• May Morris, Daughter of the Arts & Crafts Movement

    1909-May Morris May Morris, 1909
    Photo Credit: The Textile Blog

     

    Nursed at the breast of what can only be called a type of renaissance, May Morris (1862-1938) was a true daughter of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Her father, William Morris, was a prominent founder of the international design philosophy, which originated in England in the early 1860s. A talented and gifted embroiderer, May followed in her father’s footsteps as a reformer and an artist. Having studied textile arts at the South Kensington School of Design, she went on to serve as director of the embroidery department at her father’s company, Morris & Co.

    One primary thrust of the Arts & Crafts Movement was the formation of guilds. These guilds were the equivalent of our modern-day labor groups. Artisans of similar trade gathered together to ensure skilled and beautiful craftsmanship, as well as to provide protection for the trade and the craftsmen. These guilds presided over the production, quality inspection, and distribution of every piece made by their artisans. They also provided a platform for disseminating the socialist ideals of the movement and forming policies that would affect the governing bodies of their cities.

    Miss Morris, an artisan and founder of the Women's Guild of Arts, encouraged an attention to detail, which hearkened back to medieval days, with a distinctly socialist flavor. Her standards were exacting, but the passion with which she pursued her art made her a brilliant teacher.

    “If [the embroideress] pursues her craft with due care, and one might even say with enthusiasm, however, she will not only taste the keen pleasure which every one feels in creative work, however unpretending, but the product will be such as others will be careful to preserve: this in itself being an incentive to good work. For work done at the demand of fashion or caprice and that done inevitably, that is, for its own sake, are as widely dissimilar as can be: the first being discarded in a month or so as ridiculous and out of date, and the other remaining with us in all its dignity of beauty and fitness, to be guarded as long as may be against the unavoidable wear and tear of time.” ~May Morris (Decorative Needle Work, 1893)

  • Chicago Field Museum's Grainger Hall of Gems

    Image as Featured on Time Out Chicago Image as Featured on Time Out Chicago, 2009

     

    Nestled on the edge of Lake Michigan, Chicago's Field Museum is home to one of the most unique jewelry exhibits in the United States. Founded in 1893, the Grainger Hall of Gems has a history as fascinating as its displays. As the 1893 Chicago World's Fair wound to a close, several of the city's more prominent residents expressed a desire to convert the fair's extensive geological collection into a permanent display for the city of Chicago.

    Among them were Marshall Field (1834-1906), who purchased and donated rock and mineral specimens from Ward's Natural Science, and Harlow Higinbotham (1838-1919), who purchased and donated the fair's extensive Tiffany & Co. collection.

    The Chicago Columbia Museum opened its doors in 1894, and the Higinbotham Hall of Gems quickly became one of the institution's most popular attractions. Over the years, the Hall of Gems underwent several renovations, including one in 1987, at which time it was given a new name in honor of its sponsor, The Grainger Foundation.

    In 2009, the Hall was once again remodeled under the direction of Dr. Lance Grande, geology department curator. Dr. Grande's vision included brightening up the space to give it a more regal feel and refining the collection to emphasize the beauty of gemstones in all their forms.

    During the extensive enterprise, Dr. Grande scoured the museum's collections for exceptional gems to place on display. He also partnered with several jewelry designers to secure breathtaking settings for many of the museum's loose stones.

    Believing that "it is the aesthetics that form the strongest attraction to gems, ranging from their natural beauty as raw crystals to their artistic beauty as products of human artistry," Dr. Grande and his team have created an exhibition as stunning as any of the masterpieces on display.

    Visitors to the museum enjoy a holistic immersion into the world of gemstones. Each display tells a gemstone's complete story. A specimen of the gemstone in its raw form stands beside stunning loose faceted stones, which form a brilliant juxtaposition to finished jewelry pieces in the form of rings, brooches, necklaces, and more.

    By presenting over 700 specimens across every stage of a gemstone's transformation, Dr. Grande has effectively combined "natural beauty with the beauty of human artistry" {cited}, allowing viewers to "explore the natural history as well as the craftsmanship that is required to turn minerals into masterpieces" {cited}.

    Museum goers enjoy the privilege of feasting their eyes upon 600 gemstone specimens and 150 exclusive jeweled wonders, some dating back to the ancient Aztecs, others designed by some of today's top jewelry designers. If you're planning to be in the Chicago area, be sure and carve out some time to soak in the glittering beauty of the Grainger Hall of Gems.

  • The Greek Key Motif in Art Deco Jewelry Design

    Copyright 2013 EraGem Jewelry Copyright 2013 EraGem Jewelry

     

    The setting of this Art Deco engagement ring is a study in contrasts. When viewed from the side, the intricate filigree decadent images from the previous Edwardian Period. However, when viewed from above, the brilliant Old Euro cut diamond is surrounded by a geometric engraving which elicits scenes from Ancient Greece or Rome.

