• Princess Alexandra’s Influence on the Art Nouveau Movement

    Princess Alexandra of Denmark Photo Credit: The Jewelry Blog Princess Alexandra of Denmark
    Photo Credit: The Jewelry Blog

    by Angela Magnotti Andrews

    Princess Alexandra’s fresh approach to life and fashion represented hope to a nation in despair. Victorian England, eager to forsake the heaviness of the previous forty years, began to push toward hope and regeneration. As one would expect, this hunger for change had a direct impact on the jewelry and fashion industry in the late 1800s.

    In every queen’s life there is a moment when the baton begins to shift toward the next generation. The years between 1885 and 1895 were those years in Queen Victoria’s life. In her place arose Princess Alexandra, who served a transitional role in jewelry history that would last nearly 40 years. Just as Princess Diana captured the heart of the world in the late 1900s, so Princess Alexandra captured the heart of the world in the late 1800s.

    She represented the coming of a new age, and her marriage to Edward VII was celebrated wildly and extravagantly in many European countries. In England, her arrival was a mob scene, and it’s safe to say that once she set foot on British soil, the jewelry industry took full advantage of her unique style.

    Though Queen Victoria remained firmly mounted upon her throne until her death in 1901, the jewelry industry made a self-preserving decision to follow Princess Alexandra’s lead in the fashion of those later years of Victoria’s reign. The attempt to influence a new generation toward a renewed sense of fun and interest in fashion paid off, and from this transition emerged the Art Nouveau movement.

    1. S. Hand. "Victorian Jewelry." Old Sacramento Living History Program, 2004 (Revised 2011), 2-4. Accessed May 8, 2012. http://www.oldsacramentolivinghistory.com/research/victorian%20jewelry.pdf.
    2. E. E. P. Tisdall. Alexandra: Edward VII's Unpredictable Queen. Jay Day Co., 1954.


  • Stuart Cathey Stack Rings "Fit Together"

    Cathey Stack Rings

    Jewelry designer Stuart Cathey likes his pieces to fit together, and these three stacking diamond rings fashioned out of 18k white and yellow gold nestle together perfectly to create a bold statement on a finger.

    Mr. Cathey fell in love with jewelry design at the age of thirteen. He immersed himself in the world of gemstones and precious metals, developing an enduring  sense of awe and wonder over their origins within the earth.

    Inspired primarily by industrial design for his concepts, Stuart Cathey often notices the design potential all around him. From the iron gates in Brooklyn to shocking red fire hydrants on street corners to Art Nouveau ornaments on display at MOMA, he never misses an opportunity to appreciate find a way to incorporate their elements into his designs.

    This industrial influence is most apparent in his signature wedge shape, which he uses most often in his rings. Practicing what he calls the 'art of connecting two pieces of metal,' Mr. Cathey uses hidden pins and rivets to unify two separate but related pieces into one whole.

    Currently, the Rhode Island jeweler continues to forge new jewels, particularly wedding and engagement rings which lend themselves perfectly to the two-become-one design concept which so encapsulates his style. He also offers classes in the art and craft of jewelry making at his Providence workshop. For more information, please visit his website at stuartcathey.com.

  • Vintage Celebrity Jewelry: Marjorie Merriweather Post's Stunning Cartier Shoulder Brooch

    Marjorie Merriweather Post, American Socialite, 1942. Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. No copyright restriction known. Source: Wikipedia. Marjorie Merriweather Post, American Socialite, 1942. Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. No copyright restriction known. Source: Wikipedia.

    Marjorie Merriweather Post inherited millions as the only heir to the Post Cereal empire. One of her most exquisite jewels was a shoulder brooch designed and manufactured by Cartier. Featured prominently in this portrait of Marjorie Merriweather Post and her daughter, Nedenia, this Cartier shoulder brooch skillfully wrought in platinum makes a bold statement.

    Suspended from what looks like a buckle, hangs a tiered wonder in platinum, emerald, and diamonds with three tiers of carved emerald cabochons which appear to bleed out of platinum flutes iced with diamonds. The two central stones, one quite a bit larger than the other, are intricately etched with delicate flowers. The complexity of the whole is absolutely dazzling.

