Caroline Ervin of Christie’s Jewellery
aroline Ervin is on no level your average auctioneer. She holds her court in one of the most prestigious auction houses, and in one of the most iconic cities in the world, Christie's Jewellery New York. Entertaining her audience, wearing exotic jewels, and convincing her patrons to part with their hard earned cash is all in a days work for Caroline. However I’ve always wondered what happened behind the scenes. What drives someone to take on a role like this at Christie’s Jewellery, and what kind of unexpected experiences come from being in this line of work?
From undiscovered jewels, to hearing about her totem ring that (didn’t) get away; discover the first entry in The Gavel Diaries. A behind the scenes look at Caroline Ervin, and the unseen Christie’s Jewellery experience.
Q: What is your background story?
Although I specialize in jewellery, I really come from an auction background. Growing up in Maine, there are numerous regional auction houses and a general interest in antiquing–it is very much ingrained in New England culture. My grandparents collected antique weathervanes and folk art, and I first became exposed to the excitement and drama of auction through them. From then on I was obsessed with auction, being such a fascinating way to sell, and knew I wanted to be involved in that world–I found the fast paced environment and high intensity thrilling.
Back in 2011, after gaining experience at an auction house outside of Boston, I decided to move to New York and take any job I could get at Christie’s. I was offered a temporary position in the Bid Department. At the time they were bulking up staff in order to support the series of Elizabeth Taylor auctions coming up that December.
Q: What do you enjoy collecting?
I am pretty into ceramics! Not old ceramics, but modern ones. I love going to craft fairs to seek out local Ceramicists and I enjoy collecting bowls and mugs. There is one artist I recently came across at the Skowhegan Farmers’ Market in Maine named Nate Winter, and he does really edgy ceramic work. He uses a technique for this crackle glaze finish that I haven’t seen anybody do before, and the construction is super fine.
In terms of collecting jewellery, I’ve definitely made a shift since I first started working. I began focusing on fine jewellery pieces that I will wear all my life. When you’re younger, you just go nuts with costume jewellery. Now I focus on investing a little more on something that is real, which I know I will wear and enjoy, but that also has intrinsic value, so I could always get money out of it if I ever tired of the piece
Q: Has there ever been a jewel you loved, but got away?
You know, I don’t have anything that truly haunts me. Any jewels that I previously worked with and had my heart set on ending up selling really well at auction. Many auction items are attractively priced at first but then end up going nuts!
There was one ring which didn’t get away that I’m quite obsessed with! Acquired through one of our online auctions, it has officially become the ring I wear when auctioneering. I try not to be too superstitious about material things, as I don’t want to forget it one day and then worry that the auction will go badly, but I will say it’s the one thing I do like to always wear on a sale day.
When the ring was up for auction, it caught the attention of a talented specialist in the jewellery world, Dianne Batista, the jewellery director for Rago Auctions. Although unsigned, she thought it may be the work of Louis Féron, a renowned goldsmith of the 20th century. She shared some renderings with me showing similar motifs of overlapping feathers and old cut diamonds, and I think she must be right, but with no signature or maker’s mark, we will never know for sure!
Q:Have you ever come across something which you felt was haunted?
I don’t think so, there hasn’t been anything I’ve gotten a haunted vibe from, but I will tell you that jewels with specific engravings do kind of hit you! Usually engravings are simple initials, or a year. However, occasionally you come across one which leaves you wondering, “what does this mean?” We had one we were laughing about the other day from the 50’s, and the engraving read, “To the woman of my dreams.” Not haunting exactly, rather a bit comical, but with personalizations like that, you really feel the weight of the object and you realize the human connection running through the piece of jewellery.
Q:What has been your most unforgettable experience?
There are many! I must say I am truly fortunate to work at Christie’s Jewellery. We get to see the top of the top and the finest jewels in the world. One incredible memory that stands out was when I visited the California home of President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, shortly after Mrs. Reagan had passed away, to assess their jewellery collection for auction.
Along with colleagues from Christie’s Decorative Arts department, we visited the home for a few days, taking inventory and appraising.
Because she was a public figure and often photographed, we had some idea of what to expect to find in her jewellery collection. Being the wife of a public servant, she was cognizant of her public image and mindful not to wear ostentatious jewellery. She had her go-to staple pieces which she wore throughout her life, such as a VCA (Van Cleef & Arpels) lion necklace, a Bvlgari bracelet, and a few pairs of earrings. I was blown away when all of a sudden, a ring caught my eye. I picked it up and it was a wide band of rubies, sapphires and diamonds in the pattern of an American flag! We had never seen any pictures of her wearing it, and, to make things even more interesting, when I turned it over, I discovered it was signed, “Bvlgari”!
We were just mind blown! Bvlgari wasn’t forthcoming with information on the piece, so we had to assume it was a private commission. Bvlgari did create a “Stars and Stripes” collection back in the 70’s, but they used coral, lapis, and diamonds – so this ring wasn’t part of that collection. It was an incredibly special jewel that I will never forget.
Q: Do you get to try on the jewellery often?
Yes! And, it has become even more important now that clients are not coming in as much or are not traveling due to the pandemic- they want pictures of jewellery being worn. We now have vector models on the website, but oftentimes the clients still ask to see them on a real person. This can lead to some funny moments because we will be in a white t-shirt with an extravagant Winston necklace on! But they want to see it that way, and we always do our best to meet our clients’ needs!
I get to try on jewellery daily, and it’s important to know when we are on preview how things clasp and unclasp. Sometimes it can be a bit of a puzzle, so you have to perfect that. I remember in the last Magnificent Jewels sale we had a Hemmerle curb link necklace, and the clasp was so seamless you had to get the links at just the right angle to unclasp but that is what made it such an impeccably crafted jewel!
Another benefit for me is that I am able to borrow jewellery when I auctioneer, which is fabulous, and certainly a perk to working in the Jewellery Department! With recent enhancements to the digital presentations of live auctions, we have also begun having colleagues who are on camera wear pieces, which is a great way to cross promote jewellery that we have in upcoming sales to clients that are bidding in other categories.
Q: Where do you think peoples infatuation with jewels come from?
I think it starts from the minute you’re born, babies love having a sparkly thing to look at, the attraction is instant and is the basis for numerous toy designs. It really starts so early! People then want to adorn themselves with things that catch light and make them feel beautiful, it’s been that way for tens of thousands of years.
Q: If you could as an industry peer one question, what would you ask and to whom would you ask it?
Angela Cummings is one of my favourite jewellery designers for her designs and choice of materials and stone. My question for her is: What is your current outlet for creativity? We miss you in the jewellery world! I know you must be up to something creatively and I would love to hear all about it.
Then, I would like to ask the dynamic Tiffany & Co. archivist, Annamarie Sandecki, to choose favourites—who is her all-time favourite jewellery designer that has worked at Tiffany & Co.?
Thank you Caroline for your time, and for sharing your stories. If you are interested in what is happening day to day at the Christie’s jewellery department, follow her on Instagram! Did you enjoy this article? Stay up to date on my latest articles by following my Instagram. You can also check my “People” page where you can discover more stories!