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Designer Jewelry & Watches sale serves glamour 237 ways, May 10

An 18K gold Van Cleef & Arpels 20-motif Alhambra necklace in lapiz lazuli, a Tiffany & Co. platinum, diamond and sapphire flower basket brooch, and a Van Cleef & Arpels 18K gold and diamond Ludo Swann wristwatch will battle for top lot status at Jasper52’s Designer Jewelry & Watches auction, which will take place Tuesday, May 10, starting at 11 am Eastern time.

Other prizes among the 237 lots in the sale are a Bulgari sapphire, diamond, rubellite and peridot flower necklace; a Cartier Panthere band ring in 18K white gold, diamond, emerald and onyx; a twisted rope openwork wide link bracelet in 18K gold by Verdura; numerous pieces by Angela Cummings, including a snakeskin bangle bracelet in 18K gold and purple and green jade, an 18K gold, red and black coral snakeskin collar necklace, and a pair of 18K gold, black jade and pink tourmaline earrings; a David Webb platinum and diamond ring that showcases a large gray Tahitian pearl; a limited edition year 2000 brass hourglass by De Beers featuring 2,000 rough diamonds – about 36 carats’ worth – suspended in silicone to mark the turn of the millennium; a Hermes 18K gold bracelet with enameled charms on an equestrian theme; a cocktail ring by Craig Drake in 18K white gold, centered on a 10.97-carat emerald; and a Roberto Coin Cobra bangle bracelet in 18K white gold, rubies, diamonds and enamel.

Van Cleef & Arpels 18K gold 20-motif Alhambra necklace in lapiz lazuli, est. $57,200-$62,400

View the auction here.

How to measure jewelry and watches like an expert

Accurately measuring irregularly-shaped jewelry and watches can be challenging. This guide will provide tips and best practices.

The standard format for reporting measurements of three-dimensional items is as follows: Height x Width x Depth, and, if needed, Diameter and Length.

Distinguishing between Width and Depth can be confusing. Sometimes it’s helpful to imagine placing a clear box or cube over your entire object. Now, imagine you are measuring the box – height first, then width, then depth (front to back).

For jewelry set with stones, always measure the width and depth of the setting, not just the overall object.  For watches, measure the width and length of the case and the length of the band.

 

How To Measure:

Imagine the “clear box” over your object.

Height: The vertical measurement from the base of an object to its tallest point.

Width: The horizontal measurement of the widest point of the front of an object, farthest left and right of center.

Depth: In the context of jewelry and watches, this is the distance from front to back, or the horizontal measurement of an object’s protrusion into space, perpendicular to the object’s width.

Diameter: This measurement only applies to circular items. Diameter is the measurement of the width of a round object at its largest point. Imagine bisecting the circular area into two equal parts with your ruler.

Length: Measure the length when the size of the item from end to end is important to determine how it will fit the wearer. This applies to items such as necklaces, watch bands and bracelets.

Interior Circumference: This captures the distance around the interior of a circular object, such as a bangle bracelet. Use a flexible measuring tool such as a seamstress tape and encircle the interior of the object. If you do not have a seamstress tape, use a piece of string and then measure the string. This measurement is important for determining how the object will fit the wearer.

 

Basic Types of Measuring Tools:
Measuring tools

  • Seamstress tape: Soft and flexible, good for measuring circumference, three-dimensional objects or curved objects.
  • Measuring tape: Rigid, can be hooked onto a frame or canvas, good for measuring straight items that are longer than one foot.
  • Ruler: Rigid, good for measuring straight items smaller than one foot, particularly small items that can be laid directly on the ruler.

For items that are not circular, measure the Height, Width, and Depth of the object. If applicable, measure the Length.

  1. Place the “Zero” end of your measuring tool at the end of your object.
  2. Make sure the end of your ruler is flush (in line) with your object.
  3. Adjust your ruler so that it is aligned with your object. The ruler should be straight and parallel to the object.
  4. Move to the opposite side of the object you are measuring and read the ruler.

