Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Estate Jewelry: Masonic Orbs and Legendary Peacock Chokers

This stunning choker features a central peacock-feather-inspired plaque of gold, enamel and rose-cut diamonds, supported by fourteen strands of pearls. It’s a close relative of this equally stunning piece in the Smithsonian, and was created by the one of the oldest jewelry houses in the world.

Mellerio dits Meller are currently into their fourteenth (!!!) generation as jewelers. Established in Paris in 1613, they moved to their current location on the rue de la Paix in 1815, and opened a branch in Madrid in 1850. They got their start when Jean-Marie Mellerio — a chimney sweep with good hearing — helped warn Marie de’ Medici of a plot against her son, King Louis XIII. In return, he was rewarded the royal privilege to sell small goods, crystal, and other trinkets, which the family eventually spun into a trade in jewelry and other luxury items. The privilege was renewed by the next three kings, and since then their jewelry has continued to be favored by royalty. They are particularly renowned for their shell tiara, which was bought by Spain’s Queen Isabella II in 1868 for her daughter, the Infanta Isabella. Members of the Spanish royal family still wear the piece today.

The family also inspired literature: in 1873, Robert Browning based his poem Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, or Turf and Towers, on the true story of the death (suicide?) of Antoine Mellerio.

Note: This is unrelated to Mellerio, but the choker has reminded me to show you this fantastic article from 1897, which describes how the extraordinarily long neck of one of our greatest exports, Consuelo Vanderbilt, led to much envy and photographic trickery in late 19th century London. Also, if any of you have a “Consuelo throat” and a decent amount of cash, you may be interested in the jewelry of Marina J, who creates beautiful chokers by pairing antique brooches with pearls

So often we see Georgian rings that represent loss, but, happily, this one might be about love. Depicting a basket of roses in sepia and hairwork on ivory, and surrounded by seed pearls set in gold, it would possibly have been given as a “token of affection,” according to the dealer, because roses were classically associated with Venus, the goddess of love (or Aphrodite, if you want to be all Greek about it). Crimson roses also symbolize deep mourning, but that may be more of a Victorian view, so let’s go with the happy interpretation for a change.

This pendant dates to the 18th century and comes from Jaipur, in Northern India. The dark stones are cabochon emeralds, with foiled backs — which makes the emeralds appear darker, but also helps to reflect light up through them — and flat-cut diamonds. The piece is beautiful as is, but I’ve said before that my favorite thing about Indian jewelry is that the backs of the pieces are just as beautifully finished as the fronts, and the back of this particular piece features an opulent floral motif enameled in bright reds and greens.

When a piece of jewelry is rare, or of exceptional quality, or just plain extraordinary, it is called “important.” So when the dealer describes a piece as “highly important,” you know it’s pretty good.

By Cartier, this pendant is an excellent example of Art Deco, combining sleek, geometric design with a ton of color and a strong Indian influence. It dates to 1921, and the original design is by Cartier chief designer Charles Jacqueau. Jacqueau was known for pairing both high- and low-end materials in the same piece — as is seen in this pendant, in which diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies are set into an onyx plaque that is surrounded by a border of emerald. The black onyx background sets off the both the color of the precious stones and the brightness of the three pear-shaped diamonds, and an emerald-set arrow connects the plaque to two circles of diamond and onyx. The pendant hangs from a black silk cord, another Jacqueau hallmark.

These yellow gold cufflinks were a Christmas gift from the great French actor and singer Maurice Chevalier to his pianist, Fred Freed. Taking the form of a straw boater hat and cane — which Chevalier made famous in the film Can-Can — one of the cufflinks is engraved with the words “a Fred” and “Maurice,” while the other states “Noel” and “1953.” They’re French (of course). (Note: the Wartski site does not link to specific items, so got to “Jewellery,” scroll down, and you’ll see these cufflinks in the middle, about halfway down the page.)

I’ve featured a Victorian taxidermy hummingbird brooch in the past, but now here’s a pair of earrings. Circa 1860-70, they’ve been set low into their gilt frames to showcase the beautiful coloring of the birds. The Victorians were fascinated with natural history, and they weren’t squeamish about displaying or wearing actual specimens of birds and beetles — and some of them were even living. I used to work for a jewelry trade magazine that dated back to 1869, so naturally I trawled through their past issues at every opportunity. I found this little tidbit in the “Trade Gossip” section of the July 1879 issue of the magazine (which was then called The Jewelers’ Circular and Horological Review): “A young lady living on Murray Hill has a singular pet and ornament. It is a live Brazilian beetle with spots like brilliant diamonds. A gold chain harness has been made for it. One end of the tether is fastened to the shoulder of the lady’s dress and the beetle disports himself on the fair parade ground so far as the chain will permit.”

This bangle dates to 1910, and features a classic Art Nouveau pattern in sterling silver and enamel. The simple, streamlined silhouette saves the piece from being too fussy. Gorgeous.

