Jewelry: Block Busters

For 12 days last fall, at its expansive gallery in Manhattan’s hip Meatpacking District, the Phillips de Pury auction house presented 45 works by French jewelry designer Frédéric Zaavy. Each piece was displayed alone, in a black box and illuminated by a single spotlight. Intent on positioning jewelry as collectible, cutting-edge art, the 212-year-old New York auction house is now favoring such single-designer exhibitions over traditional auctions.

“Phillips understood my jewelry as art and gave me the space to illustrate my work as I want to see it,” says Zaavy, who established his Paris atelier 12 years ago and showed his work publicly for the first time at the Phillips event. Zaavy annually creates only a handful of one-of-a-kind pieces, which he sells to private clients, but four years ago he also began to build a comprehensive collection of designs that he has reserved for future exhibition.

“Frédéric Zaavy is the Fabergé or Lalique of our time,” says Nazgol Jahan, who, as the head of Phillips de Pury’s jewelry sales, orchestrated the Zaavy show, which included pieces priced from $35,000 to $500,000. “We search for artists whose medium is jewelry, and serve as a forum,” says Jahan, noting that this year’s exhibitions will include themed presentations that display jewelry alongside photography and fine art. “We see ourselves as advisers helping a new, younger generation of buyers discover jewelry as art.”

Jahan, a slight, dark-haired 30-year-old, already is a formidable figure in the competitive realm of high-end jewelry. In addition to scouting for emerging and obscure artists, she selects jewelry and gemstones for Phillips de Pury’s biannual Geneva jewelry auctions, and she caters to private clients, lending them her expertise when they commission pieces. Jahan belongs to the eighth generation of the family who operates Jahan Jewelry, a prestigious company with shops in Geneva and Saudi Arabia and offices in New York. She, however, chose to work for the auction house instead of the family business. “In New York, Phillips de Pury is known as a contemporary, hip auction house specializing in art, design, and photography,” she explains. “I wanted to bring jewelry to that same level with modern, contemporary, more artistic pieces.”

Aside from planning auctions and exhibitions, Jahan flies to Paris, Moscow, or Asia each month to meet with clients. Recently, she delivered a custom diamond engagement ring to a Russian gentleman at a Paris airport. Another European patron requested multiple fancy-colored diamonds, ranging in size from 10 carats to 20 carats, which were used to make a necklace. With access to the world’s best gemstone dealers and workshops, Jahan says, she can fulfill almost any request, often for prices that, she asserts, are below those for ready-made pieces sold at boutiques.

“It’s easy to sell pieces from well-known jewelry names or houses,” Jahan says, “but we want to educate our clients about jewelry artists who are forging new ideas in design. People are receptive, but it takes time.”

Phillips de Pury, 212.940.1283, www.phillipsdepury.com

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