The Beginning of Time

From sundials to atomic clocks, the presentation of timekeeping instruments may have changed over the centuries, but the basic premise remains the same.

For generations, people have monitored and visualized time using a variety of sources, including the sun, water, a burning candle, the transfer of sand particles from one section of a container to another, and ultimately through the mechanical marvels known as clocks. The process of measuring moments has long been a necessary practice, and with the advent of clocks, it embraced an element of efficiency and design.

While the origin of the first formal clock is a bit of a mystery, many reports point to the advent of early clocks within European monasteries in the 14th century. That is a plausible concept, as the development of devices to regularly indicate time would aid monks in planning their prayers. Lending credence to this belief is historical documentation of two early examples of clocks built for churches that remain in service to this day. One is the oldest known functional clock, which is said to have been constructed around 1386. It is located in London’s Salisbury Cathedral.

Medieval clock in Salisbury Cathedral, operating a bell in the tower. Dates to circa 1386; restored in 1956. Image by Rwendland, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Potential Word Origin of Clock: Clokke (Middle English), Clocca (medieval Latin), Cloc (Celtic and Old Irish), and Glocka (Old High German)

According to the Salisbury Cathedral site, the hand-wrought iron clock at Salisbury has no face and only chimes on the hour. The mechanics of the clock include falling weights and a device that is wound daily, allowing the clock to run for just over 24 hours at a time. An hour wheel, also known as a “great wheel,” makes one revolution per hour and is designed to strike a pin at exactly the top of the hour. This contact activates an extensive mechanical process, which ultimately results in the striking of a bell, thus producing a chime.   

Tramp art pendulum clock, circa 1890s, porcelain face, glass panels on sides featuring a layered pyramid design. Auctioned for $1,500 in February 2017. Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers image.

Another early model is the Wells Cathedral clock. It is said to be the creation of 14th century monk Peter Lightfoot. Although the clock appears to have some similar attributes and mechanical elements to that of the Salisbury clock, it also reveals added ingenuity. Among the clock’s unique qualities is its dial, which showcases an image of the universe, including the view of the sun and moon surrounding Earth. Above the face of the dial resides the figure of a character named Jack Blandifers, whose job it is to strike the bells every hour on the hour with the use of a hammer and the heels of his shoes. He appears with two knight figures who are responsible for striking the bell at 15-minute intervals. Up until 2010, the Wells Cathedral clock had been wound by hand three times a week, for more than 630 years. Since 1919, the winding had been the responsibility of a member of the Fisher family, according to an article in the Daily Mail. This tenure of service came to an end in 2010 when the final Fisher family member retired and an electric motor replaced the clock’s winding mechanism.

Rare Chinese animated bracket clock featuring porcelain dial with Roman hour numerals, quality triple-fusee movement with engraved brass plates and a filigree border signed Cheong Smag and bearing six-character Chinese mark for Hao Sheng Xiang of the Guangdong Province. Auctioned for $1.05 million in May 2016. Fontaine’s Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers image.

Although churches were not the only places one would find a clock in the 14th through 18th centuries, they were not an item regularly seen in homes. Exceptions to this were royal and upper class residences, where clocks were often part of the decor. Although, the first domestic tabletop clock was constructed in the early 16th century, clocks were still a luxury. With many churches and some town centers showcasing a clock in a bell tower, these types of community clocks seemed to meet citizens’ needs.

 

Early 19th-century Federal inlaid mahogany tall-case clock by Simon Willard. Interior door retains original Isaiah Thomas, Jr paper label for Simon Willard Clock Manufactory. Arched and painted dial with seconds hand and date aperture, gilt decorations on dial, painted brass moon phase disc with naval scene and landscape. Auctioned for $50,000 in May 2015. Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image.

As is most often the case, advancements in clock technology came about as a result of necessity. Here are a few:

  • 1577 marked the invention of the minute hand by Jost Burgi, to meet the needs of an astronomer looking for increased time-keeping abilities during stargazing.
  • Galieo’s discovery of the elements of a pendulum in 1581 was another advancement in clockmaking.
  • 1656 saw the development of the pendulum block, by physicist Christian Huygens, to improve accuracy in timekeeping.
  • Clockmaker Alexander Bain created the first electric clock in 1840.
  • In 1876, Seth E. Thomas filed and received the patent for a mechanical alarm clock that was wound by hand.
  • Frank Hope-Jones created a modern electrical clock in 1895 that would become the inspiration behind those in use today.
  • Between 1927 and 1929, Warren Marrison completed the research and development leading to the first quartz clock. The engineer turned to quartz crystals to create more reliable frequency standards in timekeeping.
  • 1949 saw the unveiling of the first atomic clock by what is now the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Opportunities to View Clock Collections: American Clock & Watch Museum, located in Bristol, Connecticut; National Watch & Clock Museum, in Columbia, Pennsylvania; and The Clockmakers’ Museum, located in The Science Museum, London. Also, the NAWCC has an online collection.

 

Atmos du Millenaire limited-edition mantel clock, Jaeger LeCoultre, month calendar in French with the moonphase, 10¾ inches high. Estimate: £3,000-£4,000. Fellows and LiveAuctioneers image.

In the digital age, reports place the patent for the first digital alarm clock in the hands of American inventor D.E. Protzman, in 1956. However, a more primitive model was introduced during the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904. There, the Ansonia Clock Company unveiled its Plato clock – a spring-wound system with digital cards featuring numbers that flipped.

Many moments have passed since monks and scientists first created mechanisms and enhancements for keeping and displaying time. Centuries later, our society today lives by the minutes and moments these devices keep.

Figural Cast-Iron Doorstops: 5 Brands To Know

Charles Dickens once wrote, “A very little key will open a very heavy door.” And a small cast-iron doorstop can keep it ajar while also being stylish and collectible.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the advent of modern cast-iron doorstops came about in the mid-18th century, when a type of hinge was added to doors to allow for automatic closure. A door that closed by itself was undoubtedly a helpful innovation, however, there were times when an open door was necessary and desired. Enter the doorstop.

Doorstops of brass or other metals were commonplace in the early part of the 18th century, but it was the use of cast iron in the production of doorstops that changed the trajectory of stops, also known as chucks, wedges and blocks, among other things.

The first doorstops were not fanciful in design, but it didn’t take too long before figural images became standard in doorstop production. As was the case with more than a few objects of the past, being utilitarian didn’t mean visual appeal had to be sacrificed. They could blend harmoniously.

Sought-after hand painted casting of a young girl stepping over flowers, strong retention of paint, one of many variations of this doorstop created by Littco Productions (est. $1,800-$2,500). Lot #112 in Bertoia Auctions’ Nov. 11 sale. Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

The versatility of figural doorstop design also lends to its appeal among collectors of other types of objects. A perfect example of crossover collectibles, figural doorstops boast designs related to everything from Americana, nautical and floral themes to entertainment characters, folk art, animals and nature.

COLLECTING TIP – Many vintage models of original doorstops have a smoother casting, as opposed to a rougher surface that is sometimes seen in reproductions.

Several companies have produced doorstops over the past two centuries, and in many instances, doorstops were a secondary, albeit successful, sideline. Among the most prolific producers were Bradley & Hubbard, Hubley, Littco, and Judd Co. Also, one of the revered designers of doorstops was Anne Fish. Here we’ll look at the contributions each made to doorstop history.

Bradley & Hubbard Mgf. Co.