For items that have circular components, such as bangle bracelets, measure the Height, Width, Diameter, and Interior Circumference of the object:

Measuring interior circumference

  1. Place the “Zero” end of your measuring tool at the end of your object.
  2. Make sure the end of your ruler is flush (in line) with your object.
  3. Adjust your ruler so that it is aligned with your object. The ruler should be straight and parallel to the object.
  4. Move to the opposite side of the object you are measuring and read the ruler.
  5. Use a flexible tool such as a seamstress tape to measure the interior and exterior circumference.

New York auction displays the classic beauty of pearls, April 19

On Tuesday, April 19, starting at 2 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will conduct a sale entirely devoted to pearl jewelry. Boasting 194 lots, Fine Pearl Jewelry delivers dozens of variations on the venerated gems of the sea, in color, shape, origin and jewelry design. Traditional white, round pearls are available in the form of a double-strand saltwater Akoya pearl necklace, but the auction lineup shows that pearls provide their own lustrous interpretation of the rainbow.

Among the other lots on offer are a necklace of large rainbow peacock Tahitian pearls; a bracelet of golden lavender-pink Edison cultured pearls; a long necklace strung with silvery Keshi freshwater pearls; an 18K gold pendant that unites South Sea and Tahitian pearls in a sunburst pattern; a silver ring, crowned by a round, metallic-green Tahitian pearl; a graduated string of chocolate-bronze Tahitian pearls, fashioned into an 18K gold necklace; a necklace of freshwater cultured pearls, displaying shades of apricot, lavender and pink and united by a silver heart-shaped clasp; and South Sea beauties in the form of a 14K gold pair of pearl drop earrings as well as a single-strand necklace featuring large pearls with an unmistakably golden glow.

14K gold South Sea pearl drop earrings, est. $1,000-$1,100

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Designer creations add cachet to April 7 gold jewelry auction

A 14K gold ladies’ two-strand ball bead necklace, a yellow diamond engagement ring by Neil Lane, and a 14K gold fancy link collar necklace will jockey for top lot status at Jasper52’s Fine Designer and Gold Jewelry auction, which will be held Thursday, April 7, beginning at 7 pm Eastern time. Other pieces of note in the 476-lot sale include a Tiffany & Co. mid-century 18K gold, diamond and ruby brooch in the shape of a walrus, fitted with 18K white gold tusks; a pair of Garavelli Design House 18K yellow and white gold lattice half hoop earrings; a GIA-certified unheated pink sapphire and diamond heart necklace; an 18K gold fancy bar link necklace by Adler; a pair of 18K rose gold pink morganite and diamond halo drop earrings by Kobelli; a London blue topaz and diamond ring by Jude Frances; a 14K gold heavy Omega link collar necklace; a pair of 22K gold and cabochon emerald clip-on earrings; a 20K gold bangle bracelet featuring 7.4 carats of natural emeralds; an Aletto & Co. 14K gold Etruscan cocktail ring, set with a periwinkle chalcedony; a polished Italian 14K gold ladies’ cuff bracelet; and a pair of 22K gold floral drop dangle earrings.

Yellow diamond engagement ring by Neil Lane, est. $8,000-$10,000

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Convertible jewelry: the only constant is change

This Cartier three-piece convertible platinum, 18K gold, Burmese ruby and diamond necklace achieved $120,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2018. Image courtesy of FORTUNA® and LiveAuctioneers

Generations of boys and girls have grown up with Transformers, a line of toy vehicles that convert into robots with a few deft twists and turns by tiny hands. Women are well-familiar with the concept, but in a more graceful, eye-pleasing and altogether grown-up form: convertible jewelry. 

Just like Transformers toys, convertible jewelry pieces are designed to serve multiple purposes, changing from bracelets to necklaces, pendants to brooches, pins to pendants, rings to brooches, daywear earrings to fancier earrings for evening wear, and so forth. As with Transformers toys, jewelry conversions are accomplished by swiveling or accessing hidden elements, but the jewelry can require the attaching and detaching of other elements, as well. These cleverly designed treasures enable owners to extend their jewelry wardrobes and expand their artistic self-expression without exhausting their budgets. They represent both supreme ingenuity and an unbeatable deal.