I love these Masonic orb pendants — they’re ingeniously constructed to unfold into the shape of a cross, with six pyramids (which represent knowledge and wisdom) engraved on all four sides with mysterious symbols. They were most often worn during the late 19th or early 20th century as watch fobs, and this one — which is British, and 9k gold — dates to that time period.

The orb’s shape is symbolic of the earth, but it also resembles a “ballot ball,” which was used during Masonic voting. According to my 1884 copy of The Encyclopedia of Freemasonry (everyone should have one), “In the election of candidates, Lodges have recourse to a ballot of white and black balls. Unanimity of choice, in this case, is always desired and demanded; one black ball only being required to reject a candidate.”

The images engraved on the pyramids are also key Masonic symbols, including the square, the gavel, and the six-pointed star. (More info on the symbols can be found here.)

This heavy (45.61 grams!) old ring dates to the 15th century. It’s a sheriff’s ring, and is designed as a signet ring, with a depiction of three turreted castles engraved in yellow gold with a dotted border. It would have been used to seal documents, as sheriffs were appointed to each county in England as officers of the King, and charged with carrying out his administrative business and generally keeping the peace.

The canine equivalent of Grumpy Cat, this diamond and sapphire pin by Janesich, circa 1925, features 12 carats of diamonds and 4 carats of sapphires. Janesich, a high-end jewelry firm that was founded in Trieste in 1835 by Leopoldo Janesich, maintained branches in Paris, London, Monte Carlo, and some other ritzy spots during its heyday. The company was renowned for a skillful use of the Art Deco style, and the shops were patronized by various members of European royalty.

Janesich saw tough times following World War II and eventually scaled back, but the company is still in Trieste, being run by sixth-generation family member Francesco Janesich. You can learn more about its background and view some gorgeous old jewels here.

This Victorian arrow pin is huge — almost 5 ½” long! — and features diamonds set into sterling-topped 15k gold. The design, which features a naturalistic depiction of feathers as well as an intricate ribbon design, totals 9.45 carats of old rose- and old mine-cut diamonds.


Previously: A Necklace That Wears Its Own Rings

Monica McLaughlin wants to mention that there are a couple of interesting jewelry-related events coming up in March. First, the exhibit “Out of this World! Jewelry in the Space Age,” will showcase outer-space-related designs from the Georgian era up to today, and opens at the Forbes Galleries in New York on March 16. It will run through September 7.

And on March 24, the engagement ring that Napoleon gave to Josephine will be auctioned at the French auction house Osenat. No photos or auction catalog available yet, but the ring is said to be very simple, with a diamond and a pear-shaped sapphire set in gold.

58 Comments / Post A Comment

Hot Doom

Estate Jewelry, I've missed you so!


That Masonic orb pendant is badass.


@Emby I suspect it might double as a snitch.

Pocket Witch

@MeghanElizabeth I came down to the comment section to make that exact observation. High-five!


@MeghanElizabeth IT OPENS AT THE CLOSE!


@Emby the first thing I thought of is that it belongs somewhere on Daenerys Targaryen's person.
But snitch totally works! <3


@Emby The first thing I thought of was the Holy Hand Grenade.


@TARDIStime The sheriff's ring made me think of Tommen, getting his kicks from stamping his seal on this, that, and the other.


almost done lol@n


Those cufflinks are DARLING.

Judith Slutler

@anachronistique "His pianist" is just a euphemism for "his soulmate" right? I mean...


@Emmanuelle Cunt It has to be. How could you not just fall in love with whoever gives you cane and hat cuff links?!?


@anachronistique I actually went to see how much they were. Price not listed. So, yeah, won't be getting those for my cufflink-wearing friend...

Trinette Magoon

I've been in a bad way this past week, and this post was a good start to shaking off the funk. Such art!


I have wanted a wax seal stamp ring since I was about 6, and saw it in the movies. I have no idea what I need to seal with wax but they are just so damn cool! This sheriffs ring is super pretty too!


@Pyxis It's pretty, but the archaeologist in me is giving that seller major side-eye on their large collection of unprovenanced ancient jewelry.


That Consuelo Vanterbilt article is amazing. Especially the coy yet daring Look she's giving the photographer in the first picture.


I will take one of each. (Except the masonic orb which is putting me off slightly. Phallic latches? I feel like I'd get questions. "Hey, cool necklace... is that a dick motif?")


@par_parenthese This seems like even more of a reason to get it actually!


@Pyxis sitting alone at the bar, cultivating my air of mystery, waiting for someone to stroll up and Ask Me About My Dick Motif Necklace


@zamboni "Ask me about my dick motif necklace:" put in OKC profile. Good idea/bad idea?


@par_parenthese Noooo you'll just attract all the creepers frantically searching "dick motif"!


@Amphora I kinda want to meet a person so dedicated to a pattern that they trawl OKC for people with that specific phrase in their profiles? Because that person would clearly be NUTS, and possibly hilariously so.


