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Native American silver jewelry on tap at Jasper52 auction Nov. 26

Jasper52 will present an outstanding collection that showcases the beauty, versatility and tradition of fine Southwest and Native
American jewelry in an online auction on Tuesday, Nov. 26. The natural beauty of turquoise and coral is complemented by sterling silver wrought by highly skilled designers and artisans. Bid absentee or live online through LiveAuctioneers.

Sterling silver and turquoise vintage squash blossom necklace, 1970s, 25½in long, 169.8 grams. Estimate $700-$800. Jasper52 image

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Eons-old jet in vogue through the ages

NEW YORK – Jet, a black gemstone of fossilized wood, is primarily sourced in the cliffs and moors adjoining Whitby, a historic seaside town in North Yorkshire, England.

Since jet finger-rings, amulets, cones and beads have been found in Neolithic and Bronze Age burials in that region and farther, archeologists believe ancients associated its dark presence with death.

Similarly, Greeks associated jet with the underworld goddess, who welcomed the dead to her realm. In addition, they dedicated it to Cybele, goddess of nature, agriculture, healing and fertility.

Anglo-Saxon glass and amber restrung bead group containing small annular jet, fifth-seventh century. Property of a Nottinghamshire gentleman; found Saxmundham, Norfolk, UK in 1971. Realized £320 + buyer’s premium in 2013. Image courtesy of TimeLine Auctions Ltd. and LiveAuctioneers

When ignited, wrote Pliny the Elder in first century Rome, fumes of this costly, magical material drove off snakes and deflected the Evil Eye. Powdered and boiled with wine, it cured toothache; mixed with wax, it cured “wicked” tumors. Naturalists, centuries later, observed that jet burns in water, is extinguished by oil, and like amber, becomes electric through friction and warms to the touch. It was also considered an excellent remedy for dropsy (edema).

In Roman Britain (A.D. 43 to 410), carved armlets, finger-rings, hair pins, beads, bangles, bracelets and brooches, made from mined or beachcombed jet, were the height of fashion. In Ireland, jet amulets protected against a litany of perils, including poison, demonic possession, disease, sorcery, snakebites and thunder.

Through the Middle Ages, nuns and monks favored jet prayer beads, crucifixes and amulets, perhaps because they merged protective pagan power with religious belief. So did travelers on pilgrimage, who purchased them as souvenirs.

A 19th century mourning pendant with lock of hair to center bordered by black Whitby jet stones, 1¼in long. Realized £120 + buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy Dickins Auctioneers Ltd. and LiveAuctioneers

Whitby’s first jet workshop, established in the early 1800s, sourced local, uniformly black, hard, dense material – considered the world’s best. By mid-century, highly polished, hand-carved jet had become so popular that Queen Victoria designated Thomas Andrews as her official “Jet Ornament Maker.” A year later, when jet necklaces, bracelets and brooches were featured at London’s Great Exhibition, this lightweight gem also reached an international audience.

Jet jewelry was popularized, however, when Queen Victoria, mourning the death of

Prince Albert in 1861, obliged her entire court to mourn with her. In time, common folk too, following fashion, mourned private losses by accessorizing their dark crepe outfits with jet mourning rings, beads, buttons, bracelets, crosses, earrings and lockets. Sentimental, jet-rimmed bars and brooches, often featuring locks of the deceased person’s hair, were also popular.

Victorian mourning brooch, gold-filled oval form with jet stones and pearls surrounding woven hair under glass, second half 19th century, 7/8in x 1½in. Realized $275 + buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy of Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates and LiveAuctioneers

Hundreds of Whitby jet workshops emerged, employing well over 1,000 grinders, cutters, lathe turners, carvers, polishers and finishers, met mourners’ needs. In addition to jewelry, they produced jet spindles, loom weights, visiting card trays, chess sets and decorative carvings.

As demand grew, some workshops imported softer jet, more suited to beads than finer works, from France or Spain. Others marketed less costly “French” black glass, obsidian, dyed horn, gutta percha or vulcanite as genuine jet.

Victorian triple cameo ring featuring three cameos including lava, coral and jet, 14K gold. Realized $300 + buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy Cordier Auctions & Appraisals and LiveAuctioneers

Although shiny jet beads jazzed up flapper belts, headbands, pumps and dresses through the Roaring ’20s, these – and similar pieces, soon fell from fashion.

