The word ‘auction’ conjures up images of fine paintings and interesting sculpture; a distinguished gentleman raising a hammer; the words “Going once, going twice”.
Today, however, there are pieces of science to complement the art, bringing more to the contemporary auction than one might think. Stephan Welz & Co. Fine Art and Design Auctioneers are leading the industry in presenting, for the first time in South Africa, a rare yet diverse array of meteorites, minerals, gemstones, coloured diamonds, and several exceptional one-off collectors’ pieces.
On 29 May at Johannesburg’s Killarney Country Club, Stephan Welz & Co. – one of the top 250 auction houses in the world – will welcome first-time collectors, regular acquirers of moveable assets; the local jewellery trade; and those interested in meteorites, gems, mineral specimens, and coloured diamonds, to participate in a first-of-its-kind auction that constitutes uncharted territory for the industry.
One of the more unusual elements of this auction is its inclusion of meteorites. These “remnants of meteors from outer space…have survived the corridor of fire through Earth's atmosphere and landed on our planet” as extra-terrestrial arrivals. They are, explains renowned meteorite expert Dr Ronnie McKenzie, “treasures from space that can, for the first time, be owned by local collectors.”
The second exciting category is minerals, which are desirable for reasons including aesthetics, scientific value, rarity, investment potential, and their geological environment of origin. According to Professor Bruce Cairncross, prominent minerals specialist, every fine mineral and gemstone specimen is completely unique, which makes these fascinating and sought-after collectors’ items.
Prof. Cairncross adds, “World-class mineral specimens can be viewed in the same way as artworks, and prices…can often be…in the seven-figure bracket. But other high-quality specimens, such as those featured in this auction, are affordable and can form fine additions to any art connoisseur’s collection.”
The third, but by no means least captivating category extends to precious gems and ornamental stones, which Arthur Thomas, one of the world’s leading gemmologists, explains can be appreciated for their aesthetic beauty and for their intrinsic value.
The three experts, McKenzie, Cairncross and Thomas, have highlighted some unusual ‘lots’ or items on offer, to guide buyers in the upcoming auction:
Esquel Pallasite Slice
Pallasite is a class of stony-iron meteorite, consisting of roughly equal proportions of iron and olivine, a major rock-forming mineral that ranges in colour from yellow-green to deep bottle-green. This pallasite slice from the Esquel meteorite, discovered in 1951 by an Argentinian farmer, is considered to be one of the finest of all pallasites.
Monze Chondrite Pieces
Thousands of people witnessed the 1950 Monze meteorite fall in Zambia. Composed of chondrite, a stony (non-metallic) meteorite containing small mineral granules, these pieces are popular due to their deep brown/orange interior with dark shock veins of glassy material. The two chondrite pieces available on this auction are extremely rare because they are complete specimens with very little damage.
The Kalahari manganese field in the Northern Cape has produced some of the finest rhodochrosite specimens ever discovered. Rhodochrosite is found in different colours, but red and pink are the most desirable. The Kalahari crystals come in a variety of different shapes and habits.
The old Messina copper mine on SA’s northern border with Zimbabwe has achieved world status for its mineral specimens, including quartz crystals that enclose vivid blue included minerals – rare minerals in their own right. When found inside the quartz crystals, they add a limpid beauty to the specimens, says Prof. Cairncross.
Multi-Colour Tourmaline Crystal
A fitting addition to the auction is a fine tourmaline crystal specimen. The beauty of tourmaline can be seen in the various cut stones, but natural tourmaline, like this ‘watermelon’ multi-coloured crystal, is an excellent example of what the species can achieve. It comes from the well-known Pakistan locality, which only adds to its status.
Watermelon Tourmaline Oval
This very fine, 71.03ct oval, green and peach tourmaline is full of life. A pleasure to the eye, its colour changes with the observer’s point of view or the nature of the light.
Cube-Cut Diamond with Maltese Cross
This stone, from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields, has been so skilfully cut that the distinctive ‘Maltese Cross’ inclusion can be seen precisely centred in each of the cube faces. The Maltese Cross is a star-like symbol formed by four V-shapes with their tips joined together and is symmetrical both vertically and horizontally.
Step Cushion-Cut Cerussite
Cerussite, famous for its great sparkle, great density and twinned crystals, is a minor ore of lead. While it has the potential to cut amazingly brilliant gems, it presents a challenge to the gemstone-cutter. The uncommon rich brown hue of this 117.07ct facetted cerussite is typical of those from the Kombat Copper Mine in Northern Namibia.
This auction of both science and art presents ease and convenience for local buyers. As a South African first, bidders will be able to buy unusual collectors’ items without many of the complexities or delays inherent in international auction acquisitions.
Bidders are also able to view, in person, the entire range on offer: the meteorites and mineral specimens may be viewed at the Killarney Country Club from 24-28 May (9am-4pm weekdays; 9am-12pm 26 May; no viewing 27 May), while the gemstones and diamonds may be viewed by private appointment only at KNOX Safe Deposit Boxes in Houghton Estate.
Says Anton Welz, Division Head & Auctioneer at Stephan Welz & Co., “We’re known for the extensive number of categories we cover as an auction house – having consigned nearly 325,000 items in over 700 auctions – as well as our passion for the stories behind individual pieces. This year we celebrate our 50th anniversary and as the auction market evolves, Stephan Welz & Co. constantly moves with it to explore new and emerging niches.”
For more information or to book a private appointment, email [email protected]dco.co.za