Lot 221. The Putilov Pearl. A mid-19th century exceptional natural pearl and diamond brooch. Estimate CHF 1,200,000 - CHF 1,500,000 (USD 1,213,953 - USD 1,517,442). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2016.

Centering a button-shaped natural pearl, measuring approximately 18.75-19.05x16.15 mm, within an openwork foliate diamond-set frame, to the old-cut diamond surround, 1860s, 5.0 cm, mounted in silver and gold. Signed KAM N677

Accompanied by report no. 78026 dated 23 January 2015 from the SSEF Swiss Gemmological Institute stating that the pearl is a saltwater natural pearl, and an Appendix letter stating that this pearl is ‘exhibits an important size (…) combined with an attractive and well-proportioned button shape and a very fine lustre’.


Notes: Nikolai Putilov, a retired official from the Naval ministry, purchased the Kirov Plant in 1868. Having first been established in 1789, it was a major Russian industrial factory in St. Petersburg that served as a foundry for cannonballs. He re-named it the Putilov Company. The factory bore his name beyond his death in 1880, during which the factory produced the largest share of Russia's steel rails and, as a whole, garnered nearly a quarter of all state orders for locomotives and wagons. By 1917 it was the largest enterprise in the city of St Petersburg.

February 1917 was the first of two Revolutions that shook the world and changed forever the world political map. Russia was experiencing severe political and economic instability, combined with poor management of the war effort and rampant corruption. There was continuing military defeats, the workers of the Putilov plant announced a strike to demonstrate against the government. The majority of the People had lost faith in the Tsarist regime, which had consistently disregarded the wishes of the Russian parliament. The streets of Petrograd (modern day St. Petersburg) were flooded with workers in protest. The uprising was joined by those celebrating International Woman’s day who were particularly angry about the Russian governments’ food rationing system. In the end, nearly 200,000 protesters walked the streets demanding an end to the autocracy and the replacement of the Tsar with a more liberal political leader. By March, nearly all industrial enterprises in Petrograd were shut down.

As the year wore on and the popularity of Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik party gradually increased, pressure was building on the provisional government as dissatisfaction with the war continued. Soldiers began to disobey orders and the revolutionary atmosphere grew. By November, Lenin led his socialist revolutionaries against the ineffective government, replacing it with soviets, elected by groups of peasants and workers. This led to the formation of the Soviet Union and the Russian civil war.

Putilov, a man of great wealth and resources, was a great admirer of jewellery and a known client of Fabergé. After the Revolution, Lenin himself signed a decree confiscating the possessions of Alexei Putilov, forcing him to flee Russia for Paris. With him, he managed to smuggle this magnificent pearl brooch which was then passed down through the family and eventually to his grandson, who emigrated to America in the 1950s. Finding a piece of jewellery with such a chequered past, in perfect condition and manufactured over a century ago is a real treasure.

Christie's. Geneva Magnificent Jewels, 15 November 2016, Geneva