Across the American Southwest, however, native tribes had long adorned silver necklaces, finger-rings, earrings, pins and bracelets with bits of locally sourced gems, including jet – albeit for their own use. As rail service expanded, scores, produced specifically for market, reached the general public. Since the 1970s, demand for traditional and contemporary Native American gem-inlay silver has soared, especially among tourists and collectors.

Night Sky and Pueblo micro inlay pendant of sterling silver, genuine jet stone, jasper, turquoise, coral and spiny oyster, 2in x 2¼in. Signed: Matthew Jack. Realized $550 + buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy of Billy The Kid Auction House and LiveAuctioneers

In recent years, fashionistas, charmed by one-of-a-kind creations by luxury jewelers like Pomellato, Vhernier , Romolo Grassi and Yossi Harari, have also discovered the allure of this dramatic, old-new gem.

Yossi Harari 24K gold jet bead necklace, 16 7/8in long. Realized $1,600 + buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy Hampton Estate Auction and LiveAuctioneers

These days, Whitby supports just a handful of workers. Yet biannually, it goes to the dark side, hosting Goth Weekend, an alternate music festival celebrating Gothic subculture, along with the town’s association with Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Jet enthusiasts often come to strut their stuff. So do New-Agers who, observes Nicholas Pearson in Stones of the Goddess: Crystals for the Divine Feminine, wear jet gems for “binding, banishing, protection, preventing nightmares and hex-breaking.” – as of old.

Miami Beach style packaged in online auction Nov. 19

Two hundred lots of “Jewelry and Decorative Arts Inspired by Miami Beach” are available in a Jasper52 online auction to be held Tuesday, Nov. 19. Victorian-era estate jewelry, sterling silver serving pieces and flatware sets, and rare wristwatches are featured. Dozens of lots of sterling silver are presented in the sale. An important lot in this category is a pair of large George III covered entrée dishes made by renowned London silversmith Paul Storr in 1805.

Estate platinum GIA Ceylon sapphire and diamond ring, mid-20th century. Estimate: $4,500-$5,500. Jasper52 image

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Luxury jewelry auction Aug. 11 features famous names

From iconic Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra and Cartier Panthere jewelry to fine Patek Philippe and Rolex watches, the Jasper52 auction titled Fine Jewelry Inspired by the Las Vegas Show features the best of the best in luxury jewelry, watches and fashion. All items in the Aug. 11 auction are sourced from dealers who exhibit at shows in Las Vegas.

Patek Philippe Nautilus 4700/4 men’s watch. 27mm 18K gold case and gold stationary bezel, quartz movement. Estimate: $151,000-$181,000. Jasper52 image

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Miami Beach Antique Show brings auction to Jasper52 March 30

On March 30, Jasper52 will present an auction loaded with choice items exclusively from the prestigious Miami Beach Antique Show. From iconic Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra jewelry to an exquisite museum-quality clock and garniture set, this special online auction features only the best in jewelry, watches, decorative art and fine art.

Patek Philippe women’s 18K rose gold and diamond Twenty~4 quartz wristwatch, ref. 4908/11R. Estimate $23,000-$28,000. Jasper52 image

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Clearing the air on Bakelite collectibles

Billed as the “material of a thousand uses,” Bakelite went into commercial production in 1922.

An article in the October 1925 issue of the trade publication Plastics magazine claimed the new synthetic phenolic resin could be used for “jewelry, smokers’ articles … sealing electric light bulbs in metal bases … varnishes … electric coils, lacquers … silent gears … and molding material, from which are formed innumerable articles of utility and beauty.” We know that resin today as Bakelite, named after its inventor, Leo Baekeland, the chemist whose process was patented in 1909.

The scientific name, though, is polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, “a thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin, formed from a condensation reaction of phenol with formaldehyde,” according to a Wikipedia entry. This revolutionary new type of phenolic resin, or synthetic plastic, was heat resistant, did not conduct electricity, was completely insoluble, totally inflexible and much more economical to produce in large quantities than celluloid, the plastic of the time. It was perfect for molding articles of utility such as insulators, military equipment, automobile parts and the early rotary dial telephone.

