Strong Prices at Doyle's Auction of the Collection of Master Jeweler Irving Gold
Created Iconic Jewelry for Van Cleef & Arpels for Over 60 Years
The Collection of Irving Gold Comprised Lots 435 - 465 in the October 21, 2015 Auction of Important Jewelry
Doyle’s sale of Important Jewelry on October 21, 2015 featured a special section devoted to the collection of Irving Gold, whose career as a master jeweler spanned 75 years. For over 60 years, he created iconic jewelry for Van Cleef & Arpels, beginning with the Parisian jeweler’s entry into New York in 1939. Irving’s most devoted client was artist and designer Judy Fleminger, his loving wife of 59 years, for whom he created this collection of exquisite jewelry.
Irving Gold (1914-2007)
In the spring of 1931, Irving Gold was 17 and president of his senior class, enjoying the parties, excursions, and accolades of the last weeks of high school. By July, he was sweeping floors, running errands, and tinkering on the workbench of the 47th Street jewelry firm his father, Charlie, had just formed. Charles Gold & Co. would eventually create jewelry for stars and politicians, chosen by the likes of Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany & Co. and Dunhill for its creativity and excellence. But this was 1931; 47th Street was filled with pushcarts from the garment industry, it had none of the glamour for which it is now famous — no diamond dealers, no glittering display windows.
The street changed slowly; Irving’s transformation was much swifter. Trained by his father, Irving was soon creating complicated artifacts like a powder case covered with an intricate weaving of silver and gold threads. Meanwhile, Irving continued his studies: night school at City College, architectural drawing at the Mechanics Institute, and eventually Columbia University. Mornings he was a pre-med student; afternoons, a jeweler. Soon he realized he’d have no funding for medical school, but engineering would be useful in the jewelry business — fulfilling his father’s wishes, who bemoaned his son’s bookish interests: “If Irving would only stick to this business he would be a genius.”
Marlene Dietrich & Betty Grable
In July 1937, the S.S. Normandie sailed with Marlene Dietrich wearing a tan suit, green felt hat, and a set of golden lips cast from her own mouth. She wore these lips on the back of her hand, held in place by a chain between the ring and bracelet, so that when a man would kiss her hand, he would be kissing her golden lips. Irving was 23 when he created this piece, just completing college. It resides in a Berlin museum today.
Not long afterward, the personal jeweler of Betty Grable, star of the Broadway hit, DuBarry Was a Lady, walked into Charles Gold & Co. Grable wanted a watch to commemorate the show. Irving sketched a replica of her costume, a slim waist with a wide hoop skirt. By pressing a hidden catch, the skirt would fly up to find, not the famous legs, butthewatch face.
Van Cleef & Arpels
In 1939, Claude Arpels arrived in New York City to open the first Van Cleef & Arpels boutique in the U.S. Recalled Irving,years later, “I figured I could get that account — I and every other jeweler. The jewelers would meet with Claude Arpels, he would give them assignments, they’d come back, and he’d find fault with something — the design, the workmanship, whatever, until the other jewelers said, ‘Those crazy Frenchmen, they don’t know what they want,’ and gave up.” But Irving persisted, Saturday after Saturday. Because he understood French, he had an inkling of what Claude and Louis Arpels were seeking. “Each time I made a little progress, but still they shook their heads. Maybe they didn’t like our style, but I would return the next Saturday with more designs.” On his fifth try, Irving overheard Claude say, “Next week, if he comes back, we could give him an order.” Claude also wanted an exclusive arrangement. When Irving returned on the sixth week, he carried a letter stating that Van Cleef & Arpels would own the designs. The order Charles Gold & Co. received was so large it took three years to complete.
It was an immensely fruitful partnership, lasting more than 60 years. Irving was not only precise and creative, he loved the challenge of small-scale engineering feats. Irving created Jackie Kennedy’s famous three-inch wide hammered gold cuffs and her woven gold minaudiere. He turned woven gold into compacts, cigarette lighters and lipsticks. He researched Sikkim and Pre-Columbian artifacts for a line of exotic, sculptural jewels. And he made Van Cleef & Arpels’ signature Alhambra necklaces, along with earrings and rings.
Vanguard of Democracy
But this was still the 1930s. In Europe, Hitler had invaded Czechoslovakia. Kristallnacht had happened, and Jews were being rounded up and ghettoized. While Irving built the business and worked to become one of New York City’s most esteemed jewelers, he also founded and served as president of the organization, Vanguard of Democracy, dedicated to revealing and fighting Nazism on U.S. shores. Working with the Anti-Defamation League, some thirty young men and women from the Bronx would go to pro-Nazi meetings, parades and demonstrations to directly confront the participants. Eventually, the well-established British Fight for Freedom Committee adopted them, and the Vanguard became American Youth for Freedom.
When Pearl Harbor was bombed, and the U.S. joined the war, Irving was desperate to enlist. But though he pulled strings and attempted contact lenses, his poor eyesight kept him from active duty. Instead, Irving trained his friends from the Vanguard of Democracy to use Charles Gold & Co.’s lathes and drills at night to turn solid brass rods into parts for naval torpedoes. When the Army finally admitted Irving as an instructor at Colorado’s LowryField, he applied his engineering genius to creating an aerial gun sight, which led him to be chosen for a secret project equipping B-29 bombers with radar computing sights.
Post-War optimism led to the heyday of Charles Gold & Co. Joined by brother-in-law Israel Kurz, a gem expert, Irving fashioned special charms for First Ladies Mamie Eisenhower and Jackie Kennedy. For Princess Grace of Monaco he made a crown of woven gold to surround one of designer Lilly Dache’s black velvet pillbox hats.
Irving was now a family man, married to the lovely Judy Fleminger, an artist, designer and great inspiration for his work, and raising two children in the New York suburbs. Weekends, he would bring home waxes of exotic animals designated for pins, bracelets and rings to work on, or castings of soon-to-be-ruby-eyed lions to finish. Once, he took a favorite Pepperidge Farm cookie to work, casting it for a belt buckle.
To those in the business, Irving was known for his impeccable work, absolute honesty and genuine kindness. He was one of the most respected figures in New York’s jewelry business. Yet when celebrities came to 36 West 47th Street, fourteen floors above the glittering diamonds of “the street,” they found no plush showrooms, only a shop steeped in the ethics of the 1940s, thick with heavy metal lathes and wooden workbenches. When the whining of drills and tapping of small hammers ceased each night, he would send the floor sweepings off to be sifted for gold dust. As a child, I wanted to rub my hands on the floor, to pan for gold on 47th Street. By 2004, when at age 90, my father finally retired, I realized that this gold wasn’t only scattered in the dust; it glowed in the heart of the man whose shoes paced that floor for seventy-five years.
— Donna Gold, Stockton Springs, Maine, July 19, 2015