Vintage Celebrity Marriages: Lisa Fonssagrives + Irving Penn

This photo is of Lisa Fonssagrives with an unidentified man. The image was taken by Edgar de Evia at the Rhinelander Mansion in 1950, the year Lisa married Irving Penn. It is uncertain whether the man pictured is the model's husband, but it's possible. Photo © Edgar de Evia, available for use under the Creative Commons license.

This photo of Lisa Fonssagrives with an unidentified man was taken by Edgar de Evia at the Rhinelander Mansion in 1950, the year Lisa married Irving Penn. It is uncertain whether the man pictured is the model’s husband, but it is possible. Photo © Edgar de Evia, available for use under the Creative Commons license.

by Angela Magnotti Andrews

Love between artists can be fiery and tumultuous, but for retro-era model Lisa Fonssagrives and iconic photographer Irving Penn love seems to bear all the marks of compatibility, collaboration, and enduring commitment.

While many may argue that being a fashion model is hardly an artistic endeavor, anyone who has read anything about Ms. Fonssagrives will think twice about believing such hogwash. Described by those at Vogue as “one of the most elegant women ever to wear a dress” {8}, the Swedish dancer-turned-model employed her keen knowledge of the intricacies of photography (gained from a previous marriage to dancer/photographer Fernand Fonssagrives) and her rigorous training as a dancer to infuse every one of her poses with electric energy and vivid dynamism.

“I was a sculpture all my life,” she said once, and Vogue agrees: “Fonssagrives turned her body into an exquisite sculpture” {8}. It is no wonder, then, that Irving Penn, a consummate photographer, who by 1948 was changing the face of modern photography, fell for the “exquisite blonde,” whom he placed as his central figure, a white goddess among lesser goddesses in blacks and grays and whites, in the first photo he ever took of her–his ’12 Beauties’ portrait for Vogue, shot in 1947.

Two years later, a reporter from Time Magazine sat in on another photo shoot, commanded by the great Irving Penn in a “dazzling bright room high above the late summer landscape of Manhattan’s Central Park” {1}. The article begins with quotes from Irving Penn; however, the true focal point of the article was none other than the sculpted beauty, Ms. Fonssagrives.

That year, her image graced the cover of the esteemed magazine, and in the write-up the reporter was among the first to elude to the burgeoning romance between two artistic equals–a photographer and his model/muse. ”The ecstatic monologuist [Penn]…” grew “breathless with excitement” as he coached the Swedish artform into a pose which appeared “uncomfortable but graceful…as though some preposterous comedy plot compelled her to be completely at ease while leaning against an exceedingly hot stove” {1}.

One year later, Lisa and Irving would tie the knot in a ceremony eluding the public eye. An envy of today’s uber-public celebrities, Lisa Fonssagrives and her lover enjoyed a lifetime of rare privacy longed for by today’s trendsetters. For this reason, the only hint we have of what kind of passion they shared lies in their own fervent approach to artistry and their enduring affair while fully mixing business with pleasure for 42 years.

Anyone who has worked alongside their spouse, let alone been at the direction of their spouse in their work, knows this must have required a tremendous amount of mutual respect, shared passion, and deep commitment to each other and to their art.

They remained together until death parted them in 1992, when Lisa Fonssagrives died from pneumonia at age 80. Though she retired from modeling only two years after she and Irving were married, she went on to make a name for herself in clothing design and sculpting.

Her clothes were featured in advertising campaigns (shot by her husband) for DeBeers and Plymouth, and her lingerie and loungewear were carried by Lord & Taylor {8}. Her sculptures went on exhibit in 1983 and 1986, in one-woman shows at New York’s Marlborough Gallery {8}.

In 1958, Irving Penn was named one of the World’s Greatest Photographers by Popular Photography, and in 1985 he won the Hasselblad Award {7}, given to photographers “recognized for major achievements” {2}. He continued to sear Vogues pages with his breathtaking, minimalist craft until his death in 2009.

Life Magazine, in 1960, wrote that Penn, in his attempt to “create a new kind of fashion picture,” also managed to create “a new, austere style that influenced all modern photography” {5}. His work in platinum garnered him a show at MoMA in New York in 1975, and in 1980 a collection of his nude portraits were shown at the Marlborough Gallery in New York {7}.