When Nathaniel and William L. Bradley, Walter Hubbard, and Orson and Chitten Hatch formed a partnership in 1852, the focus of their output was clocks. Just two years later, the Hatch brothers stepped away, leaving the Bradley brothers and Hubbard to move forward as Bradley and Hubbard. While production of clocks remained the company’s top priority, they expanded operations to manufacture call bells and sewing machines. The company also made flags, hoopskirts and match safes, all within the first few years of operation. In the years that followed, the company became a leader in the production of kerosene lamps and architectural elements, including grilles, railings, fences, doorstops, and lighting fixtures. The company was sold to Charles Parker Company in 1940. Although it’s hard to determine precisely when the Bradley and Hubbard division of the Parker Company ceased to operate, but by 1950 there was no longer any mention of the division in the company’s product catalogs.

Huckleberry Finn-type whistling boy figure cast-iron doorstop, detailed casting, both rubber knobs intact, good retention of paint, from the Jeanne Bertoia Collection, sold for $22,420 during a March 2016 auction at Bertoia Auctions. Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

Hubley

Located in a region known for iron mining during the 19th century, it’s no wonder that in 1894 the Hubley Manufacturing Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, would become involved in cast iron production. Hubley was an early manufacturer of cast iron toys. Hubley cast iron toy vehicles were popular when they were new, and are even more so today as collectors’ items. Applying some of the techniques and processes used to produce cast-iron toys proved profitable for Hubley when it ventured into doorstops. Molds were used in the mass production of doorstops, but each was painted by hand. Many subjects were depicted in Hubley’s doorstops, and they were especially well known for their dogs. There were few canine breeds overlooked by Hubley, and in each case, great attention was paid to the small details. Other motifs of Hubley doorstops popular with collectors are flower baskets, nautical themes, and other types of animals.

Hubley doorstop featuring two quail perched on a branch surrounded by tall grass, realistic details, marked Everett 34 on the front, created by revered doorstop designer Fred Everett, (est. $400-$600). Lot #181 in Bertoia Auctions’ Nov. 11 sale. Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

COLLECTING TIP – Original doorstops were put together using slotted screws, not the more modern types of screws.

Littco: Beginning as Littlestown Hardware and Foundry Company, Inc., in 1916, the unit known as Littco Productions was responsible for producing decorative cast iron doorstops and bookends, hammers, and fireplace accessories, among other items. The creation of decorative cast-iron objects, including doorstops, was a big part of the firm’s business until the early 1940s. World War II, changed the company’s focus, as it did for many manufacturers. Much of the company’s output would now support the war effort. The company did iron casting until 1990, when its operation turned to aluminum casting, as it remains today.

One of only four known original Halloween girl cast-iron doorstops made by Littco Products, provenance: the Jeanne Bertoia Collection, sold for $29,500 during a March 2016 auction at Bertoia Auctions. Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

Judd Manufacturing Company: Doorstops made by this Connecticut-based company often bear a maker’s mark of “cjo,” and carry with them a rich history of casting in iron, brass, and bronze. The company established itself in 1933 as a harness manufacturer. Ownership and production lines changed as the 19th century progressed. In 1910, the company began manufacturing bookends, book racks and doorstops, among other objects. These production lines continued until the late 1930s.

Heavy cast-iron doorstop manufactured by Judd Co., depicting a boy in lederhosen holding two large baskets of flowers (est. $200-$300). Lot #118 in Bertoia Auctions’ Nov. 11 sale. Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

COLLECTING TIP – View as many collections and presentations of doorstops as possible, to become familiar with the look and style of various manufacturers. A great place to view a significant number of doorstops is http://www.BertoiaAuctions.com. Jeanne Bertoia, owner of Bertoia Auctions, amassed one of the most admired of all doorstop collections, and she is considered one of the top experts in the field. Bertoia Auctions continues to bring premier doorstop collections to auction. For example, more than 55 of the more than 1,300 lots in Bertoia Auctions’ Nov. 11-12 Signature Sale are doorstops.

Anne Fish: With her considerable talents as a cartoonist and illustrator, British artist Anne Harriet Fish expanded her artistic repertoire by working with both the Fulper pottery works and the Hubley company. Her application of Art Deco style can be seen in various examples of Hubley cast-iron works, including doorstops. Fish-designed doorstops are among the most sought after by today’s collectors.

Even in the age of central air conditioning, vintage doorstops still have a place in the home, whether the objective is to prop open a door, to add a decorative touch to a room – or both.

Extremely scarce Bathing Beauties cast-iron doorstop issued by Hubley, created by Anne Fish and signed Fish 250, Art Deco design, sold for $10,350 in 2011 through Bertoia Auctions. Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

Teapots: Steeped in History and Culture

As is often the case with antiquities, the objects themselves tell a story of the past and reflect their influence on the present. The teapot is one such storyteller.
Centuries before teapots were in use, people were drinking tea, but differently. In third-century China, the earliest method did not involve steeping the tea leaves, but rather, roasting them, forming them into a paste, then molding the paste into a cake which was boiled into a finished product that resembled soup. With that being the case, there didn’t seem to be a need for a teapot.
The process of preparing tea evolved into pounding tea leaves into a powder, placing the powder into a cup and pouring boiling water over it. The tradition of the tea service was an outgrowth of this change.

Early Rookwood lidded teapot with Limoges-style decoration of two bunnies on one side and flying bats on the other, most likely the work of Maria Longworth Nicholas, circa 1881. To be auctioned Nov. 3 by Humler & Nolan. Estimate: $2,000-$2,500). Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com and Humler & Nolan

Arguably the first teapot was created in the Jiangsu province of China in 1500. Early teapots from this region were “Yixing” teapots. In Chinese, this translates to “purple sand pot,” a reference to the distinctive purple sand clay that was plentiful in that area and used in earthenware vessels. It wasn’t surprising that the earliest recorded teapots would come from this part of the world, as the Jiangsu province was prolific in the production of porcelain vessels in the 16th century and into the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The evolution of tea preparation led to a substantially successful period for makers of Yixing teapots. The mineral composition of the “zisha” (purple sand) clay of the region was considered the finest of all types for use in tea-brewing vessels. Zisha clay is very porous and allows for significant absorption and retention of the tea’s flavor.

Tea Legend: Because of the porous nature of the clay used to make Yixing teapots, it is said that after preparing tea in the same pot several times, one can simply add water to boil in the pot without tea leaves, as the flavor retained by the pot during past brewings will render a quality cup of tea.

As awareness of the Yixing pot spread throughout Asia, there was an increased demand for not only the pots, but also knowledge of how the earthen pots were made. This awareness led to new influences being incorporated into the manufacturing process, resulting in a more elegant design. It also marked the period in history when Europe became familiar with Chinese porcelain, including teapots.

Veilleuse teapot in a rich brown color featuring medallions with intricate design, set atop a globular stand of the same color and three floriated feet. Acquired in Rome and presently on display within the Trenton Teapot Collection. Image courtesy City of Trenton, Tennessee

In the 17th century, the East India Company brought its profitable imports to Europe. However, European manufactories were not familiar with the techniques that produced zisha pots. The oft-accepted process of making porcelain in Europe involved mixing glass-like materials with clay. Unfortunately, “soft-paste” porcelain teapots were known to crack and explode when boiling water was poured into them.

Things changed dramatically in 1705 when an “imprisoned” young alchemist and an experienced scientist were brought together with the purpose of developing a formula and technique for creating “hard paste” porcelain. This opened the door to European production of a much-sought-after commodity. At the time, 18-year-old Johann Friedrich Bottger was under house arrest, not for what he had done as an alchemist, but for what he might be up to regarding the development of gold. At the same time, Ehrenfried Walter von Tschirnhaus, a scientist, was two decades into an effort to learn how porcelain was made. At Tschirnhaus’ suggestion, Bottger was escorted by a guard to the scientist’s lab, where the two began collaborating on a porcelain project. They worked together until 1708, when Tschirnhaus died from dysentery. That same year, production of European porcelain, using the formula the two had developed, began in Meissen, Germany. The public’s first opportunity to purchase pieces took place at the Leipzig Easter Fair in 1710.

