graduated on a single rope.

The collection, by the way, runs largely to pearls, which are seen in rings, pins, brooches, and almost every other form of jewelry. Every woman who saw the display yesterday yearned to possess the whole of it [5].

1. Henry Jones Thaddeus's Portrait of Ada Lewis (1890); source here.
2. Ada Hannah Davis (1844-1906) was the wife of London financier Samuel "Sam" Lewis (1837-1901), who died and left her a fortune. She used some of the inheritance to establish scholarships in her name at the Royal Academy of Music. (She also gifted them a Stradivarius violin.) Ada was a musician in her own right, but the better-known musical talent in her family was her sister, the composer Hope Temple (who was herself married to the French composer and conductor André Messager). In 1904, Ada remarried; her second husband was William James Montague Hill. She died in London in October 1906.
3. I believe the sale referenced here is that of the jewels of the late Lady Henry Gordon-Lennox (née Amelia Brooman) at Christie's in 1903; more information available here.
4. In 1904, the jewelry collection of the flamboyant 5th Marquess of Anglesey was auctioned to pay off his extensive debts. Read more here at the Guardian.
5. The estate, including the jewelry, ended up bringing a total of more than £130,000 at auction; see here.