Monday, March 5, 2012


Estate Jewelry: Witch Hearts and the Victorian Onyx Mystery

Many people don’t realize that sapphire comes in all sorts of colors, not just blue. Sapphire is the gem form of the mineral corundum, and depending on other elements within the stone, it can also be pink, yellow, green — or even red (but if it’s red, it’s a ruby!). Padparadscha is the rarest, most desirable — and most valuable — form of sapphire around. The demand is due to the beautiful color, which is a delicate mix of orange and pink.

Padparadscha comes from Sri Lanka (other countries have produced it, but there is always fierce debate about whether their stones are good enough to be termed “padparadscha”). It’s rare to find stones above two carats in size, and because of the demand, other lesser-quality sapphires are sometimes heat-treated or irradiated to try to achieve the incredible color of a true padparadscha. So this necklace is a pretty big deal. It features 26 padparadschas (a total of 46.04 carats!), all matched in color and lab certified as natural and untreated. The necklace is further embellished with 8.50 carats of diamonds, and the stones are set in 18k rose gold, which perfectly matches the warm pinky-orange hue of the gemstones.

Padparadscha is my favorite gemstone of all time, and if I were given the choice between buying this necklace and buying a house, I’d go for the necklace. It’d probably be a safer investment, too.

Circa 1790, this is a Witch’s Heart brooch. It’s probably English or Scottish, and features almandine garnets set in 9k rose gold. Witch’s hearts — a heart with a point that curves to the left or right — are loaded with symbolism, and date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. The 18th century viewed them as tokens of love and affection, but in earlier centuries they were often used as protective amulets, to guard the wearer from evil. The dealer notes that, in late-17th-century Scotland, “Tiny examples were often pinned to a baby's wrap as protection. Often the brooch was hidden in the petticoats of children who were deemed particularly susceptible to harm from ‘evil spirits’ or ‘fairies.’”

I know I’m always showing you bracelets like this, but I love them and I can’t help it. This one is French (really, could it be from anywhere else?), circa 1900, in 18k gold with gorgeous turquoise and white enameling and a central insect with a diamond-set body.

I think it might be a bee, which is a symbol of resurrection and immortality, and was also a traditional emblem of the rulers of France (Napoleon used it, too).

I’ve featured a double-heart ring in the past, but this one is even earlier. (And prettier!) Circa 1780, it’s a ruby and diamond double heart cluster ring, with a pear-shaped ruby surrounded by diamonds, next to a pear-shaped diamond surrounded by rubies. A crown of diamonds sits above, and the stones are set in silver and gold — silver to complement the diamonds, gold to complement the rubies. Again, rings like this often symbolized love (the conjoining of two hearts), while the crown represented loyalty.

I wouldn’t normally highlight two pieces from the same dealer in one month, but S.J. Phillips has another ring that knocked my socks off, and I couldn’t choose, so I’m just going to go with both. This ring is classic Art Deco, with a beautifully crisp, square-cut center diamond flanked on each side by more diamonds and two small, triangular-cut sapphires. The stones are set in platinum. France, circa 1925.

This is the Apollo Necklace,* circa 1904, by Henry Wilson (1864-1934). Wilson was a master of the British Arts & Crafts movement, and was an architect as well as a designer. He was renowned for combining design various influences in his work, and this 18k gold necklace taps into mythology, featuring a kneeling Apollo with his bow and arrow. Below him hangs a tree of life, and to each side he is flanked by intricate Celtic knots with tiny heart embellishments. The stones used are cabochon-cut amethysts and moonstones — both stones common to Arts and Crafts jewelry because they were beautiful but still affordable.

*(I apologize –- the website won’t take you directly to this piece, so click on “British Arts & Crafts circa 1900” at the left, and you’ll see it.)

The necklace was commissioned by Sir Hubert Llewellyn-Smith (a high-ranking English public servant from 1893 to 1928), for his wife, and it still has its original heart-shaped leather case.

