Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Estate Jewelry: The Birds and the Beetles

This gorgeous Arts & Crafts pendant is attributed to Sarah Madeleine Martineau (1872-1972), a successful, unmarried jewelry designer working in London in the early 1900s. She was a member of the Sir John Cass Arts and Crafts Society, which was comprised of past and present students of the Sir John Cass Technical Institute in London. It was at the Institute that Martineau learned metalsmithing, and she began to show and sell her work in various galleries and exhibitions, and was eventually featured in Studio magazine.

A November 22, 1907 entry in the Journal of the Society of Arts, Vol 56 features a review of an exhibit by the Cass Society, and offers a nice description of the style the society presented:

There was a good show of jewellery, mostly, it is to be noticed, by ladies ... The exhibitors generally show a distinct feeling for colour, no matter whether this is represented by enamel or by precious stones, and there is a restraint about most of the work which distinguishes it from a good deal of the modern jewellery. The objects, mainly pendants, chains, and buttons, are not for the most part executed in repoussé or in chased work, but are built up of fine lines of metal which enclose or form the setting to stones, not perhaps very precious in themselves, but chosen for their color.

(Only one exhibitor is mentioned by name in this review, so I’m not sure if Martineau was involved, but she is listed in a review of a Cass Society exhibition described as “interesting” in the January 1909 issue of The International Studio.)

This gold Martineau pendant marries a central, brightly enameled heart with a contrasting border of blue-green plique-à-jour enamel and peridot leaves and three peridot drops. Circa 1900.

Beetles! These earrings are Victorian, circa 1880. Each one is made of two faceted-rock quartz crystal discs, with a hand-carved amethyst beetle riveted to the center of the lower disc.

The legs and findings (the wires that hold the pieces together) are sterling silver. [Ed. – Ah!!! Amazing!]

Circa 1900, a lovely little swallow pin in enamel and 18k gold. The gold is chased and repousséd, which means it has been hammered to create a design. “Chasing” means that the metal has been hammered from the front, while “repoussé” means it’s been hammered from the back. The two techniques are usually used in conjunction, and here they combine to form the shape of the feathers. It’s a fairly time-consuming technique, but it’s also one that doesn’t require any loss to the metal, because it only manipulates it and pushes it around. Exacting detail can also be achieved by the use of various tools with different shaped tips.

In this piece, various shades of enamel were then applied over the metal, and rose-cut diamonds set in silver-topped gold were added as a finishing touch. Such a pretty little pin!

A beautiful English Edwardian platinum and yellow gold bracelet with 7 large cushion-shaped rubies and approximately 196 old and single-cut diamonds set in a stylized floral design. Circa 1910.

Circa 1900-1910, this necklace shows the transition between the Victorian and Edwardian styles. It’s in 10k yellow gold, with Victorian standards like seed pearls, garnet, and floral and bird motifs, but the excessive amount of ornamentation often seen in late Victorian jewelry has been stripped away in favor of a lighter, cleaner line.

(The piece is also hallmarked by an American company, the Keller Jewelry Manufacturing Company, which operated in New York and Newark, NJ, in the early part of the 20th century.)

This late Medieval/early Renaissance gold brooch dates to sometime between 1300 and 1400, and it shows it. The dealer is offering it as is, because they believe that “any repair or alteration to this jewel won’t do it justice, as it will take away its genuine character.” I agree — sometimes it’s even more fascinating to see the history in a piece of great age than it is to see it in its original glory. (Sometimes! Not all the time!)

Here, the central stone is either a ruby or a spinel, and the dealer thinks the three empty settings (and the missing fourth) probably contained the same stones. Also, since the four bars radiating from the center feature riveted ends, it’s possible they once held pearls — but if this brooch was buried in the ground as the dealer believes, those pearls would have quickly decomposed.

It still has its original pin closure, and even with all the damage, it’s beautiful. You have my respect, lovely old brooch!

Aaaaugh, so many auctions next week! There are lots of spectacular pieces highlighting each one, but as usual I’m going to focus on other pieces that caught my eye for whatever reason. It’s my column, so I’ll do what I want, thank you very much.