Before his retirement from Vogue, Irving Penn captured the portraits of Kate Moss and Nicole Kidman. In fact, his very last cover photo was of Nicole Kidman posing to promote her movie The Stepford Wives (2004). The year prior, Nicole Kidman had the privilege of sitting with “the industry’s greatest photographers–Penn, Annie Leibovitz, Craig McDean, and Helmut Newton–for Vogue’s September issue” {7}. After her session with Mr. Penn, the actress “collapsed into the corner of the elevator” and exclaimed, “You encounter a different realm” with Penn {7}.

In July 2007, Anna Wintour dedicated that month’s entire issue to Irving Penn, who turned 90 that month. Two years later, Ms. Wintour dedicated another issue to the legendary photographer. In the December 2009 issue, Ms. Wintour wrote, “He changed the way we saw the world, and, in particular, our perception of what is beautiful” {7}. His last assignment for Vogue appeared in the August issue, “a still life of dark-spotted bananas for a story on the signs of aging” {7}. That October, the passionate artist passed away at the ripe old age of 92.

I wonder if his camera sat on a bedside table next to his only other true love, Lisa Fonssagrives.


  1. “Advertising: Billion-Dollar Baby,” Time Magazine, September 19, 1949.
  2. Hasselblad Foundation. “The Hasselblad Award.” Accessed April 12, 2014.
  3. “Times Topics: Irving Penn,” The New York Times, last updated October 7, 2009.
  4. Marter, Joan M., ed. “The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art,” Volume 1, p. 58.
  5. “Penn’s People,” Life Magazine, November 14, 1960.
  6. Saroyan, Aram. Door to the River: Essays and Reviews from the 1960s Into the Digital Age, Boston: 2010.
  7. Voguepedia. “Irving Penn.” Accessed April 12, 2014.
  8. Voguepedia. “Lisa Fonssagrives.” Accessed April 12, 2014.

French Bridal Ring Traditions

Capture the Essence! of French Romance with this Antique 1930s Engagement Ring featuring Old Euro and Old Single Cut Diamonds. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

Capture the Essence! of French Romance with this Antique 1930s Engagement Ring featuring Old Euro and Old Single Cut Diamonds. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

Very little seems to be written about the exchange of bridal rings in France. What little there is appears somewhat contradictory without traceable reference sources. The few bits of information available are intriguing enough, however, to warrant a brief post on French bridal ring traditions.

According to Planet Wedding, the French exchange wedding rings which are engraved in such a way that when they’re united on the wedding day they form a complete whole. The bride’s ring features her name and part of the wedding date, and the groom’s ring bears his name and the remainder of the wedding date. The source of this information is not provided in Planet Wedding’s book.

Though the custom of wearing diamond engagement rings is extremely popular in the US, it appears that the French are not as inclined to choose diamonds, and when they do, according to one resident, they opt for smaller sizes, ranging from 0.3 – 0.4 carats. The source of this tidbit, a woman from America who married a Frenchman, reports that among her French friends the choice in wedding bands tends toward simple bands or mixed-stone rings {cited}.

As reported by Expatica, the French are believed to opt for three interwoven bands of varying colors. Again, no reference point is offered for this information and a search on Google for multi-colored French wedding bands directs the seeker to Cartier, creator of the famed Cartier Trinity Rings. It is not clear whether this is truly French tradition, or whether this is simply one French company’s brand of romance.

According to Vicki Howard, who wrote the book Brides, Inc.: American Weddings and the Business of Traditions, the custom of exchanging wedding rings in France was tied up in the liturgical practice of the prevailing religious tradition, French Catholic. She notes that the first account of both men and women donning rings during the wedding ceremony appears in the 16th century. She makes no mention of the traditions surrounding the engagement ring in French culture.

The most credible source for information on current French bridal ring practice comes from the author of the blog, Becoming MadameIn a guest post written for EmilyintheGlass, this American woman describes her firsthand experience of planning a French wedding according to her family-to-be’s strict French traditions. As she notes, these traditions may not be customary to all of France, but they certainly were important to her new Catholic French family.