    The emerald cabochons are native to India, and though the largest of the stones is inscribed in Farsi with a later date, the remaining six prominent gemstones are said to hail from the 17th-century Mughal Empire. Several smaller round- and caliber-cut emeralds serve as accents throughout the piece, which is completely encrusted in brilliant white diamonds.

    Ms. Post purchased the jewel, which was originally made as a pendant on a string of emeralds, from Cartier London in 1928. Soon after, she commissioned Cartier New York to convert the spectacular pendant to its present state as a brooch.

    Although the jewel appears to take center stage in Mr. Blaas's portrait, it is most fitting for a woman of Ms. Post's caliber to wear such a commanding piece. Having inherited her father's flourishing Postum Cereal Company, which raised her net worth to nearly $250 million, she dedicated her life to supporting various civic and artistic causes.

    She received distinguished recognition for her contributions to the Boy Scouts of America and to the French efforts during World War I. She also donated money to the Soviet Union during World War II, to the National Symphony Orchestra's "Music for Young America" program, and to the Mount Vernon Seminary and Junior College. She organized soup kitchens for those New Yorkers devastated by the Great Depression, and she helped fund the construction of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

    Even upon her death, Ms. Post advanced both the arts and the preservation of world history by donating her estate at Hillwood, including dozens of Faberge eggs, a portion of the Russian Crown Jewels, and many exquisite jewelry pieces made by the top designers of her time, including this Cartier brooch which can be viewed by the public at the Museum in Washington, D.C.

    For information on museum hours and admission, please visit Hillwod's website: http://www.hillwoodmuseum.org/about-hillwood.

  • Men's Jewelry in the Georgian Era

    Lover's Eye Locket Photo Credit: Paris Atelier (Blog) Lover's Eye Locket
    Photo Credit: Paris Atelier (Blog)

    by Angela Magnotti Andrews

    The subject of men's jewelry during the Georgian Period has been a little bit tough to research. It’s clear that women’s fashion and adornment is far more important to the masses than men’s fashion. Fortunately, I did find a few resources to help shed light on men’s fashion during the reign of King George III.

    In the beginning of this period, embroidery and lace were the most common adornment on men’s clothing. However, toward the end of this era, the embroidery and lace were reserved solely for the highly elaborate outfits worn to court and public appearance.

    Several wars waged during this period, which lent sentimentality to the jewelry of that day. In addition to the buttons and adornments on their clothing, men may have worn rings or tiny portraits of deceased loved ones (mourning jewelry). Some may have carried secret lockets or lover’s eye lockets, but these would have been hidden out of sight in most cases.

    Lover’s eye lockets bore inside a painting of a loved one’s eye and a wisp of their hair draped across the forehead. Popular motifs of that day included the Greek key, wheat, plumage, phoenix, urns, cameos, intaglios (recessed engraving), mosaics, and acorns {Georgian Index, 2001}.

    1. "Old Trends and New Designers." Eras of Elegance, accessed May 8, 2012. http://www.erasofelegance.com/fashion/history.html.
    2. "Georgian Jewelry." Georgian Index, accessed May 8, 2012. http://www.georgianindex.net/jewelry/gjewelry.html.
    3. S. Hand. "Victorian Jewelry: Personal Adornment from the Age of Romance to the Age of Aesthetics." Old Sacramento Living History Program (2004): 9-11, last modified 2011. http://www.oldsacramentolivinghistory.com/research/victorian%20jewelry.pdf.

  • Masterful Arthur King Necklace Sold by Bonham's is Representative of King's Bold and Fluid Designs

    Opal Pendant with Rubies and Diamonds. The gold work on this piece is reminiscent of Arthur King's extravagant pieces. Photo © EraGem* Photo © EraGem*

    A masterful Arthur King necklace, very similar to this bracelet, sold in Bonham's London auction on February 13, 2013. Featuring a string of baroque cultured pearls encased in golden tendrils, this show-stopper represents several signature characteristics of Arthur King's mid-century avant-garde jewelry style.

