To enter the world of Harry Fane, the late vintage jewellery dealer, was to embark on an adventure of the senses. Tall and handsome with amused blue eyes and an immaculate Savile row suit – “I’m a nightmare because I like things made perfectly!” – he welcomed clients into Obsidian, his Aladdin’s cave on Mayfair’s Bruton Street. There, in a showroom disguised as a drawing room, Fane brought his rare and beautiful treasures to life.

Fane, who died just before Christmas, was a well-loved London figure. He was born in 1953, and his early career saw him working at Sotheby’s, where he met his “male soulmate”, the British travel writer and conservationist Mark Shand. The friends enjoyed the heady days of 1970s New York, hanging out at Studio 54 and Andy Warhol’s Factory, before sharing extensive (and sometimes dangerous) travels around Asia, from which they would return home with extraordinary things.

King Charles III with attendants including (back centre) Harry Fane in 1967
King Charles III with attendants including (back centre) Harry Fane in 1967 © Getty Images
Cartier platinum Tonneau watch, c1910
Cartier platinum Tonneau watch, c1910 © Dylan Thomas

Launched in 1978, Obsidian was the shared vision of Fane and Shand. Both well connected – Fane was the second son of the 15th Earl of Westmorland; Shand, Queen Camilla’s younger brother – they combined the Cartier jewellery and objets found on their travels, and used their address books to sell them. The partnership didn’t last – Shand wanted to continue a life of travel – but Fane kept the business going, becoming one of the world’s foremost jewellery dealers. Cartier suggested he knew more about the house than it did itself.  

Titles from Fane’s collection of jewellery books
Titles from Fane’s collection of jewellery books © A Collected Man
A selection of vintage Cartier Tank watches
A selection of vintage Cartier Tank watches © Dylan Thomas

Visitors to Obsidian sat in chairs next to tables decorated with books – Cartier: The Tank Watch by Franco Cologni was Harry’s “bible” – and there are photographs of friends and muses everywhere, including a black-and-white image of Aristotle and Jackie Onassis. A fire usually roared in the hearth, with Maude, Fane’s black Labrador, lying in front of it. (Along with his passion for vintage jewellery, Fane was happiest when at home in Wiltshire with his wife Tessa and their two children.)

While some items at Obsidian were on display, much was hidden. Fane liked to wait and reveal things as if they were an afterthought. When we last met, he had just found a rare 1952 bamboo pencil with propelling nibs – one red, one blue – in its original Cartier box. “So elegant and chic, one of the best pieces I’ve ever seen!” he enthused. His instincts were prodigious: “If I find something I love, I know in one second that I need to buy it.” Other standouts included pieces by Italian duke Fulco di Verdura, who designed for Chanel, In addition to 20th-century French designer Suzanne Belperron, another of his specialisms. In showing these wonders, Fane opened a door into a world inhabited by aristocrats, maharajas and movie stars. 

Harry Fane at his office in Mayfair
Harry Fane at his office in Mayfair © A Collected Man
A c1991 diamond Cartier Crash wristwatch, POA
A c1991 diamond Cartier Crash wristwatch, POA © Dylan Thomas

Fane loved making a sale and enjoyed the dance that came with it. He regaled his clients, many of them dear friends – from royalty to rappers – with stories of finding treasures in unlikely places. “I have always loved the hunt – I buy wherever I can,” he once told me over lunch at Oswald’s, one of his favourite restaurants. On his wrist he wore a ribbon from the Mahalakshmi Temple in Bombay and a rare 1928 Cartier Cintrée Tank with Arabic numerals. “I’ve spent a lot of my life rifling around on my hands and knees in old maharajas’ safes in India.” He found one of his best pieces in a “bungalow in suburban Texas”.

“I thought I had just gone to see Harry for a friendly visit,” says one client of their final trip to see Fane. “As I was about to leave, I noticed a glint in his eye. He said I should only go if I wanted to miss out on something really special, and pulled out a Cartier Tank from 1929, only four or five of which were made. Harry loved to sell, but he loved the objects and where they ended up more than anything.” 

For now, Obsidian lives on. As well as Fane’s extensive vintage Cartier collection there are modern pieces designed by the dealer, as well as gifts, clocks, photo frames and sleek teak and silver pencil holders. Harry Fane was a man for all ages, his style and legacy encapsulated in the treasures that caught his flawless eye. 

Harry Fane’s Obsidian, 31 Bruton St, London W1;

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