She first discusses the tradition of the engagement ring. While her fiance opted for what the French call a “Hollywood proposal,” where he got down on one knee and presented her with a ring, this gesture was completely lost on his mother, who was “less than pleased” to discover that she was wearing her engagement ring prior to the customary les fiançailles. This event is a formal party during which the parents of the bride and groom meet for the first time over a hearty feast and the couple is blessed during Mass. This is also the traditional time for the presentation of the engagement ring.

According to French tradition, a betrothal is proposed by a simple question posed by the man, “Will you marry me?” If the woman accepts, then the man must don white gloves before asking her father for permission. Once consent is granted, announcements are made and the couple goes out together to purchase the engagement ring, a gift presented by the man in front of their families during the les fiançailles.

While ring bearers are not a part of the traditional French wedding ceremony, there is a custom akin to American bridal shows called Salon du marriage. During these trade fairs, couples can choose their wedding attire and stationery, sample the wares of various caterers, hire their music and photography, and even choose their wedding rings.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, our Madame left out the “little” detail of exchanging the wedding rings, but she did share the delightful tradition of une Pièce Montéea pyramid made of “small, golden, cream-filled balls called les choux mounted with caramel glaze.” This is the stand-in for the many-tiered wonder we call a wedding cake, and it sounds absolutely delightful to me!

Choose the Sparkle of Diamonds Set A’Jour

Capture the Essence! of Vintage à jour with this Antique Old Miner Diamond Solitaire Engagement Ring with Ornate Filigree. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

Capture the Essence! of Vintage A’Jour with this Antique Old Miner Diamond Solitaire Engagement Ring with Ornate Filigree. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

This exquisite antique engagement ring features a 1.04-carat Old Mine Cut diamond set à jour in an elaborate filigree setting of white gold. The French word a’jour means “open to daylight” and describes perfectly its application in antique jewelry. Not to be confused with filigree, which is also a strong characteristic of this ring, à jour refers not to the rich carvings decorating the crown and shoulders of this lovely ring, but to the particular way this diamond has been set.

The term is widely applied in writings of the late 1800s and early 1900s, often in regard to rings, but not always to the setting of stones. In his treatise, On Some Finger Rings, of the Early Christian Period (1870s-1890s), Charles Drury E. Fortnum writes of a Roman key-like finger ring which features twelve fluted portions which have “a central square piercing, in which one letter of the inscription is reserved in the metal, and from which the ground is entirely cut away (decoupe-à-jour)” {p. 36}. Clearly he is describing a type of carving and not a stone setting.

Writing in 1917, gemstone expert George Frederick Kunz, in his book Rings for the Finger, describes a number of “episcopal rings listed on this inventory were set with sapphires bordered with small gems, one of them having a ‘black sapphire’ set à jour, and held in place by claws” {p. 274}. One can just picture a cathedral style setting on an elaborate bishop’s ring with a large dark stone held in place by four claws, open to the light on all sides.

More recently, the term has been applied to carvings discovered in ancient burial mounds in Turkey between 1950 and 1973. In the volume dedicated to the discoveries made in these grave mounds, Rodney S. Young describes an inlaid screen which was framed by “an elaborately carved horizontal panel secured in place by three dowels…” This panel was “carved à jour from a single piece of soft light-colored wood…” {Three Great Early Tumuli, p. 180}.

According to Lang’s Jewelry Universtiy, the à jour stone setting style was developed in the 18th century, but was not widely adopted for use in rings until the Victorian Era. Prior to this time, gemstones were safely ensconced in closed back settings which covered the entire pavilion. These tight enclosures impinged the movement of light through the diamonds, significantly inhibiting the fire and brilliance of the stones.

Notice in this ring that the diamond is completely unencumbered, save for the delicate bezel-type setting which hugs the stone just around its girdle. Thanks to this marvelous open style, light is free to enter through the top, the bottom, and even a fair portion of the side of this diamond, allowing the stone to emit a greater brilliance than that of a diamond of equal size and clarity set in a full bezel or a closed cathedral prong setting.

If your intended loves light and color, this ethereal antique ring is the perfect choice to pronounce your forever love.