    The 1950s and 1960s represented a return to organic forms with an increased emphasis on modern art jewelry featuring amorphous shapes with textured metals and free-form use of gemstones. At a time when creative genius in jewelry design reached an all-time high, Arthur King carved out his own signature style among such jewelry greats as Paloma Picasso, Salvador Dali, and Georges Braque.

    His incorporation of raw crystal gemstones ensconced in magnificent gold work resembling living roots appealed to such high-society women as Barbara Hutton, US Ambassador Claire Booth Luce, and Mrs. Mary Hemingway (wife of literary giant, Ernest Hemingway). Crossing the boundaries of gender, Mr. King's bold and fluid designs also appealed to such lauded men as Prince Igor Troubetzkoy and US Naval Commodore James Biddle.

    Arthur King drew inspiration from the natural form of the gemstones he used in his pieces, allowing the stones to determine the lines and form of the gold work around them. Each of his pieces exudes originality, elegance, and masterful art. Writing in 1975, a reporter for the Nevada Daily Mail described Mr. King as a "modern-day King Midas," crediting him with artfully sculpting jewelry rather than merely designing it. It appears that his avant-garde approaches mirrored his eclectic taste.

    The writer's descriptions of the designer's New York atelier shed light on his character and personality: "Gathered from travels all over the world, Arthur King's personal collections include such exotica fragments of antiquity such as ancient locks and keys from old monasteries, 17th-century surgical instruments, wooden hands to ward off vampires and a 30,000-year-old mastodon's tooth....His New York shop is a jewelry lover's delight and he is a talented, creative and delightful man."

    Though Mr. King established jewelry shops in 18 locations worldwide, including Miami, Paris, Havana, and London, his jewelry remains fairly rare, making them items of intrigue when they come to market.

    *More About Photo: This intriguing opal pendant, fashioned in a natural motif, is accented with natural rubies and diamonds and is crafted of solid 14k yellow gold. The intricate gold work on this piece is reminiscent of Arthur King's extravagant pieces.
  • Cameos and Intaglios in the Victorian Era

    Victorian Style Cameos Photo Source: Blooming Vine's Design Blog Victorian Style Cameos
    Photo Source: Blooming Vine's Design Blog

    by Angela Magnotti Andrews

    I love statues, carvings, and all things beautiful and tiny. This makes cameos some of my favorite forms of jewelry. Though I am most familiar with what Anna Miller calls the "vapid females,” I have learned that cameo carving is an intricate and ancient tradition (Miller, Cameos, 1).

    Believed to be culture-in-art at its finest, the first cameos were used as tokens of historical events, teaching tools for ethics and morals, talismans to ward off evil spirits, and amulets to enhance health (Miller, Cameos, 1). Throughout the Victorian Era, the memorial and historical nature of cameos fit nicely within the romantic idealism of that time.

    The use of cameos in necklaces, earrings, bracelets, brooches, and rings is one of the most prolific jewelry motifs used throughout the Victorian Era. The first cameos were carved into precious stones; however, around 1810, artisans began to carve cameos out of seashells. Not only was shell easier to sculpt, but designers also began to layer gemstones beneath or on top of the shell to create a new layering effect.

    Freind (ship) Intaglio Photo Source: Jean Jean Vintage Blog Freind (ship) Intaglio
    Photo Source: Jean Jean Vintage Blog

    Cameo carving has a twin technique, intaglio (in-tal-y-o), in which the design is etched into the stone. Both styles date as far back as ancient Roman civilization, though the intaglio design was used more prominently in ancient civilizations as official seals. When designed as rings, these intaglio rings could be worn by merchants, kings, and other authorities. Wearing the seals offered further protection from theft.

    With the signet ring of a merchant, you could buy or sell wares. With the signet ring of a landowner, you could collect rent or assign property rights. And with the signet ring of a king, you could dispatch an army or call for a sumptuous feast.

    Though the advent of the personal signature and modern-day stamps have eliminated the requirement for signet rings, many monarchs and prestigious families still have personal signet rings with family crests or their initials engraved in them. I have yet to find out if they actually use them to seal important documents. If you find a link with this information, please leave me a comment so I can check it out and update this post.