A side note: if you’ve ever been to the amazing Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan, you’ve probably seen Wilson’s work. He’s the designer of the huge set of bronze doors on the west side of the Cathedral on Amsterdam Avenue. The doors were unveiled in 1936, and consist of 48 panels depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments and the Apocalypse. Wilson also designed another set of doors in the U.S., for Boston’s Salada Tea Company. Those doors (circa 1927) are still in place on Stuart St., and they show the step-by-step process of tea cultivation. There are some vintage shots of them on the Boston Public Library’s Flickr site.

This is so fun! Circa 1945, it’s a Cartier buckle ring, in yellow gold with brilliant-cut diamonds.

The bracelet-inspired design means it can fit any size finger.

These early Victorian ivory and onyx earrings are very unusual and quirky, and definitely require some further research. Circa 1850, each earring consists of a hand-carved ivory fist, holding a baton. Dangling from each outstretched thumb and forefinger is a finely carved solid onyx ball, engraved with a pattern of rings and stars. I have no idea what this all means, but hello, they’re Victorian. It must mean something! The scepter, the baton and the “Hand of Justice” (although I think the HoJ usually has the forefinger and middle finger extended) are all symbols of power that have been used by rulers like Charlemagne and Napoleon, but what would they be doing on fun little earrings? Especially for WOMEN! Good god, no. So there must be something else. And what of the rings and the stars? It is all just a designer’s flight of fancy? So whimsical, yet so mysterious. I love jewelry.

Circa 1905, a 14k gold Austro-Hungarian spider pendant, with a sapphire-embellished belly and a beautifully modeled branch and leaf surround. I would like to own this very, very, very much.

Skinner is holding a Fine Jewelry auction on March 13, and this ring jumped out at me. It’s a Jewish marriage ring, in 18k gold with a floral-bordered band and a hinged central tower that opens up to reveal a little inner compartment.

Jewish marriage rings are an ancient custom. A lot of beautiful examples date to the 16th century, and many are housed today in museum collections (here’s one at the Ashmolean). The little building is believed to represent Solomon’s temple, the synagogue, or the home of the married couple. Often the words Mazel Tov (Good Luck) or the initials “MT” are inscribed somewhere within the design, and some of the rings are so heavy and ornate that they’d be unwearable on a daily basis. They were basically only meant for use during the wedding ceremony, although I’ve read in the past that, post-wedding, they may have been worn hanging from a necklace.

Previously: A Cuff, a Spear, and a Window Locket.

Monica McLaughlin would also like to point out these shoes.

63 Comments / Post A Comment






@Megan Patterson@facebook You can find LOADS of them on Etsy! I browse them for fun :)


@teffodee ARE THEY CHEAP


@Megan Patterson@facebook They run from a few hundred to just over a thousand dollars. Search "Art deco engagement ring sapphire" to get the most specific search, I think.


@teffodee Dang, that is too expensive for me. At least right now. BUT ONE DAY.


@Megan Patterson@facebook I know. I badly want one. Even though I never wear jewelry except earrings and these two little stacked silver and garnet rings that have sentimental value.


@teffodee I have been searching "art deco earrings" on etsy allllll the time lately! ART DECO EVERYTHING for sure.


I'd buy one.@t


Between the Papardascha necklace, the Art Deco engagement ring, the Cartier buckle ring, and those badass Hand of Justice earrings, you've outdone yourself this week.

Edith Zimmerman

@Clare The exact words I emailed her (after my customary "AHHHHHHHH") when she sent it in.


@Clare My thoughts exactly.

Alexandrite is my favorite, but papardascha comes right after.

And that Art Deco ring!


Seriously you guys, this one killed me. I want EVERYTHING. Plus my birthstone is sapphire, so it's totally not fair that that pad necklace isn't living with me.


@monicamcl there was a lot of squealing when I read this one on the bus this afternoon. Everything is overwhelmingly gorgeous. Come and play with us more than once a month!


I would sell a baby for that Apollo necklace.

Edith Zimmerman

@anachronistique No doubt.


@anachronistique I especially like this because so would I, for the first necklace, and I have no baby. So... whose baby????

There is a 'Pinner baby around here who would fetch quite a price on account of being SO CUTE...





Ask a Spider (Pendant to Come Live with Me Forever.)


