Dating jewelry is done through multiple methods: looking at design and stylistic clues; at construction techniques; at hallmarks; at materials used; and at patent numbers. However there are certain discoveries, inventions, and historic events that are milestones in jewelry history and knowing a few of them can help narrow down the date of a lot of pieces and eliminate some faulty attributions. I’ve arranged these chronologically and included items of interest to collectors of both fine and costume jewelry.
I love Georgian and Victorian jewelry and am horrified by the quantity of fakes on the market. In an attempt to bring these fakes to light, I’ve been undertaking an intense study of reproductions that are available for sale. While these pieces are being sold as “reproductions” by their manufacturers, they rapidly hit the secondary market as genuine antiques, sometimes by unscrupulous dealers, and sometimes by people who genuinely believe they are old. Studying fakes won’t necessarily teach you how to spot genuine antiques, but it will hopefully help prevent you from making purchasing mistakes.
Margot van Voorhies Carr, known as “Margot de Taxco” was one of the great designers of Mexican jewelry in the mid-20th century. After moving to Mexico in 1937 she married Antonio Castillo who was working for William Spratling. While still working for Spratling Antonio produced and sold jewelry designed by Margot; because it sold well, Antonio, Margot and his brothers and cousins established “Los Castillo” in 1939 with Margot as principal designer.
After divorcing Antonio Castillo Margot opened “Margot de Taxco” in 1948. According to Penny Morrill and Carole Berk in “Mexican Silver”, Margot designed everything that her company produced and had book of instructions and drawings for each piece of jewelry detailing their construction and finishing.
Curious marks on a piece of jewelry started me on a journey into the world of mid-20th century bohemian California: why were the words “Lassen” and “Sausalito” engraved on the back of the brooch when Mount Lassen is hundreds of miles north of Sausalito?
As I looked closer at the piece, I could make out some other words: SS, Fourtane, Loyola. Thinking the SS stood for “Sterling Silver”, I ignored it. The mystery was solved when I discovered that Ed and Loyola Fourtane, husband and wife artists and studio jewelers, lived and worked in Sausalito on a former lumber boat, the SS Lassen, from the mid-1930’s until the 1950’s.
I recently visited the exhibit Maker and Muse, Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry at the Driehaus Museum in Chicago. Curated by Elyse Zorn Karlin, author of Jewelry and Metalwork in the Arts and Crafts Tradition, the exhibit explores the multiple roles women played in the creation of early 20th century art jewelry as makers, patrons, and subjects. About half of the 250 pieces in the exhibit are drawn from the collection of Richard H. Driehaus – founder of the museum – and half are on loan from other museums and private collections. I was in Chicago to attend the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts (ASJRA) which was focused this year on the subjects covered in the museum exhibition. For my post on the conference click here.
The turn of the 20th century saw an explosion of new design movements throughout the world. These movements go by different names in different countries: Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, Jugendstil, Secessionist, Wiener Werkstatte, Sconvirke. These movements also coincide with, or overlap, the Edwardian era which is named for the reign of King Edward VII in England (1901-1910).
With the exception of Edwardian jewelry with its delicate tracery of diamonds and platinum, the other design movements are often characterized by the minimal use of precious materials; the emphasis instead is on flowing lines (sometimes contrasted with hard-edged geometry), color, and symbolism. There are several excellent books on jewelry of this era:
There’s a fun article in the most recent newsletter of the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) about the jewelry created for the TV show Downton Abbey. The article includes an interview with Andrew Prince, the jewelry designer for the show, where he discusses the historical precedents and inspirations for the jewelry and features lots of tiaras and hair jewelry. Make sure to click on the the text at the bottom of each photo in the slide show to get detailed info about each piece shown:
During the Victorian era (1837-1901) a series of major inventions, discoveries, and movements influenced the design of jewelry. The industrial revolution allowed jewelry to be manufactured at lower cost and in greater quantities than ever before, and thus become available to a wider segment of the population. In the mid-19th century, after 200 years of isolation, foreign merchant ships began to visit Japan and Japanese design had a major impact on jewelry and the decorative arts in the latter half of the 19th century. In the 1870’s diamonds were discovered in South Africa and this, combined with the invention of a torch hot enough to work platinum, greatly affected the look of jewelry for the next several decades. On the other hand, the Arts and Crafts movement arose as a reaction to the industrial revolution, and looked back toward a romanticized view of the middle ages (this will be the subject of its own blog post).
When friends from the vintage world visit my house for the first time a comment that I frequently hear is “It’s so uncluttered”. And it’s true: while I’m in no way a minimalist, I don’t like clutter. However that doesn’t mean that I don’t like collecting, in fact I collect a wide range of stuff: jewelry, clothing, furniture, art, ceramics, glass, textiles, rugs and more. However, I consider myself a collector with a lower case “c”: I don’t collect systematically, I just collect what I like and use. Here are some of my tips for how to collect what you love, yet limit and contain the clutter.