    Called the 'Greek Key' pattern by modern-day designers, this angular carving is an example of one of several characteristic motifs (e.g. Chevron, Spiral Scroll, and Concentric Circles) of Art Deco jewelry. A cursory glance at the historical record might lead one to believe that these styles find their origins in classical Greek form. However, a more thorough study indicates that, while the Greeks may have introduced these devices to the Western world in previous centuries, they were not the primary influences for their use in the Art Deco movement.

    William Henry Goodyear, writing in 1893, calls the Greek Key design the 'Meander' and purports that it evolved, not from the meandering rivers of Turkey and Greece from which it derives its name, but from the prominent symbol of Ancient Egypt, the lotus flower. His arguments are compelling in their suggestion that the Greeks adopted all of these patterns from their study of Egyptian artifacts and tombs, many of which feature the Meander pattern. Among Goodyear's most compelling evidence is the presence of this key-like motif in the 13th-Dynasty tomb of Meri-ka-ra at Siout {The Grammar of the Lotus, 1893, p. 96}.

    More recent sources may provide evidence that champions of the Art Deco movement would have bypassed the Greeks altogether, drawing directly from Egyptian artifacts for inspiration. Nancy Solomon suggests that classicism was out, while decadence combined with a renewed hope in the wonders of technology were in. She cites as evidence the discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922 and the 1925 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, from which Art Deco would eventually derive its name.

    While the Exposition "captured the spirit of the times, amalgamating individual freedom of expression with a machine aesthetic," the archaeological breakthrough "whetted the public's appetite for the exotic" and also "influenced the organizers of the exposition" {Architecture, 2008, p. 43}.

    Inspired by the sights of this grand exhibition, as well as the sleek lines of airplanes, automobiles, and trains of the 1920s, the architects of the day went on to design their buildings in like fashion, with symmetrical curves connected by geometric lines. Later, it was these at once sensuous and rigid buildings which inspired stunning Art Deco jewelry like this engagement ring with its, shall we say, Meandering motif.

  • A Detailed Account of Three Victorian Jewelry Eras

    Emil Brack, Planning the Grand Tour Photo Source: Time to Eat the Dogs Emil Brack, Planning the Grand Tour
    Photo Source: Time to Eat the Dogs

     

    As mentioned in a previous post, Victorian Jewelry spans three distinctive eras. During the early period (1837-1861), Victorian jewelry reflected the sentimental nature of the times with mementoes, love tokens, and souvenirs from foreign travel. Italian cameos were brought back to Britain from Italy and Greece as souvenirs from the "Grand Tours" of the upper classes. Victoria’s love for all things Scottish popularized many Highlander influences in jewelry and fashion, particularly brooches with a grouse foot set in gold or silver and tartan clothing. These trends lasted well into the 1860s, a time when culture and travel were extremely important to British culture.

    In 1861, the death of Prince Albert launched Victoria’s mourning period, and the beginning of mid-Victorian jewelry (1861-1885). From that day until the day of her death, Victoria wore only black clothing and mourning jewelry. The light and airy romantic designs of the early period dramatically transformed into the heavier, bolder, and brighter designs of this later time. Upon the death of the prince, the practice of wearing day jewelry and night jewelry became in vogue.

    It was considered improper to wear glittery jewelry during the day, so daytime jewelry became smaller and more subtle, following a classical trend with stones such as agates, shells, amethyst, and jasper. Colorless faceted gems, such as diamonds, were strictly reserved for nighttime wear. As the period progressed, the use of colored stones declined even further, which had a huge impact on the jewelry industry and almost caused the failure of many designers of that time.

    Victorian jewelry from the final period of Victoria’s reign, the Aesthetic Period (1885-1901), drew influence from the introduction of Darwin’s theory of evolution. This led to a demand for animal motifs in jewelry. Fashions again changed, becoming a celebration of the greater liberation of women. Softer colors and designs became popular, reflecting the greater emphasis on feminine concerns. Of course, new discoveries and new trade lines opened up during this era, and the jewelry and fashion of the day reflects these discoveries. During this period in particular, silver, diamonds, and sapphires grew in availability and popularity.

  • Is the Fish Pendant Amelia Earhart Wore a Symbol of Absolution?

    Photograph by E. F. Foley, 1932 Image Credit: Fine Art America Amelia Earhart, 1932
    Photograph by E. F. Foley, 1932
    Image Credit: Fine Art America

     

    Amelia Earhart sits atop a desk in a lacy white ensemble which embodies her feminine elegance. Her only ornaments are a jeweled belt and a silver fish pendant suspended from a silver chain. This unique piece of jewelry invites deeper exploration--no easy feat considering the famous pilot rarely wore more than a string of pearls and simple gold earrings.