I won’t go into the Elizabeth Taylor auction at Christie’s again, as both Jane and myself have talked about it already, but just remember that the online auction starts on December 3 and runs through December 17, while the BIG one, “Legendary Jewels,” is on the evening of December 13.

So, first up we have “Fine Jewelry & Watches” on December 5 at Freeman’s, my local Philly auction house. Some nice things here, including a gorgeous set of sapphire and diamond floral bracelets by Van Cleef and Arpels, as well as this lovely Deco ring, which features a modified Asscher-cut 1.25-carat diamond in platinum, with caliber-cut ruby accents. It’s a terrific example of the clean symmetry that's so central to Art Deco.

Doyle New York, Skinner and Phillips dePury & Company each have sales scheduled for December 6th; I’ll cover them alphabetically, since they all start at 10 a.m.

First up is Doyle New York’sImportant Estate Jewelry.”

There are some SERIOUS diamonds in this sale, but I’ve fallen head over heels in love with these carved pink tourmaline earrings with diamonds set in white gold. How pretty are they??? I can’t stand it.

(Also: Dude, they have a scepter. WTF. I need a scepter.)

Next we have “Jewels” at Phillips dePury & Company.

This beautiful bracelet is by Masriera y Carreras, a hugely important name in Spanish jewelry. The Masriera family designed and sold jewelry in Barcelona throughout the 19th century, but it was the third generation — in the form of Lluis Masriera — that really established the company’s place in jewelry history. Lluis received extensive jewelry training both at home in Spain and in Switzerland, but his real turning point came when he visited the 1900 International Exhibition in Paris. That was the Exhibition that introduced Art Nouveau into the world, and where the incredible jewelry of René Lalique sent shock waves through artistic communities everywhere. There’s an undocumented, apocryphal tale that claims that Lluis Masriera saw Lalique’s work in Paris and immediately came home and melted down all of the family’s jewelry stock in order to remake it –but whether or not that story is true, it gives you an idea of the gut reaction so many designers had to Art Nouveau. It swept people away, captivated them. From this point on, Lluis began to design intricate jewelry — with a particularly exceptional use of plique-à-jour enamel — in the Art Nouveau style. The new jewelry was wildly successful, and Masriera became known for the latest in exquisite yet modern jewelry.

A little later, in 1915, Masriera merged with Carreras, the oldest jewelry family in Spain. Carreras was also known for modern jewelry, and, now with the two families working as one, the company’s style began to progress from Art Nouveau into the more structured forms of Art Deco. Again, the jewelry was hugely successful, and earned them a Grand Prix award at the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. (The exhibition from which Art Deco got its name!)

Times change, however, and both families had bowed out of jewelry by the mid 1900s, so ANOTHER established Spanish jewelry family — Bagués — stepped in and bought 50% of the company (later buying the other 50% in the 1980s). Since then, the new firm, Bagués-Masriera, has continued to make jewelry using Masriera’s original designs and equipment from the turn of the century, with an apprenticeship program that ensures the exacting quality for which the name “Masriera” has always been known. I can attest to this first-hand … There has never been a trade show where I was not to be found drooling all over their cases. It’s mind-bendingly beautiful stuff.

So, this Art Nouveau openwork gold bracelet is signed “Masriera y Carreras” and has a fantastic rooster motif, with multi-colored plique-à-jour enamel, ruby eyes, and old-cut diamonds mounted in 18k yellow gold. WANT.

Also on December 6, Skinner is holding a “Fine Jewelry” sale. As usual, there’s a great mix of things in this sale — including some early-18th-century Stuart crystal pieces — but these 18k gold reverse-painted fishbowl earrings are just so fantastic I have to highlight them. Circa 1870s, each cylindrical crystal “bowl” has a fish hand-painted on the back, giving the illusion that it’s swimming within. The earrings are also beautifully assembled; each bowl is suspended by ribbed batons from a top disk with a floral design of pearl and blue enamel (not specified in the catalog, but that’s what it looks like). The earrings are finished off with a fringe of rubies and pearls beneath the bowls, and the screw-back findings are a later addition.

