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

Mid-Century (1950 – 1960)


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


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

English, ca. 1950
Length: 1 inch


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


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

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


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

Cocktail Rings – Glitter on the Rocks with a Twist


Prohibition era (1920-1933) cocktail parties rekindled a love for statement jewelry as part of a new genre of festive adornment consisting of cocktail dresses, aprons, hats, and, of course, flashy cocktail rings. Our collection includes a range of examples from the Art Deco era to the later twentieth century. The taste for these party rings continues on today, often as a favorite accessory on the red carpet.

Fancy Sapphire Ring


Women attending cocktail parties showed off the new fashions, and in doing so, their newfound liberties. Often bought by a woman for herself, cocktail rings were a testament to a woman’s increasing autonomy and individuality.  One can easily imagine an elegant, au courant lady tapping her glass while wearing our Art Deco diamond and sapphire pinky ring. An oversized cocktail pinky ring such as this could easily be worn on either the right or left hand.

Ruby, Diamond, and Platinum Art Deco Ring

Our 1930’s diamond cocktail ring in the form of a shield with a ruby in the center reflects the predominant taste for ‘white’ jewelry – the effect of diamonds on platinum, but the central ruby adds just a touch of flare.

Black Opal Ring

Our 1950’s black opal and diamond cocktail ring makes quite the statement. The oblong form of the ring is well suited to be worn on the pointer finger and could never be confused with one intended to signify betrothal.

Cartier Bombé Ring

Our 1960’s diamond bombe ring embodies Cartier’s assurance as a seasoned jewelry house in both their designs and materials. The oversized diamond ring has over 12 carats worth of diamonds but it is more than just a display of intrinsic value – the traditional bombé form is elevated by the subtle striping of the princess and round-cut diamonds.

The cocktail ring transformed over the decades into the perfect statement piece suitable for all occasions. We have many styles to choose from, everything from aquamarines to entirely diamond rings. Please feel free to either come by the gallery to see our entire selection or email us!

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18th Century Goldsmith Work: Snuff Boxes


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.

Arts and Crafts (late 19th to early 20th century)


Arts and Crafts stems from a philosophy founded in England in the late 19th century that continued into the early 20th century, which was a reaction against the mechanization taking place in Victorian decorative design.  Its goal was to return to simpler designs executed by the hands of skilled craftsmen, ideally passing through one pair of hands from start to finish.  Arts and Crafts jewelers often chose to use less precious materials such as brass, copper, aluminum, and silver.  Some Arts and Crafts jewelry employing the colors green, white and purple (violet) have been associated with the suffragette movement, as these were the colors of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) who fought for the vote for women at the turn of the last century in England (Green, White, Violet – Give Women the Vote).  This philosophy also spread to America, the most notable American Arts and Crafts designer being Gustav Stickley who produced furniture.

ALVR Blog:
Russian Teatime Traditions

Russian Tea Drinkers from chatterbox magazine
From “Russian Tea-houses and Tea-drinkers” in Chatterbox, 1867

How greatly tea is used in England by every class of society, we all know… But greatly as tea is used in England, it is still in Russia more common. From the palaces of the great and wealthy nobles, down to the wretched hovels of the poor peasants, tea is the universal beverage. – James F. Cobb

James F. Cobb noted the significance of tea in Russian culture in his 1867 article “Russian Tea-houses and Tea-drinkers” for the English publication Chatterbox.  While Mr. Cobb noted that British tea culture has its own interesting history and customs, Russian culture is steeped in its own rich tea traditions.

Pictured right: Gilded silver teapot with the Imperial Eagle. St. Petersburg, ca. 1785Gilded Silver Imperial Teapot with Russian Imperial Eagle

Russian tea’s status as a national beverage was slow to brew. When it was first introduced in the seventeenth century, Russians were skeptical. This early tea was very different from the tea drunk today. The tea was in a brick form, which was smashed and mixed with grain and butter, and then consumed as both a meal and beverage.

In the eighteenth century, during the reign of Catherine the Great (1762-1796), tea consumption increased slightly, but it remained expensive and rare, confining its consumption to the Russian aristocracy who used it primarily for medicinal purposes.

