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Art Nouveau

Contemporaneous with the “Belle Époque,” or “beautiful era” in France at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the Art Nouveau movement was one of the first departures from classical art and design, towards a new modernism. Influenced by the work of English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley and the architectural work of Antoni Gaudí among others, Art Nouveau designers believed that all the arts should work in harmony to create a “total work of art,” or Gesamtkunstwerk: buildings, furniture, textiles, clothes, and jewellery all went together to make up the Art Nouveau style.

 

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Antoni Gaudí’s architecture was at an influence in the Art Nouveau movement

 

 

Exotic floral motifs with animals, birds, butterflies, peacock feathers, insects, and plants were incorporated with feminine imagery or fairies, mermaids and nymphs, complete with long flowing sinuous hair. Some of the floral motifs that were used in the Art Nouveau style were influenced by the English artist William Morris’ ‘Arts and Crafts Movement’ of the late Victorian era.

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Typical Art Nouveau themes including peacocks, and feminine forms could be found in architecture and decorative design of the era.

Typical Art Nouveau themes including peacocks, and feminine forms could be found in architecture and decorative design of the era.

 

Jewellery of the Art Nouveau period with nature and feminine fluidity as their principal source of inspiration, revitalised the ‘art’ of jewellery, they were complemented by new levels of technical accomplishment in techniques such as enamelling, and the introduction of new materials, such as opals and semi-precious stones, wonderfully demonstrated in the work of René Lalique who was synonymous with the Art Nouveau aesthetic.

 

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Peacock Lady brooch, Lalique, circa 1898

 

 

Although a short period of no more than 20 years, Art Nouveau is considered by many to be one of the most important styles. For the previous two centuries the emphasis in fine jewellery had been on gemstones, particularly diamonds, and the jeweller or goldsmith’s main aim was to provide settings to best show them off. In the jewellery of the Art Nouveau period, imagination, design, art and beauty were at the forefront, resulting in original distinctive work which invokes the era, even now.

Employing what was to become known as the “garland” style, jewellers who chose not to embrace Art Nouveau borrowed the fluidity of their lines and incorporated them into more traditional motifs thereby creating Edwardian jewellery.

WW1 hearelded the end of the Art Nouveau movement – the world was a different place. The elegance and sensuality of the Art Nouveau style was replaced by more rational minimalist styles such as Art Deco.

 

 

What’s in a name…

A while ago we featured a post about the history of “costume” jewellery, as promised we will now feature a few of the “names” from the costume jewellery era of the 20th century. There has been an upsurge of interest in all things Vintage in the last few years and jewellery is no exception. Much of the jewellery created during this period were of good production quality and design and have survived the test of time to become a big collectors area, they represent a slice of period life at a relatively affordable price when compared to jewels made from precious metals.

Signed jewellery are the most sort after examples of costume jewellery, as they can be researched and often dated to within a few years as a result of the marks displayed, prices depend on the name, dates, rarity, and materials used. Below we will look at just a few of the many collectable costume jewellery manufacturers.

Trifari

A highly successful and probably the best known costume jewellery designer whose pieces are still highly collectable today, they have designed jewellery that have been worn by countless high profile figures from Mamie Eisenhower to Madonna.

Gustavo Trifari was born in Naples in 1883, he trained as a goldsmith under his grandfather. He emigrated from Italy to New York and worked with his uncle making costume jewellery. In 1910 they set up Trifari & Trifari, but Gustavo went on to set up his own company Trifari in 1912.

The success of Trifari, and the reason for its collectability today, is often credited to the French designer Alfred Philippe, the company’s chief designer from 1930 until 1968. His use of invisible settings for stones, which he originally developed for Van clef and Arpels, added a level of craftsmanship and technique that had not previously been seen in costume jewellery.

Amongst Philippe’s many designs were the Trifari crown pins from the late 1930s to 1950s. The crowns were so popular that Trifari started to use a crown in its mark in about 1937. Authentic Trifari jewellery is typically marked with ‘jewels by Triafai’, ‘TKF’  (for Trifari, Krussman & Fishel) or ‘Trifari’ depending when it was made. Pieces made after 1952 bear the copyright symbol, as this is when the US government allowed jewellery designs to be protected by copyright.

Trifari Jelly Belly pins of seals, poodles, roosters, and other animal’s ‘belly’ consists of a solid Lucite ‘pearl’ with settings of sterling silver or gold plate. Jelly Belly’s are highly collectable and command a high price especially poodles – which are rare.

The company was sold to the Hallmark Corporation in 1975 and subsequently to Liz Claiborne Inc. in 2000.

Below is a Trifari brooch, with the visible mark – made after the copyright symbol was added in 1952.

 

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Lisner


Only recently have vintage Lisner pieces become appreciated and collectable, they still have relatively low prices and the company’s cheaply made plastic leaves and baubles have a beauty of their own.

For nearly 30 years after it was founded in 1904, Lisner imported and sold Elsa Schiaparelli’s Parisian jewellery in the United States. In the 1930s the company finally started selling its own designs that employed Dupont’s new coloured acrylic plastic called Lucite, as well as clear and coloured rhinestones, chrome, plated and black japanned metal. The pieces produced were not of the calibre of some other designers but they reflected the design trends led by the high-end brands.

