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“Cameos are my first love,” says Ida Faerber, who works alongside her father Thomas, at the Faerber Collection, Geneva. “They were my first discovery in the world of jewellery. I remember thinking how extraordinary it was to be able to tell a story out of stone, how amazing to create magnificent art from stone or shell, what imagination, what skill.”

The art of gem-engraving is one of the earliest of all art forms, reaching back to Mesopotamia, to the great civilisations of antiquity, when engraved cylinder seals were essential instruments for signing documents and sealing contracts. Cameos were a later development, traceable to the engraved scarabs of ancient Egypt, and blossoming in the Hellenistic age. Both cameos and intaglios (incised engravings) were highly prized, in ancient Greece and Rome and then again in the Renaissance with its revival of classical art and learning. A deep appreciation of gem-carving, as the noblest of art forms, as a highly elevated form of human artistic expression, was nurtured by great patrons of the arts and collectors, including Lorenzo dei Medici, who counted the 2nd century B.C carved hardstone cup, later known as the Farnese Tazza, as his most valuable treasure.

The art of gem-engraving was revived again with the wave of neo-classicism, 1760-1820, stimulated by archaeological discoveries and encouraged in particular by Napoleon, who modelled himself on the great Roman emperors. Napoleon had a passion bordering on obsession for engraved stones, especially ancient gems, and established a school of gem-engraving in Paris. He presented Empress Josephine and later Marie Louise with grandiose parures set throughout with cameos. Leading neo-classical cameo-carvers, including Pichler, Pistrucci, Morelli, Girometti, took to signing their work, to prevent them being passed off as ancient gems by unscrupulous dealers.

Another revival in the mid-to later19th century was fuelled by a fresh archaeological revival, focused on a mania for ancient gold jewels. Cameos by artists such as Luigi Saulini were set into gold, Etruscan-revival mounts by leading goldsmiths including Castellani of Rome.

The most prized cameos are those carved from hardstones, agates, onxy, sardonyx, in which the layers of the stone are used, with consummate skill and imagination, to bring subject to life, to tell a story, to introduce shading, perspective, to highlight minute details, for example to capture the diaphanous folds of a goddess’s robes or unruly, wispy curls of hair.

Later in the 19th century, as cameos became less cerebral and more widely popular, they were carved on a huge variety of materials, coral, ivory, tortoiseshell, lava but mostly on shell. Poised between archaeological-revival and romanticism, these later Victorian shell cameos were madly fashionable, often huge and elaborate, carved with mythological figures and scenes, including the Three Graces, cherubs, angels, Hercules, the head of Medusa, a chariot ascending to the heavens, or with profile portraits of contemporary figures, male and female, including Queen Victoria. Some were set with precious stones to create a cameo habillé. Other cameos still were carved in more precious materials, including emerald or opal. Ida Faerber recalls a 19th century cameo carved from black opal depicting a native American wearing an elaborate feathered headdress skilfully worked to make full use of the dramatic flashing colours of the stone.

Ida Faerber says she is endlessly fascinated by cameos, which are, she says, miniature sculptures of awe-inspiring artistry and craftsmanship that generate a powerful visceral and emotional response in her. “That emotional response is important; you have truly feel the emotion when you look at a cameo.” Yet cameos were also revered as amulets, or invocations, imbued with spiritual power, powers that were drawn from the stone by the skill of the carver in depicting particular subjects, a god or hero for example, whose own attributes, virtues or strength were believed to be transferred to the owner. She cites Renaissance bloodstone cameos, of religious subjects, in which the red depicted drops of blood and the green signified hope.

While early examples, ancient or Renaissance, continues Ida, are exceedingly rare today, good 19th century cameos of the quality on offer at GemGenève are still, she feels, “completely undervalued.” And, she adds, “Although they were more commercial, more mass-produced, later 19th century shell cameos can be very beautiful.”

At GemGenève, search out the cameos on offer at various antique jewellery dealers, The Faerber Collection, for example, and particularly New York-based dealers’ dealer, Shalom Bronstein, who has a special interest and love for cameos and engraved gems. He takes his cameos seriously: most of the select group he will bring to the show, he says, are early 19th century or mid-19th century, and all are stone cameos, which in his opinion are generally “several steps up” from Victorian shell cameos, although he adds it is possible to find some exceptionally fine shell examples. Overall, he says, “cameos are ridiculously inexpensive, in terms of man hours involved in engraving and carving, and in the artistic skills required. They represent incredible value.”

Ida Faerber finishes by saying that one other aspect of cameos she loves is the depth and complexity of the subject; there is always so much more to learn. “I’m enchanted by the magic of the cameo, the minute details, the dedication, the storytelling in stone. These skills are lost; it is an art from that cannot be repeated.”



When I first started collecting coloured gemstones, I came across an extraordinary book by Richard W. Wise called ‘Secrets of the Gem Trade’. While there were many nuggets of knowledge embedded in the book, there were three, in particular, I continue to employ as my guiding principles. The first, ‘light equals colour’, referring to the variable hues of sunlight and how it impacts coloured gemstones. Mindful of this, I try to view coloured gems between 11.30 am to 2.00 pm when the light is ideally colour balanced.