Russian Cloisonné Enamel Teapot and Silver Napkin Ring with Imperial MonogramIt was not until late in the nineteenth century that tea became a national beverage consumed by all classes. By this time, the cost of tea had decreased by half, and thus more widely accessible. Also by this time, Russian tea, and its customs and material culture, became associated with national identity thanks to the work of the country’s most revered writers. Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Checkov wrote about tea as a part of everyday life, celebrating the samovar in particular as a symbol of Russianness.

Pictured left: Gilded silver and cloisonné enamel teapot. Moscow, ca. 1900

Some scholars speculate that the samovar is actually an English invention, as both the English and Dutch made the earliest vessels for brewing tea and coffee in the late seventeenth century. The first samovar likely came to Russia in the early eighteenth century, taken by Peter the Great as one of many aspects of western culture he hoped to emulate to modernize Russia. The technology of the samovar better suited a Russian home, which was heated with a large stove, instead of an open fireplace to easily boil water. It is not the samovar itself that makes Russian tea. Rather, the samovar dispenses boiled water for diluting the concentrated tea, which is brewed in a small teapot, or zavarka, as shown in the introductory illustration.

main view, Antique Russian Lacquer Tray

Pictured above: antique Russian lacquer tray depicting peasants drinking tea. By the Lukutin Factory, Moscow, 1888-1894.

By the turn-of-the-century, the invented tradition of Russian tea was an integral part of Russian identity. For Russians, the day began and ended with tea. In the morning it was enjoyed with sweet buns, plain rolls, or bread with butter and maybe a little cheese. A few hours after dinner was vecherny tchai, or evening tea consumed with various cold cuts, cheeses, small cakes and candied fruits.

Tea was enjoyed inside and out of the home. In the nineteenth century men congregated in teahouses according to their class – ones for wealthy merchants and others for their carriage drivers. The gendering of Russian tea culture was delineated by these establishments and also by objects. Men drank their tea from a glass set in an elaborately ornamented metal holder, like the one picture below, while women drank their tea from a cup.

Antique Russian Enamel Tea Glass Holder

Pictured: Gilded silver and cloisonné enamel tea glass holder. By the 11th Artel, Moscow, ca. 1910.

Regardless of how much Russian tea customs are the product of nineteenth-century nationalism, beautiful works of art, like the tea glass holder and teapots illustrated in this post, attest to the significance of tea in Russian culture, past and present…even if that past is not so long ago.

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Cobb, James F.  “Russian Tea-houses and Tea-drinkers.” Chatterbox. London, 1867.

Hardie, Anne-Marie. “Exploring the Origins of Russian Tea Culture.” The Daily Tea. August 6, 2015. Accessed August 12, 2015.

Jones, Catherine Cheremeteff. A Year of Russian Feasts. Bethesda, Md: Jellyroll Press, 2002.

Papashivily, Helen and George. The Cooking of Russia. New York: Time-Life Books, 1972.

Yoder, Audra Jo. “Myth and Memory in Russian Tea Culture.” Studies in Slavic Cultures. August 8, 2009.

ALVR Blog: The Empress of Gems – Pearls


Appropriately dubbed  “the queen of gems,” pearls have long been associated with royalty, crowning the heads of many queens throughout history. Cleopatra’s legendary pearl earrings, Byzantium’s Empress Theodora’s pearl tiara, and Queen Elizabeth I’s pearl-studded ensembles, for example, immediately spring to mind. But here at A La Vieille Russie, we think of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

Colored photograph of Russian Empress Alexandra FeodorovnaThe Tsarina was not particularly interested in fashion, preferring simpler, lightweight gowns to the sumptuous finery she donned at court. Her taste in jewelry was similar, favoring pearls over other gems, noted by American writer Kellogg Durland, who traveled to Russia in 1907 to write about the Empress. He later reflected on this visit in his 1911 book, “Royal Romances of To-Day,” in which he remarks on Alexandra’s fondness for pearls:

“The Tsaritsa’s pearls, which she wears with her court costume are famous the world over. […] Perhaps, of all her jewels, she cares most for a long string of wonderful pearls, which she wears very often. The string is so long that she can wear it twice around her neck, and yet have the longest loop reach to her knees. The short loop comes to the waistline, and is finished with one single pear-shaped pearl of enormous value.”

This penchant for pearls was nicely documented, for example, in our colored photograph of the Empress (pictured above) and in this charming photograph of Alexandra and the Tsarevich, Alexei, playing with her pearls:

1913 photograph of Empress Alexandra and her son, Alexei, playing with her pearls

Empress Alexandra and the Tsarevich, Alexei, via Wikimedia Commons

Who can blame the Empress’s preference for pearls? These gems of the sea have captivated mankind for millennia and it’s easy to see why, from their beautiful luster to their seemingly magical, organic formation.