    1. Anna M. Miller. Cameos: Old & New, 3rd Edition. Woodstock: Gemstone Press, 2002.
    2. Monica Lynn Clements. "Victorian Cameos." New England Antiques Journal, accessed May 8, 2012. http://www.antiquesjournal.com/pages04/archives/cameos.html.
    3. J. E. Cornett. "What is Intaglio Jewelry." eHow, last modified February 3, 2012. http://www.ehow.com/about_6217549_intaglio-jewelry_.html.
    4. Fredrik Brodin. "Seals and the signet ring." The Armorial Blog, December 15, 2011. Accessed May 8, 2012. http://armorialblog.wordpress.com/2011/12/15/seals-and-the-signet-ring.
    5. Duff. "Victorians Just Wanna Have Fun." Jean Jean Vintage, January 31, 2011. http://jeanjeanvintage.blogspot.com/2011/01/victorians-just-wanna-have-fun.html.

  • Olaf Skoogfors Brooch on Display at MAD's Current Jewelry Exhibition 'Wear it or Not'

    Photo John Bigelow Taylor, 2008 Photo Credit: MAD Photo John Bigelow Taylor, 2008
    Photo Credit: MAD

    A brand new jewelry exhibition, 'Wear it or Not', opened just a few days ago at New York's Museum of Arts and Design (MAD). The show will run fairly briefly, closing on June 2, 2013. Featuring jewelry from the 1950s to present day, the exhibition explores the techniques and materials chosen by contemporary jewelry designers to infuse their pieces with "conceptual, social and political resonance" {cited}.

    The brooch pictured here is part of the museum's permanent collection and will be on exhibit in the show. Made in 1975 by professor and artist Olaf Skoogfors, it is a prime example of MAD's aim to explore jewelry as an art form, and not as mere decoration.

    Constructed by Professor Skoogfors out of sterling silver and gold plate, this contemporary brooch is a prime example of the artist's later work. In 1972, just three years prior to making this piece, the renowned jewelry designer expressed a shift toward barbaric, primitive, and peasant design as inspiration for his pieces.

    In speaking of his interest in the strength and vitality of such archaic designs, Professor Skoogfors captured not only his own philosophy of jewelry design, but also the very essence of MAD's current jewelry exhibition: "I believe jewelry must be wearable, but have a strong, forceful image. It should not just be casual decoration, but a reflection of the creator and the wearer." {Olaf Skoogfors, 1972}

    The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, and general admission of $15 grants access to all permanent exhibitions as well as to 'Wear it or Not.'

    For more information, including hours, tours, and more, visit MAD's webiste.

  • The Illustrious Ilias Lalaounis


    Lalounis Butterfly Brooch


    Ilias Lalaounis brushed 18k gold to form the wings of what appears to be a brimstone butterfly. Polished gold wires accentuate the intricate veins of the wings. On the back, the makers' mark establishes this estate designer brooch as a part of the illustrious jewelry house of Ilias Lalaounis.

    The lauded Greek jeweler dedicated his life to reviving ancient Greek  goldsmith practices at a time when his contemporaries thought him a complete fool. Beginning in the 1990s, his four daughters picked up the baton and continue to carry the legacy he left them to even higher levels in business, craftsmanship, and design. The name Lalaounis is intrinsically linked to excellence in craftsmanship and represents more than mere luxury or beauty.

    In his stunning book, Metamorphoses, Mr. Lalaounis wrote that as he designs his pieces, he endows each one with greater significance than just decoration: "Beyond its decorative function, beyond its intrinsic aesthetic value, I believe that each jewel should at the same time carry a message," for one day that artfully designed piece of gold will be "grafted onto the life of the individual...who wears it," and will thereby become an intrinsic part of that person's story.

    This elegant butterfly pin was made in the 1990s as part of Katerini Lalaounis's "Pastorale" collection. Handcrafted with passionate artistry and excellent craftsmanship in a Lalaounis workshop, its very creation endowed it with a message, perhaps the message of the butterfly--that all things will one day be transformed into glorious beauty and freedom.

