Why would a silver necklace be worth more than half a million dollars? The circumstances would have to be pretty exceptional — and in the case of this necklace by Alexander Calder, they are. For starters, Calder (1898–1976) was not a jeweler. He was one of America’s most famous artists, best known for his kinetic sculptures — giant wire mobiles hung with gently bouncing colorful forms — and public works. Jewelry was a secondary métier for him, so there’s not much of it available on the secondary market.
“Most of his jewelry was either gifts from him to the owner or privately commissioned, and the jewelry seems to stay in family hands,” says Russell Zelenetz, partner at Stephen Russell, one of New York City’s premiere destinations for important antique and vintage jewels.
If you walk by the Stephen Russell boutique on Madison Avenue, you might spot the Calder necklace in the window, displayed alongside more decadent-looking jewels dripping in diamonds and gemstones. Aficionados instantly understand how the necklace fits into this deluxe tableau — wonderfully oversize, like an Egyptian broad collar, and adorned with hand-hewn fiddlehead-fern curlicues and hammered sun rays, the composition reflects Calder’s inimitable sense of geometry and ingenuity.
“Our collection has jewels from as early as mid-18th century to contemporary designs, and we try to have only the finest examples of each period,” says Zelenetz. “Calder’s jewelry is timeless. It evokes feelings of Bronze Age jewelry as well as Art Deco and modernism all at once. Art collectors admire and appreciate his jewelry, as well as jewelry collectors, as it transcends both markets.”
According to Zelenetz, the necklace is similar to a gold version Calder made for his wife, Louisa, and might even be the prototype for that design.
Priced at $595,000, this silver jewel has a preciousness far beyond that of its materials. Its value “is strictly esoteric, as were Calder’s mobiles and paintings,” says Zelenetz. “Paintings that are intrinsically worthless are often worth millions of dollars. This is wearable art. When it is worn, it has movement. It comes to life.”