Pearls have long been associated with purity, innocence, and humility, qualities that can be attributed to their mystifying, organic origins. American mineralogist, (and Tiffany & Co. Vice President 1879-1932), George Fredirick Kunz explains how: 

“Unlike other gems, the pearl comes to us perfect and beautiful, direct from the hand of nature. Other precious stones receive careful treatment from the lapidary, and owe much to his art. The pearl, however, owes nothing to man […] it is absolutely a gift of nature, on which man cannot improve.”

As an organic gem, the pearl’s origins intrigued and perplexed man for centuries. Its association with the sea led to many water-inspired myths and theories. Ancient poets surmised that pearls formed from tears of the gods that fell into open oysters.  Similarly, in Greek and Roman mythology, Aphrodite/Venus shook droplets of water from herself as she rose from the sea, the droplets then hardening into pearls. Such myths inspired the belief that pearls formed from drops of dew, a theory that persisted for centuries. This theory endured until around the 16th century, when naturalists began to speculate that pearls formed from oyster eggs.

Pearls in fact are the result of a mollusk’s response to a foreign particle. The pearls form when layers of nacre (mother of pearl), a variety of calcium carbonate, surround a foreign particle, like a grain of sand or a parasite. 

For centuries, the main sources of pearls were the warm waters of the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean, as well as the rivers and lakes of China and the coast of Japan. After 1492, the discovery of pearls in the New World provided Europe a supply so great that the region came to be called the “Land of Pearls.” 

alternate view, Baroque Pearl and Diamond Dog FigurinePearls come in many colors, ranging from white to black, and varying shades of cream, gray, blue, yellow, lavender, green, and mauve. The color produced depends on the mollusk and its environment. Pearls also vary in size, from tiny seed pearls, to large, irregularly shaped baubles called baroque pearls. Baroque pearls were popular in their namesake Baroque period but also so during the Renaissance, when jewelers fashioned them into pendants and brooches resembling animals, mermaids, and other creative, figural representations. Baroque pearls continued to inspire jewelers in subsequent periods, including during the Renaissance Revival period in the mid-nineteenth century, and even later. For example, our baroque pearl and diamond dog figurine/pendant dates to the early twentieth century.

Contemporary Diamond and Pearl Spider BroochContemporary jewelers continue to use pearls in creative ways. For example, a large cultured pearl is used as the body in this late 20th century spider brooch. A cultured pearl results from manmade intervention in the pearl-making process. A particle, such as a bead or a piece of shell, is placed inside a mollusk for the layers of nacre to form around it. While such attempts existed for centuries, it wasn’t until the turn of the twentieth century when a number of individuals successfully refined the process. What was once a rare jewel only accessible to royals and aristocrats now became attainable for many people throughout the world.

Throughout history, pearls were not just prized for adornment, but also valued for their presumed curative properties. Ingesting pearls was believed to cure any number of ailments, from indigestion to melancholia. Elixirs were made with pulverized pearl and vinegar, sometimes with the addition of lemon juice and other ingredients. While we can’t speak on the curative benefits of ingesting pearls (in fact, please don’t), wearing them is sure to chase away the blues! As George Fredirick Kunz, said, “there are few ills to which women are subject that cannot be bettered or at least endured with greater patience when the sufferer receives a gift of pearls.” At ALVR we’re pleased to offer a lovely assortment of pearl gifts, from brooches to rings. Here are some of our favorites:

Dirlam, Dona M, Elise B. Misiorowski, and Sally A. Thomas, “Pearl Fashion Through the Ages,” GIA.edu. https://www.gia.edu/doc/Pearl-Fashion-Through-the-Agesv.pdf (accessed 6/1/2020).
Durland, Kellogg. “Royal Romances of To-day.” United Kingdom: Duffield, 1911.
Kunz, George Frederick., Stevenson, Charles Hugh. “The Book of the Pearl: The History, Art, Science, and Industry of the Queen of Gems.” United Kingdom: Century Company, 1908.
Matlins, Antoinette L. The Pearl Book: The Definitive Buying Guide – How to Select, Buy, Care for and Enjoy Pearls. United States: LongHill Partners, Incorporated, 2001.
“Pearl” on Antique Jewelry University, Lang Antiques & Estate Jewelry, https://www.langantiques.com/university/pearl/ (accessed 6/1/2020).
Pointon, Marcia R. “Brilliant Effects: A Cultural History of Gem Stones and Jewellery.” Germany: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2009.
Ward, Fred. “The History of Pearls,” PBS.org, December 29, 1998. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/history-pearls/ (accessed 6/1/2020).