    There is one account of a silver fish pendant, which Amelia presented to her dear friend, Dorothy Binney Putnam, in 1928, after completing her momentous transatlantic flight. Dorothy's pendant is described by her granddaughter, Sally Chapman, in her book, Whistled Like a Bird: "The fish is etched with tiny scales and a flat fin lies against its small side. There is a ring in its mouth that originally held a thin satin purple ribbon. On the reverse side the inscription reads: A.E.--6-18-28--D.B.P." {Chapman, 1997}.

    Ms. Chapman reports that Amelia Earhart chose the fish in honor of a play she saw with the Putnams just prior to her departure on the Friendship. 'The Good Hope' is a tragedy about fishermen and their wives. During a poignant scene, one of the wives, Truus, after speaking of what happens when a fisherman dies at sea, tearfully asserts: "The fish are dearly paid for." Throughout the rest of the play, the other wives pick up this dismal mantra.

    Shortly after presenting the gift to Dorothy, Amelia wrote in her book 20 hrs 40 min that the saying became a sort of motto for the crew aboard the Friendship. Throughout the flight, the inherent risks of living an adventurous life must have weighed heavily upon them. The inscription on the pendant suggests that the aviatrix had first made the motto hers before sharing it with her crew. The same words must have also haunted Dorothy, who most certainly worried that Amelia would drown in a watery grave like the fishermen.

    One must wonder, though, about the ring in the fish's mouth and the purple ribbon. There are some indications in Dorothy Putnam's diaries that she may have shared certain secrets with Amelia just before the pendant was made. For some time, Dorothy had been involved romantically with her son's live-in tutor, George Weymouth. It is possible that Amelia, drawing upon the legendary story of St. Kentigern, offered the fish as a sign of absolution.

    In the legend, an adulteress queen pleads to God for help after her murderess husband seeks to kill her for her indiscretions with a young knight. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the saint saves the woman from death by hooking and gutting a fish who had swallowed a ring.

    Perhaps Amelia wished to assure her friend that she would find no judgment from her. Adding the ribbon in purple, a color dear to the Suffragettes' hearts as a symbol of dignity, would only have driven the point home.

    Although Amelia Earhart would very soon become an adulteress herself, and with none other than Dorothy's husband, it would seem that never an angry moment was shared between the two women. In fact, Ms. Chapman intimates that Dorothy may have welcomed the affair between her friend and her husband as a sure way out of a dead-end marriage.

    As the portrait above implies, Amelia's fondness for the symbolic fish carried over into her wardrobe. Since it does not appear to be exactly as the one described in Ms. Chapman's account, Amelia may have had this one made for herself to remind her of both the perils of adventure and the sanctuary of dear friends who allow for mistakes and offer redemption.

  • Introducing the Triune Victorian Era of Jewelry

    godeys1874 Victorian Fashion
    Photo Source: The Hooded Utilitarian

     

     

    The Victorian Era spans the duration of Queen Victoria’s reign in Great Britain, from 1837 to 1901. The jewelry and fashion industries of this era are divided into three distinct periods, corresponding directly with the three distinct periods that mark Queen Victoria's life. Some refer, rather monotonously, to these periods as Early, Mid-, and Late Victorian, though I like their more descriptive names far better: Romantic, Grand, and Aesthetic.

    The Romantic Period commenced upon Her Majesty’s coronation as queen and came to an abrupt end the year her husband, Prince Albert, died. The Grand Period spanned the years just following Prince Albert’s death, from 1861 until 1885, and the Aesthetic Period overlapped a bit with the beginning of the Edwardian, Arts & Crafts, and Art Nouveau periods. This final period of the Victorian Era came to a close upon the noble Queen's death in 1901.

    It is no secret that Queen Victoria loved bling. As a true romantic, the Romantic Period is lauded for the celebration of family, the popularization of foreign travel, and the uprise of Great Britain as an empire. During this exciting time, she and her husband inspired an entire century of innovation and creativity in jewelry design around the world. Unfortunately, at the tragic loss of her husband, Victoria took a dive into the darkness of death and mourning, taking the jewelry industry with her.

    The Grand Period lasted until the public’s eye turned toward the lovely Princess Alexandra for inspiration in the realm of fashion. The popularity of the Princess coupled with Queen Victoria’s emergence for her Golden Jubilee in 1887 drew a nation out of mourning and brought the jewelry industry with it into the golden age of Aesthetic design. It was this period that ultimately ushered in the most intriguing jewelry movements of all time, Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco.