In short order, regions across Europe began delving into the production of teapots as well as other porcelain objects, and the industry began to flourish. In part, the popularity of the quality European porcelain grew through its availability, not only in quantity but also in affordability. Tea and teapots may not have bridged the gap between the upper and middle socio-economic classes within Europe, but it did allow for people of varying backgrounds to enjoy one common pleasure: tea served from a teapot.

Georgian George III sterling silver teapot in classic oval cann-shape form, on simple oval stand, circa 1784, England. Auctioned for $3,200 on April 2, 2017. Jasper52 image

With the porcelain formula now widely known, production moved at a steady clip, and the public was embracing tea and teapots with unmatched fervor. Creativity in design and new efficiencies in production were seen. This is visible in the forms of the teapots, the glazes, and novel designs, including Swinton Pottery’s iconic Brown Betty teapot. Like the famous Yixing teapots, the Brown Betty came from red clay, which also provides for substantial retention of heat. The Brown Betty was simple in design but a model of efficiency in producing a good cup of tea.
“Have tea and teapot, will travel,” may not have been the motto of the British colonists heading to what would eventually become America to start a new life, but the taste for tea and appreciation for teapots was not something they would leave behind. Of course, colonists would soon discover what Native Americans had known for centuries, that clay (an essential resource in porcelain and pottery-making) was both abundant and varied in composition within the “New World.” Additionally, North America had the natural resources for fuel, in the form of wood from its vast forests. By 1850, in New England alone, there were more than 500 potters actively working.

Pair of Meissen decorative teapots, late 19th/early 20th century, hand-painted with hinged, chained handle arching over the teapots, finished with gold trim, Meissen marks on bottom. Auctioned for $300 in October 2015. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Akiba Auctions

It wasn’t just in the East that American pottery production was booming. As people began to travel west and settle, potteries were established and teapots continued to be created. Again, the evolution of brewing and serving tea led to changes in teapot production. The development of the teabag in the first quarter of the 20th century simplified tea-brewing, as it eliminated the need for some accessories, such as strainers.
As time has gone on, teapots have evolved from functional wares to collectibles. One of the most impressive collections of teapots may be viewed in a small community in western Tennessee. The collection, amassed by Trenton’s native son, the late Dr. Frederick Freed, showcases porcelain veilleuses-théières, meaning night- or side-light teapots. This style of the teapot is unique in that the warming stand upon which the teapot sits is not the sleek and short style commonly seen, but instead, one that can measure more twice the height of the teapot, which on average would hold two to three cups of a beverage. The veilleuse came about as a means of providing warm beverages during the night, for patients and youngsters. A dish of oil was placed in the stand, and when lit, it would serve as a warming device for the porcelain pot.

The Trenton teapot collection includes 650 examples, all made between 1750 and 1860 and acquired by Dr. Freed during his travels to France and Germany. The collection is valued at $8 million.

Veilleuse teapot in a rich brown color featuring medallions with intricate design, set atop a globular stand of the same color and three floriated feet. Acquired in Rome and presently on display within the Trenton Teapot Collection. Image courtesy City of Trenton, Tennessee

Beginning in 1955 and over the course of several years, Dr. Freed donated his collection of teapots to the City of Trenton. All these years later Dr. Freed’s gift of conservatorship of his collection continues to draw visitors and tourism dollars to the Tennessee community. An estimated 3,000 people are said travel to Trenton each year just to view the rare pots.

Trenton Teapot Collection: The Trenton Teapot Collection is located at Trenton City Hall in Trenton, Tennessee. The museum is open weekly from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and admission is free. The community of Trenton will hold its 38th Annual Trenton Teapot Festival in April of 2018.
Whether they are ancient Chinese Yixing vessels, early Meissen designs, or decorative mid-20th-century productions, teapots perpetuate the fascinating story of how an Eastern invention became a staple of Western life.

Jaeger-LeCoultre: Always On Time

While some people dread the onset of winter, it’s this season that gave rise to what would become Jaeger-LeCoultre, a pioneer in the production of fine timepieces.

In the 18th century in a Swiss valley community, Abraham-Joseph LeCoultre built a forge that, many years later, would evolve into the workshop and headquarters for a world-famous company established by his son, Antoine. In addition to his work as a blacksmith, the elder LeCoultre was also a farmer and a beekeeper, which influenced his understanding of both mechanical operations and natural design. At the forge, LeCoultre and his neighbors spent many a winter’s evening creating movement blanks, dials and pinions for watches. They were also well known for their expertise in lapidary, which aided their ability to create watches of great precision.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos 561 by Marc Newson clock, a one-of-a-kind timepiece created for the ‘Jony and Marc’s (RED) Auction’ of 2013, benefitting the (RED) organization, through Sotheby’s. The clock is made of Cristal de Baccarat with rhodium-plated feet, and sold for $425,000, surpassing an estimate of $20,000-$30,000. Image courtesy Sotheby’s

In 1833, Antoine took the knowledge he had amassed from 30 years of working with his father and founded LeCoultre Manufacture. Innovation was at the company’s core. Antoine invented at least two revolutionary items within the first 15 years in operation: the Millionometre and a crown-winding operation. The first invention allowed for accurate measurement to a thousandth of a millimeter. This development ultimately led to widespread adoption of the metric system by the Swiss watchmaking industry. The other innovation, a crown-winding system, superseded the key-wind approach previously used to set time. A variation of this system is still in use in modern-made mechanical watches.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Perpetual watch, manual-wind movement, skeleton dial, gold hands, watch case and butterfly clasp of 18K rose gold, original brown leather strap, circa 2008, auctioned in 2014 for $35,377. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers Archive and Auctionata Paddle 8 AG

Award-Winning Moment: Displaying in 1851 at The Great Exhibition in London, Antoine LeCoultre received a gold medal for a gold chronometer. The recognition was the first of many accolades the company would receive for precision mechanics in timekeeping.

At the turn of the 20th century, the company’s management passed into the hands of a new generation. Renowned watchmaker Jacques-David LeCoultre assumed the helm following his grandfather Antoine’s passing. Until his own demise in 1948, Jacques-David was instrumental in developing and expanding the company.

Significant to its growth, LeCoultre & Cie started creating movements for other premier watchmakers, including Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet, and the firm’s first client, Patek Philippe.

Royal Wearers: Queen Elizabeth II is said to have worn one of LeCoultre & Cie’s revolutionary timepieces known as the Duoplan Calibre during her coronation in 1953. With 74 parts, the Calibre weighed in at only one gram.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra-Thin wristwatch featuring a stainless steel case, signed manual-wind caliber 839, silvered dial with baton hour markers and quarterly Arabic numerals, and a brown caiman strap. Entered in Fellows’ Oct. 31, 2017 auction. Estimate: $1,400-$2,100. Image courtesy Fellows and LiveAuctioneers

As the 20th century ticked forward, another watchmaker, Edmond Jaeger, was implementing new timekeeping methods of his own and, not unlike LeCoultre & Cie., was supplying other prestigious makers – in Jaeger’s case, Cartier.

Over time, the competitors would collaborate to design the first watches for use by civilian and military pilots during World War I. The two companies formally merged as a single operation in 1937.

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s timepiece innovations include: A durable timepiece with a clever face-flipping mechanism used to protect the crystal (it’s said this model – the Reverso – was created in response to a polo team’s problem with watch faces incurring damage while on the playing field); the first 100% automatic watch without a winding-crown; the water-resistant Geophysic chronometer, which is impervious to magnetic fields and shock; a timepiece with a built-in alarm (Memovox) that sounds like the ring of a vintage telephone; and development of the world’s first diver’s watch with a built-in alarm (Deep Sea) to remind a diver when it was time to surface. The company also participated in the creation of the first quartz wristwatch in 1967.

Vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre 25.0-carat round, brilliant and baguette-cut diamond and platinum bracelet watch, auctioned for $20,000 in April 2017. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers Archive and Kodner Galleries, Inc.

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Famous Fans: Silent film icon Charlie Chaplin, superhero and leading man Robert Downey Jr., Mad Men television actress January Jones, Academy Award-winning actor, screenwriter and producer Matt Damon; Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington, actress and model Diane Krueger, comedian and actor Steve Carrell, music mogul Jay-Z, and singer and songwriter Kelly Clarkson, among others.

In fact, Charlie Chaplin’s appreciation for Jaeger-LeCoulter timepieces is a showpiece of the museum Chaplin’s World, which opened in Switzerland in 2016. According to a report by Forbes, the watch, a Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox, was presented to Chaplin in 1953. The back is inscribed: Hommage du gouvernement Vaudois à Charlie Chaplin – 6 octobre 1953. The watch was discovered by crews during renovation of the house in which Chaplin and his family resided. The house is now the museum.

Enjoy this video about Chaplin’s storied watch:

A Jaeger-LeCoultre watch purchased new today costs a minimum of around $5,000 up to $2.5 million. On the secondary market, the most paid for a Jaeger-LeCoultre was $425,000. The custom Atmos 561 features uncommon red accents and sold during a Sotheby’s auction in 2013. The watch was one of two Jaeger-LeCoultre models sold to benefit musician Bono’s charity (RED).

From humble beginnings in a small Swiss village to appearing on the wrists of Hollywood heavyweights, Jaeger-LeCoultre timepieces not only keep time, they’ve set the pace in precision mechanics for nearly 185 years.

Schoenhut: From Tiny Pianos To Legendary Toys

German immigrant Albert Schoenhut not only lived the American dream, but he made childhood much more fun for generations of children in his adopted homeland.
Born into a family of toymakers, Schoenhut’s lot in life emerged early on. Even as a child, Albert was already picking up the skills to make toy pianos in the family home located in Göppingen, Germany. As a third-generation toymaker, Schoenhut learned the craft of making wooden dolls, circus figures, complete playsets and games from his father and grandfather. At the age of 17, he had narrowed his focus to toy pianos. His talent resulted in a job offer from America and Schoenhut’s solo immigration to Philadelphia, where he worked for Wanamaker’s department store. His work consisted of repairing German toy pianos imported to the United States, beginning in the 1860s.

Lot featuring all three sizes of jointed-wood Felix the Cat dolls manufactured by Schoenhut, auctioned for $850 in October 2009. LiveAuctioneers and Dan Morphy Auctions image

History Highlight: Composer John Cage put Schoenhut Toy Co.’s toy pianos in the spotlight on the concert stage in 1948 with his Suite for Toy Piano. Enjoy a performance of this special composition:

In 1897, Schoenhut went off on his own, forming A. Schoenhut Company, Manufacturer of Toys and Novelties. He wasn’t alone. It’s reported in the 1900 Census that at least 500 toy manufacturers were operating within the United States. As the 20th century got under way, Albert Schoenhut’s $100 acquisition of a toy clown patent set the course for what would become one of his company’s most prolific toy lines. Schoenhut’s Humpty Dumpty Circus, with its various jointed animal and clown figures, and other circus accessories, opened the door to playset popularity.

Schoenhut Humpty Dumpty Circus playset from the turn of the 20th century, featuring a circus tent, circus ring, original flags, 12 figures: dancer, clowns, animal trainers; and 18 animal figures, sold for 8,000 Euro ($9,425). Provenance: Rothenburg Doll and Toy Museum, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

History Highlight: The German community where the Schoenhut family of toymakers produced playthings was no stranger to timeless toy production, as toymaking firm Märklin also operated in Göppingen, Germany.

The Humpty Dumpty Circus was a hit with children, parents and teachers alike. The ability to create scenes inspired by the real-life big-top circuses of the day captured the attention of all ages. The retail availability of various figures, which could be purchased individually, created an affordable way for parents to provide their children with toys for creative play.
The Humpty Dumpty Circus toy line was in production from 1903 through 1935. Various museums include or have featured displays/figures of Humpty Dumpty Circus playsets in exhibitions, including:
• The Strong National Museum of Play www.museumofplay.org
• NC Museum of Dolls, Toys & Miniatures www.spencerdollandtoymuseum.com
• New-York Historical Society Museum & Library www.nyhistory.org
• Philadelphia History Museum www.philadelphiahistory.org

Rare, circa 1906 painted-wood toy boat, Schoenhut Co., with cardboard cloth covered canopy and composition figures seated in the bow, keywind mechanism, accompanied by original box, entered in Bertoia’s Nov. 11, 2017 auction. LiveAuctioneers and Bertoia Auctions image

Tip: The Schoenhut Collectors Club is an active organization supporting the practice of collecting, preserving, and researching toys, dolls, and games created by the A. Schoenhut Co., and successor companies. The club hosts an annual fall convention. http://www.schoenhutcollectorsclub.org

Another evolution of the A. Schoenhut Company’s toy production was the “All Wood Perfection Art Doll.” The first model, marketed in 1911, featured steel spring hinges for joints and a basswood head designed by a revered Italian sculptor of the day. The Wood Perfection Art Doll became a top seller during the 1910s, even with the impact of World War I. Before his death in 1912, Albert Schoenhut saw his company progress into various new avenues of toy production and reach its 40th anniversary.
However, the company succumbed to the same fate as many other American businesses impacted by the Great Depression. In 1934, the company entered bankruptcy. Although many of the company’s buildings were sold during liquidating auctions, a few did not sell. In 1935, Albert Schoenhut’s youngest son and one of his grandsons formed the O. Schoenhut Company (after the son, Otto). The company produced Pinn Family Dolls in Philadelphia until the 1970s. In 1984 the company was purchased by Frank Trinca. This iteration of the Schoenhut company was also a family operation, and taking it full circle, brothers Frank and Len Trinca shifted the focus right back to where it began: toy pianos. Now doing business as the Schoenhut Piano Company, the company is revered for the quality of musical instruments it produces.
As they say, everything old is new again.

Roy Lichtenstein: Pop Art with a Comic Book Twist

Oct. 27 marks the 94th anniversary of Roy Fox Lichtenstein’s birth. The pop art trailblazer was born in 1923 and lived to age 73, leaving an immense body of compelling, in-your-face art that appeals to anyone who loves comic-book-style graphics – and isn’t that just about everyone?

Immense, in this instance, means more than 5,000 pieces created over a period of three decades. Often regaled for his prints, Lichtenstein’s creations also included paintings, drawings, murals, and sculptures, among other types of art.

Roy Lichtenstein, Brushstroke Nude, 1993, painted cast aluminum, sold by Phillips in a May 10, 2012 auction for $4.8 million. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Phillips

His appreciation for artistic expression formed early in his childhood in New York. His mother, Beatrice, was a homemaker with training as a pianist, and it is said that she made it a priority to expose her children – Roy and younger sister Rénee – to as much artistic culture as the city could offer. This inspired Lichtenstein during his undergraduate studies at Ohio State University, an education he would complete in two parts: before and after his military service during World War II. Even during his time in Europe, he continued to hone his artistic skills. He had hoped to study at the Sorbonne in Paris but ended up returning to the United States in the mid-1940s upon receiving news of his father’s illness.