Yellow Sapphires Make Happy Brides, Just ask Jenny McCarthy


On April 16, ‘The View’ watchers, and their hosts, were surprised suddenly when co-host Jenny McCarthy made her big reveal. It began as an update on the “Date My Dad” episode. She reported that her dad was very happy, having made a love match with the final woman he dated from the show. “…[H]e’s very happy, because he’s happy for me, because…”

She flashes her left hand front and center, her face taut with pent-up excitement, and announces, “…I just got ENGAGED!!!!!!”

Screams peel through the audience, as her co-hosts share their raw astonishment, all except Whoopi Goldberg, who seems to have known something was up. After dancing around and hugging her co-hosts, and lots and lots of shouting, Ms. McCarthy succeeds in calming everyone down just enough so she can share “how it happened.”

Over the weekend, she and boyfriend, Donnie Wahlberg, sat on the couch whispering sweet nothings. At one point, Donnie left the room. Soon after, Jenny’s son, Evan, appeared and handed her a card with the word ‘Will’ on it. Confused, she watched him run back out of the room. A few moments later he returned with another card which read, ‘you’.

“He ran away, and I knew what was happening, and I just started crying,” the happy star said. Her son ran away and returned again with a card that read, ‘Mary’ (yes, spelled with one ‘R’). After departing one last time, Evan returned with Donnie, who wore a t-shirt with the word ‘Me?’ printed on it, holding the ring.

“…and he got down on his knee and he said…’Will you marry me?’….and in that moment Evan yelled, ‘I have another dad!” she said, tearing up again. As she shares their very private moment, the audience erupts in squeals again as Donnie comes sneaking through the back to take hold of her from behind in a loving embrace, planting several romantic, but somewhat awkward kisses upon her lips.

The couple first met on Andy Cohen’s “Watch What Happens Live,” in 2012. Nearly a year later, Jenny told Bethenny Frankel that she thought Donnie was married when they first met and decided not to approach him.

“It wasn’t until he did my talk show,” she said. She was preparing to interview him on air on March 29, 2013, and asked her crew if he was attached. When she found out he wasn’t, she took the plunge. After enticing him to spill all his dirty secrets on VH1, she slipped him her phone number.

“I didn’t call,” Donnie told Jenny’s co-hosts on ‘The View’ six months later. After two weeks, they got together for their first date and talked for six hours. “I got to see who she really is, and she’s a wonderful woman. She’s very smart, she’s very intelligent, she’s a great mom,” he said.

After scoring 100% on their Newlywed-style game, their fate was sealed. Now, she’s wearing a gorgeous halo-style engagement ring complete with a knockout square-shaped yellow sapphire surrounded by diamonds. The shank of her platinum (or possibly white gold) band also glitters with diamonds, much like the sparkle in her cornflower blue eyes as she talks about her lover.

Congratulations to the happy couple!

Greek Orthodox Wedding Rings


Capture the Essence! of Greek Orthodox Tradition with this elegant 18k Gold Antique Wedding Band. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

Capture the Essence! of Greek Orthodox Tradition with this elegant 18k Gold Antique Wedding Band. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

During a Greek Orthodox wedding, the exchange of wedding rings is a significant part of the ceremony. The bride and groom wear their rings as they approach the altar. The bride wears her engagement ring on her left ring finger, and both wear their wedding rings on their right ring fingers.

In accord with one of the prayers in the Greek Orthodox Betrothal Service, the rings are placed on the right hand in observance of the rings of power, authority, and pledge worn by the Biblical figures Joseph, Daniel, and the prodigal son, who was given a ring to wear on his right hand as a symbol of compassion and celebration for his hoped-for return. The right hand symbolizes the establishment of truth and the source of strength, as well as the power and authority required to fulfill a pledge of commitment.

After the priest explains the sacrament of marriage, the profound mystery of two becoming one while yet remaining unique individuals, he begins the very important blessing of the rings. Using the rings to make the sign of the Cross on the groom’s forehead and then the bride’s forehead, he repeats the following declaration three times: “The servant of God…(groom) is betrothed to the servant of God … (bride) in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” He then reverses the order, beginning now with the bride’s forehead and the bride’s name, blessing the union three more times. He then places the rings once again on the bride’s and groom’s right ring fingers.