The company used “Lisner” mark in block capitals on its own pieces for the first time in 1935. In 1938 the “Lisner” mark in script was introduced. From 1959, “Lisner” in block capitals with an elongated “L”, was used. However some dies and molds were used later so the mark is not always a reliable indicator of the date in this case. The company ended production in 1979.

Below is an example of a necklace and earrings set, the marks visible including block lettering and the copyright symbol.

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Coro & Corocraft

Coro, a partnership between Emanuel Cohn (the “Co”) and Gerald Rosenberg (the “ro”) began producing jewellery in New York in 1901 and continued through to the 1970s under the marks of Coro, Coro Craft (later Corocraft) and Vendome, amongst others. Although Vendome was the high end line, today some of the most collectable examples are Coro pieces.

The reason for much of its success was due to Adolph Katz, who became design director in 1924, and Gene Verri, who designed for Coro from 1933 until 1963.

Amongst the most collectable vintage Coro pieces today are the Coro Duettes from 1931 to the 1950s. The Duettes utilized a frame based on one designed by Cartier in 1927. Like the Cartier frame the Coro version had two openings in it, one for each pin which could be attached to the frame and worn together or separately.

Corocraft was the next step up in quality and price from Coro, under this brand they produced a line of Jelly Belly pins, that were similar to the those made by Trifari right down to the Lucite “belly”. Were Coro used metal frames Corocraft pins and bracelets were often made in sterling silver or gold plating. Vendome, was introduced in 1944 and replaced Corocraft in 1953 as the top of the Coro line.

The company ceased trading in the US in 1979, but Coro Inc. Continued production in Canada until the mid-1990s.

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Monet

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Monocraft as it began, now known as Monet, was founded by brothers Jay and Michael Chernow , in 1929 in Providence, Rhode Island. The company started making metal monograms and then Art Deco style purse adornments progressing onto making costume jewellery after the Chernows hired designer Edmond Mario Granville in 1934. Edmond had a background in fine jewellery from working at Cartier. He remained sole designer until the late 1950s and was executive designer until his death in 1969. Producing simple gold and silver-tone designs, they developed a friction ear clip which made its earrings more comfortable to wear. From 1981, Monet produced jewellery for Yves Saint Laurent. It has continued to adapt to trends and changing fashions and remains successful to the present day.

Today, Monet is particularly prized by collectors for its quality, thanks to its triple-plating. It is not unusual for Monet pieces to last for decades without showing signs of wear to the finish, and as most of the jewellery is name marked, they will continue to be collectable.

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So if you want to start buying vintage costume jewellery there are specialists shops and online stores, but I find it’s more fun having a look around markets and car boot fairs, where you can often find quality pieces at affordable prices. As with most things there are some fakes of the big names around, so beware, but if you buy what you like and at an affordable price, maybe you will end up with a fascinating piece of jewellery that could last another 60 years or more!

Cameos

We’ve all seen cameos (or similar) on the high street, and they’re thought of as pretty old fashioned now, but the original cameo is a real work of art so we thought you should know a bit about it!

The art of carving and engraving gemstones is called the glyphic art, a glyph being a channel or groove.  There are actually two types of ‘cameo,’ where designs are incised into the stone they are called intaglio, where the image appears in relief this is a cameo.

The earliest gemstone carving was in intaglio, and the design is carved in the negative below the flattened or domed surface of the gemstone.  This allowed the gem to be pressed into clay or sealing wax where it would leave a mirror image of the design in relief.  Engraved signet stones can be traced back to the Sumerian period in Mesopotamia and even to around 5000 BC in some parts of Asia.

 

2nd - 3rd Century Roman Gold Intaglio Ring - copyright of Trustees of the British Museum

2nd – 3rd Century Roman Gold Intaglio Ring – copyright of Trustees of the British Museum

 

In cameos the design is created by cutting away around the image and leaving the image in relief, and this type of carving did not begin until the late Hellenistic Greek period, when gemstone carving came to be appreciated for its artistic and ornamental value, rather than for the functional aspect of an intaglio seal.

Traditionally cameos feature a white figure on a dark background.  Greek cameos were often made of banded agate or sardonyx carved with the coloured layers of the stone running horizontal to the visible upper plane.  This meant that up to four levels of carving, each in a different colour, could be seen, such as in the cameo below.

 

The coloured layers are visible in this cameo carving

The coloured layers are visible in this cameo carving

 

In addition to agate or sardonyx practically all stones have been used for engraving.  Rare and expensive rubies, sapphires and emeralds have been fashioned into cameos in the past, although they are usually only small simple designs due to the hardness of these gems which make them difficult to carve.  Usually these rare and precious gems will feature in a Roman ring or occasionally in a simple 18th century gold setting.  In the late 19th century citrine and amethyst began to appear as carved gems in brooches, and then opals which are sometimes found in both rings and brooches.  Organic materials such as coral, ivory and jet became extensively used in the 18th and 19th centuries which were much cheaper and more widely available, although shell carving in jewellery has been around since the 16th century.

