In December 2012, Sotheby’s featured the jewelery collection of the Late Michael Wellby. Born into a family of silver dealers, Mr. Wellby found that period jewelry captured his attention, so much so, that he collected breathtaking pieces from periods spanning five centuries.
Educated at Marlborough College, at the age of 18, he joined his father’s business H.S. Wellby in Halkin Arcade in Knightsbridge. During the 1940s and 1950s, he began to deal in German silver, (which at the time was unpopular and undervalued), realising that pieces he could buy at little more than melt value were amongst the finest examples of the silversmith’s art. In the 1960s he moved the business to Grafton Street in Mayfair, where it soon became a required stop for any visiting continental dealer or collector. During his long career Michael Wellby also built up a highly important private collection of European silver and Works of Art, which he has bequeathed to the Ashmolean Museum.
The jewels in his collection include some of the finest examples of the greatest goldsmiths of the last five centuries, in addition to important Renaissance jewels and exquisite creations of 19th century novelty. Mr. Wellby had a fine taste for extravagant jewelry and even includes several pieces by Fouquet and Lalique.
The diamond wheat sheaf tiara was estimated to fetch anywhere from 60,000 – 80,000 GBP, and brought in 373,250 GBP
Catalogue Note- Wheat Tiara
Designed as two wheat sheaf’s each tied together with a ribbon bow, set throughout with cushion-, pear-shaped, circular-, single-cut and rose diamonds, inner circumference approximately 330mm, few small diamonds deficient, each wheat sheaf detachable from frame and can be worn as brooches, bows detachable with additional brooch fittings, accompanied by later fitted case.
Although the 19th century was a period of great change through industrialisation jewellery designers often looked to the past for inspiration. This tiara in the neo-classical taste, is composed of a wreath of ears of wheat and is emblematic of prosperity, abundance and fruitfulness; it would be highly appropriate if such a tiara were worn at a wedding. In ancient Greece, tiaras of laurel leaves, oak or naturalistic branches would crown the victorious or be worn by women to display their prominent status in society. Emperor Napoleon I was often depicted in portraiture in his coronation robes and wearing a golden laurel wreath to display his status and grandeur.
Cf: Queen Victoria Receiving the Sacrament at her Coronation, 28th June 1838, Charles Robert Leslie(1794-1859), where we see the Queen’s train bearers are depicted wearing hair decorations of wheat-sheaf design.
Catalogue Note- Diamond Devant De corsage, Late 18th Century
Estimate: 60,000 – 80,000 GBP LOT SOLD. 385,250 GBP
Composed of a series of swags, with ribbon and floral motifs, suspending three detachable tassels, set with rose diamonds, measuring approximately 240 x 130mm, later fitted case.
This piece demonstrates the 18th Century Fashion for using jewellery to decorate not only the neck but also the dress as well. A jewel of this size is extremely rare as many pieces were often broken up and sold or re-set to keep up with ever changing fashions. The use of rose diamonds allowed the jeweller to shape the stones into the design they wanted while foiling on the reverse of the stones gave a beautiful soft sparkle in the candlelight. The quality of the work on this jewel is evident not only in the articulation but also in the layer of gold applied on the reverse which would have protected the valuable garments from being soiled through the oxidization of the silver mounts.
This piece would have been sown onto the front of the bodice, the loops on either end allowing for a ribbon to be added so the jewel could be worn as an elaborate choker.
Catalogue Note- Diamond brooch, Mellerio dits Meller, Late 19th Century
Estimate: 6,000 – 8,000 GBP LOT SOLD. 21,250 GBP
Designed as a floral spray of Cattleya Orchids set en tremblant, set with cushion-shaped, circular-cut and rose diamonds, three flower head jewels detach, can be worn with accompanying sprung hair and brooch fittings, French assay and maker’s marks, fitted case Mellerio dits Meller. Mellerio dits Meller is the oldest family-run business in Europe, since its creation in 1615 the business has passed through fourteen generations. With a legacy of eminent clients such as Marie Antoinette and Empress Josephine, the brand is renowned for its refined elegance.
Catalogue Note- Natural pearl, cultured pearl and diamond necklace, late 19th Century
Estimate: 6,000 – 8,000 GBP LOT SOLD. 16,250 GBP
Designed as a graduated fringe, set with cushion shaped, circular- and single-cut, and rose diamonds, suspending natural pearls with cultured pearls towards the clasp, the clasp set with a pinched collet-set circular-cut stone, length approximately 385mm.
Accompanied by The Gem & Pearl Laboratory report no. 06232, stating that the majority of the pearls were found to be natural, saltwater and five of the pearls were found to be cultured.
Catalogue Note-Emerald and diamond necklace-brooch, Circa 1905
Estimate: 5,000 – 7,000 GBP LOT SOLD. 16,250 GBP
The central jewel of folded lace ribbon design, set with calibré-cut emeralds, millegrain set with circular-cut and rose diamonds, suspended from knife edge linking, highlighted at intervals by diamonds, length approximately 450mm, accompanied by original screw driver and alternative brooch fitting, fitted case, Koch.
Catalogue Note- Gold and topaz necklace, Early 19th Century
Estimate: 4,000 – 6,000 GBP LOT SOLD. 10,000 GBP
Designed as a series of graduated oval pink topaz within fine cannetille work borders, suspending a pendant of cruciform design, similarly set, length approximately 370mm.
Estimate: 3,000 – 5,000 GBP LOT SOLD. 26,250 GBP
Designed as a graduated series of coiled snake links set with cabochon turquoises and pearls, five suspending natural baroque pearl drops, the eyes set with cabochon rubies, length approximately 430mm, fitted case.
Catalogue Note-Gold and enamel necklace, Late 17th or early 18th Century, possibly French
Estimate: 2,000 – 3,000 GBP LOT SOLD. 11,875 GBP
Composed of nineteen plaques applied with monochrome enamel depicting the life of Christ including the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, length approximately 440mm, two links later added.