Next, the couple’s koumbaro (sponsor), a role filled in modern times by the best man or maid of honor, then steps forward to perform the exchange of rings. Crossing his/her hands, the koumbaro takes hold of the groom’s ring in his/her right hand and the bride’s ring in the left. Then, s/he slips the rings off their fingers and transfers them to the hand of the other person, back and forth three times. This exchange is made to symbolize that both lives are now interwoven, that one person’s strengths will compensate for the weaknesses of the other, and that together their lives will be richer than if they were lived apart.

It has long been the custom of Greek couples to choose simple gold bands to serve as their wedding rings. Though some Greeks living abroad have been known to move the rings from their right hands to their left hands after the ceremony, others maintain the custom of wearing the wedding bands on the right hand. Princess Tatiana of Greece has been seen wearing on her left hand her sapphire and diamond halo engagement ring with an elegant diamond eternity band and a simple gold band, though on her wedding day she was wearing only her engagement ring on her left hand and a plain gold band on her right.


Beads of Gold: Technique in Granulation

Admire the Technique! in this Vintage Italian Bracelet Charm. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

Admire the Technique! in this Vintage Italian Bracelet Charm. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

This spectacular vintage Italian charm pendant features cultured pearls and five faceted oval-cut amethysts. Crafted of 18k yellow gold, this beautiful piece features exquisite metal work, including authentic filigree and granulation techniques.

Careful inspection reveals a multitude of tiny golden beads crowning the floral embellishments lining the central arches of this charming jewel. These tiny spheres represent countless hours of detailed labor on the part of a highly skilled goldsmith.

Called granulation, this technique of fashioning minuscule metal orbs and soldering them in place on another piece of metal hails from the Sumerians, the ancient civilization believed to be the first of all true civilizations. Revived and perfected in the 7th and 6th centuries BC by the illustrious Etruscans, this technique has been used off and on throughout jewelry history.

Metallurgists will tell you that when small pieces of metal are heated to their melting point they will refashion themselves into tiny spheres, much like individual dewdrops of water will do on the surface of a leaf.

Today, goldsmiths use a number of methods to create these golden wonders. The first involves cutting narrow fringes along the edge of a thin sheet of metal and then trimming them off to form tiny individual squares. Another involves the use of a mandrel, a cylindrical rod around which very thin wire is coiled. As the wire spools off the mandrel, the jeweler will cut it into very small jump rings.

Once these tiny pre-spheres are fashioned, they are coated in charcoal powder. Next, the bottom of a crucible is doused with more charcoal powder, and the small pieces of coated metal are sprinkled evenly across the powder, much like seeds are sown in the ground. Another layer of charcoal is added, followed by more bead seeds, until the crucible is filled three-quarters of the way up. The crucible is then placed in an oven, and as the container grows hotter, the metal pieces begin to melt and form into tiny spheres. Once cooled, they are cleaned with water or acid and prepared for soldering.

The goal is to produce fairly evenly-sized beads measuring between .14 mm and 3.5 mm in diameter. The smaller the beads, the harder they are to fashion, which is why the Etruscan designs inspire so much intrigue. These remarkable relics feature the tiniest of beads, fashioned several centuries before the dies for super fine wires were invented. One historian, Jochem Walters, proposes that the Etruscans achieved such minute results by melting coarse gold filings in layers of powdered charcoal.

On this beautiful piece, the beads are on the large side, probably fashioned from larger-gauge wire which was cut and fired in the fashion described above. The overall effect is crown-like, with the tiny beads mirroring the rounded pearls and the orb-style top-piece. This piece represents a stunning example of vintage Italian craftsmanship.

Spotlight on Milgrain Technique in Engagement Rings

Admire the Technique! in this IGI-Certified Princess Cut Diamond Engagement Ring with Milgrain Details. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

Admire the Technique! in this IGI-Certified Princess Cut Diamond Engagement Ring with Milgrain Details. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

This delectable engagement ring is crafted of solid 18k white gold with accents in solid 14k gold. The central stone is an exquisite D-color, Princess Cut diamond weighing in at 0.97 carats. Mounted cathedral style in a four-prong setting, this magnificent diamond is flanked on either side by four round brilliant cut diamonds totaling another 1.37 carats.

