The Jewelry Insider

May 6, 2008

A Noble Mission Continues: What does the man who has
everything give?

You read that headline correctly, the answer: When it comes to the welfare of impoverished children, someone like James C. Russo gives his fabulous collection Russian and British Royal memorabilia as reported last week in our Jewelry News feature, A Noble Mission: Royal Collection To Be Sold To Promote Education. On April 24, Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas Texas brought the hammer down on pieces collected over the last 20 years by Jim (as he is more commonly known,) a true Manhattan bon vivant now newly dedicated philanthropist. A major portion of the proceeds from this event, which closed at an impressive $1,312,822, will create the funding for the Russo/Cointreau Foundation, named for Jim and his partner of 42 years, Mr. Tony Cointreau. The organization will be dedicated to the education and welfare of needy children the world over.

Jewelry.com attended the Dallas auction, where spirited bidding from on site attendees, phone-in clients and online bidders at one point prompted Senior Auctioneer, Kathleen Guzman, to quip to one bidder “Come on… You haven’t said no to me yet.”

Among the pieces fetching the highest bids were:

These pieces, along with the rest of the Russian portion of Russo’s collection sold in a first session so successful that Heritage’s Kay Cross told Jewelry.com, “In 2 years of working the auctions for Heritage, this is the first time I’ve sat through a first session where every lot sold.” As the day progressed and the British items came to the block, the second session’s financial tally enjoyed a steady climb and both Jim and Tony were delighted with this return on Jim’s investment. Only 6 lots out of 247 did not find new homes.

In the days before the auction, Jewelry.com had a chance to sit with Jim in his beautifully appointed Park Avenue home (that he decorated himself,) to discuss life, collecting and his new passion to help the disaffected children of the world.

Talk about the idea of the foundation – from where did the idea come and what will be the foundation’s focus?

The Catalyst to sell the collection was a trip to Thailand with Tony where we saw the plight of the children and their great need for education. Education has always been of interest to me just as the care of the poor is a particular task Tony takes on with work he has performed with the late Mother Teresa and the Sisters Of Charity. A year and a half ago I would NEVER have thought of selling off my passion, but after seeing the need of Thai children, it came to me suddenly on the plane ride home, that this collection had to be put to a greater use and I just turned to Tony and said, ‘The collection has to go.’

Is there any piece in the collection that is hard to let go?

None at all. Once I made the decision, it was a done deal and I feel ecstatic about the whole thing.

Any of the pieces have a story of particular interest?

They all have a story of one kind or another. That’s the principle reason I bought most of them, to hold a moment in time, but there is a bit of a funny story about the Faberge Clock. This was gift from Tony who, realizing that I was admiring the piece at
A La Vieille Russie here in New York, bought it for me and had it shipped secretly to our Hotel in Hollywood while we were there on a trip. Tony worked it all out with the hotel management to expect the package and notify him upon its arrival. The concierge called our room and unfortunately I answered so all the hotel employee could say was, ‘Please tell Mr. Cointreau the eagle has landed.’

OK so tell the truth… Ever wear any of the men’s pieces yourself out on the town?

(Laughing) No no no, but once I did loan a piece of jewelry from the collection to Heather Previn (formally Mrs. Andre Previn) to wear to a benefit at Sotheby’s’

Now that the auction is over, the monies collected will be apportioned out to form this new enterprise. A Website domain for the foundation has been reserved and the beginnings of the Russo/Cointreau Foundation will get underway this summer.

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