 

c. 1850 Diana at the hunt

c. 1850 Diana at the hunt

By the end of the 19th century the fashion for cameos had dwindled, there are 20th century cameos often set in nine carat gold or silver with marcasite highlights, more recently, in the 1930s to 1950s, glass, plastic and composite were used to produce cheaper varieties of cameo.  The lack of interest in the cameo means it is not a highly marketable piece and the modern day versions of these stunning carvings lack the charm and detail of earlier pieces, often on the mass production market.  However there are some good buys to be had both of vintage originals, and more unusual takes on the cameo idea, such at these resin brooches from the Maria Allen Boutique. and these cameo inspired rings by Hart and Bloom.

 

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From Egypt to Hollywood, the evolution of costume jewellery

The term ‘costume jewellery’ was initially used in the early 20th century to describe imitation jewels and gems that fashion designers would create to complement their clothes, hence costume jewellery.

They were made from inexpensive materials such as glass, base metals and plastic. Although thought of a modern invention due to their mass production, this type of inexpensive jewellery can be traced back through to ancient times, from the Egyptians, through the middle ages, and medieval times.

In the early 18th century there was a greater prosperity within the middle classes who wanted to dress to impress, diamonds were, however, extremely expensive and relatively scarce.  The solution was a new glass imitation – paste. This hard brilliant glass could be cut and polished to produce ‘gems’ with a convincing sparkle. The most stylish pieces were bold and extravagant, some jewels were spring mounted and swayed when you moved. Examples of which can be found in the jewel room at the V&A quivering as you walk past!

1950s paste & faux pearl necklace

1950s paste & faux pearl necklace

 

Around 1720 ‘Pinchbeck’ (named after Christopher Pinchbeck) came into being an alloy of copper and zinc that successfully mimicked gold, and retained its colour without tarnish, it could also be worked and decorated in the same way as gold. The formula was widely imitated by other manufacturers and it remained popular until it gradually became replaced by rolled gold and other gilt metals.

These early discoveries led onto other technological advances and over the centuries a number of jewellery styles emerged which embraced the costume jewellery ethos. Unlike much of the costume jewellery available today these pieces were exquisitely made by highly skilled craftsmen.  They were often quality pieces which despite their intrinsic value stood the test of time and are still valuable and fashionable today!

When the United States entered World War II, base metals such as brass were rationed which led many of these costume jewellery manufacturers to start using sterling silver in their ranges.  An example of this is below in this 1940s brooch and earring set by American brand VanDell.

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In the 1940s and 1950s Hollywood glamour came to town and a number of costume jewellery brands began making mass market statement pieces, early examples often imitating precious Art Deco jewels, this heralded the era of the ‘cocktail style’ and we still use the term ‘cocktail ring’ to describe a big, bold, bling ring; usually inexpensively made.

 

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A number of jewellery manufacturers from this era are now highly collectable names in the vintage jewellery market, and we will look at a few of these designers in a future post…

 

 

 

 

All the fun of the fair

The Masterpiece Fair, London, is the pinnacle of the summer art and antiques fair calendar.  Set in the South Grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea; collectors, curators and designers have flocked to this event due to the astonishing diversity of material covering 3,000 years!

The range of art, antiques and design works are not only vast, but expensive, so it’s not surprising then to see a few famous faces along the way!  The most valuable sale to date belongs to Jewellers Symbolic & Chase who sold a 1912 Cartier corsage for in excess of $20 million.

Jewellery was well represented at this years fair, from the ancient to the very modern, I have to confess to getting diamond blindness after two hours, it’s true – you can have too much of a good thing!

Here are a few picks from the fair that caught my eye. At the Wartksi stand, who specialise in the finest period jewellery.  I was drawn to this ‘little’ beauty, proudly housed in its own cabinet.

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It’s a diamond and aquamarine necklace mounted in platinum by Russian born and New York based, Olga Tritt, she was asked by the Brazilian government to create a collection of pieces set with the finest examples of semi-precious stones from its mines, for presentation at the 1939 Worlds Fair in New York.  Over 70 years on it’s still stunning!

 

At the Chatila stand this spectacular opal neck-piece and earrings stole the show for me, the stones were amazing in their quality and depth of colour.

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Each stand was like a mini work of art in themselves, none more so than at Theo Fennell, I didn’t expect to look for long here as I’m familiar with the work of this modern day jeweller, but I was intrigued and drawn to the highly conceptual displays in their cabinets.  Each cabinet contained a different scene, ranging from a forest to a haunting underground tomb!  Of course there was the Emerald City ring (which we featured a short time ago on Facebook) wonderfully displayed on the yellow brick road to Oz!

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Complete with it’s own yellow brick road and accompanying characters!

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Unique…slightly unnerving…

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I wish my walks in the wood led to discoveries like this!

 

All in all I had a great time looking at the jewellery I could only dream of having, although I did need a long sit down after working my way around this huge fair, trying to dodge pass the champagne filled parties along the way!