Holy Moley: 18th Century Patch Boxes

… leather, or taffeta, patches became popular face and body accessories beginning in the 16 th century. They came in a range of shapes, including geometric forms, stars, and different phases of the moon.  Some were even more whimsical, like the shapes of animals and insects. One theory behind the trend is a superstition of moles and their placement, which were admired as marks of beauty.

Donned by both women and men, patches served to accentuate the whiteness of one’s skin and to …

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Tags: 18th century Fashion History French

18th Century Goldsmith Work: Snuff Boxes

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Snuff taking was exceedingly fashionable throughout the 18th century in Europe.  Therefore, snuff boxes and snuff taking accessories of all types and quality were produced – ranging from Sheffield plate boxes, to sterling silver boxes to gold boxes with gem stones and enamel miniatures, in each country’s own decorative tastes, and reflecting the period’s styles (Louis XV or Louis XVI for example).

The more common boxes were usually rectangular in shape. Materials such as tortoise shell or horn were used to line the inside.  Some boxes utilized many different colors of gold to create a landscape.  Snuff is a fine powder, and hinges had to be extremely well made so as to store the substance properly in the owner’s pocket.  The hinges were often incorporated into the overall design of the boxes and are hard to detect.

Mid-Century (1950 – 1960)

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With mid-century jewelry, the use of platinum was prevalent once again. Designs were often abstract free-form designs using a combination of yellow gold and platinum. Pieces were often pavéd with small diamonds covering much of the piece. This was the period in which Schlumberger was producing his finest pieces for Tiffany & Co.

Mid-century Sapphire and Diamond Floral Clip Earrings

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Mid-century sapphire and diamond floral clip earrings, set in platinum.

English, ca. 1950.
Length: 1 inch

$14,000

These are available for purchase in the ALVR shop.

These earrings appear in our clip on earrings video on our videos page.

Art Deco Sapphire and Diamond Floral Clip EarringsArt Deco Sapphire and Diamond Floral Clip Earrings

Mid-century Sapphire and Diamond Floral Clip Earrings

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Mid-century sapphire and diamond floral clip earrings, set in platinum.

English, ca. 1950
Length: 1 inch

$14,000

These earrings appear in our clip on earrings video on our videos page.

Art Deco Sapphire and Diamond Floral Clip EarringsArt Deco Sapphire and Diamond Floral Clip Earrings

Nineteenth Century Gold and Mosaic Seal

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Gold seal with four profiles against blue mosaic ground and owl on top.

Italian, nineteenth century
Height: 1 3/4 inches (including bail)

$4,500

Nineteenth Century Gold and Mosaic SealNineteenth Century Gold and Mosaic SealNineteenth Century Gold and Mosaic Seal

Mid-Century Sapphire and Diamond Ring

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Natural 8.75 carat Ceylon sapphire ring set in platinum with lunette diamond shoulders.

English, ca. 1950
(diamonds approx. 1.5 cts)

other view, Mid-Century Sapphire and Diamond Ringback view, Mid-Century Sapphire and Diamond Ring

A Thimbleful of History

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collection of thimbles

Antique thimbles are trinkets most often of precious materials, as beautiful as they are functional, imbued with both sentimental and intrinsic value. While they originated as sewing implements, over the centuries their decorative features evolved to complement their new functions as fashionable gifts, status symbols, and tokens of affection.

In the preindustrial era, the significant amount of domestic sewing made thimbles and other sewing implements common household possessions. Over time, they became increasingly valuable. For example, by the sixteenth-century, silver thimbles were listed in wills and other legal documents.

In this period, decorative thimbles became fashionable gifts, a trend believed to be set by Elizabeth I of England (1558-1603) when she gave a gem-set thimble to a lady-in-waiting. For centuries it was customary to include thimbles and other sewing tools in a bride’s trousseau, a tradition that carried into the nineteenth-century. Thimbles given by a lady’s fiancé usually featured inscriptions like ‘A token of regard’ or ‘Forget-me-not.’

Gold and Enamel Thimble

Gold Directoire period French thimble with black and white enamel border.

As thimbles became more valuable, they became more decorative. In the fourteenth-century, French goldsmiths began making decorative thimbles. By the sixteenth-century, thimble decoration became more distinctive, consisting of relief designs, foliate scrolls, and mottoes. The finest thimbles were mostly gold.  Other materials varied by region. Glass thimbles came from Venice and Bohemia and wooden thimbles came from Germany and Austria.

Gold and Turquoise Floral Thimble

English 18k gold thimble with with turquoises, pearls, and gold scrolls set in an elegant floral pattern. Mid-nineteenth-century.