The top of the ring’s tapering shank is crisply etched in a scalloped design, and the edges are finished in the milgrain technique, giving the ring an antique look and feel. Milgrain, derived from the French word millegrain (meaning ‘thousand grains’), is most often seen on the edges of rings and can take the form of teeny-tiny beads or a series of serrated grooves resembling the edges of coins.

Special tools are used to imprint the desired edging pattern into the rings. One such tool, called a knurling tool, consists of small rolling wheel attached to the end of a handle which, when rolled along the edges of the shank, produces a beaded appearance. Another such tool features a chuck-holding handle with several different attachments which, when rolled along the edge, produce different effects, including decorative beads or fine rows of cuts.

These hand techniques were the only ones available to early-century jewelers. Today, however, jewelers can make use of 3D-CAD programs to execute the milgrain effect. These programs include a milgrain decoration which is added as a decorative feature. The finished design is then sent to a special printer which fashions a 3D wax model of the ring which can be cast in metal die form. Goldsmiths pour molten alloys into these dies to form casts of the ring parts which when dried and cooled are assembled prior to setting the stones.

No matter how the milgrain technique is executed, the results are similar to applying a frame around a finished painting. This framework adds another dimension to the piece, highlighting certain design elements such as the gemstones or, in this case, the hand engraving on the shank of the ring.

Gold on Gold: Techniques in Granulation

Capture the Essence! with these Estate Citrine Drop Earrings with Granulation. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

Admire the Technique! with these Estate Citrine Drop Earrings with Granulation. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

These inspired earrings are evocative of the Etruscan period of jewelry, with their exquisite square-cut natural citrine center stones, their brushed gold finish, and especially with their decorative granulation in 18k gold. Artisans working between 700-500 BC resurrected many of the ancient techniques in jewelry and art, including filigree, milgrain, and granulation.

Granulation is a beautiful technique which is used to create mosaic-like patterns out of tiny spheres (granules) of gold. Granulation takes a tremendous amount of time and effort, especially when an entire surface is covered. Each tiny bead of gold is individually formed and individually placed and affixed to the surface of the jewel.

In this case, the pattern is fairly simple, an edging of the raised bezel surrounding the stone with equally spaced flourishes along the center and corners of the sides. However, many of the most popular antique pieces featuring granulation are completely covered in tiny beads, representing hours of intense labor. This work is done by hand using a number of adhesion techniques.

One such technique is hard soldering, where a hand-soldering tool is used to warm the point of contact between each granule and the surface of the jewel. This is the most laborious and least often used method in fashioning granulated jewelry.

A variation of this technique is more often used, in which a portion of gold is filed into powder and mixed with a flux agent (tragacanth gum). By itself, the flux agent is also used to paint the surface of the piece, leaving a thin layer into which the jeweler can embed the tiny beads of gold. After the beads are set in place, the flux-solder mixture is then sprinkled over the entire surface and heated to its melting point. This process does leave a residual puddling of metal around each bead, which is unavoidable.

A second method is called fusing. In this technique, metals of the same alloy are fused together by heat alone. A thin sheet of metal the approximate thickness of the granules is painted with a thin layer of diluted flux. The granules are carefully placed in the intended pattern, and then the whole segment is placed in a reducing oven (little or no oxygen present).

Once the metal reaches its melting point, the granules and the sheet metal fuse together at their points of contact. The reductive atmosphere eliminates all excess flux and solder, preventing the puddle effect seen in hard soldering. Once the piece has cooled, it can be formed into the desired shape for the finished jewel.

Some believe this is the method the Etruscans used to perfect their practice; however, others believe the Etruscans used another method, colloidal (eutectic) soldering. With colloidal soldering, a carefully prepared mixture of tracaganth gum (or possibly fish paste or cowhide glue in the case of antiquity) and copper salts is applied to the sheet of metal in order to reduce the required temperature for melting the base and the granules.

