Taking Liberties with Arts and Crafts Jewelry

… The necklace pictured is from the ‘Cymric’ line of jewelry sold at the London retailer and design firm Liberty & Co.  ‘Cymric’ jewelry capitalized on the aesthetics of the Arts and Crafts movement, but disregarded most of its founding principles.

Liberty & Co. aided in spreading the Arts and Crafts jewelry style across greater echelons of British society. Launched in 1899, the ‘Cymric’ line featured the typical characteristics of Arts and Crafts movement jewelry …

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Tags: Arts and Crafts Design History Designers English

Arts and Crafts Jewelry, An Introduction

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Arts and Crafts Sybil Dunlop Kilt Plaid Brooch

Pictured above is a Scottish kilt plaid brooch by Sybil Dunlop, a designer highly regarded for her Arts and Crafts jewelry of the 1920s and 1930s. Made of silver, cabochon stones, and done in a Scottish design, this piece adheres to the Arts and Crafts principles that have their roots in the 1860s. In this post we will explore the background of the Arts and Crafts movement and how it applies to jewelry.

The British Arts and Crafts movement flourished between 1860 and 1910. Inspired by the writings of John Ruskin (1819-1900) and spearheaded by William Morris (1834-1896), the movement was a reaction against mass-production and mechanization. Distraught over the impoverished state of the decorative arts as well as the conditions in which they were produced, those involved in the Arts and Crafts movement aimed to both reform design and reinstate the dignity and importance of the individual craftsman. While the Arts and Crafts style and philosophy were successfully adhered to a majority of the decorative arts, producing jewelry within the movement’s aims proved to be quite challenging.

In accordance with the philosophy of the movement, a jewel was to be designed, created and decorated from start to finish by a single craftsman. The movement not only shunned the use of mechanization but also held disdain for the practice of specialization within any given field. While a successful piece of furniture could be achieved within these parameters, they proved to be quite detrimental when applied to the art of jewelry making. Historically fine jewels are often the result of many specialized craftsmen (lapidaries, enamellers, chasers, engravers, modelers etc.) and the collaboration of these specialties are most exemplified in the jewelry of the Renaissance era.

The Arts and Crafts jewelers aimed to create handmade jewelry of artistic rather than intrinsic value. Silver was preferred over gold and while faceted stones were rarely used, diamonds never were. Cabochon or uncut stones enlivened the designs while recalling Medieval tastes. The natural qualities of the materials were celebrated and mother-of-pearl, turquoise matrix and unique baroque pearls were some of the jeweler’s favorites. The nineteenth century revival of Renaissance and Medieval enameling techniques were also hugely important to Arts and Crafts jewelry. Not only did the traditional non-precious material embody the sentiments of the movement, it also afforded the jeweler unlimited artistic possibilities.

The Guild of Handicraft produced some of the finest examples of Arts and Crafts jewelry. Founded in 1888 by Charles Robert Ashbee (1863-1942) the Guild of Handicraft was both a workshop as well as a school. Initially the Guild concentrated on woodcarving and metalworking but in 1891 the first jewelry classes were offered. The early pieces produced by the Guild were predominantly silver, quite large in size and unashamed of their unrefined handmade appearance. By the turn of the century, many more conventionally trained craftsmen had joined the workshop and the Guild began to produce increasingly more elaborate jewelry. In keeping with the characteristics of other Arts and Crafts jewelers, defining features of the pieces produced by the Guild of Handicraft include hand-beaten metal surfaces, the use of traditional enamel and cabochon stones as well as the preference for decorative themes derived from a romanticized pre-industrial past.

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

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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.

Antique Gold and Enamel Arts and Crafts Ring

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Arts and Crafts 14k gold ring with black enamel floral designs and three small diamonds surmounting the high setting.

American, ca. 1925

$7,250
Special price: $5,800

This item is available for purchase in the ALVR shop.

Antique Gold and Enamel Arts and Crafts Style Ring, cAntique Gold and Enamel Arts and Crafts Style Ring, aAntique Gold and Enamel Arts and Crafts Style Ring, b

Arts and Crafts Necklace and Earrings by Dorrie Nossiter

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Necklace and earrings comprising natural seed pearls and mixed gems, including citrine, aquamarine, topaz, and alexandrite, set in gold and gilded silver. With removal brooch/pendant.

By Dorrie Nossiter, English, ca. 1930
Earrings L: 1 3/4 inches
Necklace L: 16 inches
Brooch/pendant L: 1 3/4 inches

Dorrie Nossiter (1893-1977) was an English jewelry designer working in the Arts and Crafts movement. Her work is characterized by floral motifs with curved lines and colorful gemstones. She studied at the Municipal School of Art in Birmingham from 1910-1914. She exhibited at London’s Walker Galleries from 1935-1939 and was among four women featured.

