Thursday, September 6, 2012


Estate Jewelry: Fable Rings, Space Bracelets, and Mystery Wirework

This fantastic ring, circa 1850-1870, is based on Aesop’s Fable “The Fox and the Stork,” in which a fox invites his friend, a stork, over for dinner. Being a wiseass, the fox serves the stork a shallow bowl of soup, which the stork is unable to eat due to his long beak. Even though he’s still hungry, the stork politely offers to return the visit, and invites the fox to dinner at a later date. When the fox arrives, the stork presents him with his meal in a long-necked jar with a narrow mouth. Despite his long snout, there is no way the fox could reach the contents. “I will not apologize for the dinner,” said the stork. “One bad turn deserves another.”

The dealer believes this piece, which depicts the stork eating from the jar, was created as part of a larger decorative object and set as a ring at a later date. The ring itself bears French hallmarks, but there are no marks on the stork — although the quality of workmanship leads the dealer to speculate that it was made by the house of François-Désiré Froment-Meurice, a Parisian goldsmith of the time who was renowned for working in a naturalistic style.

The stork consists of richly engraved silver with 18k gold accents, and the jar is a large baroque pearl. Another pearl forms the base of the jar, and tiny turquoise and onyx stones are used for the eyes. The ring base merely cradles the stork and holds it in place; it is not soldered or attached in any other way — a credit to the sensitivity of the jeweler who fashioned it. 

In 1957, the Russian satellite “Sputnik” was launched, and with it an iconic jewelry style. I’ve been digging around to see who first debuted the style, and it seems that, back in the 1950s, Brazilian jewelry house H. Stern created a line of jewelry designed to showcase the variety of gemstones mined in Brazil. Circular in shape and encrusted with bezel-set gems, the pieces were thought to resemble Sputnik, and thanks to the space race, the design was immediately popular. Its popularity endured, however, and many designers have revisited it since — in fact, Seaman Schepps included Sputnik pieces in their Spring 2012 collection, video here (although be warned, the proximity of intense red lipstick to white top in that video may give you agita. It certainly did for me).

This is an example of a Sputnik bracelet, circa 1957, consisting of twelve 18k gold spheres set with various gemstones. I think the endurance of the style can be attributed to the fact that it’s just so damned cute.

Silesian wirework is one of the mysteries of antique jewelry. Made of iron and steel, it dates to around the late 18th to the early 19th centuries and is often grouped in with Berlin Iron and cut steel jewelry. The thing is, we don’t know exactly who made it or where it came from. It may have been produced in Germany, France, or England, or in a part of Eastern Europe then known as Silesia, which covered parts of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Eastern Germany — but nobody really knows for sure. (And in her book Warman’s Jewelry Identification and Price Guide, jewelry historian Christie Romero called the very name “Silesian wirework” into question, suggesting it may have been coined by collectors.)

The jewelry itself is comprised of machine-made wire mesh that has been painstakingly manipulated into intricate forms; in this case long drops are suspended from small florets to create delicate earrings. Circa 1800, they’re made of iron mesh, and as a result are very light. The dealer also has a necklace available.

Have I mentioned that Carlo Giuliano is my favorite jeweler of all time? Oh, right, I have, in my very first column for the Hairpin. (I also later focused on his equally talented sons, Carlo Joseph and Arthur.)

This sweet little heart-shaped openwork pendant is by Carlo senior, and it pushes all of my buttons. Circa 1870, it features a particularly lovely peridot (which I think gets a bad rap, by the way, due to all the crappy home-shopping peridot jewelry on the market) within a frame of exquisite turquoise and navy enameling on gold, with a halo of pearl accents. It bears Carlo’s hallmark and *cough* my birthday’s this month *cough.*

This 18k gold Victorian locket is beautiful, but it’s also a lesson. Be good to your turquoise, guys, because you see those darker stones? That’s what happens when oils come in contact with turquoise. It’s a pretty common thing, and sadly you can find lots of antique pieces that feature discolored, greenish turquoise. In the case of this locket, however, I think I actually prefer it, as the variations in color make the overall piece more interesting.

The locket also features rose-cut diamonds scattered among the turquoise, all set within a frame of pearls. A diamond-set bow and a pearl bale finish off the piece, which has a decidedly regal appearance. The back of the locket reveals a lock of blonde hair, preserved under beveled glass.