On December 7, Sotheby’s New York is holding a “Magnificent Jewels” auction. Now, anything specified as “magnificent” is going to be pretty good, so be sure to check out the catalog to see the “Light of Golconda” diamond, which is, oh, I don’t know, just a 33-CARAT GOLCONDA DIAMOND. And there’s also a 22-carat Fancy Intense Pink diamond ring that is a stunner.

I particularly want to point out this gorgeous alexandrite ring. Now, a little background: my very first “real” job was with JCK, a well-known jewelry trade magazine that has been in print since 1869. When I started there, I didn’t really care about jewelry; I was in my mid-twenties, I had other things on my mind. One day, Gary, our gem editor, came to my office door and said, “Hey, come here! You have to see this!” and he showed me a ring with a big gemstone. It was an alexandrite that he had in the office to photograph, and the color of the stone was incredible — a gorgeous berry red that caught the light and shot it back out again in various shades of pink. But then Gary said, “Follow me!” and ran outside. He showed me the ring again, and OMG IT WAS GREEN. That beautiful berry-colored stone had completely changed color; it was now emerald green, with occasional flashes of blue. My mind was blown. Gary explained that alexandrite is a color-change gemstone — exposure to artificial light and daylight will cause the stone to assume two completely different colors. There’s a long scientific explanation for this that I won’t get into, but let’s just say that from that moment on I was hooked. Jewelry was officially the coolest thing ever.

So, it may look like Sotheby’s is showing you two different rings here, but they’re not. This is the same ring, the image just shows you how the stone will look in different light. The alexandrite is 6.72 carats, and it’s set in 18k white gold with 2.40 carats of marquise and oval-shaped diamonds.

And finally, on December 14, Sotheby’s London is holding a “Fine Jewellery” sale. Again, there’s a great mix of stuff, including Castellani bracelets, a gorgeous Boucheron cicada brooch, and an emerald-and-diamond tiara that made me jam my fist in my mouth.

These pieces above are commonly called “lover’s eye” miniatures, and they were very popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Supposedly, since just the eye of one’s lover was visible, the piece could be worn while the identity of the lover remained secret. According to the Smithsonian, “One of the earliest known eye miniatures was painted in 1786 by the English artist Richard Cosway for the Prince of Wales, later King George IV. The miniature showed the eye of Mrs. Fitzherbert, the prince’s mistress.”

In a somewhat creepier explanation, it’s also thought that the eye symbolized the ever-watchfulness of one’s lover. They were usually painted in watercolor on ivory or vellum, and that’s a good thing too look for when purchasing — lover’s eye jewelry is extremely collectible, and as a result, fakes are everywhere. Some images are reproduced from books, so you can see the pixels with a common jewelry loupe (duh!), while other sellers (who should be flogged in public) are actually cutting the eyes out of antique portrait miniatures and sticking them in Georgian settings. As a general rule, for these or anything high-priced and collectible, always demand a thorough provenance and only buy from reputable sellers or auction houses.

These four pieces are all circa 1820 or later, and include (at bottom left) an asymmetrical heart-shaped brooch with a miniature depicting a gentleman’s right eye within a border of half natural pearls. At bottom right is a rectangular brooch containing a miniature of a gentleman’s left eye within a border of circular-cut garnets and half natural pearls. In the middle is a pear-shaped pendant with a miniature of a gentleman’s right eye within a border of half natural pearls and green paste (this piece also features a glazed compartment on the reverse that contains hairwork). And, finally, at the top is a circular pendant featuring a miniature of a lady’s right eye in a repoussé frame; also with a hairwork compartment on the reverse. All of these pieces are painted on ivory.

There’s an additional batch of eye miniatures for sale in this auction; check out lot 30. And if you'd like to see more, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has a great collection, and there are also many others here.

Previously: Death's-Head Skulls and Diamond-Wing Dragonflies.

Monica McLaughlin is sorry if she left any auction houses out! Feel free to send her press releases or any further info.

50 Comments / Post A Comment


I need those beetle earrings. I'm off to write my letter to Santa.


@QuiteAimable I have never experienced such materialist lust as I feel right now for those beetle earrings.


@wallsdonotfall ME TOO. Also fishbowl earrings. Do I maybe just want to start a critters-hanging-from-my-ears jewelry collection? ...perhaps.

