Contemporary Turquoise Bead Necklace

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Turquoise, ruby, and diamond bead necklace.

English, ca. 1990

Length: 55 inches

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Tags: diamond ruby turquoise

1950s Turquoise and Diamond Clip Earrings by Cartier

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Pair of turquoise and diamond clip earrings set in platinum and gold.

Cartier, Paris, ca. 1950.
Length: 1 inch

$46,000

These earrings appear in our Ear Candy exhibition video series.

Model wearing 1950s Turquoise and Diamond Clip Earrings by Cartiermain view, 1950s Turquoise and Diamond Clip Earrings by CartierBox view, 1950s Turquoise and Diamond Clip Earrings by Cartier

Antique Gold Pendant Vinaigrette

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Antique gold and turquoise book-form pendant vinaigrette.

English, ca. 1840.

$3,500
Special price: $2,900

This item is available for purchase in the ALVR shop. 

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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Taking Liberties with Arts and Crafts Jewelry

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Knox Arts and Crafts Necklace

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 and appeared to be handmade, but was actually mass-produced. While some details still required hand finishing, cheaper machine processes were used whenever possible. Manufactured by Haseler of Birmingham, these high quality pieces were a fraction of the cost of their handmade Arts and Crafts equivalents.

Much of the line’s success can be attributed to the painter, teacher and designer of jewelry and metalwork, Archibald Knox (1864-1933). From 1897 to 1912 Knox designed not only jewelry but also a wide array of silver, pewter, carpets and textile designs for Liberty. As Liberty’s chief designer, Knox infused the Arts and Crafts aesthetic with Celtic inspiration from his native Isle of Man. His elegant adaptation of Celtic interlace became one of the most distinctive characteristics of the line. ‘Cymric’ jewels were produced in both gold and silver and often set with turquoise, blister pearl or mother-of-pearl or decorated with enamel. This blister pearl, opal and gold necklace ca. 1900, designed by Archibald Knox for Liberty and Co. illustrates many of the key characteristics, materials and techniques found within the ‘Cymric’ line of jewelry.

The chain and gold pendants on this delicate necklace were mass produced, while the setting of the opals as well as the pearls required expert hand finishing. Though not entirely handcrafted, the integrity of the design attests to the clever hand of its creator.

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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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A Ruby Is To A Sapphire as an Emerald is to an Aquamarine

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 Gemstones come in traditional colors. However, these “traditional” colors are usually not the only colors that exist for these gems. Often some of the most interesting colors are used in antique jewelry.

A corundum by any other name is still a corundum when red, it is called RUBY. When it is blue, it is called SAPPHIRE. Sapphires need not, however, be blue – any color of the rainbow will do except red. Corundum also can have a natural ‘star’ in it depending on the angles of the silk-like inclusions. Shown here are many of the varieties of corundum. The ruby contains chromium and aluminum while blue sapphires contain titanium and iron. Iron and aluminum will give the sapphire yellow, and purple sapphires have chromium, titanium and aluminum

A garnet – in any other color – is still a garnet – when it is red, it is understood. However, in the nineteenth century (during the reign of Alexander III of Russia 1881-1894) the green variety was discovered and was called ‘demantoid’ (demon-like) because they thought that the devil had changed the color. (The most popular myth for the origin of the name is ‘diamond like’, something quite far from actuality.) This green is due to calcium and iron. Today there are other green varieties as well as other reddish varieties such as the ‘hessonite’ shown here (upper left). The hessonite garnet contains calcium, the pyrope contains manganese and the almandite contains iron.Gems 2

A diamond is a diamond is a diamond – and is probably one of the most commonly used gems in jewelry manufacturing through the ages. However, as can be seen from the pieces shown here, the color can be dramatically different. You can have bright yellows to black to green, blue and even pink and red. The colors of diamonds are seemingly endless. When nitrogen is present, you get a yellow diamond; and when you have boron, you get a blue diamond.

Pearls – coral – turquoise – topoz – spinel – shown in the picture. There are numerous other materials which man has used throughout time; these include turquoise used in both the snake necklace (English circa 1845) and the diamond cluster ring (English 1880). Turquoise was popular not only in Europe (usually Persian in origin) but also in the United States with the ever increasing interest in Native American and Hispanic cultures – especially in the Southwest.

Gem 3The seas have also provided us with materials which have been widely used, and still are to this day. These include, among others, coral, which is the skeletal remains of a sea animal colony built up from calcite with a color that can vary from light to dark orange to red. The example shown here is a coral and diamond brooch carved as a rose (English circa 1885). Another example is the scarab brooch, which comes from Russia at the end of the 19th century. The pearl also comes in a variety of colors and shapes. This is shown by the two necklaces of golden pearls pictured bottom right. The different colors of pearls are caused by impurities that can exist in the water. The shape of the pearl itself is also not always uniform, and sometimes a piece of jewelry is created around this baroque shape. An example of this is the snail brooch (English circa 1950). The other type of pearl shown in this picture is the ‘pink pearl’ or ‘conch pearl’. These pearls come from the conch shell mollusk around the Florida Keys, producing pearls like the ones used in the marquise shaped diamond cluster ring (English circa 1890).

Gem 4The spinel was for many years confused with the ruby and known as ‘spinel rubies’. The reason is that they are found with the corundum gems in the gravel beds of Burma and Ceylon. Spinel also comes in a variety of colors including orange, yellow and blue, however, the most prized color being a transparent red. (Square-cut spinel and diamond ring)

Topaz, or precious topaz as it is sometimes known, is the color of sherry wine and was widely used during the Victorian period and earlier. It also comes, rarely, in a rich red color (diamond cluster ring).

Beryl: aquamarine and emerald are two varieties of this stone. Both are beryl, as is a wonderful pink variety called ‘Morganite’.

Therefore, a ruby is to a sapphire as an emerald is to an aquamarine!