Antique Baroque Pearl and Diamond Dog Figurine and Pendant


Silver-mounted natural baroque pearl dog figurine/pendant, set with pavé old mine diamonds, gold-mounted ruby collar,  and cabochon ruby eyes.

Early 20th century.
Height: 2 inches


other view, Antique Baroque Pearl and Diamond Dog Figurine and Pendantdoghouse-shaped box photo, Antique Baroque Pearl and Diamond Dog Figurine and Pendant

Craftsmanship and Technological Wonder Unite with Gustave Trouvé’s 1867 Electric Skull Stickpin

Gustave Trouvé electric skull stickpin

Beautiful craftsmanship and technological wonder unite through the invention of a group of electric novelty jewels.  Among these rare jewels is a gold and enamel skull stickpin with a hinged jaw and rose-cut diamond eyes.

Gustave Trouvé electric skull stickpinThis early electrical wonder was invented by the creative French engineer Gustave Trouvé and made in Paris in 1867 by Auguste-Germain Cadet-Picard. Trouvé trained as a watchmaker and opened his own workshop in 1863. His many inventions included a miniature hermetically sealed battery, patented in 1865, enabling him to create his electric jewels.

On seeing these electric jewels at the 1867 Paris Exhibition jeweler Henri Vever described them as ‘jewels of near-terrifying originality’ and the English publisher Henry Vizetelly wrote,

but the most absurd of all, was a small death’s head connected by a wire with a Lilliputian battery carried in the pocket, enabling the death’s head to distend its jaws and close and open them at the wearer’s pleasure, greatly to the bewilderment of anyone not in the secret.

The ‘wearable Lilliputian battery’ would be kept in a gentleman’s breast pocket and attached to the stickpin with invisible wire. He could then bring the stickpin to life by secretly turning the battery sideways or upside down.

The following illustrations explaining the interior mechanics appeared in Georges Barral’s 1891 book, Histoire d’Un Inventeur:

Gustave Trouve rabbitGustave Trouve rabbit2 Gustave Trouve from Barral book

Such stickpins are a marvel in any age, but in the nineteenth century, they were a particularly awe-inspiring application of new technology, as the The Times reported,

The toy is amusing enough. Everybody has seen how bells are rung in all the new hotels in Paris, London, and New York. Instead of pulling the bell making it ring by an exertion of mechanical force, we press a small button in the wall; this is connected by an electric wire with a little alarm, the clapper of which keeps on jingling so long as the button is pressed … This principle a Frenchman has adapted to cravat pins …

Other designs included a monkey in spectacles pulling faces, Harlequin and Columbine dancing a ballet, a hummingbird beating its wings, a soldier beating a drum, a monkey playing a violin, a fluttering butterfly, an electro-spherical doorbell, and a rabbit playing with sticks on a little drum.

Gustave Trouve stickpins in 1891 George Barral book

Two of the stickpins, as well as a ladies’ hairpin fashioned as a hummingbird with beating wings, were featured in the scientific journal La Nature:

Bijoux Electriques Animes from La Nature

It did not take long for these stickpins to become rare, collectors’ items, as a lack of qualified craftsman limited their production. By 1891, pieces that had originally cost 50 francs were costing between 700 and 1000 francs on the rare occasions that they came up for sale.

The Victoria & Albert Museum has an identical non-working example in their collection. At A La Vieille Russie, ‘where the unusual is usual®, we are pleased to present the only working one in the world, certainly a jewel that anyone can love to death.

A video of the skull can be found on our Instagram page here.

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Art Deco Emerald and Diamond Ring


Art Deco emerald and diamond two-stone ring set in platinum scrolled mount, with diamond and emerald shoulders.

English, ca. 1925
(center diamond approx. 1.10 cts; center emerald approx. 1 ct)


Art Deco Emerald and Diamond Ring. cArt Deco Emerald and Diamond Ring. aArt Deco Emerald and Diamond Ring, back