This is a contemporary piece by English jeweler Theo Fennell. Fennell makes beautiful jewelry, but his “Masterworks” delight me to no end. These are largely high-end whimsical pieces, and while their amazing workmanship and materials already set them apart, many of them also DO things: There’s a castle with a working drawbridge, a rock crystal igloo housing a tiny penguin, and a pyramid with an interior that contains a sarcophagus and removable mummy.

This 18k gold ring is inspired by C. S. Lewis’s beloved fantasy novel The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and features a suitcase (with a spider inside!), a hat box, and a gun case stacked on top of a wardrobe. Working doors on the sides of the wardrobe reveal enameled scenes of coats and the famous Narnia lamppost. Mr. Tumnus? Are you there?

I’ve featured Georg Jensen jewelry in the past, but this bracelet dates to much later, as the Jensen company continued on after the great man’s death and became known for its stable of skilled designers and silversmiths. This corset-inspired sterling and waxed-cord bracelet was created by Regitze Overgaard, and it follows her body-conscious aesthetic, as the cuff fits over the wrist and can be adjusted to the width of the wearer’s arm.

I’m slightly obsessed with snake jewelry, but I figure that’s okay, because the Victorians were, too. Snakes, you’ll remember, symbolized many things to the Victorians, including eternity, eternal love, good luck, protection, and/or wisdom, and, for their engagement, Prince Albert gave Queen Victoria a snake ring with an emerald set in its head.

This pretty little yellow and rose gold pendant dates to the 1880s and features a snake gently encircling a heart.

On September 11, the Boston auction house Skinner will hold a Fine Jewelry sale. Featuring a number of interesting pieces, the auction will also include the collection of Joan Sonnabend, who was renowned for showcasing jewelry created by many famous artists (including Man Ray, Picasso, and Calder) at her New York gallery Sculpture to Wear.

This pendant, "Visage géométrique aux traits," is a Picasso design from Sonnabend’s collection. Circa 1998, it depicts an abstract face in 23k gold, and is no. 6 in an edition of 20.

(Be sure to browse the rest of the auction; it features some great pieces, including this lovely French plique-a-jour enamel peacock pendant and this hysterical Tiffany & Co. walrus ring.)

Sotheby’s New York also has a couple of interesting auctions coming up, including “Important Jewels” on September 20, and “Property from the Estate of Brooke Astor” on September 24-25.

There are some amazing items available in both sales. The Important Jewels auction is, as usual, loaded with big gems and big names — lots of David Webb — but I was particularly taken with lots 417 through 422. These items are listed as “property sold to benefit a community organization,” and they’re all fantastic examples of 19th-century opulence (including two beautiful pieces by the aforementioned Carlo Giuliano).

Look at this amazing Holbeinesque pendant. Circa 1870, the piece takes the usual Holbeinesque form, with a central stone (in this case, a ruby) surrounded by an elaborate openwork gold frame set with gemstones and enamel. A lozenge-shaped drop finishes the piece. The gemstones used are rubies, diamonds, and opals, and the enameling features scrolled and floral motifs in red, blue and green.

It would be worth going to Sotheby’s to see this piece in person, because the backs of items like this are often just as beautifully finished as the fronts — usually with intricate engraving. If you’re in town, check it out.

The Brooke Astor sale showcases an excellent, eclectic collection that runs the gamut from furniture to paintings (FYI, she reeeeally liked paintings of dogs), porcelain, and any number of decorative objects. The jewelry isn’t bad either, and the catalog lists this necklace as the last gift given to Mrs. Astor by her husband, Victor. Circa 1959, it’s by Bulgari, and features emeralds and diamonds set in platinum and 18k gold. The 13 emerald drops have a combined total weight of 71 carats, while the inner row of fourteen cabochon emeralds weighs 41 carats. The diamonds, both marquise and round, weigh approximately 58.50 carats in total. Quite a gift.


Previously: Sapphires, Marble Apples, and Fish With Crackers.

Monica McLaughlin's gonna pop some tags, she's only got twenty dollars in her pocket.

63 Comments / Post A Comment


FYI, anyone who wants to get me that necklace for Christmas can totally do it.


was not good but GREAT!@v


OMG the Sputnik bracelet!! So cute! So nerdy! Oh! This calls for exclamation marks!!!


@OhShesArtsy It reminds me of a katamari! Very cute.