Detail view of earringsDetail view of necklace

Arts and Crafts Gold and Amethyst Cross Pendant

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Arts and Crafts double-sided gold, amethyst, and natural pearl cross pendant.

Edward Everett Oakes, American, ca. 1920.
Length: 2 3/4 inches

$17,250

This item is available for purchase in the ALVR shop.

back view, Arts and Crafts Gold and Amethyst Cross Pendant

Arts and Crafts Earrings by Dorrie Nossiter

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Arts and Crafts earrings made of natural seed pearls and mixed gems, including citrine, aquamarine, topaz, and alexandrite, set in gold and gilded silver. These are part of a suite including a necklace with removable pendant brooch.

By Dorrie Nossiter, English, ca. 1930
Earrings L: 1 3/4 inches

Dorrie Nossiter (1893-1977) was an English jewelry designer working in the Arts and Crafts movement. Her work is characterized by floral motifs with curved lines and colorful gemstones. She studied at the Municipal School of Art in Birmingham from 1910-1914. She exhibited at London’s Walker Galleries from 1935-1939 and was among four women featured.

main view, Arts and Crafts Earrings by Dorrie Nossiter

Amethyst Arts and Crafts Sautoir

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Gold and amethyst Arts and Crafts sautoir, with removable bracelet.

American, ca. 1905.
Length: 25 inches
Drop: 3 1/4 inches

$22,000

Amethyst Arts and Crafts Sautoir, bracelet

ALVR Highlights Arts & Crafts Jeweler in ASJH Newsletter

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Dorrie Nossiter necklace and earrings with ASJH newsletter

An Arts and Crafts necklace and earrings from ALVR’s collection illustrates the cover story in the latest issue of the American Society of Jewelry Historians (ASJH) newsletter. The article is an important contribution to jewelry scholarship, highlighting the life and work of English jeweler Dorrie Nossiter, whose biography seemed long lost to history.

Her signature style is as admired and recognizable today as in her own time, when she enjoyed an industrious career from the 1930s through the ’50s. Her technique features clusters of gemstones, often in monochromatic color schemes, reminiscent of the layered dots in a pointillist painting. ALVR’s multigem suite comprising a necklace and earrings is a quintessential representation of her style, featuring monochromatic gemstones with gilded silver leaves and scrolls.

While the jewels speak for themselves, the lady behind them has remained somewhat of a mystery. Almost nothing biographical has been published on her, and primary sources are limited. Nonetheless, once these fragments are pieced together, a story emerges of how a talented young artist from Birmingham grew up to become a revered jewelry designer. Contact ASJH for the full story.

ALVR in Antiques And the Arts Weekly

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Antiques and The Arts Weekly recently asked us, and a few other dealers, what keeps a business going for more than a century, and what makes us hopeful for the future. See what ALVR’s Mark Schaffer had to say here. We’d also like to congratulate our Winter Show neighbor Nathan Liverant and Son Antiques on reaching their 100 year milestone!

Antiques and the Arts Weekly Speaks with ALVR’s Mark Schaffer

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Laura Beach of Antiques and the Arts Weekly (the “Bee”) learns more about Mark Schaffer and his gallery, A La Vieille Russie.  “Mark Schaffer, PhD, is a principal at A La Vieille Russie (ALVR), leading specialists in fine European and American antique jewelry, Fabergé, gold snuffboxes, objets de vertu and Russian decorative and fine arts. The company recently moved to sleek new quarters at 745 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The sun-splashed gallery is the fifth New York venue for this firm founded in Kiev in 1851. We caught up with the peripatetic dealer…”   Click here for the full article.

Trompe l’oeil Silver

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tromp l'oeil

Trompe l’oeil, meaning ‘fool the eye,’ is a term traditionally applied to paintings exhibiting such photographic detail as to make the viewer believe they are actually seeing the object(s) depicted. When used to describe these late nineteenth-century works of Russian silver, the term refers to the way these pieces simulate birch bark wood. Objects decorated to look like wood were quite popular in Russia in the second half of the nineteenth-century, as craftsmen sought to mimic the “bast” shoes made of woven birch bark worn by the peasants.

Romanticizing the peasantry is a frequently occurring theme in the arts, particularly the nineteenth-century. This especially rang true in Russia following Alexander II’s emancipation of the serfs in 1861. Suddenly there was tremendous interest in the music, arts and crafts, and daily life of the serfs.

A yearning for a Russian art unmarred by Western influence contributed to what became the Russian Revival in the 1870s and 1880s. In addition to studies of serf life, there was also an interest in exploring earlier Russian artistic traditions, providing craftsmen a rich body of sources for creating beautiful, distinctly Russian works of art.

Trompe l’oeil  was an international trend, being also in fashion in America during this period and produced by notable firms like Gorham and Tiffany. However, this 1871 birch box and 1882 milk jug, coupled with a number of other exceptional pieces, leave no one fooled as to the mastery of this genre.