The second, ‘value beauty, over pedigree’, meaning, before origin, the beauty of the stone will always drive value appreciation. Qualities like hue, tone, saturation, lustre, cut, crystal quality, will remain the fundamental building blocks against which value is assigned and evaluated, with origin only afterwards becoming a factor.

The third principle, ‘while beauty drives demand, it’s the rarity factor that drives the price.’ How does one define rarity? For some, rarity is intrinsically linked to beauty because with each season, finding untreated, beautiful gems of top quality, irrespective of origin is becoming quite the task. For others, rarity is defined by origin, as production from ancient sources is down to a trickle.

While the marketplace is seeing an influx of multi-hued gems, when it comes to long-term value appreciation, none come close to the holy trinity of rubies, emeralds and sapphires. However, even among them, there is one, which holds a unique position, due to its achievement of moving from discovery to world domination in only six short years, the Blue sapphires from Kashmir, India.

First discovered around 1879-1882, due to their remote location, high in the Himalayan mountain range (elevation of approximately 4,500 m.), mining was mainly conducted from July to September, with some years delivering only thirty days of mining. There were two mining sites, the ‘old mine’ with the higher quality sapphires located high on the northeast wall of Kundi valley. The second location was on the valley floor 250 m below the old deposit. Termed the ‘new mine’ it produced mostly milky sapphires with only the skin and tips of crystals being blue. Its truly incredible to comprehend that mining of large, excellent quality sapphires from Kashmir happened from just 1881 to 1887. Since their discovery 138 years ago, their magnificence has captivated the world, and till today, they remain the comparison standard for all other origins.

So, what makes Blue Sapphires from Kashmir so special? Besides the apparent beauty, rarity, history, we need to delve deeper and reflect on our societal structures. Since time immemorial, irrespective of geographical location, society at large has been formed around groups of people, based on their financial, intellectual and artistic abilities. Even in ancient India, the first position in society was awarded to the Brahmins or the learned, followed by the Kshatriyas or the warriors/rulers, then the Vaishyas or the merchants, followed finally by the Shudras or the working class. Fast forward to modern history, and we see the industrial revolution, break-down of colonial shackles, economic development, leading to the democratisation of wealth distribution. The past twenty to thirty years, in particular, have witnessed the emergence of a new segment of wealthy consumers, who in their aspirational search for investment value, an elevated position in society, are graduating from volume to qualitative consumption of luxury goods.

Blue Sapphires from Kashmir, India, represent the pinnacle of acquisition, not only due to their microscopic supply but because of their intrinsic beauty. Further, keeping in mind the first principle of ‘light equals colour’, it’s important to understand, unlike sapphires from other origins, the ones from Kashmir are nocturnal beauties, holding their blue colour despite the setting of the sun.

So, what is the ideal Kashmir blue to acquire? That depends on two factors, the first of heritage tastes, preferring sapphires, which visibly appeared Kashmir, due to their velvety hue, displaying a muted crystal quality, sometimes called ‘cornflower blue’. However, the trend today is favouring Kashmir sapphires with a higher crystal quality, which while not as effervescent as Sri Lankan sapphires or deeper hued like Burmese, still comes close to contemporary deposits vs the archaic choice of aristocrats.

What about sapphires from Madagascar that have recently managed to attain ‘Kashmir’ origin on certificates? Will they impact the appreciation trajectory of Kashmir stones? To answer this, we must remember that similar confusion happened between 1990-92 when certain new, non-basaltic deposits in Madagascar were yielding sapphires that were obtaining ‘Kashmir’ certification. From the perspective of investment, it’s vital to note that temporary misrepresentation of origin, affecting pricing, never has and will never sustain in the long run. Technology and science always manage to catch up and correct the lens.

While absorbing the technical and historical nuances of sapphire evaluation, it’s essential to consider how you feel when you experience the gem. If your personality connects more with a sparkling Sri Lanka sapphire or even a deeper hued Burmese, that’s what you should acquire. However, if your heart desires a sliver of history, from the romantic vales of The Himalayas, representing the perfect combination of rarity, beauty and refinement, the choice can only be a Kashmir Blue.

Reference credit:
Ruby & Sapphire by Richard W. Hughes
Secrets of the gem trade by Richard W.
Wise Conversation with Ronny Totah of Horovitz & Totah, co-founder and exhibitor at GemGenève