The case of this Wards Airline brand tabletop radio is made of molded Bakelite. Image coutesy of Goldfinch Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The first tabletop radio, though, was one of the first items that was both an article of utility and of beauty when introduced in dark brown, black and dark marbled Bakelite. While not exactly a decorator choice, the darker colors concealed the use of cotton, paper, glass fabrics, nylon, canvas, linen, sawdust, fiber and even asbestos to strengthen an otherwise brittle compound.

But, if darker tones represented early Bakelite, how is it jewelry and other items made of lighter, mostly primary colors are commonly sold as Bakelite? Because those items are made of Catalin.

The 1940s FADA brand tabletop radio is a prized collector’s item for its Catalin case in butterscotch with red trim. Image courtesy of Clarke Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Known as a cast phenol formaldehyde resin, Catalin, created in 1927, is a thermosetting polymer not unlike Bakelite, except the production is in two stages, where Bakelite requires more of a multistage curing process. More importantly, Catalin was transparent allowing the use of color or mixture of colors during the manufacturing process. Jewelry, bangles, beads, brooches, tableware and other useful household items are made of Catalin, although it is usually identified as Bakelite to collectors.

There are key differences in Bakelite and Catalin. As was mentioned, Bakelite is manufactured with fillers and produced in darker colors to disguise the fillers making the item more stable over time. Bakelite also has a heavier feel.

Different examples of Bakelite and Catalin bangles with plain, worked and laminated versions that sold at auction for $300. Image courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

On the other hand, Catalin, because of its shorter manufacturing process is lighter but less stable and eventually will crack or craze. Early colorful radios from FADA and Emerson made from Catalin, for example, tend to warp, while the colors tend to darken over time with white turning to yellow.

Bracelets in vibrant green, yellow, red or combined shades laminated together for a more colorful style are the most desired in their original shade, with figurals in the shape of plants, animals and flowers easily the most sought after by collectors.

Other Early Plastics

Collectors will occasionally find other early plastic-like material advertised at auction. Some were experimental before Bakelite or Catalin and others just had small production runs. They are no longer being manufactured, but turn up as collectibles.

Early celluloid was generally used for household items such as the handle for this German-made straight razor, which depicting a zeppelin flying over a city. Image courtesy of Jeffrey S. Evans and Associates and LiveAuctioneers

Celluloid is considered the first true thermoplastic when it was marketed as Parkesine in 1856 and Xylonite in 1869. It is made from a compound of nitrocellulose and camphor which is quite flammable. The covering over early political buttons, billiard balls, film stock until 1950, and vintage ivory-like handles were made with celluloid. Pingpong balls and some guitar picks are still made from celluloid today.

Political buttons like this rare William Jennings Bryan/John W. Kern pocket mirror of 1900 used celluloid as an overlay. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

By 1880 Crystalate, invented by George Henry Burt, from nitrocellulose, camphor and alcohol, was based on an earlier form of plastic known as bonzoline. Crystalate was used mostly for gramaphone records and billiard balls and has long since been discontinued.

Faturan, possibly named for chemist Esmaeel Almail Faturan in the early 19th century originally mixed natural resins to form worry beads (komboloi) and counting beads (misbaha). A synthetic version made by Traun & Son, a German company, was made from early 20th century to the 1940s. Original Faturan, though, eventually oxides to a dark red no matter the original color and is rare as a collectible.

Galalith is a late 19th century plastic that utilized casein (found in milk) and formaldehyde to form a milky white hard plastic, but once set it could not be molded. By World War II, production was dramatically reduced to save milk for civilian use. Fashion designer Coco Chanel utilized galalith as costume jewelry and is still being produced mostly as buttons. Galalith emits a milky smell when rubbed.

Micarta is a phenolic resin like the others, but was used as a laminate over linen, canvas, paper, fiberglass and carbon fiber. Developed by George Westinghouse by 1910, it was used to make knife handles, handgun grips, pool cues, hardhats and early fan blades. Micarta is usually dark in color.

Virtually all of these early plastics have been either discontinued or have limited industrial use since the 1950s due to its labor-intensive mold and casting process. Yet, auction results seem to treat these early plastics similarly when it comes to collector value, except Faturan which has become more of a museum piece due to its rarity.