After his father’s passing, Lichtenstein remained stateside and resumed his studies at Ohio State. Upon completing his studies, Lichtenstein become a member of the university’s faculty. Academia would become a hallmark of Lichtenstein’s early professional life. In addition to OSU, he taught at the State University of New York at Oswego and Douglass College in New Jersey. Prior to focusing his efforts full time on creating art, his work history included modern interior design, furniture design, and even window dressing.

Roy Lichtenstein, Sweet Dreams, Baby!, silkscreen printed in colors, 1965, 160/200, sold by Bloomsbury auctions on Dec. 6, 2011 for $99,000. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bloomsbury Auctions

Artist’s Trademark: By including Benday dots, a symbol of mechanical patterns often used in industrial engraving, Lichtenstein incorporated a unique form of texture within his artwork. The dots became synonymous with the artist and a pop-art staple.

The familiarity and popularity of Roy Lichtenstein’s work is due in part to his printmaking. These pieces are considered original art although they are prints of an original surface. Different from commercial prints, fine-art prints are limited in number and often signed by the artist. The printing technique most often used by Lichtenstein during his career was screenprinting (also referred to as silkscreen printing). This technique found a fan in pop-art master Andy Warhol, who used it to develop his own distinctive style. It also influenced the work of Lichtenstein and others active in the early pop-art movement. In the simplest terms, screenprinting involves applying a stencil to a screen through which ink passes, rendering an image on the blank space.

A Lichtenstein print never before offered at auction is among the works featured in Sotheby’s Postwar and Contemporary Evening Sale, Nov. 16, 2017. The print Female Head was created by Lichtenstein in 1977 and carries an auction estimate of $10 million to $15 million.

Roy Lichtenstein, Female Head, 1977, estimate $10M-$15M in Sotheby’s Nov. 16, 2017 auction. Copyright Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

Lichtenstein was very obviously influenced by cartoon and comic art. Like some early comic books, the themes explored and subjects presented in his artwork were not always tranquil. They defined pop art through parody, often in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

Roy Lichtenstein, Nurse, oil and magna on canvas painting, circa 1964, signed and dated rf Lichtenstein ‘64 on verso, realized $95,365,000 in 2015, the most ever paid for a Lichtenstein at auction. Christie’s image

As prolific as he was in creating cartoon-influenced pop art during the second and third quarters of the 20th century, Lichtenstein didn’t shy away from exploring other genres and movements, including cubism, surrealism, and expressionism; as well as other media, such as sculptures and murals. In the late 20th century, he created five murals and significant sculptures in six cities around the world.

The artist continued to work into his 70s, until succumbing unexpectedly to complications of pneumonia in 1997. Although he has been gone for two decades, Lichtenstein’s work continues to captivate and attract new fans, often with “Biff!,” “Pow!” or “Wham!”

In Focus: Linda McCartney

Linda McCartney photo, The Beatles, London 1968, gelatin silver print, 40 x 50 cm, stamped on verso, signed by Mary McCartney from the Linda McCartney Estate. Image obtained from LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Westlicht Photographica Auction

If it were not for photographer Linda McCartney (American, 1941-1998), the history of rock music would be missing a vital part of its visual record from the 1960s and ’70s. While she had only minimal formal training – once modestly referring to herself as a “punk photographer” – McCartney had a gift for putting performers at ease, then dissolving into the background to snap what are now considered classic photos of music superstars.

Linda McCartney was born Linda Louise Eastman to an upper-crust family from Westchester County, New York. Although some may have presumed it to be so, she was not related to the Eastman family of Eastman Kodak fame, and never made any suggestion that she was. Her father, Lee (Epstein) Eastman was a prominent entertainment lawyer in New York City. Her mother, Louise Lindner Eastman, was the daughter of Max J. Lindner, founder of the Lindner Company department store in Cleveland, Ohio.

After graduating from Scarsdale High School, Linda enrolled at Vermont College, where she earned an Associate of Arts degree. She then moved to Tucson, where she attended the University of Arizona. She started dabbling in equine and nature photography and became an avid hobbyist. Even as a student, she was known to use a high-quality Leica camera.

After her mother died tragically in a 1962 commercial airline crash, Linda moved back to New York and eventually went to work as a receptionist and editorial assistant for the society magazine Town & Country. During that time, she also went along on photo shoots with her then-boyfriend, photographer David Dalton. She closely observed the techniques he used in composition and lighting. Later, as she pursued her own career, Linda became known for her accomplished use of natural light when shooting her subjects.

Linda’s career path took a fortuitous turn in 1966 when an invitation arrived at Town & Country’s offices, inviting the publication to send a representative to a Rolling Stones record promotion party on a yacht. Linda jumped at the chance and ended up being the only photographer allowed on the yacht.

Linda McCartney photo of Mick Jagger, 1966, taken aboard a yacht in New York Harbor, #38/150, signed by the photographer in pencil at lower right. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers

“I just kept clicking away with the camera,” Linda is quoted as saying in the Howard Sounes biography Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney, “and they enjoyed it and I enjoyed it, and suddenly I found that taking pictures was a great way to live and a great way to work.”

A few months after her Stones shoot, Linda was allowed backstage at Shea Stadium, where the Beatles performed. She also became an unofficial house photographer at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East, where she took pictures of scores of artists, including Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Doors, the Who, Grace Slick, and many others. A portrait she took of Eric Clapton became the first by a woman photographer to be chosen for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. She developed a reputation as not only a fine photographer but also a music industry insider whom recording artists could trust.

Linda McCartney photo, John Lennon, circa-1969 gelatin silver print, printed circa 1974, photographer’s stamps and negative number in red crayon on verso. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com and Bloomsbury Auctions

Linda McCartney signed lithograph of Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship). Edition of 150. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com and Simon Parr’s Auctions

In 1967, while on assignment in London, Linda Eastman met Paul McCartney at the Bag O’ Nails, a club frequented by musicians. They met again four days later at the launch party for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s house. In May of 1968, they reconnected at the US launch of Apple Records in Manhattan. Less than a year later, the couple married in a small civil ceremony in London. They would go on to live a normal, non-celebrity-oriented type of life on a farm, far from the insanity of Beatlemania. Throughout their 29 years of marriage, their primary consideration was always their four children: Heather, Mary, Stella and James.

Signed candid photo of Paul and Linda McCartney taken at a sports venue. Their marriage was one of rock music’s most solid, lasting 29 years until Linda’s death in 1998, at age 56. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com and Heritage Auctions

While she also became a musician, playing keyboards and singing with McCartney’s post-Beatles group Wings, Linda had many other interests. She was a vegetarian and animal activist. She developed a successful line of vegetarian frozen foods that made her independently wealthy, and she both wrote and photographed the images for two bestselling vegetarian cookbooks.

Linda never lost her passion for photographing interesting people, including her own family. Her photographs have appeared on album covers and been exhibited in more than 50 galleries worldwide, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Her experiments with making sun prints – a 19th-century photo-developing process that dates to the early days of photography – earned Linda McCartney an invitation to have her work exhibited at the Royal Photographic Society in Bath, England.

In 1992, a book of Linda’s photos from the earliest decade of her career – titled Linda McCartney’s Sixties: Portrait of an Era – was published by Bulfinch. The photos have been praised for their warmth and ability to capture the essence of each subject at a precise moment in time. A testament to Linda’s talent behind the lens and the respect she garnered from those she photographed, the book remains one of the definitive photo records of rock music legends from that period in time.

