Pair of onyx and rose diamond double cufflinks, set in platinum and gold.
French, ca. 1900
Tags: diamond gold onyx platinum
Pair of onyx and brilliant-cut diamond earrings suspending kite-shaped onyx drops with channel set diamonds, set in platinum.
American, ca. 1950.
Length: 3 in.
Edwardian diamond and invisibly-set onyx drop earrings, mounted in milgrain platinum.
by Marcus & Co., ca. 1915
Length: 1 1/2 in.
These earrings appear in our Marcus & Co. video on our videos page.
Gold-mounted malachite and onyx table box.
By Janesich, French, ca. 1920.
Width: 3-3/4 inches
Cabochon moonstone, onyx, and diamond bracelet.
American, ca. 1960.
Length: 7 inches
Antique pavé diamond dog brooch resembling a Cairn Terrier, with enamel tongue and black onyx eyes, set in silver and gold.
English, ca. 1890.
Height: approximately 1 inch
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.