The thin metal sheet is painted with the colloidal solder, and a fine paint brush is used to position the granules. After the surface dries completely, the piece is fired in a reducing oven until the flux agent burns off completely. As it burns, it releases the copper salts into the points of contact. Once the oven reaches 890 degrees Celsius, the copper diffuses into the granule and the base, forging a powerful metallic bond between the two.

Regardless of which method is used, granulation requires a tremendous amount of skill, precision, and patience. It’s no wonder that the results are dazzling.

Was the Virgin Mary’s Wedding Ring Amethyst and Onyx?

Santo Anello, the Blessed Virgin's Wedding Ring, Perugia, Italy.

Santo Anello, the Blessed Virgin’s Wedding Ring, Perugia, Italy.

Rumor has it that Joseph gave the mother of Jesus Christ a wedding ring on the day of their betrothal. Such was the widespread belief among Catholic communities in the mid-to-late 1800s. This rumor appears to have two separate sources. The first source comes from the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich, a mystic seer and Augustinian nun who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004.

Between 1813 and 1819, the sickly nun began experiencing the sainted sign of stigmata. A series of investigations took place, and her piety and sanctity were confirmed by a number of inquirers. Soon after, she was visited by several figures prominent in the emerging Church renewal movement. One such visitor, the poet Clemens Brentano, made it his mission to record their discussions about her visions.

It is within a series of these visions, dated between July 29 and August 3, 1821, that Sister Catherine saw the wedding ring of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is said to have reported that the ring was “neither of silver nor gold, nor of any other metal; it is dark in color and iridescent; it is not a thin narrow ring, but rather thick and at least a finger broad. I saw it smooth and yet as if covered with little regular triangles in which were letters. On the inside was a flat surface. The ring is engraved with something. I saw it kept behind many locks in a beautiful church. Devout people about to be married take their wedding-rings to touch it.”

Nearly simultaneously, in 1823, William Hone wrote a book titled Ancient Mysteries Described. In it, he also describes the Virgin Mary’s wedding ring, though he reported that it was said to be of onyx and amethyst, representing the budded rod of Joseph.

So, did Mary have a wedding ring? Was it amethyst and onyx, or was it the larger quartz version eluded to in Sister Catherine’s visions?

Even Mr. Hone holds his tongue in his cheek as he comments on the ring’s miraculous powers. Not only was the ring capable of healing the sick and bringing fortune to those whose wedding rings touched it on St. Joseph’s Day, but the ring also held “miraculous powers of multiplying itself” {1}. Apparently, there were several churches claiming to possess the precious relic during the mid-1400s.

Legend has it that the ring was acquired by a traveling jeweler and lapidary, Ranerius. In 966 AD, Judith, wife of Hugo, Marquess of Etruria, hired Ranerius to travel to Rome in search of beautiful jewels for her. While in Rome, Ranerius met a jeweler from Jerusalem who offered him an onyx and amethyst ring as a token of their friendship.

Ranerius appears to have been somewhat callous about the gesture, considering the ring to be of little value despite the Jewish man’s insistence that the jewel was the betrothal gift given to the Virgin Mary on her wedding day. The Italian tossed the ring in a chest, clearly unconvinced by the Jewish lore surrounding the ring. Ten years later, the man’s son lay in a coffin, borne upon a hearse toward a cemetery.

In a moment of mystical mayhem, the young boy suddenly rose up and called for his father, claiming a visitation from the Blessed Virgin. The story goes that the boy described the ring and its location in the forsaken chest and insisted that Mary desired her wedding band to receive its full due. When the chest was brought to the boy, he pulled out the ring and kissed it, just as the bells began to peal spontaneously. The onlookers were moved to worship as the scene unfolded, and the boy delivered the ring to church officials. Satisfied with his task, the boy lay back down in his coffin and breathed (again) his last. He was buried that day.

The ring remained in church custody for the next 500 years, rumored to bring relief to women in labor, to heal sciatica and diseases of the eye, to bring about reconciliation between married couples, and to exorcise demons. In 1473, it was handed over to the Franciscans in Clusium, where it was shown by appointment to visitors. On one such occasion, some say in 1488, a visiting priest, described by Mr. Hone as “a crafty German” named Wintherus, faked the ring’s return to its cherished box, hiding it instead beneath his sleeves. He fled to the countryside, where he encountered trouble in the form of a mysteriously deep darkness supposedly created by the disgruntled relic {2}.