  • Schlumberger Paillonne Bangle Bracelet Sold at Sotheby's

    18k Gold and Red Enamel 'Paillonne' Bangle Bracelet Image Copyright 2013 Sotheby's 18k Gold and Red Enamel 'Paillonne' Bangle Bracelet
    Image Copyright 2013 Sotheby's

     

    On February 7, 2013, Sotheby's sold this exquisite 18k gold and red enamel paillonne bangle bracelet for $50,000. Signed Tiffany Schlumberger, Made in France, this is one of the more delectable jewels of the late Jean Schlumberger (1907-1987), one of Tiffany & Co.'s most lauded jewelry designers.

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    Mr. Schlumberger and his business partner, Nicolas Bongard, were invited to join the ranks of the prestigious jewelry firm in 1956. They were honored as Vice Presidents and set up with a second-floor studio which was described in the New York Times as "an atmosphere combining boudoir satin and the hush of a boardroom" {2001}. With an endless supply of diamonds and gold at his disposal, Mr. Schlumberger's brilliance was unleashed, his whimsy and excellence a true fit with Tiffany's Art Nouveau heritage.

    Reviving the 19th century enameling technique called paillonne, Mr. Schlumberger created this stunning line of vibrant bangles. Paillonne is best suited for eliciting striking, textured color infused within sophisticated gold work. Frenchman Claudius Popelin wrote in 1886 that the use of gold foil in enameling affords "vivacity and a brilliance of the most splendid effect,' which is most evident in this beautiful bracelet. The complicated enameling process involves painstakingly cutting intricate shapes out of gold foil, placing them just so, and then dipping the whole into translucent colored enamel. This process is repeated up to 60 times for each bracelet.

    Excellence most certainly comes at a high price, which is why these alluring beauties are associated with only the wealthiest and most glamorous of American iconic women. The lucky few included Audrey Hepburn, Diana Vreeland, and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. In fact, Jackie O wore her favorite white enamel Schlumberger bracelet (and others) so frequently that the press began referring to them as 'Jackie bracelets'.

    Tiffany & Co. experienced a revived interest in these designer bangles in 2011, after modern-day glamour queens, Sarah Jessica Parker and Anne Hathaway were seen wearing them. After one glimpse of these breathtaking showstoppers, it is no wonder that Mr. Schlumberger is one of only four designers who earned the privilege of signing his own name on his Tiffany & Co. pieces. He shares this honor with Elsa Peretti, Paloma Picasso, and Frank Gehry.

  • Houston Museum of Natural History Presents 'Gems of the Medici' Exhibition


    'Apollos, Maryas and Olympus,' Carnelian Intaglio Image copyright Naples, National Archaeological Museum. 'Apollos, Marsyas and Olympus,' Carnelian Intaglio
    Image copyright Naples, National Archaeological Museum.

    The 'Seal of Nero' is an intricately carved intaglio made from a dark piece of reddish-orange carnelian. More formally known as Apollos, Marsyas and Olympus, this ancient gem will remain on display in the Houston Museum of Natural Science's 'Gems of the Medici' exhibit until the end of March.

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    This detailed gemstone carving is described as one of Lorenzo de' Medici's six most highly valued gems, and has served as inspiration for more works of art during the Renaissance than any other treasure of antiquity.

    Made in Rome by a gem cutter called Dioskourides at some point during Augustus' reign (27BC - 14AD), the seal features a dramatic scene in the mythological tale of the musical challenge between the god Apollos and the satyr Marsyas. Apollos stands over the bound figure of Marsyas, as Olympus kneels in supplication on behalf of his defeated teacher. As described in the digital archive of the Palazzo Medici Ricardo, "the supple and emphatic figure of Apollo is contrasted with the tense, still body of Marsyas. The dynamism of the tension is further fueled [sic] by the [vain] imploration of Olympus."

    Having passed through many powerful hands since its creation, the carnelian wonder was last purchased by Lorenzo the Magnificent from a merchant in Venice at some point in September of 1487.  Prior to Lorenzo's acquisition, the seal had been mounted in an ornate gold setting featuring a handle in the form of a dragon among ivy leaves. The goldsmith, one Lorenzo Ghiberti, had also engraved the name and titles of Nero into the setting. Paid for in advance, 'il sigillo neroniano' was delivered along with two other cameos which Nero would have paid 300 ducats for if he retained them.

    As was his custom, Lorenzo inscribed his mark of ownership into the upper left corner of the red gem: LAUMED. The gold setting crafted by Ghiberti was lost by the 18th century, and it appears that the intaglio was at one time broken. However, as is true for many pieces of antiquity with such a lauded history, the value of the engraving is in no way diminished by these alterations.

    Set among a "visually stunning" display of paintings, sculptures, and countless more engravings from the grand collection of the 'Lords of Florence', the 'Seal of Nero' can be seen until March 31, 2013, at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences. Admission is $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and children. For more information, click over to the museum's website: http://www.hmns.org/.

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