Monday, August 8, 2011


The Week in Estate Jewelry: Snakes, Bears, and "I Like My Choyce"

Circa the 1920s, this piece is a marriage of two different makers: Cartier and Mauboussin. It’s a pairing worthy of the filthiest fan fiction.

The Art Deco sautoir — which is a long necklace usually terminated with a tassel or pendant — is signed Cartier. It’s made of platinum, with 340 old European-cut and 16 rose-cut diamonds (approx. total weight: 7.65 carats), interposed with natural seed pearls. It’s 37” long, and has a removable section that allows it to be shortened to 33.”

According to the dealer, the sautoir was made for a French family around 1910, and in the late ’20s it was brought to Mauboussin to be paired with the pendant.

Now, Mauboussin might not have the immediate name recognition of Cartier, but it is another renowned French jewelry house, with a history that dates to 1827. Mauboussin is particularly known for Art Deco and Retro designs, and this pendant is a Deco blockbuster. It contains 82 old European-cut and 11 baguette-cut diamonds (for a total carat weight of just under eight carats). There are four Colombian emeralds: 1 square-cut, with an approximate weight of 2.15 carats, 2 pear-cuts that weigh in at around 1.20 carats (total), and a big pear-cut drop with an approximate weight of 4.30 carats. *fans self*

Posy (a.k.a. posie or poesy) rings are simple bands that have been engraved with a brief phrase or poem. Popular in England and France during the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, they were used as wedding rings and tokens of love or friendship. This one, dating to 16th-century England, is made of gold and very sweetly states: “I like my choyce.”

(If you’re interested, Wikipedia has a great list of some of the other phrases used in posy rings.)

Circa 1850, this is a 15k etched yellow gold memorial bracelet featuring old mine-cut diamonds and black enameling. There are hair compartments behind each of the three central squares (marked “AV,” “MTV,” and “KLV”), and the surrounding links are engraved with the birth and death dates of the three individuals. The bracelet is expandable, and, when stretched, lovely little engraved and enameled links emerge between the panels.

These gorgeous Art Deco platinum earrings combine almost 70 carats of kunzite with onyx accents and 2 carats of diamonds. Kunzite, a form of spodumene, is a very collectible gemstone. It ranges in color from pink to lilac, and was named after George Frederick Kunz, the man who discovered it.

Kunz was a largely self-taught American mineralogist. He served as chief gemologist at Tiffany & Co. for most of his life, and encouraged the greater use of colored stones in the company’s designs — touching a style nerve that remains to this day. In addition to writing numerous books and articles, Kunz also assembled an incredible collection of gems and minerals that eventually became the Morgan-Tiffany Collection of Gems in the American Museum of Natural History. But all that aside, I always remember him for having married a woman named Opal. Seriously!

This is an incredibly realistic gold and enamel snake necklace, circa 1840, from Switzerland. The necklace is segmented into dozens of tiny sections, which allow the piece to replicate the sinuous movement of a live snake. The enamel detailing is amazingly intricate, and the belly of the snake has its own pattern, contributing to the lifelike detail. The eyes are ruby.

This reminds me of another Swiss snake. Lucie Heskett-Brem is a contemporary Swiss goldsmith known as “the Gold Weaver,” and from her studio on Lake Lucerne, she handcrafts gold chains of incredible detail. Some of her designs are based on antique chains, but instead of directly replicating a design, she makes each chain unique. She’s primarily concerned with the movement and feel of the finished product, and will work each and every link until it satisfies her exacting standards.

Her snake designs are particularly popular. They take months to create, and she once told me that some people have actually been frightened of them at first viewing — and that’s how she knows she got it right.

Circa 1789, these earrings are BIG. They’re from the Iberian Peninsula, and feature the three-part-drop style traditional to Spanish and Portuguese jewelry of the time. Consisting of an openwork floral motif paired with an abstract bow and acorn-shaped drops, the earrings are 3.5” long and made of gilded metal.

From Russia and circa 1890, this is an emerald and diamond dress ring. The central trap-cut (also known as “step-cut”) emerald is set in 18k yellow gold, while the surrounding diamonds are old- and Swiss-cut, and set in white gold.

A while back, while talking about Margot van Voorhies Carr, I told you guys about the origins of Taxco silver. This sterling and amethyst necklace is by Antonio Pineda, another Taxco superstar. Pineda learned his trade both in Mexico City and at the Las Delicias workshop of William Spratling, and he eventually emerged as one of the most talented and renowned of the Mexican silver designers. His style, which is beautifully exemplified in this necklace from the 1960s, was distinctly modern, with spare lines and a bold use of colored stones. He passed away in 2009 at the age of 90.

Circa 1911, this is a really pretty Art Nouveau locket and chain, in 14k gold with a central floral motif and engine-turned guilloché engraving overlaid with transparent light blue enamel. The locket holds two pictures, and is engraved on the inside with “L.R.F. from E.B.F. July 1911.”

I’m a sucker for guilloché engraving; here’s a close-up.

This fantastic 18k yellow gold cocktail ring stacks, flapper-dress-style, five layers of pear-shaped emerald drops. It’s French, circa 1950s. I would not be able to stop playing with this thing. [Ed. note: OH MY GOD.]

This one’s for Balk: an 18k gold Art Nouveau ring by renowned jeweler Gustav Manz, depicting two bears in relief.

Previously: Spiders, Flies, and a Bangle to Rule Us All.

Monica McLaughlin would like you to know that, thanks to huge public outcry, the English hallmarking tradition is no longer under threat. Thanks to all who wrote in with their views.

