Category Archives: Reviews

Maker and Muse, part 1: Exhibit and Book

Maker and Muse Exhibit
maker and muse
Child and Child tiara
maker and muse
Stained glass dome in the Driehaus Museum

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. read more

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Building a Library of Jewelry Books: Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, and Jugendstil

art nouveauThe 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).

art nouveau
Skonvirk Brooch

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: read more

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Building a Library of Jewelry Books: Victorian

Victorian
Victorian Pearl Pendant

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). read more

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Building a Library of Jewelry Books: Modernist Jewelry

Modernist jewelry“Modernist Jewelry” refers to jewelry produced by studio jewelers of the mid-20th century who were influenced by modern art movements; these jewelers were consciously breaking away from prevailing notions of “fine” and “costume” jewelry, intent on creating pieces that were miniature works of art.   The books below focus  mostly, but not exclusively, on work produced by studio jewelers in the United States.  However, it is important to remember that modernist jewelry was also produced in Scandinavia, Mexico, and other parts of the world and that manufacturers of both costume and fine jewelry were influenced by the studio jewelry movement and created pieces in the modernist style. read more

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@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

An important exhibit by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei recently opened on Alcatraz.  Called @Large:  Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz the exhibit is installed throughout the prison; the artworks address themes of freedom and imprisonment using different media and methods of interacting with the viewers.

Ai Weiwei is an internationally renowned artist known for provocative work that often has political themes.  He achieved worldwide fame beyond the art world as part of the design team for the Beijing National Stadium, known popularly as the “Birds Nest”, for the 2008 Summer Olympics.  In 2011 he was arrested and held for 81 days for being a prominent and outspoken critic of the Chinese government.   As of this writing in October 2014, the Chinese government has retained his passport, keeping him from leaving China. read more

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Building a Library of Jewelry Books: Hallmarks and Maker’s Marks

One of the biggest challenges in identifying a piece of jewelry is deciphering the marks that you find on the back.  You’d think that a mark would, literally, spell out what you have but many marks are symbols, initials, pictures, and sometimes fakes.  There is no single book that will identify hallmarks and maker’s marks throughout the world in a comprehensive way but, depending on your needs, there are several excellent books each with its own area of specialization.  If you are looking for books that provide some information about marks, but not the level of detail addressed below, see my post on Building a Library of Jewelry Books:  the Basics. read more

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Jewelry Exhibits: the Newark Museum and “Gilded New York” at the Museum of the City of New York

Jewelry exhibits
Newark Museum Jewelry Gallery

One of only four museums in the United States with a gallery space dedicated to its permanent jewelry collections, the Newark Museum is a little-known gem that deserves better recognition by jewelry lovers.  To people unfamiliar with jewelry history the crime-plagued city of Newark may seem like an odd place for a museum committed to the display of jewelry, however from about 1850-1950 Newark was the fine jewelry manufacturing capital of the United States.  According to Ulysses Grant Dietz, curator of decorative arts at the Newark Museum and author of “The Glitter and the Gold, Fashioning  America’s Jewelry”, it is estimated that in 1929 approximately ninety percent of solid-gold jewelry made in the U.S. came from Newark factories. read more

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Building a Library of Jewelry Books: the Basics

I have an extensive collection of jewelry books and over the years I’ve developed favorites that I turn to again-and-again when I’m researching a piece of jewelry.  For someone who is starting out collecting or selling vintage and antique jewelry there are several books that are indespensible.  I wouldn’t necessarily describe these books as “beginner” books; each is very serious in its coverage of its subject, but they cover a broad range of periods and styles.

While these books contain information about prices, I don’t recommend using them as price guides because most were written several years ago.  In fact, I don’t think books are a particularly good source of pricing these days; much better information can be found by doing research on the internet.  The best way to research prices is by using these books to help you figure out what you have acquired.  Then you can search for pricing of comparable items on sites like Ruby Lane, Etsy, and 1st Dibs; through a general Google search; and from auction sales results. read more

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Georgian Paste Jewelry

I love fine paste jewelry from all eras but Georgian paste is the finest ever produced.

Paste is glass that is meant to look like gemstones and in my Ruby Lane shop I have pieces dating from the Georgian era through the mid-20th century.  When I refer to “paste”, as opposed to rhinestone, jewelry I distinguish it by the quality of its construction:  paste jewelry is constructed just like fine jewelry using glass stones instead of gemstones in settings of gold or silver.  However, not everyone uses the term in this manner; some people throw around the terms “paste” and “rhinestone” interchangeably. read more

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Charles James Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

More often than not I’m disappointed by the exhibits at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  Rather than being in-depth studies of a fashion designer, style, or theme they often end up being product placement for the sponsoring designer. However the current exhibit, Charles James: Beyond Fashion, is everything I want in a fashion exhibit.  While I’m not sure what the curators mean by “Beyond Fashion” – as if the sublime clothing in this exhibit needs to apologize for being “fashion” –  they presented it superbly. read more

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