Oh, squiggles

Scandals of Classic Hollywood yesterday and Estate Jewelry today? YES! Thank you very much :D


I REALLY want that stork, but as a pendant rather than a ring, I think.


Yessss I love Victorian snake jewelry.


That Picasso piece...I needs it. We have the same birthday (not year though!) and I always feel ~spiritually connected~ to him, but I love that little face anyway! It's like a little blase friend just for you!


Also I want to like the Jensen cuff but it just looks a little too Hot Topic :/

Tragically Ludicrous

oh hey emeralds are my birthstone someone should get that last necklace for me.


Another lesson re turquoise: It is very fragile. Don't wear rings or bracelets when there is a chance you will be knocking them against something. I have a (once) beautiful Bisbee ring that now has only half a stone in it. *sob*


I had to stop reading and come down and post that I love that people still use the word "agita." Throwback to my dear Nana, who would claim my constant jumping around as a kid was St. Vitus Dance, and it gave her agita. Ok, back to jewelry!


@charlesbois It's one of my all-time favorite words!


@charlesbois I love using the word "agita" but for years I thought it was Yiddish.


@charlesbois Ahhh yes! I say it all the time. So does my whole family. It's super Italian. Although its more like what we (lovingly!) call guinea-speak, like "pignul" for pine nut or "gravy" for... well, gravy. (You can't make me call it tomato sauce.) It's totally not an actual noun in the Italian language. "Agitare," however, is the corresponding verb.


@kfizz oh coooool! My Nana was German and Dutch, but she married a straight-up Italian dude, and her vocab always had "guinea-speak" words thrown in the mix.


Everytime you post one of these, I do a little happy dance in my chair.
Dear Santa: I would like the iron earrings, the Narnia ring (and you know why) and the corset bracelet. I can make it worth your while.


Poetry and jewelry on the same day, thank you Hairpin!! Monica, when you called that pendant "Holbeinesque" somehow it helped me like it so much more than I did at first...very interesting stuff!


@Margalo I loooove that pendant.


@Margalo Funny...I had exactly the same reaction to "Holbeinesque." Great (and totally accurate) descriptor!


Ok, hairpinners: let's all chip in and get Monica something nice for her birthday. :)

Jensen! Oh, how I obsess over that lovely simplicity. And why does no one give me a 73 carat emerald necklace? Why?


So much peridot is SO very ugly and it makes me sad because it is my birthstone. Why did it have to be chartreuse?

Also, more jewelry should do stuff, for those of us who are inveterate fidgeters.


@anachronistique Yeah August birthdays! I actually really like peridot, because I love ridiculously bright greens.

Toby Jug


Mine's gold topaz. Chartreuse beats dusty orange any day.


@anachronistique When my best friend (who is probably lurking around here somewhere) got married, her husband ended up with this ring with gears on it which is actually made of separate pieces so you can rotate part of it and the gears work, mostly because of the exact reason that he is a fidgeter and it gives him something to fidget with. About twenty minutes after the ceremony the little "zzzt zzzt zzzt" noises started driving everyone crazy, though.


That. Emerald. Necklace.

I would wear that and only that. All the time, Seriously, I would walk around naked if I could wear that necklace.

Katie Heaney




I want those wire earrings desperately! I'd even wear my hair up every day to show those suckers off.

The suitcase ring? Holy balls.


I had high hopes that I might be able to afford the Narnia ring, because it is so awesome. Alas, no, unless Victor comes back from the dead and gives it to me. *sob*

Hot Doom

@Bittersweet Oh my GOD yes. i had to do a double take at the price. So wonderful, but man alive.


@Bittersweet SERIOUSLY! I thought I was being super splurgey a few months ago when I spent $20 replacing my worn-out copies with a new one-volume copy.

Toby Jug

I want to be a movie star just so I could hire Monica do style my jewelry for red carpet events. The Carlo Giuliano pendent with something colbalt blue and those insane wire earrings with...I don't know, something black with a structured bodice and shoulders but flowy bottom?

Seriously, I can't believe movie stars just throw a bunch of diamonds on most the time when stuff like this is out there.


@Toby Jug Seriously! When stunning objects like these are attainable by mere mortals (albiet mortals with deep pockets), why why why do they content themselves with another boring tennis bracelet??