A circa-1780 18K gold swivel spinner watch fob that converts to a bracelet charm or a necklace pendant sold for $450 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2019. Image courtesy of Imperial Auction and LiveAuctioneers

The earliest form of convertible jewelry may well have been Georgian-era watch fob spinners decorative chained weights designed to ease timepieces from tiny pockets. Fob spinners feature gold frames with dual- or multi-faceted gemstone adornments. In addition to smoothly swiveling from face to face within brackets, each fob spinner could convert to a detached bracelet charm, chain, or ribbon-strung pendant. Victorian spinners that showcased ornate gems such as onyx, bloodstone, citrine, carnelian or rock crystal also swiveled, and some could be locked in place with stabilizing mechanisms. 

A Victorian 14K gold and opal pin that converts to a pendant sold for $500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2015. Image courtesy of Nest Egg Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Victorian fashionistas also adored day-and-night earrings, creations that offered two pairs of earrings in one. Their simple, lobe-mount stud or hoop elements were suitable for daywear, and when enhanced with matching drop pendants, they morphed into glamorous evening wear. Such designs were ideal for brides who wanted one look for the ceremony and another for the celebration. 

A Buccellati convertible diamond and ruby brooch/pendant with removable chain sold for $45,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2017. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Victorian brooches converted into luxurious pendants, while double-clip models separated into dress clips. Necklaces featuring detachable pendants and articulated motifs transformed into individual brooches and glittery hair ornaments, and rivieres single-strand necklaces with gems graduating in size as they approached large central stones became stylish bracelets.

This platinum flower convertible ring/pendant, featuring emeralds weighing a total of 27.09 carats, realized $53,600 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021. Image courtesy of Bidhaus and LiveAuctioneers

Victorian socialites often wore elegant jeweled tiaras at formal events but cherished pieces that converted to forms modest enough for lesser occasions. Beautiful bandeau-style tiaras could be transformed into simpler headpieces and necklace sets. Detaching and switching components of other tiaras yielded matching brooches, pendants and earrings. 

An Art Deco platinum convertible clip/brooch with cut diamonds, a removable frame, clip mechanisms, pin stem and catch earned $3,250 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2014. Image courtesy of Myers Fine Art and LiveAuctioneers

By the early 20th century, free-swinging sautoirs long gold rope chains set with gemstones, tassels or pendants complemented fashionable straight shift dresses. They could be looped low around a lady’s neck, wrist-wrapped into chunky bracelets, or simply shortened. Through artful engineering, more sophisticated versions could be changed into multiple pieces a brooch, two bracelets and two dress clips. The inimitable Coco Chanel was fond of sautoirs, which remain a popular part of Chanel’s costume jewelry range to this day.

An 18K gold, emerald and diamond convertible pendant/necklace sold for $55,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2019. Image courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

During the Great Depression, master jewelers designed hugely appealing convertible jewelry that budget-conscious wearers could style in different ways on different days. The pieces boasted an array of clever mechanisms such as removable frames, multipurpose hidden catches, clip mechanisms and pin stems. 

A convertible ring set with a 28-carat cushion-cut treated sapphire surrounded by 5.50 carats of diamonds realized $60,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2020. Image courtesy of New Orleans Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Tiffany & Co., created convertible 18K gold cufflinks with exchangeable turquoise, citrine, hematite and cultured pearl finials. Boucheron produced brooches that turned into dress clips and necklaces that converted to bracelets or diadems. Cartier designed a three-piece platinum and 18K gold Burmese ruby and diamond necklace-set with leaf-motif accents that became brooches.

A Van Cleef & Arpels Zip necklace that converts to a bracelet achieved HK$2,000,000 ($255,8460) plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy Poly Auction Hong Kong and LiveAuctioneers

Van Cleef & Arpels has been creating convertible jewelry since the early 1900s, but to many, its 1950 Zip necklace, the first working zipper made of precious metal, remains the firm’s highest achievement. This technical triumph, supposedly proposed by Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, took craftsmen nearly a decade to perfect. When it was opened and closed, it converted from a necklace to a bracelet and back again. Also worthy of mention is Van Cleef’s Walska briolette diamond brooch, introduced in 1971, which featured a bejeweled bird of paradise carrying a sizable yellow diamond in its beak. Its outspread wings becomes a pair of earrings and its diamond doubled as a pendant. 