The production of porcelain thimbles began in the eighteenth-century by a number of factories, but thimbles from the Meissen factory remain the most revered and sought after by collectors. Porcelain thimbles share common decorative motifs like flowers, birds, silhouettes, landscapes, fishing or hunting scenes, pastoral scenes, harlequinades, and chinoiseries. Rims are often scalloped or crenellated.

porcelain thimbles

Left: English Bilston Battersea thimble with multi-colored floral sprays on a white ground. 1765.
Middle: Meissen porcelain thimble with early pruncing and a wide border of flowers. Mid-eighteenth-century.
Right: Meissen porcelain thimble with chinoiserie decoration. 1735-40.

Gem-set thimbles featured an array of gemstones like moonstone, amethyst, jade, topaz, sardonyx, coral, onyx, turquoise, carnelian, and moss agate. Some were thought to have apotropaic qualities specifically for protecting eyesite, a fair concern for a seamstress. Moss agates protected the eyes, as well as sardonyx, which offered the added bonus of defending witchcraft. Turquoise thwarted eye disease and poison.

Antique Gold and Turquoise Thimble

English 18k gold thimble set with seven turquoises within a floral scroll decorated border with scalloped edge. Ca. 1840.

Today, thimbles still make excellent gifts and are avidly collected. Also, if one happens to be in search of a protective amulet, by all means, consider a thimble.

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Mistress and Muse, Lady Hamilton and the Maltese Cross

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Antique Pink Topaz Maltese Cross

The Maltese cross originated as the symbol of the Knights of Malta, otherwise known as the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights of St. John. Because of its beautiful form, as time went on, it morphed into the popular jewel we know today. This was in great measure due to Lady Emma Hamilton, mistress of Lord Horatio Nelson, who received one in 1800 from the Russian Emperor Paul I.

She frequently wore the cross at balls and other events, and soon, Maltese crosses, worn as pendants and brooches, were in vogue, with the trend peaking in the 1830s and 1840s.  Though mainly set with diamonds, designs also used carved hardstones like agate and chalcedony. The form evolved over the years in accordance with current fashions, but never becoming unrecognizable. Our diamond Maltese cross is an example of the liberties taken with evolving nineteenth-century fashion.

Maltese Diamond Pendant

Lady Hamilton’s life was a succession of scandals. Her origins as a courtesan, coupled with her reputation as a woman “no man can resist” rendered her not highly regarded in English society. Quite beautiful, she was the muse of many artists. In fact, she is thought to be the most painted woman in all of British history. Mistress and muse, history acknowledges her with another term: trendsetter.

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A Taste For Paste

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Victorian Paste Pear-Shape Drop Earrings

What exactly is paste jewelry? A type of glass, paste easily emulates precious stones, but we must stress that it is by no means imitation anything. Its luster, malleability, and quality of workmanship set it apart from other jewelry materials.

What we know as paste jewelry developed from glass makers experimenting with lead oxide to closely emulate gemstones. In the eighteenth century, glass makers aspired to match the luster of the increasingly popular diamond. Paste jewelry came to be called “Stras,” or “Strass,” after Georges Frédéric Stras, a jeweler from Strasbourg, employed in Paris, who became famous for his paste jewelry and so highly regarded, he was appointed Jeweler to the King.

Paste jewelry was usually foiled and backed in silver. These materials, in addition to the different shapes paste could produce, rendered it a widely coveted jewelry-making material. Considering all these characteristics, it is easy to see how one might cultivate a taste for paste.

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Christopher Pinchbeck and the People’s ‘Gold’

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main view, Victorian Woven Pinchbeck NecklaceThis Victorian necklace is made of pinchbeck, a brass alloy imitating gold, a material with a curious and ingenious history!

The English clockmaker Christopher Pinchbeck (1670-1732) observed that brass containing between 12 and 15 percent zinc strongly resembles gold and so invented the alloy that bears his name in the 1720s. High gold hallmark standards of 18 and 22 carats at the time confined fine metalwork to the wealthy, but through his genius, Pinchbeck now brought ‘gold’ to the people, catering to those of modest means for whom precious metal objects were inaccessible.

But the alloy also appealed to the wealthy, using it to make copies of their valuables for traveling. Necessary travel accoutrements like buckles, watches, and sword-hilts made of pinchbeck could deter the attention of highway robbers. Pinchbeck also has superior wearing quality and retains its bright color, unlike other imitation gold metals. Also, because pinchbeck is lighter in weight than gold, larger pieces are easier to wear.

Christopher Pinchbeck was very guarded about the true contents of his alloy. The clockmaker had a fondness for spectacle, making musical clocks and automata among other objects. Thus, it is not surprising the true formula of his namesake metal remains a mystery. He passed it on to his son, and so true pinchbeck is said to have died with him, as others struggled to duplicate it accurately. However, as this necklace attests, later concoctions did succeed in replicating the pinchbeck of the previous century.

19th Century Amethyst and Pearl Cross

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Amethyst, pearl, and diamond bishop’s pendant cross.

Probably Russian, 19th century
Length: 7-1/2 inches

$45,000

19th Century Amethyst and Pearl Cross, back