@Toby Jug I will do that for you! And then I want you to launch into a lecture about Carlo Giuliano or the history of Silesian wirework with every single interviewer until they get the panic eyes and cut to someone else.


How fast did I google "Theo Fennell igloo ring"? And how much did I die when I saw it?

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

@SuperGogo aaaaaahhhhh I LOVE IT. So cute it is killing me. I am dead.


@SuperGogo Ohhhhhhh snap that is fantastic. The penguin!




Thanks for posting the sputnik bracelet! I have a ring in that style from my grandmother that's been a family favorite for generations because it spins in its setting (kids love it). Since it gets so much wear it's missing quite a few stones but hopefully someday I'll be able to afford to get them replaced.

Disco Sheets

The wardrobe ring!! THE WARDROBE RING. I could never actually own it because I would be playing with it ALL THE TIME.

Valley Girl


Veronica Mars is smarter than me



THE STORK. I love that fable because of the wiseassiness of it. Although I think in the version I read, the fox threatens to eat the stork? Because the fox is a jerk who can dish it out but can't take it.


Also, my grandparents had a big fuck-off chandelier in their house which my great-grandma insisted upon calling Sputnik. Only with her accent it was more like "Schpootnik."


The Sputnik bracelet is adorable but it looks nothing like Sputnik. It looks more like a WWII naval mine. Sputnik was super elegant and deserves a real run of jewelry homage, but this isn't it.


@laurel I have been thinking about getting a Hubble tattoo, but I'd really love a collection of less permanent decoration like spacecraft jewelry. Something cut and etched like this copper jellyfish necklace, maybe?

I'd love to hear from hobby jewelry makers/metalworkers what the learning curve is like and if someone like me could make their very own Sputnik.


@wallsdonotfall: Ooooo.


I would like all the massive pendants please!

Daisy Razor

All right Bostonian pinners, who wants to play hooky from work and go to that Skinner auction with me?


one intrigued by the lock of blonde hair in the turquoise pendant?? Why is it there?? Does it have magical properties.....List on MLS


The walrus ring (linked to under the Picasso) is my size! It's fate!


@HeckYes It almost seems affordable?!


I don't know the rules on antique jewelery, but is it OK if I buy myself the snake heart necklace and wear it EVERY DAY FOREVER? Because that would make it actually a pretty good deal, amortized out over the rest of forever, right? (Oh I covet!)


Oh my god, all of the Theo Fennel. It reminds me of how much I coveted Faberge eggs when I was a kid/learned about them in school.

Pop Pop

Am I the only one intrigued by the lock of blonde hair in the turquoise pendant?? Why is it there?? Does it have magical properties?? Or just pure sentimental value? Even still, isn't that kinda creepy? SO MANY QUESTIONS

The Lady of Shalott

@Pop Pop I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that it's just an ordinary piece of hair jewelry. (Well, ordinary for something VERY FANCY.) It wasn't really a creepy thing, it was more of a remembrance thing--like how today you might keep a book that belonged to someone who passed away as a memento. It was really common for women (far more so than men) to keep a lock of hair that belonged to a loved one (husband, child) in a piece of jewelry, frequently a locket.

Sometimes the hair itself could be made INTO jewelry, using a complicated method of processing and treating the hair (at home) and then weaving it into patterns to create bracelets or hairbows or necklaces, or a wreath or even a piece of art that could be framed.

But the locket thing is much more common and less creepy. It's like how moms sometimes keep the first little lock of hair from their baby's first haircut.

Pop Pop

@The Lady of Shalott That totally makes sense- I think what through me off was the 'preserved beneath glass' part, which sort of reminded me of the vial of blood on a necklace thing? I guess I've never felt compelled to give/or take a lock of hair to/from someone, but I can see how in old (and maybe new!) times that was common.


Monica, or anyone, do you know some good browsing or buying stores for jewelry in New York?


I am always searching online for articles that can help me. There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also. Keep working, great job!electric dog fence


here is obviously a lot to know abouv mountain house

BØø'y C'éLósȍ@facebook

Really useful information about best Opal Ring

Asad Yousuf@facebook

The patterns of wearing jewellery between the sexes, and by children and older people can vary greatly between cultures, but adult women have been the most consistent wearers of jewellery; in modern Western culture the amount worn by adult males is relatively low compared with other cultures and other periods in Western culture.fashion accessories

Post a Comment

You must be logged-in to post a comment.

Login To Your Account