Agate Snuffbox

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Gold mounted translucent agate panel snuffbox.

By. N. Bouillerot (fl. 1720-1754). Paris, 1732.

2 3/4 x 2 1/4 inches

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Tags: agate gold

Antique Banded Agate and Gold Desk Seal

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Banded agate and gold desk seal.

English, ca. 1790.
Length: 2 inches

$7,500

side view, Antique Banded Agate and Gold Desk Seal

Vintage Cartier Agate, Diamond, and Sapphire Cufflinks

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White agate double cufflinks with diamond border and center cabochon sapphires, set in platinum and gold. In original box.

By Cartier, Paris, ca. 1920

$27,500

Vintage Cartier Agate, Diamond, and Sapphire CufflinksVintage Cartier Agate, Diamond, and Sapphire Cufflinks

A Cameo in Time

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Roman Revival Cameo Earrings

These cameo earrings in the Roman Revival style are of hardstone, an indicator of their quality. Gold filigree and granulation border the ladies in profile, further emphasizing cameos as miniature works of art.

The small, low relief sculptures we recognize as cameos date to antiquity, used in Classical Greece and Rome to depict portraits and mythological scenes. There were many cameo revivals over the ages, particularly in the Renaissance and eighteenth-century. In the nineteenth-century, cameos became widely coveted for use in personal adornment.

Napoleon and his first wife Josephine are credited with setting the fashion for nineteenth-century cameo jewelry. Many cameos were brought back to France after the 1786 Italian campaign of the French Revolutionary Wars. Many of these were of Greek or Roman origin. Napoleon soon turned to the medium for cultivating his persona as the new Emperor Augustus, having cameo portraits made of himself in a laureate profile. Josephine also adorned herself in cameo jewelry, most notably a cameo and pearl tiara by Chaumet. The trend became increasingly popular, as the following from the Journal des Dames attests:

“a lady of fashion wears cameos on her belt, cameos in her necklace, a cameo on each of her bracelets, a cameo in her diadem.”

In the Victorian era, cameos became especially revered as travel souvenirs and wearable sculptures. Many cameo jewelry designs were inspired from sculpture, a highly regarded art form in the Victorian period for use as architectural accents.

Cameos were traditionally made from hardstone. Commonly varieties of agate, such as onyx, sardonyx, and jasper, enabled a cameo carver to create an image in more than one color because of their multiple layers. Cameos were also carved from shell, a light weight material conducive to jewelry making. Such easy manufacture made cameos more accessible to the growing middle class, therefore increasing their popularity.

Beautiful and timeless, cameos are a window to the past and a fitting accessory for the present!

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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 Pebble in the Rough – Scottish Jewelry in the Victorian Age

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Antique Scottish Stickpin

Queen Victoria was so enamored of the Scottish landscape that she and Prince Albert purchased a Scottish residence, Balmoral Castle, in 1852. The royal family soon adopted Highland dress in the form of tartans and jewelry. Such jewelry came from the land itself, often called “Scotch pebbles”, from the use of native hardstones.

Commonly used stones, often mounted in silver, included bloodstone, carnelian, polished agate and granite, citrine, garnet, pale amethyst, and jasper. Cairngorm, a smoky yellow quartz, from the Cairngorm Mountains, was the most favored stone. Victorian Scottish Sgian Dubh Brooch

Brooches were among the most popular forms of Scottish jewelry. The Scottish dirk, or dagger, was a recurring design motif, evidenced by our sgian dubh brooch, covered in a previous blog post. Other common designs included the Saint Andrew’s cross, butterflies, anchors, and love knots.

Circles were also common, like our agate, bloodstone, and citrine open ring, or penannular, stick pin (pictured above).  Our stickpin is an abstraction of the generic Scottish-ring brooch, which usually featured a pinhead in the form of a thistle. Such brooches are inspired from the penannular brooches with thistle-headed pins of the Viking period (793-1066) found in Ireland and Scotland, and were used to fasten garments.

In the Victorian age, Scottish jewelry was often worn with tartan costumes for ice skating. In our own age, they are suited for everyday wear, no matter your intended activity (or lack of plaid).

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