    This estate designer brooch, made with care for that person who would one day take it home and allow it to become more to them than mere ornamentation, already holds the memories of a lifetime. How wonderful it would be to learn some of its secrets, to witness the luncheons, the business meetings, or the soccer games it has seen while perched upon the lapel of its beautiful owner.

    Alas, like the walls of a home, jewelry holds tightly to its secrets. While we may not be able to coax its stories from it, we can be sure that has room for many more.

  • Verdura Swan Brooch (1948) May Represent the Three Graces of Greek Mythology

    Verdura Swan Brooch Made for Barbara 'Babe' Paley in 1948 Photo credit: The Philosopher's Stone Verdura Swan Brooch
    Made for Barbara 'Babe' Paley in 1948
    Photo credit: The Philosopher's Stone


    A golden swan fashioned by Verdura flies through the air carrying a large faceted diamond in its beak. Diamonds pave its collar, and its large body, made from a single Baroque pearl, appears to have been etched with tail feathers. Draped across its broad chest lies a diamond necklace, and it wears two diamond bands around its onyx ankles.


    Verdura + His Three Swans

    One of three jeweled swan pins made by Duke Fulco di Verdura, this stunning vintage brooch was fashioned in 1948 for society maven Barbara 'Babe' Paley. Though the legendary jeweler made several variations on this theme of swans, he made this one first.

    Two other followed, which he gave to Ms. Paley's contemporaries, Fiat's first lady, Dona Marella Agnelli, and the "statuesque Mexican beauty" {cited}, Mrs. Gloria Guinness.


    Renaissance Symbolism

    A representative at Verdura confirmed that the masterful jeweler would have drawn heavily from Renaissance symbolism for his design of the swan brooches. Although any conclusions made by this writer are estimations at best (speculations at worst), a brief study of Renaissance imagery and literature allows for the possibility that Signor Verdura endowed these swans, and therefore the three powerful women he gifted them to, with eloquent meaning drawn from Greek mythology.

    Lauded by Elsa Maxwell, famous international hostess and gossip columnist, as someone who would "guarantee the 'most perfect party imaginable'" {cited}, Duke Fulco di Verdura was well versed in Renaissance and Romantic literature, art, and culture. He kept numerous volumes on the art and literature of those historic periods in his library, which served as reference for both work and pleasure.

    Drawing from this rich cultural epoch, Signor Verdura enjoyed playing with references and weaving double meanings and rich symbolism into his jewelry and his conversation. His use of the Baroque pearl in this brooch serves as further evidence for his inspiration from Renaissance Italy. Signor Verdura crafted many whimsical animals out of these asymmetrical cultured pearls, likely inspired by the Baroque jewelry viewed in the European museums he visited in his younger years.


    Queens of Song

    In her 1996 text, The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Barbara Walker proposes that swans symbolize the Greek Muses, attendants to Apollo, god of music and poetry. A simple conclusion that the swan brooches were symbolic of the designer's affections for these women who served as muses might be made. However, another far richer symbolism may surround these unique creations.

    For wherever the Muses went, so went the Three Graces (Thalia, Euphrosyne, and Aglaia) , those patronesses of the arts who reigned as "queens of song and orderers of the festivals in heaven and on earth" {The Spenser Encyclopedia}. In some texts, it is inferred that swans represents not only the Muses, but also the Three Graces.

    Writing in England in the 1500s, poet Edmund Spenser, whose work Signor Verduri would have been familiar with, referred frequently to the service of Three Graces  to those "earthly ladies of great beauty or position" {The Spenser Encyclopedia}. Another story involving the three sisters is the epic Greek narrative Of the Judgement of Paris, which became very popular among the social elite in the early 1950s. In fact, it's quite possible that these works of antiquity became popular because the Duke regaled his social equals of the mythological tales at their splendid parties. Most certainly, he would have shared these details during one of his collaborative design sessions with his clients, including Babe Paley.


    Orderers of Feasts and Parties

    In one version of the legendary story, the Three Graces promise to confer their inherent virtues onto England's Queen Anne. Sister Thalia offers the Queen "contynuall success" or "ryches", Euphrosyne bestows "hartie gladnes" or "felicitie", and Aglaia grants "stable honour" or "wysdome" {Empire and Nation in Early English Renaissance Literature}. 