A three-piece Oscar Heyman sapphire and diamond necklace that transforms into bracelets achieved $85,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Retro convertible pieces are no less charming. Flexible snake-chains feature removeable dual-purpose motifs, while matched bracelets can slink into sinuous necklaces. Flashy rings are fitted with detachable jeweled jackets or removeable bands, transforming emerald-flower motifs into brooches. Other pieces feature moveable channels which, when opened, reveal rows of dainty gemstones. 

These versatile convertible pieces of jewelry combine exceptional craftsmanship with pure beauty to offer more than meets the eye. 

Jasper52 offers 264 chances to freshen your jewelry collection, March 29

On Tuesday, March 29, starting at 3 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will present an auction of Exclusive Estate & Designer Jewelry. Featuring 264 lots, the sale lineup includes all your favorite designers, brand names, gems and metals. Pieces on offer include a Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co. platinum multi-gem bracelet; an Art Deco platinum ring set with a 10.03-carat diamond; a circa-1960s Oscar Heyman ruby, diamond and platinum line bracelet; a Van Cleef & Arpels necklace and bracelet duo in 18K gold with mother-of-pearl and diamonds; a circa-1980s Cartier necklace with turquoise, amethyst and diamonds set in 18K gold; a sapphire and diamond 18K gold retro clip pin brooch by Boucheron; an 18k gold ring set with a 15-carat Colombian emerald; an 18k gold Bulgari Tubogas wrap-around wristwatch; a circa-1980s Graff ruby, diamond and 18K gold ring; a Chopard 18K gold ladies’ bracelet wristwatch, with a lapis lazuli dial; a Bulgari ring set with two heart-shaped gems, one a blue sapphire and one a pink sapphire; and a circa-1950s pair of diamond clip-on earrings by Marchak.

Cartier 18K gold necklace with turquoise and amethyst beads, est. $40,000-$48,000

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Jasper52 presents estate and designer jewelry, March 16

An 18K white gold and diamond tennis bracelet by Laurence Graff, a pair of David Webb diamond and emerald Day and Night Cross River earrings, and an 18K white and yellow gold Michele della Valle bracelet encrusted with emeralds and fancy yellow diamonds will lead Jasper52’s Exclusive Estate & Designer Jewelry auction, which will take place Wednesday, March 16, starting at 7 pm Eastern time. Additional notable lots in the sale include a circa-1930s diamond and platinum bracelet by Chaumet; a 61.41-carat tanzanite set in a pendant and surrounded by diamonds; a pair of Van Cleef & Arpels ruby and diamond earrings; a diamond engagement ring by Tiffany & Co.; a circa-1970s Boucheron necklace and earrings set featuring coral and onyx; a gold and enamel snake bracelet by Attilio Codognato; a circa-1980s Bulgari 18K gold ring with 2.64 carats of rubies; a circa-1900s Patek Philippe 18K gold lapel or pocket watch; and a 1990s-era Louis Vuitton necklace with an 18K yellow gold and diamond Eiffel Tower pendant.

18K white and yellow gold, emerald and fancy yellow diamond Michele della Valle bracelet, est. $79,000-$95,000

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

CELLULOID: WHEN PLASTIC WAS FANTASTIC

A large Egyptian and Art Deco style brooch featuring red and black celluloid achieved $250 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Ripley Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The origins of celluloid, the first synthetic plastic, date to the 1850s. English chemist Alexander Parkes combined nitrocellulose (wood cellulose, aka guncotton) with the organic solvent camphor and named the results “Parkesine.” John Wesley Hyatt patented a similar substance in America in 1869, giving the useful stuff the name by which it is best known: celluloid. Hyatt viewed it as a substitute for ivory, using it to make piano keys, billiard balls and false teeth.