Linda McCartney’s Sixties: Portrait of an Era, deluxe signed limited edition book in slipcase, #312/500, Bulfinch, 1992. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Heritage Auctions

The Origin of Money: From Cowrie Shells to Bitcoin

Before there were organized monetary systems, there was barter and trade. Some sources report evidence of compensation exchange in cultures dating back as far as 10,000 years ago. People with the ability to fish would connect with those who cultivated and harvested crops to exchange commodities. While this form of trade was useful for many societies, it wasn’t without challenges. One of those challenges was finding a consistent party with whom to barter and trade the materials a person was capable of bringing to the table. Another challenge was the amount of time it could take to complete an exchange of goods – especially if one side of the exchange was dependent on crops that required many months to reach the point of harvest. Also, there was the question of how to value the commodities on both sides so there could be a fair exchange.

Long strand of chain link probably used as a form of currency, Roman Empire, circa 2nd-4th century AD. Measures 36 inches long x 1 inch wide. Sold by Artemis Gallery for $450 in September 2017. LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Artemis Gallery image

People living near the sea – the Pacific and Indian Oceans, primarily – took a different approach, implementing cowrie shells from sea snails as an accepted form of currency. It’s believed that the brightly patterned cowrie shell is one of the longest-tenured forms of currency anywhere. The first indication of its use dates to 1,200 BC. Even after the introduction of gold coins as a form of currency, some civilizations opted to continue using cowrie shells.

Restrung Viking necklace of assorted green glass beads with two cowrie-shell pendants and three silver coins on loops, circa 9th-12th century AD, sold for $237 at TimeLine Auctions’ September 2016 sale. TimeLine Auctions, Ltd. image

The leap from cowrie shells to metal monies first took place in China. Archeological discoveries have uncovered various specimens of primitive coins. This evolution within early Chinese culture is said to have been inspired by people initially exchanging tools and weapons. This led to the inventive idea of creating small replicas of these items for a safer and easier method of exchange. Ultimately, the small replicas, some with sharp edges, were cast aside in favor of circular discs, often made of copper and bronze. Sometimes a hole was bored into the coins, to allow them to be placed together on a chain. This was the earliest identifiable example of what is considered early coinage. However, it was in Lydia (modern-day Turkey) that the gold-and-silver allow electrum, along with a process of stamping, turned out the first batch of precious metal coins.

Ancient copper sestertius (Roman coin) of Emperor Antoninus Pius, scarce and occasionally issued during the Roman Empire. Offered with $200-$350 estimate in Jasper52 Sept. 30 Ancient Roman Coins Auction. LiveAuctioneers.com and Jasper52 image

Although it was at King Alyattes of Lydia’s direction that such coins were produced in the late 7th century, it was Greece that capitalized on the innovation. As Wayne G. Sayles states in the book Ancient Coin Collecting, “… the rise of Greek culture and the development of coinage as a form of artistic and political expression go hand in hand. The study of numismatics, from the 7th to the 3rd centuries BC, is really an exploration of Greek civilization.”

Two plaques containing examples of shell wampum and trade beads; part of a 5-piece lot of Native American beadwork objects that was sold by Cordier Auctions for $100 in February 2016. Cordier Auctions & Appraisals image

While the Greeks, followed by the Romans, were focusing their attention on producing coins made of silver, bronze, and gold, 7th-century China was changing things by developing paper money. Early on, these notes would be exchanged for coins. A trusted source would issue the person transferring the coins a note indication the amount of coins that were deposited, and at a later date, the holder of the note could redeem their currency. While paper banknotes were used within the Chinese culture for more than 500 years, the excess production of notes prompted a decline in value and a rise in inflation. This led to the beginning of the end of paper-money use in China, in 1455. It would be another three centuries before paper currency would return to the Chinese market. As is often the case, everything old becomes new again if you wait long enough. Such was the case with shell currency. Wampum – strings of beads made from clamshells and used as both a form of adornment and a form of currency – was used by Native American peoples. There is evidence of wampum’s use in the mid-16th century, and perhaps earlier.

Another unique example of currency could be found in late 17th-century French colonies in Canada. French soldiers were presented with playing cards bearing various denominations and the signature of a governor to be used as currency in lieu of coins.

1815 $20 TN-12 Remainder note, PCGS New 62PPQ, rarer than similar $5 and $10 notes, sold for $18,800 in a Heritage auction held in April 2015. Heritage Auctions image

Money continues its evolution today, with governments around the world minting and printing coins and currency daily. In addition, the 21st century has also seen increasing use of electronic transactions and digital currency. And at the same time, the cycle seems to have come full circle, as there are examples of a new generation utilizing the ancient principles of barter and trade.

Andy Warhol: Godfather of Pop Art

Artist, sculptor, filmmaker, magazine publisher, photographer, dance club owner, author, graphic designer. For a person to excel in any one of these endeavors during a lifetime would be quite enough for most people, but in his relatively short 58 years of life, Andy Warhol excelled at all of them. In so doing, he left an indelible imprint on American popular culture.

Born in 1928, Andy Warhola grew up in a work-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh, PA. He was the youngest of three children born to Slovakian immigrants Ondrei (Andrej) Warhola and Julia Zavackys. Early in his life he suffered from a neurological disorder. During his years of illness, Warhol became enamored by celebrity and also developed a fascination for the creative design of comic books. Because his illness limited his physical activity, young Andy spent much of his time perusing magazines about celebrities and immersing himself in the adventures of comic book characters. This influence would later evidence itself both in his art and his own lifestyle. Over time he would emerge as a central figure among New York’s headline-makers and party people.

One of Warhol’s best-known series of celebrity artworks is his “Early Colored Liz” series. At the time Warhol created the series in 1963, Elizabeth Taylor was one of, if not the, most talked-about stars of the day. Her love life and high-profile roles in major motion pictures put her front and center of the magazines Warhol read with regularity. According to the book Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, the artist’s “Liz” series was based on an MGM publicity photo of Taylor issued in the late 1950s. The method he used in producing the Liz series – silk-screening – was repeated later on with his Marilyn Monroe artworks and continued to be used through the early 1980s.

Liz #5 (Early Colored Liz), 1963, silkscreen ink and acrylic on linen, 40 x 40 inches, sold for $24 million during a May 2011 auction. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com archive and Phillips

Early in his life, Warhol’s educational aspirations took him to study at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (later renamed to Carnegie Mellon University), where he earned a degree in Pictorial Design in 1949. In short order, he began working on projects for the likes of Glamour magazine, NBC, Tiffany & Co., Columbia Records, Harper’s Bazaar, and others. During this time, his eye for design and his creative chops were viewed by thousands of people daily, although they likely never knew it. Warhol was creating window displays of Bonwit Teller and I. Miller department stores.

Of his professional years, the period from the 1960s through early 1970s was perhaps the most productive and high profile for Warhol. Among the works created and unveiled during this time were his “Campbell Soup Cans” series, and his celebrity portrait series (Taylor, Monroe, Elvis Presley, Liza Minelli, Debbie Harry, Michael Jackson, et al.), and the “Death and Disasters” series showcasing images of tragic events and accidents as depicted in newspapers. Warhol silk-screened the images onto canvas using a repetitive process that incorporated reflective silver paint.

Campbell’s Soup I, complete set of 10 screenprints on paper, #179 of 250, 
published by Factory Additions, New York; printed by Salvatore Silkscreen Co., Inc., New York, 1968. Sold for $385,000 at a May 2015 auction. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Los Angeles Modern Auctions

The decade of the 1960s also saw the emergence of Warhol’s filmmaking and sculpting ambitions. It’s reported that Warhol produced around 600 films, with the majority being shorts; with the exception of **** (also known as Four Stars), which was a 25-hour long film. Through sculpture, Warhol transformed everyday items into three-dimensional pop art. In 1964, he presented hundreds of pieces replicating product boxes of familiar brands, including Heinz, Del Monte, Kellogg’s and Brillo. This series also pays homage to the early 20th-century artistry of Marcel Duchamp.