    It is no great leap to consider that hidden within these swan brooches was Signor Verdura's hope that the Three Graces would bestow these same gifts upon three of his favorite society women, women who in their day were the reigning "orderers" of splendid feasts and parties on earth.

  • Mauboussin Hummingbird Brooch Sold at Christie's Likely Made Between 1947 and 1967

    Gemstone Bird Pendant a similar motif as Mauboussin This gorgeous gemstone encrusted pendant shares similarities with the Mauboussin bird pendant sold at Christie's. Click here for more information. Photo ©2018 EraGem Jewelry.


    A lovely enamel brooch hummingbird sold for $2405 at Christie's this past January. Featuring a cabochon sapphire and diamond eye, the stylized bird clip was made at an unrecorded time by the jewelers at Mauboussin. As is well known, trends in jewelry come and go much like the ebb and flow of the tides. Christie's did not provide a date for the piece, which presents an intriguing mystery for any avid jewelry collector.

    Hummingbirds were most certainly in vogue during the 1870s, a time in which the French jewelry firm was enjoying grand success. However, it was far more popular at that time to fashion these ornaments out of real hummingbird heads and feathers. While this practice abated by the 1890s, jeweled birds remained wildly popular during the Art Nouveau period, particularly the grand peacock.

    Once again, though, it does not appear that this hummingbird brooch was made at the turn of the century. For one thing, the tiny jeweled creatures were a passing fancy and not a real trend of the period. More importantly, this particular brooch, though highly stylized, has none of the artsy characteristics of Art Nouveau jewelry.

    Heading into World War I, the fashion tides changed once again. Out swept the natural motifs of France's "New Art," and in flowed the architectural lines patterned after the modern mechanical wonders, the steam engine, the airplane, and the automobiles. The jewelry firm, founded by M. Rocher, weathered the transition well, now with Georges Mauboussin at the helm.

    As Primavera Gallery reports, Mauboussin won Grand Prize at the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs in Paris in 1925 for their jewels, "which boasted legibility of design, clear bold lines and a proclivity towards geometric patterns." Clearly, this hummingbird design does not find its origins in the Art Deco period, which lasted through the 1930s.

    By turning to Mauboussin's ad campaigns in the 1940s and 1950s, one can finally see where this little birdie might have made its debut. Thanks to the Paris firm, HPrints, there exists a limited record of Mauboussin's design trends throughout this vintage period. The ads of the early '40s feature hints of the bird beauties to come, with brooches and earrings increasingly featuring the classic feather tips and jeweled plumes indicative of the emerging naturalist themes. Butterflies make their debut in a photo shoot by Edgar Elshoud, a prominent ad photographer in the 1940s. In addition to Moaboussin, his clients included the likes of Cartier and Boucheron, as well as many famous couturiers.

    A brooch featuring two whimsically plump birds perched upon a branch rounds out a 1945 spread for Mauboussin accessories, and the first stylized 'bird of paradise' appears in a 1947 ad spotlighting the design talent of Rene Sim Lecaze. In 1948, we see the first sign of the peacock's influence on Mauboussin's designs. An ad illustrated by S. Markovitch features a magnificent necklace. Its expertly placed emerald and ruby cabochons evoke images of the tail feathers of a peacock in repose. It is absolutely breathtaking in its execution and its evocation.

    The bird motif became increasingly popular as the 1940s gave way to the 1950s. During this time, all the major houses were making sculpted birds in gold and precious stones. This ad, dated 1947, features examples from France's top four jewelers, including Cartier, Mauboussin, Boucheron, and Van Cleef & Arpels. A similar ad taken out in 1959 features a comparable layout featuring stylized bird clips made exclusively by Mauboussin.

    The bird motif seems to be ebbing by the 1960s. However, what appear to be catalog pages from 1964 and 1967 feature several whimsical bird pieces that bear some resemblance to the lines of this hummingbird brooch sold recently by Christie's. Though none of these advertisements definitively place the hummingbird on Mauboussin's timeline, it is safe to estimate that it was created sometime between 1947 and 1967.

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