When I was a little girl, I was suuuuper jealous of my mother because her birthday is in February and so her birthstone is amethyst, and as a September child I waaaaanted amethyst so bad. Now, of course, I realize that sapphire is truly the bomb. (That means I deserve to be given that padparadscha necklace when my 23rd comes around, right?)


@figwiggin Also, that Jewish marriage ring reminds me of...someone around here who was talking about their mom having a Taj Mahal ring. Building jewelry! It should be the next big thing!


@figwiggin I totally thought of that Pinner's mom's Taj Mahal ring too! Building jewelry should TOTALLY be the next big thing!


@figwiggin I was bitter for YEARS that I got stuck with peridot. Stupid boring light green. I've seen a few pieces that are a deeper color that is okay, but still.


@anachronistique Opal! October you are good for something! (Of course spent much of my childhood bitter that my month always had the scary/ugly picture in calendars and if I had a dollar for every Halloween-themed birthday party I had, I would have like...6 or 7 dollars.)


@anachronistique Peridot, ughhh. That awful, yellowish green. I am also bitter August baby.


@mascarasnake bitter August baby checking in for duty!


@redheaded&crazy @mascarasnake @anachronistique Aw, I like peridot! I'm looking at it on Wikipedia and apparently it has "poor" cleavage and "vitreous" luster--what could be more fun than that?!

(I bought a necklace in Hawaii last time I was there that the vendor told me was peridot, but it's a rainbow necklace, so apparently I was lied to? Oh well.)


@figwiggin I am still a little bitter about my birthstone being topaz. It's brown. Ugh. My little brother's is a DIAMOND. No fair.


@figwiggin Pretty sure garnets are the ugliest of all. Brownish red -- not even a pretty red, like rubies -- and only semi-precious. Also, January is the worst time of year ever to have a birthday. Cold, gray, and everyone is depressed because Christmas is over.


@Bitterblue Word, but garnet has grown on me. During my gothish teenage phase, mostly.


@Bitterblue I think garnets are gorgeous - a much nicer red than rubies. Dark red isn't a colour I ever really wear (I have red hair, and it looks appalling), but garnets are so pretty!


The Apollo Necklace would look right at home on Lady Mary...


I'll take them all to go please and you can just charge it. I've recently taken out a mortgage paid off by the lowly renters whose trembling backs I will stand upon as I display my sparklies for all and sunder to see.


@redheaded&crazy When they tremble, my sparklies look even sparklier


The two hearts ring is totally bangin' and infinity times better than this butt-shaped business Jane Seymour is selling.


@itmakesmewonder I hate that butt-shaped "infinity" heart! I groan every time the commercial comes on.


@itmakesmewonder I am so glad that someone else thinks that necklace looks like a butt too. I've talked to several people about it and not one of them thought it looked like anything but a heart. I once saw the commercial on tv at my boyfriend's, and pointedly told him it was the butt ugliest (haha couldn't resist) necklace I had ever seen, and to never ever buy me one


@itmakesmewonder Sparkly testicles


@catfoodandhairnets yep. I call it the "open balls collection"


I was going to dibs something in the comments, but I can't. Everything is perfect and I want it to come live with me forever. That said, red gems are maybe my favorite so that Witch's Heart brooch needs to come live with me first, please.

Judith Slutler

That Apollo necklace is ridiculously gorgeous.

I'm also loving the pointy hand earrings, I'd wear those for sure.

And never stop showing us those enameled bracelets, holy god that thing is my favorite.


@Emmanuelle Cunt YES. THANK YOU. That bracelet blew my mind. The color is so amazing I want to crawl inside of it.

Gracefully and Grandly

@Emmanuelle Cunt These earrings are obviously less awesome than the hands of justice earrings, but they reminded me of them anyway.


Apparently I've been drawing witch's hearts my whole life...?

That last ring! FOREVER A SHIKSA.



you're baaaack! i missed you/coveting estate jewelry!!


Wow, at $152,000, that Padparadscha necklace is far cheaper than I was expecting. And would only buy a Tiny House in Chicago anyway, so might as well go for the jewelry!


@Alixana I had the same thought. "Huh, I could have that amaaaazing necklace or I could have a smallish 1-bedroom condo in Edgewater with no A/C or laundry. No contest!"

