Andy Warhol’s Secret

“The recent discovery of jewelry in a storage room in Andy Warhol’s townhouse came as an enormous surprise to everyone. After all, prior to the auction last spring of The Andy Warhol Collection, the principal rooms of the house had been completely emptied. Everything had been thoroughly and exhaustively searched. We were certain that nothing had been overlooked. But Andy outwitted us.

Andy Warhol at the Factory by Horst P. Horst, 1972

Despite the extensive procedures put in place by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, all it took to conceal the jewelry was one of the most inventive, brilliant, and fertile imaginations of the ear and two old metal flat filing cabinets, stacked one on top of the other. Andy had used them for years to store his own unframed drawings and prints and those of other artists. It was a perfect hiding place. The jewelry would not be visible when the drawers were open, as he had hidden it in the self-contained space underneath the drawers, between the two cabinets. It would never be found unless the cabinets were separated for some reason. And, as Andy knew that these cabinets would be moved only under extraordinary circumstances and only by the very few people he trusted, he could be sure that no stranger would stumble on this hiding place.

Sotheby's The Andy Warhol Collection, Jewelry and Watches II

Seaman Schepps bracelets from Andy Warhol's collection

How was the jewelry discovered? On a weekend in late June, two of our curators were working in a storeroom at the top of the house with Andy’s personal effects, photographs, archival material, and his own art. Since we had put the townhouse (at 57 East 66th Street) on the market, all of this property had to be removed. After emptying the drawers, the curators were dismantling the flat filing cabinets so that they could be taken down from the fifth floor, by elevator, for transfer to the Warhol Studio. The drawers had been opened many times since Andy’s death and works by other artists had been removed, examined, catalogued, and then included in the auction. Andy’s own works, which had been excluded from the sale, had been reordered, protected, and replaced in the drawers. That Sunday, however, when the curators pulled out the bottom drawer of the upper cabinet, they discovered the compartment filled with sachets with dozens of unmounted gemstones, designer jewelry and watches–some in paper bags, some in jewelers’ boxes and plastic bags, some lying loose. They called me immediately.

Andy Warhol Seaman Schepps Hinged Bracelet - Sotheby's

Why did Andy prefer to hid this jewelry in his house and not keep it in a bank vault? Possibly because he felt reassured by assets he could see and which were easily within reach. Possibly because of the tactile and aesthetic pleasure which he derived form his watches and jewelry, as with everything else in his collection. Possibly because he had inherited an old-world distrust of banks from his mother, and while he had kept some of the jewelry sold in [the May Sotheby’s auctions] in safe deposit boxes , and some in a safe in his house, he still felt the need for a hidden treasure. Possibly because he loved to have secrets, and this particular secret, to my knowledge, he shared with no one. Of course this is all speculation, as Andy’s behavior was highly idiosyncratic and unpredictable. He and his legacy continue to amaze and delight me.

This unexpected discovery of wonderful pieces of jewelry that Andy had acquired over the years includes unmounted diamonds–tiny to large–sapphires, emeralds, Art Deco jewelry by Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels; Peretti and Schlumberger designs for Tiffany; contemporary pieces by David Webb and Seaman Schepps; almost 100 watches from Patek Philippe, Rolex, Cartier, and other distinguished watchmakers. They all show that same fascination and obsession with design, color, shape, and texture that enahnced Andy’s life, inspired him in his collecting, and were so essential to his own aesthetic.”

-Frederick W. Hughes*, October 1988

 

Andy Warhol's Seaman Schepps carved emerald bracelet

*Mr. Hughes was Andy Warhol’s business manager and the sole executor of the Warhol estate.

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