The Attallah Cross, an amethyst and diamond pendant necklace cross once worn by Princess Diana, was purchased by none other than Kim Kardashian at a Sotheby’s London auction in January. The piece was created in the 1920s by British jewelry house, Garrard, as a private commission. Naim Attallah, the former group chief executive of Asprey & Garrard, acquired the cross and loaned it to his friend, Diana, on at least one occasion.
With the recent sale making headlines, I spoke with Sandra Hindman, founder and president of antique gallery Les Enluminures, about how cross-themed jewelry has evolved over the years.
Les Enluminures will be exhibiting at the TEFAF Maastricht art fair March 11 – 19, with invitation-only preview days, March 9 and 10.
Anthony DeMarco: How have crosses been used in jewelry through the centuries? Were they always worn as religious symbols?
Sandra Hindman: Yes, of course — the cross was a sign of Christianity [from] 300 CE, the time of Constantine, and they were worn by monks and nuns, kings and queens, knights and ladies. They were often containers of relics, such as the relic of the True Cross (there are enough relics of the True Cross to create a forest!). Some religious orders used them as a symbol sewn on their habits.
By the 15th and 16th centuries, elegant women wore crosses often with other jewelry on fancy brocaded and velvet dresses (not unlike Princess Diana’s beautiful purple robe). By the 16th century, [it became] a fashion accessory.
AD: How has its symbolism changed in recent times?
SH: For many people, crosses are worn purely as an aesthetic form, losing most of their symbolism. There is the “goth trend” that is making its mark on fashion. There is [the popularity of medieval-influenced shows] Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon, and although I haven’t looked at them frame by frame, I would not be surprised to find crosses worn. There is also the interest in the occult, which goes with another modern trend in jewelry, the skull (as a pendant, pin, ring, etc.).
AD: Which eras/styles of cross-themed jewels are popular now, and who is buying them?
SH: All eras. There are not so many medieval crosses available, and they tend to be expensive. Cut-diamond crosses, for example, from the late Middle Ages, might well cost more than Kim Kardashian paid for the Attallah Cross. We have all sorts of clients who buy them — men, women, young, old — and rarely for religious reasons, [but] as beautiful, aesthetically pleasing objects.
AD: What should people know about selling these jewels?
SH: As with all jewelry, know your materials, makers and periods. What is the stone? Has it been replaced or tampered with? Are there signs of repair? What have comparable pieces fetched privately and at auction? Buy from an expert. Require authentication. Ask questions.
AD: What is your opinion of the Attallah Cross?
SH: Very beautiful. A real statement piece. A celebrity purchase.
Sandra Hindman founded Les Enluminures in Paris in 1991. With additional locations in Chicago and New York, the gallery specializes in manuscripts, miniatures and jewelry from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Hindman holds a PhD in art history and has written many books and articles about illuminated manuscripts. She is professor emerita of art history at Northwestern University.
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