Failing in his efforts to smuggle the ring out of the country, he made his way to Perugia where he convinced the resident church leadership that he had rescued the relic from the Clusiums. Realizing he would not make it out of the country under the thick veil of darkness, he willingly exchanged the ring for a modest fortune and a position in the governance of the city of Perugia.

When Sister Catherine saw the ring in her vision, it was housed in a medieval lock box gilt in silver and gold in Perugia’s San Lorenzo Cathedral. The box required seven keys to open, and the ring is neither onyx nor gold. Today, a wide band of pure quartz with a flattened bottom hangs from a golden crown at the apex of an elaborate statue.


  1. Hone, William. Ancient Mysteries Described. London: J. M’Creery, Tooks Court, 1823, p. 119.
  2. Ibid.

Love & Luxury Unite with Van Cleef & Arpels

Capture the Romance! with this Vintage Van Cleef & Arpels Diamond and Ruby Ring. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

Capture the Romance! with this Vintage Van Cleef & Arpels Diamond and Ruby Ring. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

by Angela Magnotti Andrews

The passion of red ruby surrounded by the purity of white diamonds constitutes the perfect blend of love and luxury. A pristine oval-cut red ruby stands front and center, a beautiful declaration of love’s ardent passions. Surrounding the red stone are eight round brilliant diamonds, a halo symbolizing pure devotion. Two large pear-cut diamonds are set en pointe in a north-south orientation, with two marquise-cut diamonds set vertically in an east-west position. Between them lie four smaller pear-cut diamonds. The effect is pure, exquisite luxury, a characteristic long associated with every Van Cleef & Arpels piece.

This natural pairing of Luxury and Love have long been united in the hallowed halls of one of the world’s most notable jewelry houses. Some of the most extravagant gestures of love have been signed VC/A*. Among them, a stunning diamond and ruby bracelet commissioned by the former King of England, Edward VIII, for his mistress, later his bride.

Set with four clusters of rubies surrounded by white diamonds, this token of affection was inscribed with the couple’s enduring motto: ‘Hold Tight’. Jackie Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, and Princess Grace of Monaco were also showered with jewels created by the iconic Parisian jewelers.

It should come as no surprise, then, that a love story forms the very foundation of the famed house. According to their website, the impressive jewelry dynasty was “inspired by the unique creative energy of love” {4}.

While the details of this legendary love story continue to elude the public eye, the broad strokes paint a story in which Estelle Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef enjoyed a “love story like no other, a great adventure beyond expectation” {4}.

Alfred Van Cleef made his start in jewelry at the bench of David et Grosgeat, where he learned to create and market beautiful jewelry. After his marriage to Estelle, Alfred joined forces with his bride’s father, Léon Salomon Arpels. Together they opened a small jewelry shop specializing in precious stones {3}.

After the senior Mr. Arpels passed away in 1906, his sons, Charles-Salomon, Julien, and Louis Arpels, threw their lot in with Alfred and Estelle, and the family opened a shop on the prestigious place de Vendome. The family dedicated their life to perform “the ultimate act of creativity” by combining exceptional stones in uncommon settings to transform precious metals and gemstones into phenomenal jewels {1}.

During World War II, the Van Cleef & Arpels families fled the hostile environs of Paris and settled in New York. Well established as principal players upon the international jewelry stage, Van Cleef & Arpels remained a family-owned and operated business until 1999, when it was purchased by a Swiss luxury group {3}.

*The company’s hallmark substitutes the / with a stylized imprint of their company’s flagship store.


  1. Macklowe Gallery. “Van Cleef & Arpels.” Accessed April 4, 2014.
  2. Primavera Gallery. “Van Cleef and Arpels.” Accessed April 4, 2014.
  3. Serafin, Amy. “Van Cleef & Arpels: The Family, The Jewels, The Legend,” France MagazineFall 2012.
  4. Van Cleef & Arpels. “Estelle & Alfred: The Founding Love Story.” Accessed April 4, 2014.
  5. Van Cleef & Arpels. “The Maison’s Enchanting Love Stories.” Accessed April 4, 2014.