Faintly Macabre

@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher I was so sleepy and critter-earring-focused by the end of the day that when one coworker commented another on her earrings, I thought, "Are they mouse earrings? I should buy mouse earrings."


All of this. All of it.

[But especially the fishbowl earrings.]


Daddy I want that bird pin!!!!

Katie Heaney

So basically alexandrite is a mood ring for PRINCESSES!?!?! I need this ugh


@Katie Heaney If I had that ring I would be like "omg so pretty I'm never leaving the house." But then as soon as I went outside, I would be like "omg even prettier I'm never going back inside!!!"


@Katie Heaney So my grandma had this huge cocktail ring that she claims had an alexandrite stone in it, and she was able to describe the way it changed colors and all. Her husband did travel internationally and it was back in the 70s, so...it broke and got lost. I went to replace the stone and it turned out that 10 or so carats or so of Alexandrite would be... unaffordable to put it mildly. I got her an Amethyst ring instead, but now I will always wonder. DID SHE OWN A REAL 100,000 dollar Alexandrite? Could that have been our inheritance?! Who knows. For my own sake, I'm trying to believe not.



(also: eyeball jewelry? CREEPY)


Oh my. I would happily take custody of any of these things. I especially love the enameled heart pendant and the alexandrite ring.

My dad bought my mom alexandrite jewelry in Turkey back in the day when he was wooing her. It is really beautiful stuff, and the color changing is fascinating and even a little bit magical.


@AnthroK8 Umm, your Dad sounds pretty fucking awesome.


@Polina it is late to say this. But. My dad is in fact pretty effing awesome. He has great taste in jewelry across the board.


This is like the 'put a bird on it' edition! But it's all so prettyyyy. Except those eyes, they're just a bit creepy.

Faintly Macabre

Noooooooo I want ALLLL the things! Can you publish these with no pictures? Pretend the jewelry is all a bunch of spiders?

The Lady of Shalott




1. I need that swallow pin, does anyone have $3,275 I can "borrow"?

2. I did not know that pearls can decompose!!! Does it only happen if they're buried or is it happening RIGHT NOW IN MY JEWELLERY BOX (pls note *correct* English spelling)???

3. Ah the Hairpin, the only place where an educational antique jewellery review will contain the words "WTF. I need a scepter."


@iceberg According to what I read, it may be better for your pearls to be safely in your jewelry (jewellery is the British/Aussie spelling?) box. Pearls don't like /any/ of the things that come out of/can be put on top of your pores, nor do they like light or excessive heat. The most surprising thing I found: wrapping them in cotton wool will dehydrate them; they don't like that either.

Faintly Macabre

@iceberg Maybe you need to buy some oysters and stick your pearls back in them? Better yet, if you use live oysters, they might make the pearls bigger!


@iceberg Oh you English and your superfluous letters! Pearls are made of organic material, so if you bury them in the ground for a few hundred years, they'll be broken down by all the little organisms and chemicals and metals in the earth. So don't worry - your, ahem, JEWELRY box is the perfect place for them. Just treat them kindly, keep any perfumes or lotions away from them and get them restrung regularly and they'll be happy as clams (oysters?).


@monicamcl et al: Thanks!Sighing in relief. I only have pearl earrings, not a necklace but it's good to know.

(I just thought the spelling thing was funny because I've apparently been in the US long enough that the spelling I grew up with looks wrong to me? Extra letters FTW!!!)


@Faintly Macabre Yes! Pet oysters. I shall keep them in my jewellery box!!!!!


@iceberg Best idea ever!


Can I marry estate jewellery?


Iiiii'm...dreaming of an alexandrite and Edwardian ruby bracelet Christmas...(darling husband, are you listening?)

A big NO to the eyeball miniatures, which would somehow crawl out of my jewelry box at night and stare at me in the dark.


@Bittersweet I guess I'm the only one who loves the mystery of having just an eye, and other people having to guess whose it is and thus determine who your lover was? I think I would've been good at that game. I also like the idea of having this piece of a story on your jewelry. Someone was in love with that person whose eye it was *so* much that they had it painted on jewelry and wore it around, even though they couldn't tell anyone about it. The best part about old jewelry to me is thinking of where its been and who made it/wore it back in the day, and this sort of jewelry makes the story behind it even more tangible.