March 2019 – Rare and exquisite natural blue diamonds are among the most sought-after gems, seen in recent auctions vying with pinks and achieving world record prices, with premiums built in for exceptional provenance and freshness to the market.
The Cullinan mine near Pretoria is the world’s only notable blue diamond producing mine. Blue diamonds are extremely rare and, like pinks, are among the most prized by connoisseur collectors.
The rarest colour is the red, which seldom comes to the public auctions market.
Some of the rarer colours are so unusual and hard to find that they go directly from the mines to auction houses or museums.
A superb blue diamond that will be showcased by exhibitor Windsor Jewelers at the coming edition of GemGenève (May 9-12, 2019), will be the Shirley Temple Blue Bird, a more-than-9-carat fancy deep blue, internally flawless diamond.
It has great provenance as it once belonged to the Hollywood child star.
Other GemGenève exhibitors showing blue diamonds, include Kunming Diamonds who will present loose stones in a variety of hues of blue, including fancy light blues and fancy vivid blues, weighing up to 3 carats, said director Harsh Maheshwari.
Standouts will include a pair of one-carat, pear-shaped diamonds, one of them vivid blue and the other an Argyle pink.
“Smaller blues may not always have provenance, but they are rare,” Harsh said.
He added that for him, some of the most beautiful blues are tinged with green.
L.J. West Diamonds will also be showing blue diamonds at GemGenève, including a 3.10-carat fancy vivid blue, and a 3.88-carat fancy vivid blue, set in jewellery, said Gino di Geso, director of marketing and strategy.
He said that blue diamonds were currently outperforming in the wholesale market.
Scarselli Diamonds also expect to present blue diamonds, sometimes combined with pinks, at GemGenève.
“Pinks and blues play off each other very well,” said director Bruno Scarselli. “Pinks give more brightness to the blues.”
Scarselli Diamonds expect to present a 2-carat vivid blue, emerald cut diamond at GemGenève, among other blue stones.
Ely & Co Fancy Diamonds Inc. will display over 18 blue diamonds at GemGenève, including a 17.89-carat fancy light blue, and a set of vivid blues made into jewellery.
The House of Dehres will present at GemGeneve an outstanding 3.07-carat fancy intense blue diamond ring (VVS2), flanked by two fancy intense pink heart-shaped diamonds, as well as another ring holding a 2.75-carat fancy deep grayish blue (VVS2) diamond.
In terms of recent world records for blue diamonds, two stones garnered remarkable sales results at Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions in New York in April 2018.
An incredibly rare 3.47-carat fancy intense blue diamond ring, which sold at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels auction in New York for $6.7 million, achieved a new world auction record price-per-carat for any fancy intense blue diamond ($1,920,259 per-carat). The stone nearly tripled its pre-sale estimate of $2.5 million.
Gary Schuler, Chairman of Sotheby’s Jewelry Division, Americas, said: “Our results affirm that the auction market continues to flex its strength in top-quality diamonds, important gemstones and jewels with distinguished provenance.”
“We are proud to continue the long line of exceptional blue diamonds at Sotheby’s, with the sale of the fancy intense blue diamond, that soared to $6.7 million after competition from three bidders,” he added.
Earlier that week, a 3.09-carat blue diamond comfortably surpassed its pre-sale estimate at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction in New York.

The rectangular-cut, fancy intense blue diamond ring, surrounded by tapered baguette-cut diamonds, sold for $5.4 million. Its pre-sale estimate was $2-3 million. It set – for a brief time – a world auction price-per-carat record.
Royal provenance, and a freshness to the market, have helped to drive up prices of rare and beautiful blue diamonds. Top-tier collectors prefer to buy stones the first time they appear on the market.
In May 2018, the top lot at the Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewellery sale in Geneva was the 6.16-carat Farnese Blue, which had remained in the hands of the same family for 300 years.
It netted $6.7 million to an anonymous buyer, well above estimate.
Given to Elisabeth Farnese, Queen of Spain, as a wedding present in 1715 and subsequently passed down through four of the most important royal families in Europe, the mesmerizing pear-shaped blue diamond was appearing on the market for the first time.
In terms of absolute world records, a pink stone currently prevails, but the blues are never far behind.
Some collectors believe that the world record price of $71 million achieved by the 59.60-carat Pink Star diamond at Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong in April 2017, was a bargain for the buyer, Chinese jeweller Chow Tai Fook.
The oval Pink Star smashed the record price for any diamond sold at auction following a brief bidding battle.
The justification for such a price is rarity and beauty.
The previous world record-holder for a diamond sold at auction was a blue diamond — the 14.62-carat Oppenheimer Blue, which fetched $57.5 million at a Christie’s auction in Geneva in May 2016.
Asian buyers have figured prominently in purchases of magnificent rare diamonds in the past few years, such as Hong Kong property tycoon Joseph Lau who bought the Blue Moon – another fabulous blue diamond — for a then world record price of $48 million in 2015.
Collectors can sometimes turn the rivalry between pinks and blues into an advantage by snapping up superb combinations of the two colours.
In May 2017 in Geneva, a magnificent pair of blue and pink diamond earrings – the Apollo Blue and Artemis Pink – achieved a world record price for a pair of earrings sold at auction of $57.4 million at the Sotheby’s sale.
The two stones were sold as separate lots, but both went for extraordinary prices — to the same anonymous buyer, underlining the fascination for blue and pink diamonds while keeping the two stones together as a pair of earrings.
“If paying $57.4 million for a pair of earrings isn’t a sign of confidence in rare coloured diamonds as a viable investment asset, I don’t know what is,” said Tobias Kormind, managing director.