Brillo Soap Pads Box, silkscreen ink and house paint on plywood, 1964, 17 x 17 x 14 inches. Sold for $530,000 during a May 2010 auction. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Phillips.

Warhol continued to evolve, adding performance art and album-cover illustration (the Rolling Stones, Velvet Underground) to his pop-art arsenal. The end of the 1960s also saw Warhol suffer personal tragedy when a woman who acted in his 1967 film I, a Man shot Warhol in the chest. He survived the near-fatal attack and remained an influential, groundbreaking artist for another 20 years. He became friends with countless celebrities and, ironically, became even more famous than many of the A-listers who were regulars in his crowd. He was a regular at New York’s fabled Studio 54 disco and once created a distinctive sculpture decorated with cutout dollar signs as a birthday gift to the nightclub’s co-owner Steve Rubell.

Free-standing sculpture “$” of bronze interlocking panels featuring cutouts of the US dollar symbol, signed and dated in felt pen along the bottom edge of one panel, 1981, measuring 20 inches in diameter. Provenance: Estate of Steve Rubell. Sold by Palm Beach Modern Auctions in 2013 for $44,000. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com archive and Palm Beach Modern Auctions.

 

During the final decade of his life, Warhol began to collaborate with and assist up-and-coming artists, dabbled in television programming and modeling; and selectively accepted requests for commissioned artwork. One of his later commissions was a group of 10 screenprints titled “Endagered Species,” which he produced in 1983 following discussions with art dealers/environmental activists Ronald and Frayda Feldman. Warhol, who was also an animal lover, wanted to honor various species by placing them at a level of superstardom on par with the subjects of his celebrity series. His vibrantly hued Endangered Species portfolio was created to draw attention to the plight of animals facing extinction due to poaching and loss of habitat. Warhol chose a style of presentation and palette of colors similar to those used in his celebrity profiles in creating his incomprable set of animal screenprints.

Examples of the “Endangered Species” series of 10 screenprints in colors on Lenox Museum Board, number 103 from the edition of 150 plus 30 artist’s proofs, 1983, each signed and numbered in pencil with the publisher’s stamp on verso. A set of 10 was sold by Heritage Auctions for $600,000 in October 2015. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Heritage Auctions.

It has been 20 years since the world bid adieu to pop-art icon Andy Warhol, who died of heart failure following gall bladder surgery. It is a testament to Warhol’s extraordinary vision that his art remains fresh and exciting, and that it continues to influence new generations of artists who are hoping for their own “15 minutes.”

Birthstones: What Does Yours Mean?

When shopping for a birthday gift, it’s hard to go wrong when you choose jewelry that includes a birthstone. For centuries, various gemstones were associated with months of the year. Then, in 1912, a standardized list was developed by the American Association of Jewelers. It is the most widely accepted guide to months and their birthstones option for the month of December, according to the American Gem Society.

Let’s examine birthstones, their history and symbolism, month by month.

 

January: Garnet

This gemstone is not just one mineral, but a combination of several similar minerals. Although the most common version of garnet is a dark red specimen, garnet also appears in yellow, orange, brown, gray, purple and green. Archeological exploration has unearthed portions of garnet jewelry daring back to 3100 B.C., and the popularity of garnet jewelry among the elite of the Middle Ages is well documented. The garnet represents peace, health and wellness; weal, and great happiness, while also providing an additional measure of safety for the wearer during their travels.

Tip: The rarest of all garnets are green and blue, so expect to pay a premium for either.

 

February: Amethyst

Amethyst, diamond, platinum and gold brooch designed by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co., features cushion-shape amethyst weighing approx. 56.00cts. Sold for $25,000, Heritage Auctions, Dec. 5, 2016. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Heritage Auctions

The name of this striking quartz mineral hails from Ancient Greece and the word methustos, which means “intoxicated.” This gave way to the storied belief that if one were to wear an amethyst, they could avoid drunkenness. Although that may be up for debate, what isn’t is the amethyst’s durability, which is a 7 on the Mohs hardness scale. They’re found in North America, regions of South America, and Zambia in southern Africa. The availability of amethyst gemstones has increased since the late 19th century, when significant deposits were discovered. As supply increased, the gems became more affordable. Perhaps owing to the legend of amethysts warding off drunkenness, it is said that the gemstone helps the person wearing it to be clear-headed, courageous, humble and loyal. Leonardo da Vinci wrote that the amethyst was useful for sharpening the mind and ridding oneself of evil thoughts.

Tip: Amethyst stones often appear to contain layers of color, which develop naturally as the stone is formed. However, the manner in which a gemologist or jeweler cuts the stone can even out the layers of color.

 

March: Aquamarine

Aquamarine is a variation of the mineral beryl, and gets its name from the Latin word aqua, or water, for its calming color reminiscent of the sea. Aquamarine gemstones vary in intensity – the larger the stone the more intense the color – but are consistently green-blue to blue-green in color. Most aquamarine gemstones are mined and exported from Brazil, however some specimens have reportedly been mined in Nigeria and Mozambique, as well as other parts of Africa. Legend and lore affiliated with aquamarine is extensive. Early adventurers and sailors were said to wear the gemstones to gain protection during a voyage and to bring about calm and clarity. It’s not hard to imagine how a clear head might be helpful when navigating uncharted oceans. History reveals armies of ancient societies had soldiers who believed wearing aquamarine would bring them victory. In addition to these benefits, there are also reports of the aquamarine being used as a cure for a variety of infections. The gemstone in powder for is said to help heal eye infections.

Memo: The bloodstone is regarded as an optional birthstone for the month of March.

 

April: Diamond

Edwardian-style sapphire and diamond 18K white gold jewelry suite with a bib necklace and pair of matching ear pendants. Sold for $32,500, I.M. Chait, March 2016. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and I.M. Chait Gallery/Auctioneers

The formation of diamonds from carbon atoms, in a high-pressure and high-temperature environment about 100 miles below the surface of the Earth, is a fascinating scientific process. It results in one of, if not the most, sought after of all gemstones. The formation process involves diamonds breaking the surface following a course of volcanic eruptions that occurred centuries ago. The diamond lays claim to being the hardest entity in nature – 58 times harder than any other substance. Its durable quality makes it the ideal choice for engagement rings, and it has been the subject of many songs and motion picture themes. While the colorless diamond is perennially desirable, diamonds also come in other colors, including yellow, pink, blue, and others. The recent upsurge of interest in colored diamonds has prompted the development of color-treated diamonds in laboratories.

Tip: Recent diamond-buying trends reveal a preference for Art Deco designs that incorporate scrollwork or flower shapes with diamond elements.

 

May: Emerald

Highly important platinum, emerald and diamond ring with fine 9.00ct green emerald flanked by two pear-shape diamonds totaling approx. 1.20cts. Sold for $9,250,000, Bruce Kodner Galleries, Dec. 19, 2010. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Bruce Kodner Galleries

This deeply hued gemstone shares a history like that of the aquamarine, as it, too, is a variation of the mineral beryl. The intensity of an emerald’s color is one factor in determining its value, with the rarest emerald being dark green-blue. Emeralds are mined in regions around the world, with the majority coming from Colombia, Brazil, Afghanistan and Zambia. Some of the earliest emeralds are estimated to be nearly 3 billion years old. Emeralds were sought out after by various ancient societies as fashionable adornments in life, as well as in death (burials). One of history’s greatest fans of emeralds was Cleopatra. They were among the gemstones harvested from mines near the coast of the Red Sea during Cleopatra’s reign. Ironically, or not, Elizabeth Taylor, who famously portrayed the fabled vamp in the 1963 Academy-Award film, was known for her sensational collection of jewelry. In 2011, an emerald and diamond brooch designed and created for Taylor by Bvlgari sold for $6.58M at Christie’s auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry collection. The brooch was one of 14 lots of the movie legend’s jewelry that included emeralds. The gemstone is a symbol of new beginnings, peace, security and loyalty.