A circa-1920s set of celluloid billiard balls, with rack and carrying case, achieved $650 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2015. Image courtesy of Louis J. Dianni, LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Celluloid soon became the generic term for all nitrocellulose-based plastics. In addition to faux-ivory, this seemingly magical material could simulate mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, amber or coral, depending on which chemicals were added to it. Moreover, celluloid could be painted, molded, carved, cast or processed into sheets, blocks and rods. Its low production cost suited it to mass-produced items such as cutlery handles, straight razors, slide rules, trade signs and table tennis balls. 

Celluloid was also used to create a mind-boggling number of decorative items. Both opaque and transparent celluloid buttons brightened many a trendy outfit. So too did celluloid hatpins, belt buckles, fur clips and dress clips, embellishing opposite sides of women’s necklines. 

But this early plastic had a startling drawback, which manifested most infamously with billiard balls. If something made from celluloid struck another piece of celluloid with enough force, it could explode. Hyatt himself noted this flash-bang effect could cause serious trouble in pool halls, writing in 1914, “We had a letter from a billiard saloon proprietor in Colorado, mentioning this fact and saying he did not care so much about it, but that instantly every man in the room pulled his gun.”

Because the recipe for celluloid relied on nitrocellulose, a combustible material, the factories that made celluloid products were prone to catching fire. After a series of such blazes, The New York Times set its focus on the potential threat to consumers, stating in an 1895 article: “No man can play billiards with any real satisfaction if he knows that the billiards-ball may at any moment explode … burying the players under table and cues. Still worse would be the fate of a possessor of celluloid teeth, who should, in a moment of forgetfulness, insert the lighted end of a cigar into his mouth. The scene that would follow would make men and angels weep…”

A Victorian celluloid vanity box sold for $100 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Frasher’s Doll Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Sudden detonation was not a concern for those who bought jewelry and accessories made from celluloid, simply because those items weren’t intended to be slammed against each other, and no lady would treat her belongings so roughly. Antique pink, lime green, ivorine and mother of pearl celluloid vanity items were often displayed on Victorian ladies’ dressing tables. The plastic appeared in basics such as hand mirrors, scent bottles, balm jars, powder pots, combs, brushes and trinket boxes, as well as matching clocks, picture frames, shoe horns and clothing brushes. Women would also tuck their vanity items into satin-lined celluloid dresser top boxes decorated with ornate florals, cherubs or Victorian beauties. 

Folding fans, some barely the size of a woman’s palm, incorporated overlapping, bladelike celluloid sticks painted with lush florals or pierced with lacy patterns. Larger, more opulent creations by Duvelleroy of Paris, the fan-maker to royalty, featured celluloid sticks crowned with masses of ostrich feathers or black organza. Still others featured dainty celluloid frames spanned by slim, gold-painted wooden ribs against fine, sequined mesh grounds. 

Decorative celluloid hair combs were popular through the early 20th century. Many were graced with elaborate pierced designs, while others had rhinestone-edged florals, lotus flowers or butterflies. Chic celluloid-tipped hatpins and stickpins also gained favor.

A group of four celluloid hair combs achieved $500 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2011. Image courtesy of New Orleans Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Celluloid earrings ranged from demure clip-ons molded in the shapes of bows and flowers to dramatic multicolor danglers. Rings took the forms of classic, carved florals and geometric patterns as well as inmate-made prison rings. These humble pieces, which were created by carving or heat-bonding slivers scraped from celluloid pens, toothbrush handles or hand mirrors, often featured small photos mounted on their bezels. 

A trio of celluloid sparkler bangle bracelets achieved $225 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of Ripley Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Vintage necklaces typically bore delicate celluloid beads in muted amber, white or ivory shades, while chokers bore showy coral, green or blue blossoms. Inexpensive charm bracelets jingled with ivorine mini-menageries. Lightweight celluloid bangles were no less fashionable; women routinely wore armfuls of slim, simple multiples. Others chose molded florals, swirling patterns or sparklers featuring row upon row of rhinestones. 