40 Comments / Post A Comment


"Next up, the latest single from Ke$ha, 'Eye Lyke Mi Choyce.'"


@melis eye chooz mi choyce!


i want the emerald cocktail ring.


@becky@twitter: I want it more. Do I win it now?


@NeenerNeener duel to the death!


@becky@twitter: I accept your challenge! Oh boy, are the other Pinners in for some barbaric entertainment at the Pin-up!
Just warning you, though, I'm 6'3", 280 lbs...
(I could be stretching the truth here just a smidge in the hopes that you'll forfeit and the ring will be all mine, my Precious. Or not.)


@NeenerNeener can we share the ring? i'll let you wear it to the pinup.


@becky@twitter: I might consider this. Now to scheme upon getting the ring to share... I've learned that intimidation could work :)


@NeenerNeener i suggest we take cues from this fine piece of cinema: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082474/


Drrooooollll... Art Nouveau Locket....

Pound of Salt

"Baguette-cut diamonds" is the cutest descriptor.

Pound of Salt

And thank goodness for relieved bears. Also, I NEED that snake necklace!


Among very stiff competition, this is my favourite Hairpin feature. Estate jewelry always makes my day!

A fun thing is to look at similar pieces on Etsy, that don't necessarily cost more than my house. For example, Pound of Salt, here's another very sweet snake. And here's one with huge green eyes.

There's some quite beautiful Taxco silver, including a bangle by Antonio.

And Art Nouveau lockets?

I love beautiful things! I really should wear the jewelry I own more often. And maybe get "I like my choyce" engraved on the inside of my wedding ring.

Nicole Cliffe

@Yatima My favourite too!!! If it ever ends, I'm throwing a fit.


Bears spooning? Aww. That's mi choyce!


I proooooobabaly shouldn't bookmark a shop that has a special section titled "Gifts for Under $1,000."


"Columbian" emeralds? Are they from Columbia, South Carolina or Columbia, Missouri? Maybe the District of Columbia?

Or are they Colombian emeralds from the South American country Colombia?


No, no, they're co-lumbian, as in they share various attributes characteristic of the Lumbian school of design.


@dianasolo Aw, crap. Good catch! Slip of the key - it's Colombian.


Yes, those bears certainly look like they're "in relief" for one another.


Shut up, why don't I have an Edwardian boyfriend to give me Art Nouveau lockets whyyyyyy


First thought: that necklace costs more than my home!
Second thought: which do I want more? Hmmmmm hmmmmm...


1. I would cut someone for the Art Nouveau locket and never even look back.

2. I missed this column so much!

3. You will love this! I work at the Asian Art Museum in SF and in October we're going to be getting in our new exhibition - the Maharaja collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. YOU AREN'T EVEN READY FOR THIS JELLY. Here's a sneak preview of the jewelry we're getting in:


I mean, what?!! We are getting a CARRIAGE that is made out of SILVER and has to be cleaned with a Q-TIP. I am going to lose my composure, I tell you what.




@Diana THANKS FOR THE HEADS UP i am so there


@Diana OH MY GOD. I am so excited. I cannot wait for this exhibit.


I went to the wikipedia list of posie ring engravings, OF COURSE.


I mean, don't we all deserve REWADS?

Lauren Mekeel Wolfer@facebook

@annepersand REWAD IF YOU CREYED!


Being obsessed with silver as I am, oh, love that Pineda necklace!

Honestly, this stuff is just gorgeous. Wow. I'd fidget endlessly with that cocktail ring.


I don't understand what you would wear a snake necklace with in 1840 though. Wasn't it all white and empire lace, like in an Austen movie? I really want to see the outfit that would have been paired with that necklace now.


@Megan Patterson@facebook I'm by no means an expert on historical fashion, but I do know that Queen Victoria was very much the one who made snake jewelry trendy - her 1840 wedding to Albert was snake-tastic! If you look up images of her from the beginning of her reign (1837 on) you'll see that the gowns she wore were in heavy satins, with low-cut or off the shoulder necklines. So that was the perfect setting for a snake necklace, and the look would have been copied by other wealthy women of the time.

I haven't read Austen in ages, but I think the books might have been set a decade or two earlier. So that fashion was a little different - plus if the girls were unmarried, they'd also be stuck with more boring, modest clothes. And since they didn't have a lot of money and lived outside of the big city (I think? Weren't some of them outside of Bath?), if they wore any jewelry at all it would probably be small Georgian crosses or pendants.

Here's a painting that's later 19th-century, but it'll give you an idea of how a snake necklace would look on: http://bit.ly/q5fd0v. I WANT ONE.


@monicamcl Woo that is RISQUE. But really that is kind of what a snake necklace calls for anyway.


@Megan Patterson@facebook: Austen wrote in the late 1700s/early 1800s, so a few decades earlier than Victoria. Regency fashions were more streamlined and inspired by classical wear, so a snake necklace would've looked really out of place.

That said, I'd mow over the whole set of Austen heroines to make a grab for that Cartier/Mauboussin emerald necklace.


@Megan Patterson@facebook Also, I don't know if this super relates but the little I remember from art history, snakes were a thing. Enlightening, I know. But they were a thing as you can see here (http://earlymodernengland.com/2010/03/portrait-of-queen-elizabeth-i-reveals-secret-snake/) with Elizabeth as well, what kind of thing? I think that is still a mystery, sort of?

Watts Up?

I need those emerald stacking rings in a way that is positively Louis Quatorzian.


That amethyst necklace! *fans self*


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