‘Fakelite’

There are contemporary plastics that resemble Bakelite, so-called “Fakelites” that are treated differently. These fakes have similar design and production methods as Bakelite and are hard to spot except on close examination. Veteran collectors know the uniquely identifiable “clunk” sound that two pieces of vintage Bakelite make when tapped together. Bakelite also feels heavier. Collectors sometimes use the hot water method to test for authentic Bakelite (dip in hot water, rub and test for the smell of formaldehyde) or the 409 method (just a touch of Formula 409 cleaner or Simichrome brand polish on a cotton swab on a hidden area and the swab should turn yellow; rinse the item immediately). You can just dry rub it as well and smell the telltale formaldehyde (works best with dark Bakelite).

Vintage Bakelite may also have been reworked, recut or redesigned without being marked as such. It doesn’t necessarily mean it is a fake or even a reproduction and its auction value isn’t compromised, but it may be judged differently from its original use. Just be warned that reworking Bakelite yourself produces the harmful effects from the phenol and formaldehyde used in its manufacture.

As it turns out, whether wearing Catalin bangles from Coco Chanel or listening to big bands on an Emerson Bakelite radio, whatever you call it, they’re equally collectible.

Resources

Baker, L. Plastic Jewelry of the 20th Century, 2003

Holdsworth, Ian, Cast Phenolic Resin, Plastics Historical Society, plastiquarian.com, undated

Meikle, Jeffrey L., American Plastic: A Cultural History. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995

Wiggins, Pamela, Collecting Bakelite Jewelry, sprucecrafts.com, April 4, 2014

Wiggins, Pamela, 6 Ways to Identify Bakelite, sprucecrafts.com, August 24, 2018

Wikipedia.com, Bakelite, undated

Jasper52 auction devoted to designer jewelry Jan. 23

The world’s top jewelry designers are represented in an exclusive Jasper52 fine jewelry auction to be conducted Wednesday, Jan. 23. Approximately 370 lots of gold necklaces, diamond earrings, brooches, charms and pendants will cross the auction block.

Vintage Tiffany 18K gold textured bangle bracelet, 51 grams. Estimate: $4,000-$5,000. Jasper52 image

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David Jerome Collection rings available in Jasper52 auction Nov. 7

Jewelry designer David Jerome has spent much of his life, traveling the world, amassing a breathtaking collection of the rarest and purest rubies, aquamarine, tanzanites, emeralds and sapphires. The David Jerome Collection is formed of hundreds of prized gems. Ethically sourced directly from precious gemstone mines all around the world, only the finest stones have been selected for the collection, which have been transformed into stunningly beautiful rings. Thirty-nine of these rings will be offered in a Jasper52 online auction Nov. 7.


Unheated 2.16 carat round brilliant cut sapphire and diamond ring, set in 18K white gold and mounted with 0.88 carats of diamonds. Estimate $10,000-$15,000. Jasper52 image

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Sept. 4 auction showcases luxe array of antique to modern jewelry

Whether you’re looking for a classic diamond tennis bracelet, a head-turning emerald necklace or an antique heirloom, you’ll find it in Jasper52’s Antique to Modern Jewelry auction on Tuesday, September 4. Bid absentee now or live online on auction day exclusively through LiveAuctioneers.

1920s Art Deco bracelet, platinum-topped 18K gold with mine-cut and rose-cut diamonds, sapphire accents. Est. $9,000-$11,000

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Select fine jewelry and bullion headline Jasper52 specialty auction, Aug. 28

There is no mistaking the look of old, high-carat gold and diamonds. For centuries they’ve been prized for their beauty, especially when paired in an exquisitely crafted setting — whether a queen’s crown, an engagement ring, or a favorite piece of inherited jewelry. Jasper52 has prepared an especially fine selection of gold jewelry, bullion and silver creations for its 118-lot auction slated for August 28. Whether you’re seeking a sophisticated signature piece or investment gold, you’ll find it in this sale, with absentee and Internet live bidding through LiveAuctioneers.

Sophisticated 22ct gold tassel necklace, purity 916/1000. Est. $2,500-$3,000

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