The Value of Provenance

Derived from the French word provenir, which translates as ‘to come from’, provenance refers to an object or artwork’s point of origin and subsequent journey through time. 

George Richmond
(1809–1896) Portrait of Louisa, 3rd Countess of Harewood, 1855

Much like other collecting categories, appraising a piece of jewellery is based upon several interconnected factors that contribute to value. Medium, rarity, market trends, condition, and precedence all contribute to establish the desirability and therefore the worth of an object. For the jewellery category, these value factors can include fineness of craftsmanship, quality of materials, unique and cohesive design, and rarity. One integral component in establishing an object’s worth can come by way of an enquiry into provenance.

Derived from the French word provenir, which translates as ‘to come from’, provenance refers to an object or artwork’s point of origin and subsequent journey through time. Histories can at times be colloquial; conversational accounts that are passed down through word of mouth over generations. Traceable lineages that come supported by documentation are most likely to contribute to ongoing market demand and value appreciation. These more concrete and desirable forms of provenance typically include ephemera such as receipts, a bill of sale or invoice, an appraisal or insurance valuation, an auction or museum exhibition catalogue, a catalogue raisonné, or a museum inventory number. With a dossier of documents supporting the lineage of an object, collectors can be assured that they have acquired a legitimate and genuine article rather than a forgery.   

Throughout history, objects owned by and linked to the social elite and historical figures have been admired and coveted. In more recent history, this desire to have proximity and connection to the social elite has morphed into an admiration of pop culture icons. This is evidenced by some of the most famous jewellery collections ever sold at auction, such as the Elizabeth Taylor collection sold by Christie’s New York in 2011, and The Duchess of Windsor Collection sold by Sotheby’s New York in 1987. These collections created enormous amounts of excitement amongst collectors and jewellery enthusiasts seeking connection to the previous owners and their lives. 

A diamond and gem set giardinetto brooch formerly belonging to Dame Agatha Christie | Sold for $37,200

I have recently had the pleasure of handling an emerald and diamond locket pendant with exemplary noble provenance. Set with an exceptionally beautiful emerald and presenting in excellent condition, it is the concrete lineage which makes this piece so fascinating. The locket at one time belonged to the 3rd Countess of Harewood, Lady Louisa Lascelles. The Countess married the 3rd Count of Harewood, Henry Lascelles, on the 5th of July 1823. An 1855 portrait of Louisa Lascelles by English painter George Richmond currently hangs in the dining room of Harewood House. It portrays the formidable matriarch in a black gown, accented with a red paisley shawl. In the scene, she gestures towards the impressive Italian style terrace that she commissioned Sir Charles Barry to design as part of the major 1840s Harewood House renovations. On her wrist is a bracelet which suspends the heart shaped emerald and diamond locket that has been treasured and passed down through generations to the current owner.

Our Fine Jewels & Timepieces Auctions will take place on Monday 23 October in Melbourne. For viewing times and to see the full catalogues please visit our website.

BETHANY MCCOUGAN | Head of Fine Jewels & Timepieces

Banner Image: 9ct gold, silver, emerald, and diamond locket. Provenance: Lady Louisa Thynne, 3rd Countess of Harewood, thence by descent to the current owner. | $15,000-20,000

September 2023