Jewelry to Wear, but Make it Art: An Auction Preview
In anticipation of the upcoming Rago|Wright Fall Jewelry Auction on October 26, 2022, we sat down with Dianne Batista, Director of Jewelry and Watches and Sr. Specialist at Rago|Wright. Since joining the department, Dianne has been including studio and contemporary jewelry in the auctions which are typically reserved for fine jewelry. Interested in this new direction for the department, we wanted to learn more and help her spread the word!
Q: Tell us about yourself, what is your jewelry story?
A: That’s a big question! I have always had a career in jewelry after studying Art History. From the very beginning, what has attracted me to jewelry was the artistry and its miniature nature. When I looked at jewelry as art, I was hooked! My career started with 10 years at Christie’s. As Sr. Specialist, I was fortunate to work with many important collections and handled a tremendous amount of jewelry. My inquisitive nature took me to manage a Madison Avenue boutique, Janet Mavec. It was Janet, who inspired me to look at contemporary artists more closely. Gabriella Kiss and Otto Jakob were two designers she handled back in the 1990s. I was Director of Dior Fine Jewelry in NYC and then at John Hardy for their fine jewelry line, Cinta. I took time away from work with my three young children. When it was time to return, it was natural to begin consulting at Christie’s, this time cataloguing the Elizabeth Taylor online jewelry auction. I also consulted as Director of David Webb archives for several years before joining Rago/Wright auction house.
Q. What is your vision for the jewelry sales and how is it different from your predecessors?
A: My vision for Rago / Wright jewelry auctions is to present a breadth of jewelry focused on quality and design. Each sale is divided into chapters to tell a story and offer fine pieces to all levels of collectors. As a design house, we believe it is important to represent new designers and delve into artist and studio jewelry. Each sale also includes strong examples of silver jewelry.
Q. Why have you decided to include contemporary jewelry or studio jewelry in the sales? There seems to be an interest in artist jewelry at the moment but your focus has been slightly different, can you tell us about this?
A: I believe in selling art jewelry alongside what many refer to as “Fine Jewelry and Gems”. In my opinion, separating the two marginalizes artist jewelry and hurts collecting fine jewelry as an art form. There is nothing to say that the collector can’t appreciate both.
Q. What do you think is the biggest challenge for this type of jewelry on the secondary market?
A: The biggest challenge for studio art jewelry and contemporary jewelry artists is that they have not established a strong secondary market to determine value. Creating auction records and establishing strong resale values promotes the entire industry.
Q. What has been the most interesting piece you have come across while building the sales?
A: I fall in love with a few select pieces each auction and love to see them find new owners, who love them as much as I do. In our last auction I connected with Robert Smit’s ‘Letter to Madonna Dolomiti’ brooch. It spoke to me. I loved selling an important Tone Vigeland coral, silver and gold necklace, a Roger Lucas lapis lazuli and gold ring for Cartier, and more recently an Art Smith ‘Modern’ cuff bracelet.
Q. Have you discovered any new names?
A: I wouldn’t say discover, but with each auction, I learn about artists and try to educate others about their work. The work of the accomplished artist Zuzana Rudavska is new to me in this auction.
Q. If we are thinking about buying from an investment POV, over the course of the last year, have you seen any designers/artists really jump in the market?
A: I believe in buying jewelry to wear, but when looking at investment, I recommend jewelers who have had a long career in the field, have exhibition history and create jewelry that is distinctly theirs. Currently, there is a lot of interest in Art Smith, and I love it! I also really appreciate that with that interest, the field is expanding and other jewelry artists are having their work sought after and considered.
Q. What would you like to see happen in the market?
A: I would like to see more exhibitions of art jewelry and more art galleries handling the category. It’s a very exciting time for the field. For sure, NYC Jewelry Week is doing their share and I love it!
Q. Can you share with us what you have coming up in the next sale that you are particularly excited about?
A: In our auction next week, I am really excited to be selling works by master art jewelers, Giampaolo Babetto, Robert Smit, and Gijs Bakker next to jewelry by important female artists Margaret de Patta, Iris Eichenberg and Bettina Speckner.
Learn more about the pieces featured here and all the items in the the upcoming Rago|Wright Fall Jewelry Auction here.
Written by Bella Neyman; Images courtesy of Rago|Wright. Special thank you to Dianne Batista of Rago|Wright.