A photographic celluloid brooch with an image of Carrie Nation holding her hatchet realized $450 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2017. Image courtesy of Soulis Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Brooches fashioned from celluloid were produced in huge quantities. They often featured molded, carved florals or bouquets, while others resembled fine, costly cameos or featured photographic portraits. Though jewelry designer Lea Stein released scores of brooches, only her earliest examples were made of true celluloid. (Her later ones, as with most pieces of jewelry, used cellulose acetate, an entirely different plastic.)

A group of 12 Lea Stein celluloid bracelets achieved $500 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2020. Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Celluloid production ceased in the West after the arrival of better and cheaper plastics, but Japan, which holds the world monopoly on camphor, continued to make celluloid brooches, bracelets, bangles and beads. Intricate, delicately tinted, hand-painted floral designs bearing the label “Occupied Japan,” which denotes the era of American occupation after World War II, delight art and history buffs alike.

Brooches: pin pals since the Bronze Age

David Webb platinum and 18K white gold brooch centered with a 12-carat cabochon-cut emerald, auctioned for $120,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Joshua Kodner and LiveAuctioneers

In the beginning, there was the stick pin, a slender needle of wood or metal that held a heavy cloak or cape in place. As centuries passed and other clothing fasteners became available, the stick pin evolved into a flashier, more decorative object we now call a brooch. But in spite of its elevated position as an object of beauty, it never lost its core functionality. Many brooches can still be used as fabric fasteners, taking on additional rules such as reflecting authority or cultural values, serving as a family keepsake, and even signaling the wearer’s mood.

This collection of Bronze Age stick pins sold for £180 (about $246) plus the buyer’s premium in March 2013. Image courtesy of Timeline Auctions Ltd., and LiveAuctioneers

Brooches date back at least 5,000 years, to the Bronze Age, when people kept their garments in place with bronze or iron clasps. They were most often plain objects, but some were decorated with stones, enamel, bone, polished glass and occasionally gold and silver. Archaeologists named these clasps fibulae because their construction was similar to the shape of the fibula, the smaller bone in the lower leg.

Collection of Iron Age and Roman fibulae, featuring examples with a rounded arch-crossbow design; a Celtic brooch style (with the pin worn up), and a plate with a more intricate design. Auctioned for £200 (about $274) plus the buyer’s premium in February 2020. Image courtesy of Timeline Auctions Ltd., and LiveAuctioneers

Fibulae were classified as having four parts: the body, or plate; the pin, the spring, and the hinge, which works much like the modern safety pin. Although they were more complicated, fibulae were a vast improvement over the ancient stick pin and allowed for more intricate decoration as well. Fibulae designs uncovered by archaeologists include versions that resemble a violin bow, a compact spiral, and also a flat piece shaped in the form of a hand.

The Middle Ages saw the arrival of the button and its crucial counterpart, the buttonhole. This fastening system allowed wearers to close their clothes more firmly and comprehensively. Freed from their baseline function, fibulae began the transformation into the brooch.

‘Cedar Tree’ brooch by French designer Rene Boivin achieved $100,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Grogan & Company and LiveAuctioneers

Up until the Industrial Age, only the most affluent could afford brooches. The must-have accessory of the early 15th century was a cameo brooch featuring the profile of an ancient philosopher, scholar or royal rendered in cornelian shell, sardonyx, mother-of-pearl and even lava rock. The cameo brooch was a fashion accessory that lasted. Both Empress Josephine of France and Queen Victoria of England adored them. 

Late Victorian cameo brooch in 8K rose gold, sold for $100 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of International Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

A second brooch style that lasted the test of time from the 14th century to the Edwardian era and beyond is one that depicts flora and fauna surrounded by a semi-precious stone or many different stones. Ancient Greek or Etruscan imagery was carved into cartouches during the Victorian era, with diamonds playing an important role in their designs. 

After the death of Prince Albert, the mourning brooch gained popularity. They were typically made from onyx or some other black stone and trimmed in gold. Sometimes they contained the hair of a lost loved one. 

