Date: 24th December 1998 Location: 10, Carlton Mews, London
Christmas Eve at 10 Carlton Mews, the home of the John and Valerie Cross, is always a special occasion with as many of the Cross family attending as possible. There is a full, black tie dinner followed by drinks, games and good conversation. The topic on everybody’s lips is always the famous anniversary jewellery, which was a limited edition of 100 numbered sets, of gents and ladies rings, cufflinks and earrings, issued to celebrate its centenary, by Aspen the world famous jewellery makers, which has become highly prized by collectors. Each item in the set was made with diamonds, rubies, sapphires or emeralds, making sixteen pieces in a full numbered set. John’s father, Frederick, was an avid collector. He willed all his pieces to John, who has also become a keen collector. Everybody asks, but John never tells, just what pieces he owns. The situation is made more uncertain because, although the original jewellery was limited, Aspen also made further, un-numbered pieces and then other jewellers made copies, with minor differences to get around Aspen’s design copyright. There are also many cheaper
copies and forgeries circulating, so a certificate of authenticity is required to prove that a piece is genuine. Perhaps at last this year, 1998, we will find out what John really owns?
History of the Aspen Anniversary Jewellery
To celebrate its 100th anniversary in 1891 the world-famous Aspen Jewellery Company issued a limited edition set of jewellery comprising:
- 100 Gents rings in 24 carat gold, each set with diamonds, rubies, sapphires or emeralds
- 100 Ladies rings in 24 carat gold, each set with diamonds, rubies, sapphires or emeralds
- 100 Pairs of Gents cufflinks in 24 carat gold, each set with diamonds, rubies, sapphires or emeralds
- 100 Pairs of ladies earrings in 24 carat gold, each set with diamonds, rubies, sapphires or emeralds.
The distinctive design was registered by Aspens, who numbered and kept records of each set it sold. The numbers were stamped on inner surfaces of the jewellery, but could only be read by a jeweller’s magnifying glass. They were also hallmarked to show that they were 24-carat gold. Each item was accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, printed by a specialist bank-note company to prevent forgery (see attached, which is a copy of a framed certificate which John Cross keeps on a wall in the landing). The prices charged for the jewellery, which was sold directly to the public, is shown in the table:
The jewellery was sold by postal application, with it being a requirement that all applications be accompanied by the full purchase price in a guaranteed financial instrument. The sale proved to be so popular that it was well over-subscribed by the time of closing for applications. Aspens decided to auction all of set 1, with the proceeds going to charity, and retain set 100 for its showrooms in Burlington Arcade. It drew lots for all other applications to be fulfilled either in their totality, or one full set if that was less. The lottery was drawn in secret, and only Aspens knew who eventually bought the jewellery. Aspens also decided to offer copies, using lower graded stones, to all those who failed to get their orders fulfilled. The gold used was 18 carat to ensure that the hallmarks were different from the originals. These sets were numbered from 101, with records being kept of the customers of each set, but no certificates were issued.
The auction of Set 1 was the talk of the town and a major event undertaken by Sotheby’s Auctioneers, who donated its fees for the event to Aspen’s nominated charities. Each piece was auctioned separately, with some very famous bidders present, including representative of:
- the Queen
- the Prince of Wales
- the Sultan of Brunei
- Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany
- Otto von Bismarck
and many others who turned up in person. Every piece went to the same anonymous bidder, believed to have been German. To this day nobody knows the fate of Set 1. Nobody outside Aspens even knows the registered owner. A great deal of interest, almost to the point of frenzy, built up around the ownership of the jewellery. Aspen took great pains to keep the secret as it was good for business and for the value of the jewellery. In 1897 it set up a small company in Switzerland, just to hold details of the registry. That way it could not be forced to reveal the names on the list, even in cases of criminal investigation.
A myth built up around the ownership of set 13. It was claimed that anybody who either registered as owning any part of the set or held any part unregistered died within one year of registration or ownership. The myth was supported by the deaths, in mysterious circumstances, of:
- Peter Fairbanks, Actor, who owned and wore the Gents Ruby Ring
- Lord Simon D’Arcy – the 14th Earl of Brigavon, who bought Peter Fairbanks’ ring at auction
- Gerald Grimes – a thief who stole the Ladies Diamond ring. He was knocked down and killed the night he stole the ring. A policeman found the ring on him as he was listing Grimes’ possessions.
The present value of any single piece of jewellery is about 100 times its original price. Any complete set of each stone or all stones in one design would double the value, and a full set of all stones would increase the value about 10 fold.
- a full set of diamond jewellery of the same number would be worth £346,000
- a full set of gents rings of the same number would be worth £270,000
- a full set of all jewellery in all stones of the same number would be worth £4,610,000.
If they ever came on to the market, professionals estimate the value of Set 100 to be £5,000,000 and Set 1 to be £6,000,000. Genuine Aspen’s copies, serial numbered from 101, sold at 20% of the price of the genuine article, but today are worth about 10% of the value. Over the years many copies of the jewellery have been made. They fall into the following categories:
- Forgeries i.e. made to look like the originals, with serial numbers and forged certificates. Aspen’s records and the certificates themselves usually show them to be forgeries. However if made using genuine stones and 24 carat gold they are worth about 50% of the price of the genuine article. Forgeries made from artificial stones with lower carat gold are worth 1% to 2% of the price of the genuine article.
- Copies, i.e. jewellery made to look like the originals, but serial numbers higher than 1000 or no serial numbers. They are still being made today. Some jewellers have put their own marks on them. The value of copies depends upon the jeweller, the age and the materials used. A copy made by a reputable jeweller, before the war, with genuine parts, could fetch up to 60% of the price of the genuine article.
Cross family interest in the Aspen Anniversary jewellery
Albert Cross submitted a bid for jewellery, although nobody knows for what exactly he bid. His bridge playing friends Lord Richard James, forth Duke of Pitsay, Roger Fitzroy-Andrews and Leonard James (Richard’s younger brother) all submitted bids at the same time. From Albert’s circumstances at the time it would have been unlikely that he would have bid for a complete set. He claimed to have been successful, and did indeed pass two certificates of registration on to his son Frederick prior to his death. He also left his Aspen jewellery to Frederick, giving instructions that it should stay in the family. It was known that pieces changed hands between the friends, usually after late night bridge parties. Shortly before his death, Lord Richard purchased a large estate in Yorkshire from his friend Lord Killanin. It was rumoured that he sold his Aspen jewellery to pay for the estate. Shortly after the sale the Killanin family claimed to hold a full set of Aspen Anniversary Jewellery. Frederick himself became quite a collector of the jewellery, buying pieces as they came up at auction. It was clear that some pieces were genuine and had certificates to back them up, others were Aspen copies numbered above 100 and other manufacturers’ copies. There may have been some that were forgeries, although Frederick would never admit to this.
Our story moves on
It is now Christmas Eve, 1998 at 10 Carlton Mews, the home of the John and Valerie Cross. Christmas Eve is always a special occasion with as many of the Cross family attending as possible. There is a full, black tie dinner followed by drinks, games and good conversation. The topic on everybody’s lips is always the Aspen anniversary jewellery of which John’s father, Frederick, was an avid collector. He willed all his pieces to John, who has also become a keen collector. Everybody asks, but John never tells, just what pieces he owns.