Tip: A quality emerald should have an even distribution of color and a deep, but not too dark, green-blue hue.

 

 

June: Pearl, Alexandrite, and Moonstone

18K yellow gold necklace with 245 round, brilliant-cut diamonds and 34 pearls; and a pair of earrings containing 40 round, brilliant-cut diamonds and six pearls. Stamped 18K HAMMERMAN. Sold for $15,000, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, April 18, 2010. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Leslie Hindman Auctioneers

People born in June have the good fortune of being able to select from three birthstones. The pearl is unique in that it is made by a living creature that relies on an irritant to form the creamy gemstone. Clams deposit layers of calcium carbonate around the irritants to create the pearl, which is among the softest of all gemstones, posting a minimum of 2.5 and maximum of 4.5 on the Mohs hardness scale. In addition to natural development of pearls, the process of freshwater culturing of pearls is a growing market operation. Natural harvesting of pearls is confined to an area of the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. The most common characteristics associated with pearls are purity and innocence.

Did You Know: One of the rarest types of pearl is the Black Pearl. However, its color is more often dark green, purple, or even blue.

Another June birthstone, the alexandrite is a “youngster” among birthstones, said to have first been discovered in the mid-19th century in Russian mines in the Ural Mountains. The gemstone’s most fascinating quality is its changing color. Due to a rare chemical composition, alexandrite appears green in daylight and with a purple-red hue when placed under incandescent light. After the Russian supply of alexandrites dwindled, so did interest in the stone – until the discovery of alexandrite in Brazil in 1987. Despite this current source, alexandrites are scarce.

Moonstone is said to have been named by a natural historian who thought the gem looked like the shifting of the moon’s phases. Tiny layers of the feldspar create the effect in moonstone. It is found in India, Australia, Madagascar and the United States. It’s said to aid in balancing energies and rendering tranquility, thus making it useful in the treatment of insomnia. It is also fondly referred to as the “traveler’s stone” due to the belief that its properties help keep adventurers’ safe during the evening.

 

July: Ruby

Platinum and 18K gold Art Nouveau-style cocktail earrings with 4.75ctw old, European-cut diamonds and 1.50ctw near-flawless Burma rubies. Sold for $13,500, GWS Auctions Inc., July 29, 2017. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and GWS Auctions Inc.

The power of this gemstone, as believed by ancient civilizations, is to keep evil at bay. The luxurious red color of the ruby comes from the element chromium. The same element provides this gemstone with the appearance of an inner glow, but it also leaves it more susceptible to cracks. The most common regions where rubies exist include Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, India and East Africa. It is also second only to the diamond in terms of hardness, according to the Mohs scale, which ranks it as a 9. The ruby is said to heighten awareness, increase energy, and encourage love and strength. Throughout history, leaders of various cultures believed in the power of rubies, including Chinese noblemen. Ancient Hindus seeking status as emperors in rebirth would offer rubies to the god Krishna.

 

August: Peridot and Sardonyx

The peridot was described by early Egyptians as the “gem of the sun.” They also believed it could protect people from nighttime dangers. A deposit containing peridot was discovered in Pakistan in the 1990s, but more than 80% of the global supply of peridot is located in a deposit in Arizona on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. Peridot is a variation of the mineral Olivine, and the amount of iron within the gemstone determines the depth of green color.

Sardonyx is a combination of sard and onyx minerals. Depending on the level of oxide within the composition, the color of the sard can be yellowish red or reddish brown, while onyx presents as white. India has produced the finest examples of this gemstone, which is said to render courage, clear communication skills, and genuine happiness.

Tip: A popular type of cut is cabochon, and in addition to its use with large, individual gemstones, it is also carved into cameos and brooches.

 

September: Sapphire

Harry Winston 18K gold necklace featuring an approximately 24ct rectangular-cut sapphire surrounded by diamonds on a multi-strand of cultured pearls. Sold for $110,000, John Moran Auctioneers, May 21, 2013. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and John Moran Auctioneers, Inc.

Most commonly seen in blue, sapphires can actually come in a variety of colors, depending on the elements that are present in their composition. In the gemological world, sapphires that are not blue are referred to as “fancies.” Like the ruby, it measures 9 on the Mohs hardness scale, which opens the door for sapphires to also be incorporated into the production of watches and electronic instruments. In ancient times, it was believed that sapphires could help avoid poisoning.

Tip: Clarity among sapphires is usually greater than that of rubies, often due to the presence of rutile (a form of titanium dioxide). While this might lower the value of other gemstones, in some form of sapphires it increases value.

 

October: Opal and Tourmaline

Necklace composed of 25 oval, bluish-green tumble polished indicolite tourmaline beads, 418.0ctw, interspaced with diamond and 18K gold rondelles. Sold for $5,000, Clars Auction Gallery, Nov. 15, 2015. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Clars Auction Gallery

Both of October’s gemstones are revered for the way they transform in varying degrees of light, and symbolize faithfulness and courage. In fact, the word opal has its origins in the Greek term opallios, which means “to see a change in color.” It wasn’t until the 1960s that the scientific community was able to explain the reason for the change, which is due to intricate silica spheres diffracting light. The climate and geography in Australia are said to be the most conducive to the creation of opal.

Tourmaline also presents in a variety of colors, and according to legend, this is due to its passing through a rainbow during its journey from creation below the Earth’s surface to the top.

Tip: One of the most sought-after types of tourmaline is the rubellite, which appears in varying degrees of red and pink. Dark-toned tourmaline often appears black in color, and they typically sell for less than more brightly colored variations.

 

November: Topaz and Citrine

Once believed to be only yellow in color, topaz is colorless, and depending on impurities, can take on various colors, including the most popular variation – imperial topaz – which is orange with hints of pink hues. Another storied variation of this gemstone is the blue topaz, which is said to rarely appear naturally. Citrine also ranges in color from yellow to brownish orange and is a variety of quartz. The yellow hues are the result of the iron within the gemstone’s quartz crystals. Most of citrine today is mined in Brazil, but Bolivia and Russia also mine citrine, as do the U.S. states of Colorado, North Carolina, and California. Citrine has also been called a “healing quartz,” with reports that the gemstone fosters optimism and helps cultivate prosperity.

 

December: Tanzanite, Zircon, and Turquoise

David Webb earrings with pear and oval-shape turquoise cabochons enhanced by full-cut, baguette-cut and marquise-cut diamonds. Sold for $36,000, Heritage Auctions, April 3, 2017. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Heritage Auctions

As the name suggests, tanzanite hails from Tanzania. It is a variation of the mineral zoisite first discovered in 1967, making it another of the more modern birthstones. While shades of blue ranging from pale to ultramarine are the most common color of tanzanite, depending on the cut of the stone, additional colors may evidence themselves. Zircon is sometimes erroneously confused with the synthetic but unrelated cubic zirconia, simply because of the similarity in names. Since the Middle Ages zircon’s qualities have been linked to peaceful sleep and prosperity.

Turquoise varies in color from powder blue to robin’s egg blue with a hint of green. The name turquoise originated in 13th-century France and the phrase pierre turquois, which means “Turkish stone.” Most prevalent in arid regions, five U.S. states are the sources for most of the turquoise on the market today. It is said that the turquoise was used to adorn ceremonial masks and equipment used in battle because of its ability to bring power and protection to those wearing it.