Antique French Rock Crystal Perfume Bottle

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Antique rock crystal perfume bottle, the gold …

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Diamond and Emerald Antique French Wasp Brooch by Fontana

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Crown rose diamond and emerald wasp brooch set in silver and gold.

By Fontana
French, ca. 1875
Width: 3 inches.

$37,500

Diamond and Emerald Wasp Brooch by Fontana Back

Vintage Art Deco Bow Brooch

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Art Deco diamond, emerald, and sapphire bow tie brooch, mounted in platinum.

French, ca. 1925.
Length:  2 inches

$22,000

This item is available for purchase in the ALVR shop.

detail view, Henri Picq Art Deco Bow Brooch back view, Henri Picq bow brooch

Antique Tiffany & Co. Diamond Bracelet

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French cut diamond bracelet, set in platinum.

By Tiffany & Co., New York, ca. 1910
Length: 7 inches
(approx. 44 cts total)

additional view, Antique Tiffany & Co. Diamond Braceletother view, Antique French-cut Diamond Bracelet by Tiffany & Co.

ALVR Blog: All Gems Are Precious

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emerald and diamond ring compared with a green garnet and diamond ring to show that they are both precious gemstones

Long before we understood the chemical composition of minerals and the process of their formation, we developed stories to explain their origins, and a system of classification based on color, the most distinguishable trait. While our methods of assessing gemstones have long since evolved, one misnomer defiantly persists: the use of the terms precious and semiprecious. “Semi” is a misleading adjective, implying that these words stand in opposition to one another. We say it’s time to drop the “semi” and describe all gemstones as they are: precious.

Since the late nineteenth century only five stones have been considered “precious”: rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds, and, curiously, pearl, which is not actually a stone at all. Further complicating things is the corundum conundrum, with both ruby and sapphire being variations of this stone. Corundum comes in a beautiful range of colors, which vary based on their composition. Yellow sapphire gets its hue from iron and aluminum, while purple sapphires contain chromium, titanium, and aluminum. A ruby is made up of chromium and aluminum, yet we do not call it a “red sapphire.” Blue sapphire contains titanium and iron, and is the only shade of corundum simply called “sapphire.” Also, if this isn’t confusing enough, there are also red sapphires and blue rubies.

Our understanding of corundum and its many colors has done little to change how we describe jewelry, and the false dichotomy of precious and semiprecious is just as arbitrary. In fact, the way these two terms have been defined over time lacks consistency. For example, there was once a time when the term “precious” encompassed as many as sixteen stones, including zircon, topaz, and tourmaline, recorded in the publication A Treatise on Gems from 1838. Just a few decades later, these aforementioned stones would be relegated to “semiprecious” status.

The lauded mineralogist George Frederick Kunz acknowledged the complexity of these terms in his 1890 lecture at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, stating that “the value of a particular kind of stone is often due in great measure to the caprice of fashion or to some adventitious circumstances of time or place.” He goes on to discuss the rising popularity of semiprecious stones in the second half of the nineteenth century aided by exhibitions, trendsetting royals, and the discovery of numerous mining deposits.

For example, the Duke of Connaught (the youngest son of Queen Victoria) chose a chrysoberyl cat’s-eye engagement ring, making this kind of stone fashionable and, as a consequence, more valuable. The search for this stone also led to the discovery of moonstone and tiger’s eye, ensuring their popularity as well. As another example, Queen Victoria’s love of opal helped revive the stone from its long bout of superstitious unpopularity.

Kunz also remarked:

“Public interest in semi-precious stones has increased greatly during the last ten years. Formerly jewelers sold only diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, pearls, garnets and agates; but at present it is not unusual to have almost any of the mineralogical gems, such as zircon, asteria or star sapphire or star ruby, tourmaline, spinel or titanite called for, not only by collectors, but by the public, whose taste has advanced in the matter of precious stones, as well as in the fine arts.”

The discovery of all these gems brought new life to jewelry design, inspiring jewelers to use them, and clients eager to wear them. While it’s been said that the jewelry industry came up with the term “semiprecious” to describe stones that were more abundant, it seems more likely it was simply intended to distinguish them from the more traditionally used stones. But this distinction wasn’t intended to have inferior implications. Kunz noted that such stones were also known as “fancy stones,” from the French phrase “pierres de fantaisie.”

Regardless of when the term originated and how it was defined, the distinction is misleading, as it implies precious gems are inherently more valuable, when a “semiprecious” stone like demantoid (green) garnet can be worth more than an emerald. They are both green, yet one is “only” a garnet. We say both are equally precious! The same can be said of a river pebble mounted in gold, transformed into a fine jewel as precious as a ruby, emerald, or… a green garnet! A gem is a gem is a gem, and we firmly believe you should choose the jewel that makes you smile, whether it’s a multi-color natural zircon necklace, or an old-mine diamond rivière. All gems are precious.