700-year-old brooch, I have only the most enormous possible respect for you.


@itmakesmewonder right? way to survive. Also, before I read the description, I thought it was going to be a super modern piece of jewelry, but it turns out it's just the opposite. So pretty.


Monica, have you ever come across any pigeon-shaped jewelry? Maybe a big rock crystal pendant? (I mean, I guess it would be a dove in that case, but let's be real.)


@wallsdonotfall Nothing's coming to mind - but then again I haven't specifically been looking for pigeons. (I will now!) Doves show up in micromosaics a lot, though, in singles and in groups like this: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O156400/plaque/


@monicamcl All these doves look like pigeons. But they're basically the same anyway.


Ah, Gary. Gem people get to play with the coolest stuff. Not to disparage diamonds, but gems do much cooler things.

And I could totally find a way to work the carved pink tourmaline earrings into my daily wardrobe.


@abonsig Aren't they amazing? Love love love them. And I miss Gary. I used to love when he'd start setting up the camera dome thingie, because that meant something good was gonna make an appearance.


I went to a Cartier exhibit in SF and have been in love with carved gems ever since. Those tourmaline earrings! Be still my heart. Why do these columns always send me into such convulsions of covetousness? Also, if I ever get a time machine that 1900 Exhibition in Paris is one of the first places I am hitting up. Ever since reading the description of it in A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book (a book chock full of descriptions of beautiful art nouveau pottery/jewelry/STUFF) I've been sad that it occurred decades before my birth and I'll never get to go see all the pretty things!


@pterodactgirl Oh god, I was completely entranced by The Children's Book! That thing was 900 pages long and I DID NOT WANT IT TO END.


@monicamcl I know! She's supposed to be writing one now about the Surrealists, and I can't wait.

P.S. I love your columns.


@pterodactgirl Oooh, really? I can't wait... That woman knows how to write a book. (And thank you! I'm glad you like it!)


I like a lot of these pieces, but I'd wear that art deco ring every day. Do you think they'd give it to me if I asked nicely?


My grandmother has an Alexandrite ring my grandfather bought for her in Egypt in the 50s. It's the size of a quail egg. It's amazing! She just gave it to my Mom so I'll get it one day too! (God this makes my family sound way more posh than it is.)

I want to know the story behind the 14th century brooch. Where has it been all this time? Who owned it?


@Cavendish Yowza! The biggest shiny thing we have is this massive topaz ring that belonged to my mom's mom. It's awesome, and sparkly, but is not the size of anything's egg.


@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher You might be surprised, quail eggs are really small.


The tourmaline earrings!!! I would willingly go through the uncomfortable/lengthy process of reopening/healing the now-mostly-closed earring holes if only I could wear those.

Fear Biter

Oh my! The miniature eye portraits really do it for me. I've been trolling the interwebs for weeks now trying to find one but they are hard to come by.

Monica, since I know from other posts that you sometimes like to look at contemporary jewelery, you might be interested in Jessica Calderwood's work (I'm not fancy enough to make the embedded links: http://www.jessicacalderwood.com/galleries/jewelry/content/index.html).
She does amazing enamel work .... including eye portraits. I covet them so hard!
I think she has even done commissioned eye portraits, which would be so cool for your pretend life as a wealthy but sad Regency-era lady, whose lover is off fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. (I don't know ... I associate them with Jane Austen for some reason)

Oh, squiggles

Eeeee! Estate Jewelry post!

Personal highlights:
amethyst beetles

:Cinnamon Girl:


Feminist Killjoy

i missed this column!!


Oh dear, the education on these fine items is good enough for me.


Returning to The Hairpin and getting an Estate Jewelry post is really making this night better. Something to do on the four-hour flight back from Illinois after being stuck at the damn airport for another four hours due to winds. Hairpinning from 34000 feet!

Also, beetle earrings 4 lyfe.


Thanks for exhibiting such beautiful jeweleries among us. It's difficult to judge which to select if asked to buy. But yeah, out of all those I would either choose that earnings and even that neck-less maybe. It's quite similar to that I have seen in amber sceats which is really out of the world.

Post a Comment

You must be logged-in to post a comment.

Login To Your Account