Aside from the obvious benefit of buying jewelry at auction—you almost always pay less than retail—an added plus is that you can buy objects with a storied history. The catch: Often that history is so ostentatious (see: last spring's jewelry auctions) you have to keep it to yourself. It's the rare crowd in which you drop, "Oh, these? They were Jackie O's earrings" without eliciting some eye-rolls.
The upcoming fall auctions in New York, however, offer jewels with a more esoteric provenance, and that means you can talk about your baubles on firmer footing. Done right, you're telling a story, not your net worth. The following 10 lots from Sotheby's Important Jewels auction on Sept. 24–25 are a case in point. Talk away ….
Dollar figures are auction house estimates.
Harry Winston Platinum and Diamond Earclips, $300,000 to $400,000
From the estate of Dolores Sherwood Bosshard, an international socialite whom the society columnist Elsa Maxwell called "without doubt one of the world's most beautiful women." The tops of the earrings are Harry Winston, the pendants were added on later. (Maybe that doesn't have to be a part of the story.)
18K Gold, Platinum, Diamond, and Fancy Yellow Diamond Ring, $100,000 to $150,000
On sale from the estate of Mimi Walters Prentice, who started dancing professionally at the age of four. After a brief stint as an account executive in New York, she married John D. Rockefeller's grandson, Spelman Prentice. Presumably, the yellow diamond came from somewhere other than her vaudeville proceeds.
Platinum and Diamond Ring, $35,000 to $45,000
This ring, whose main diamond weighs in at 7.79 carats, is flanked by two triangular-shaped diamonds weighing approximately 3.95 carats. (Jewelry this heavy is why women in the ’60s didn't have to go to the gym.) Part of the collection of Estée Lauder, the proceeds of her jewelry at auction will benefit the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation.
Van Cleef & Arpels Brooch, $7,000 to $10,000
A brooch, circa 1965, also belonged to Estée Lauder. Pin it on, and you won't need the makeup that made her wealthy.
Platinum and Diamond Necklace and Earclips, $10,000 to $15,000
This necklace, which once belonged to Mamie Doud Eisenhower, is being sold from the estate of her former daughter-in-law, Barbara Eisenhower Foltz. Mamie Eisenhower has been handled roughly by historians, although it appears her jewelry has received far better care.
Van Cleef & Arpels Suite of Gold, Sapphire, Emerald and Diamond Jewelry
Bosshard was friends with royalty, movie stars, tycoons, and the international jet set, proof of which, perhaps, is that Sotheby's refers to these pieces as some of her "daytime jewels."
Tiffany Gold, Sapphire, and Diamond Ring, $30,000 to $50,000
A ring from the Estate of Mimi Walters Prentice, the sapphire weighs 7.31 carats and is framed by round diamonds that weigh approximately 0.75 carat. It's compact enough that you can wear it doing errands, but large enough that literally no one will forget you're basically a Rockefeller.
Group of Five Money Clips, $3,500 to $4,500
The money clips, also from the estate of Barbara Eisenhower Foltz, belonged to her father-in-law, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. If anybody asks, no, you didn't rob a president.
Van Cleef & Arpels Sapphire and Diamond Brooch, $60,000 to $80,000
More from the collection of Dolores Sherwood Bosshard: This Art Deco sapphire and diamond brooch from 1937 has been to enough parties, with famously interesting people, that each gem probably has a story of its own.
14K Gold, Emerald, and Ruby Necklace, $5,000 to $7,000
Mamie Eisenhower's necklace, from the estate of her daughter-in-law, Barbara Eisenhower Foltz. Perfect for decorating the Christmas tree or imagining that you're staring down Jackie Kennedy during a White House tour.