Sources:
Anderson, Åse. “Where do semi-precious stones come from?” The Jewellery Editor. Accesed March 4, 2022. 
http://www.thejewelleryeditor.com/jewellery/know-how/where-do-semi-precious-stones-come-from-around-world/#:~:text=This%20classification%20dates%20back%20to,the%20stone’s%20value%20to%20plummet.
“A Brief History of Gemstone Writings.” Antique Jewelry University. (n.d.). Lang Antiques. Accessed March 4, 2022.
https://www.langantiques.com/university/a-brief-history-of-gemstone-writings/
Feuchtwanger, Lewis. A Treatise on Gems. United Kingdom: A. Hanford, 1838.
Kunz, George F. “Precious Stones.” Journal of the Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania, Vol. CXXX, No. 3. United States: Franklin Institute, 1890.
Rapp, George. “Gems and Man: A Brief History,” EMU Notes in Mineralogy, Vol. 20 (2019), Chapter 8, 323-344. 

Etruscan Revival Gold Earrings

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Antique Etruscan revival gold earrings designed as trumpet flowers and decorated with bead and wirework, each suspending three gold chains terminating in natural pearl drops.

French, ca. 1870, retailed by Luigi Casalta, Naples, Italy.
Length: 1 3/4 inches

The Neapolitan jeweler Luigi Casalta established his business in 1851 and supplied jewels to the Imperial Court of Austria, the Royal Court of Italy, and to H.R.H Princess Louise of Prussia. Revival jewels were his specialty.

$18,500

These are available for purchase in the ALVR shop.

front view of gold Etruscan revival earrings, showing gold strands with pearl drops hanging from the center side view of gold and pearl Etruscan revival earrings view of gold Etruscan revival earrings in original retail box

Antique Natural Pearl Poodle

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Antique gold poodle pendant with baroque pearl head set with a ruby tongue and sapphire eyes, the body set with natural pearls.

French, ca. 1900.
Width: 2 in.
Height: 1 1/2 in.

$28,000

This item is available for purchase in the ALVR shop.

Profile view of gold and pearl poodle pendantBack view of antique gold and pearl poodle pendantbottom view of antique gold and natural pearl poodle pendant

Antique Gold Sailboat Brooch and Earrings

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Gold demi parure comprising sail boat brooch with matching earrings, realistically modeled in high detail showing spritsails, rivets, planks, rope, rudders, and tillers.

French, ca. 1870.
Brooch length: 1 3/4 in.
Earrings length: 1 in.

$32,000

group shot of Antique Gold Sailboat Brooch and Earringsgold sailboat earringsgold sailboat brooch and earrings in original box

Fabergé Silver-mounted Vase

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Fabergé silver-mounted French porcelain vase with oxblood glaze.

Vase manufactured at NPV Ceramic Workshop.
Silver mounts by Fabergé silversmith Julius Rappoport, Moscow, ca. 1900.
Height: 8 ¾ in.

This vase is an example of Fabergé’s fondness for mounting compelling porcelain and glass objects from other sources. This included decorative objects made locally and abroad, like this vase by NPV Ceramic workshop, as well as Royal Doulton Burslem, Tiffany, and Gallé.

view 2, Fabergé silver-mounted vasedetail view, Fabergé silver-mounted vase

Antique Lapis Lazuli and Enamel Cocktail Ring

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Sugarloaf lapis lazuli cocktail ring with turquoise enamel geometric design and diamond-set trefoil at the base. Set in platinum with coral and diamonds.

Possibly Austrian with French import marks, ca. 1920.

$28,000

This item is available for purchase in the ALVR shop.

front view, Antique Lapis Lazuli and Enamel Ringside view, Antique Lapis Lazuli and Enamel Ring

Antique Gold Bangle Bracelet

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18k gold bangle decorated with ears of wheat in deep relief, signed on the reverse Jacquin in script.

Jacquin, French, ca. 1905.

Georges-Arthur Jacquin (1851-1932) was a French decorator, painter, enameller, and ceramicist. He also designed jewelry, and is known for his organic, chased art nouveau designs.

$16,000

This item is available for purchase in the ALVR shop.

other view, Antique Gold Bangle Braceletsignature, Antique Gold Bangle Bracelet

Vintage 1920s Sapphire and Diamond Brooch

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Sapphire and diamond horseshoe nail stock pin, set in platinum.

French, ca. 1920.
Length: 2 3/4 inches

$24,000

back, Vintage 1920s Sapphire and Diamond Brooch