Faintly Macabre

I'd always thought that Jewish wedding rings were supposed to be plain/an uninterrupted band. So after the ceremony, did they just switch these for plain ones? Does this mean that when I get married, I can have a ring with a castle on it without feeling like a bad Jew??


I am not normally a fan of yellow gold, but that buckle ring is amaaaaazing! It looks pretty comfy, too, being flexible and all.

Speaking of awesome rings, the art deco one is pretty baller, too. (I may be biased because my own engagement ring is basically the opposite of that one [though probably a lot smaller]: sapphire in the middle with diamonds on the side).


aaaah, the art deco ring! the enameled bracelet!! It's probably a good thing I can never stand to wear bracelets or I'd be even more extra tempted by it. But...I kind of want it anyway, to display on a fancy pillow in a place of honor in a room that has been decorated solely to complement it.

And the Apollo necklace! My secret fashion desire is to have the kind of style and attitude that would make wearing that necklace completely natural and appropriate.

I'm not much of a daydreamer, but these estate jewelry posts really bring out the fantasy-building in me. Because when you own such gorgeous and glamorous jewelry, you have to have a gorgeous and glamorous life to match.


Holy hell, that necklace. THAT NECKLACE. Nothing makes me wish I was rich more than looking at that necklace.


Also, after the depressing nature of the BC article... I needed the shiny.

Party Falcon

AAAAAHHHH! Cartier Buckle ring looks like shiny, fancy Falcon jesses!

I think I'm gonna need someone to knock that off. Just this once, copyrights, labor standards and terrible wages be damned. If we can keep it under a $100, I'd even venture into a F21 if they'd be so kind. Some rando designer to sells to Macy's? I do not care. Need Falconry ring.


@Party Falcon YES. I gasped out loud when I saw it. Tiny buckle! Tiny diamonds! Shiny shiny gold! Perfection.


Witches' Hearts? Oh good. I needed an expensive thing to collect.

dr. annabel lies

One Witch Heart brooch, please.


GUYYYYS THIS CARTIER AD!! http://io9.com/5890616/watch-cartiers-stunning-foray-into-fantasy-film-making


I have pink sapphire earrings, now I feel special.



I have no empirical evidence to back this up, but my guess is the Victorian Onyx earrings are somehow tied to mourning? The hand with the index finger pointing is a common mid-19th century grave motif, though usually the finger is pointing up ("Mom, I went that way") rather than down. Though down is used too ("God let me climb up to heaven by giving me his index finger as a ladder"). Something about that hand with black stone just says mourning to me. Also, those crazy Victorians love their morbid decorations!


@fictitious It's entirely possible! So much leads back to mourning in Victorian decoration. These earrings also make me think of those Victorian hand brooches that use the language of flowers to convey a message, since the thumb and index fingers of these hands are deliberately modeled to lightly dangle the spheres (maybe celestial spheres, which would work with your pointing theory!). But the baton or rod keeps bringing me back to authority/rule. But then again, hands, batons and spheres also show up in heraldry; how fun would it be if these were a clever play on the owner's (or her husband's) coat of arms?


Sapphire is DEFINITELY the coolest gemstone. I've always thought so since I saw some near-black ones as a kid with faint green undertones. Oh, how I lusted.

Just as I lust for that enamel bracelet. Seriously, how gorgeous is it? And the Art Deco ring. Jewelry ca. 1900-1940 is often my top favorite. Can't tell you how thrilled I was to get my granny's wedding bands from 1918. I'm looking forward to getting them fixed up at a jeweler's when I'm wealthy. They have the most divine Art Deco-inspired etchings and flower(?) designs, which are half-disappeared by years of wear. And it's a combination yellow/rose gold design. ('scuse me as I go into vapours at the thought of the rings on my jewelry tree.)


I was just in Sri Lanka - had I known I would have tried to pick up a crappy, low-quality padparadscha! So pretty.


Rubies, and diamonds, and heart shapes, oh my!


I just fell down the Estate Jewelry rabbit hole, and I cannot even cope with how much I want that Art Deco ring.

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