Edwardian-era brooch depicting precious and semi-precious stones set to represent colorful flowers in a ‘wicker’ basket, sold for $950 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of MBA Seattle Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Art Nouveau brooch designs reached new creative heights in the hands of French glass master Rene Lalique and American visionary Louis Comfort Tiffany. When Art Deco took its turn in the design spotlight, Louis Cartier produce brooches resembling baskets of fruit in which jewels of  corresponding colors represented apples, oranges and grapes. Another exceptional Art Deco brooch designer, Frenchwoman Suzanne Belperron, produced brooches featuring flora, fauna and insects. 

Rene Lalique frosted glass Deux Figurines Dos a Dos design from 1913, sold for $2,100 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

By the mid-20th century, impressionist painter Salvador Dali pushed the brooch to new aesthetic heights with distinctive examples such as a gold bas-relief of Tristan and Isolde in red and clear enamel. Alexander Calder and Man Ray contributed brooches that featured highly geometric or abstract styles. Today, top-flight artisans continue to envision their own takes on the time-honored brooch with pieces that seem more like art than jewelry. Even the ancient stick pin has been revived and reimagined. 

Salvador Dali’s ‘Tristan and Isolde’ brooch with a gold bas-relief design and red and clear enamel, sold for $250 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2017. Image courtesy of Omega Auction Corp and LiveAuctioneers

Brooches are, of course, made to be worn. It’s no surprise, then, that many collectors view them as personal statements. One of the most prominent brooch collectors is former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She has amassed more than 200 brooches in a collection that was comprehensive enough to sustain a 2010 exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute titled “Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection.”

As the top diplomat and usually the only woman in high-level international negotiations, Albright frequently used her brooches to convey messages. In the run-up to the show, she recalled in an interview with Smithsonian Magazine, “I had an arrow pin that looked like a missile, and when we were negotiating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Russians, the Russian foreign minister asked, ‘Is that one of your missile interceptors you’re wearing?’ And I responded, ‘Yes. We make them very small. Let’s negotiate.’”

‘Poissons’ articulated double-fish brooch, designed by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co., in 1965, sold for $90,000 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Mark Lawson Antiques, Inc., and LiveAuctioneers

While they haven’t yet enthralled younger generations as they did Secretary Albright and Queen Elizabeth II of England, brooches provide both designers and jewelry fans an excellent canvas for expressing an idea or mood as the perfect finishing touch to an outfit. Albright has said that her choice of brooch broadcasts “… what I’m feeling like on a given day or where I’m going. But mostly it’s fun. It’s just a good way to get started.”

No mystery to the appeal of Egyptian Revival style

Gold, amethyst, demantoid garnet, and enamel brooch, 1¼ × 1⅛ inches,
Theodore B. Starr, stamped, NY, NY, circa 1900, gift of Jacqueline Loewe Fowler, 2013. Image in public domain, courtesy metmuseum.org

Egyptian Revival, a European artistic style dating from the early 19th century, was inspired by Napoleon’s conquest of Ottoman Egypt and Admiral Nelson’s Battle of the Nile. As volumes documenting Egyptian architecture, antiquities and natural history appeared, with sketches of the Near East’s exotic sights and mysterious symbols, the West’s fascination with this ancient culture grew. Egyptomania, obsession with Egyptian antiquities, increased further in 1820, when translation of the Rosetta Stone led to deciphering ancient hieroglyphics – opening another window into the art and culture of that fascinating world. 

Initially, grand Egyptian-inspired sculptures and architectural elements arose in Paris and London. Toward the end of the century, however, stylized Egyptian motifs embellished a variety of functional and ornamental objects, as well.  

Red stoneware Wedgewood teapots and underplates, for example, often depicted images of winged sphinxes, crocodiles and canopic jars. Silverplated pots bore curlicued, engraved cartouches, elegantly draped plinths, or images of sacred ibis birds which represented rebirth. 

Pairs of tall, tapering marble, slate, or onyx obelisks depicted graceful palm fronds, trumpeted flowers, medallions, sphinxes, and hieroglyphics, in addition to images of scarab beetles, which the Egyptians associated with the life-giving sun. Smaller obelisks often flanked marble and bronze clock garnitures – three-piece, matched sets designed for mantlepieces. Highly stylized settees, armchairs, desks, tables, and sarcophagus-shaped caskets often bore images that could be seen in Egyptian tomb paintings.  

Armchair and sidechair, rosewood with prickly juniper veneer, 37 x 27½ x 27½ inches, attributed to Pottier and Stymus, New York City, circa 1870-75. Image in public domain, courtesy metmuseum.org

 

After the American Civil War and the inauguration of the Suez Canal (1869), exotic, Egyptian-style furniture also charmed Americans. Their hand-carved cabinets, credenzas, sideboards, and “parlor suites” often featured gold-painted cuffs and collars along with carved or bronze-mounted lion masks, sphinxes, ceremonial headdresses, or palm-frond details. Most surviving post-Civil War-era pieces are associated with the famed furniture design company, Pottier and Stymus. Their opulent rosewood armchair with prickly juniper veneer, for example, featured gilt-brass sphinxes and nailed-bead moldings, along with an abundance of gilt-engraved accents and painted medallions. 

Egyptian Revival garniture set featuring slate/marble clock and marble pillars, marked with Japy Freres seal, circa 1880s, France, clock 17 x 16 inches, pillars 20 x 6½ inches. Sold for $1,400+ buyer’s premium in 2021. Image courtesy Akiba Antiques and LiveAuctioneers

 

By the turn of the century, Tiffany & Co., was marketing a number of Egyptian Revival decorative objects, including clock garnitures, glass powder containers coiled with gold-wash sterling snakes, and gold-wash coffee spoons featuring bright, striped Egypt-evocative enamel detail. Additionally, Tiffany adorned some of their simple bronze candelabras with images of ibises and lotus flowers, symbolizing creation and rebirth. 

Other pieces of the period – like Theodore B. Starr’s gold and enamel brooch depicting an Egyptian-clad figure playing a falcon-headed amethyst-scarab harp above a coiled-snake plinth – spared no expense with their luxurious details.

Archaeologist Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tutankhamun’s treasure-filled tomb in 1922, which was celebrated in newspapers, newsreels and on the silver screen, sparked a renewed interest in Egyptomania. Over time, Ancient Egypt’s ancient motifs and symbols permeated all aspects of modern culture, including architecture, theater, literature, and the decorative arts. Bookends, vases, jardinières, andirons, busts, and finely embroidered tapestries depicted an abundance of Egyptian motifs. Fashionistas of the day caught the Egyptian Revival bug and often carried lustrous, Egyptian-motif celluloid or micro-beaded evening bags. 

Egyptian-themed woven tapestry featuring gilt metal thread, approximately 46½ wide x 48 inches long, 1920s. Sold for $325 + buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy of Blackwell Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Egyptian Revival design also became an integral aspect of Art Deco, a sleek, geometric style melding ingenuity and fine artistry with precious materials. As a result, gleaming gilt images of pharaohs, royal headdresses, winged sphinxes, and pyramids adorned wall plaques, perfume bottles, belt buckles, lamp bases, cigarette cases, and sconces. 

In addition, fine jewelers, including Tiffany, Cartier, and Van Cleef & Arpels, created Egyptian Revival bracelets, beaded bib necklaces, earrings, rings, pendants, bar pins and hatpins. Many bore gilded mummy, sphinx, snake, hieroglyphic, pyramid or plump, rounded scarab motifs. 

Art Deco Egyptian Revival moonstone and diamond scarab brooch, France, wings set with buff-top onyx, with various old-cut European diamonds, platinum mount, 1 7/8 inches, guarantee stamps. Sold for $9,500 + buyer’s premium in 2021. Image courtesy Skinner and LiveAuctioneers

Art Deco winged scarab brooches resembling beetles in flight were, perhaps, the most popular of all jewelry designs. Simple gold or silver models often featured carved hardstone “bodies” with delicate, stylized champlevé or plique-à-jour wings. Exquisite beauties featuring moonstone and onyx bodies tipped with old European-, rose-, baguette- or fancy-cut European diamond wings were the most extravagant creations of the period. Those now-classic creations, which are favorites in auction rooms worldwide, shimmer like their inspiration: the sun.

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