@par_parenthese Hey girl come back to my place i got a whole dick motif goin on


@Amphora Who knew Charlie Sheen was on OKCupid?



I need the bangle, it is the perfect accompaniment to my latest "Phrase I Cooked Up To Describe The Style I Am Trying To Achieve," which is currently "Professor of Mythology and Folklore with Secret Biker Gang Past and Not So Secret Biker Boyfriend."


@martinipie Whyyy aren't any current midrange jewelry makers ripping these off? I wouldn't want to see that bangle at, like, Topshop, but a little something on Etsy for $60...?


@martinipie Or the cufflinks! Any enterprising Etsy jewelry folks on here?


I have the opposite of a "Consuelo throat." :( I have the "Claudette Colbert throat."


So you're saying the ANTM cockroach thing has a long and noble history?


@frigwiggin Yes! I was SCREAMING at the tv when that episode first aired. They thought they were so clever. *snort*

fondue with cheddar

"One end of the tether is fastened to the shoulder of the lady’s dress and the beetle disports himself on the fair parade ground so far as the chain will permit.”



@fondue with cheddar but seriously though--best euphemism for "titties" EVAR.


@fondue with cheddar I agree with you on the beetle, but will take this opportunity to start referring to my cleavage as "the fair parade ground."

Eta: Hah, nonvolleyball just beat me to it!

fondue with cheddar

@nonvolleyball Truth. Tonight I think I'll ask my boyfriend if he wants to stroll around the fair parade ground.

Faintly Macabre

@nonvolleyball Ohhhhh. I thought it was literally a parade ground and wondered how the lady would keep the beetle from getting squished.

Judith Slutler

@Faintly Macabre Me too, apparently I would've been way too literal-minded for the 19th century


@Faintly Macabre
Yup! Totally thought the beetle was in a little cage or something.


@fondue with cheddar Hey bebeh, wanna disport yourself on mah parade ground? *winks significantly*


... no thanks, there's a beetle crawling on it.

fondue with cheddar

I NEED that art nouveau bangle.


@fondue with cheddar I NEED that choker. I have nothing to wear it with, I don't even have a particularly long neck, & also even my engagement ring cost less than a grand. but if there were a "buy now" option on the FD Gallery website, I'd be liquidating all my assets just to own that sucker.

fondue with cheddar

@nonvolleyball The choker is pretty amazing. But the thought of how it would FEEL would deter me. I guess I'll just have to be content with looking at you while you wear it. ;)


@fondue with cheddar I'll be the prettiest hobo in all the land!


@fondue with cheddar THAT BANGLE IS PERFECTION.


Let's pool all our assets and buy it and share it? That would never end badly!


@fondue with cheddar I also need that choker. It's SOOOO Downton Abbey - except that thought created an image in my mind involving Lady Sybil which I won't iterate here because D: + tiny screams.


I really want those bird earrings! They could have just killed one bird and made a necklace or something, but Victorians do things right. Especially with dead things!

But seriously...I want those earrings!


So...that beetle quote (which is indeed the BEST quote about anything I've read in the last few months) really resonates with me because of a certain pet I had in fourth grade. This "certain pet" was a beetle on a chain.

Across from the Rainforest Cafe at the Mall of America was a butterfly store (or rather, a dead butterfly store: they sold mounted butterflies in pretty glass cases). In addition to butterflies, they sold beetles on chains!! My mom didn't want to buy me a pet that required any work, so she (jokingly?) offered to buy me one of the beetles.

So obviously I said yes and brought home a beetle that had a (deep red!) jewel glued on its back, which was attached to an earring post by a thin chain. He lived for like three years and drank water from a piece of tree bark that I had to soak a few times a week. On special occasions, he could have a chunk of apple with no peel.

Has anyone seen anything more modern than 1879 about beetle chain pets? My internet searches never turn anything up.


@allhappyfamilies Whaaaaaaaaat the hell?! This sounds so wacky and bizarre! I have never heard anything about anyone else having one!


@allhappyfamilies Did you ever...wear him as jewelry?


@frigwiggin I don't think I ever dared to bring him outside the house, but I know there were a few times when my mom told me to pin him on my shirt because neighbors were coming over. Mooooommmmm!!!


WOW. Huysmans has a story of a decadent young Parisian man who has jewels embedded into the shell of his pet tortoise, but the jewel-surgery kills the tortoise.
Your story is much better.
What kind of beetle was it? One of the iridescent ones?


Awesome. I wanted to share this, which I spotted today: http://www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb/auction-catalogues/gildings-auctioneers/catalogue-id-2875576/lot-17051594 - isn't it gorgeous?

fondue with cheddar

I just realized why the Masonic Orb seems oddly familiar. It reminds me of a Dwarven Sphere from Skyrim!

Asad Yousuf@facebook

Jewellery may be made from a wide range of materials, but gemstones and similar materials such as amber and coral, precious metals, beads, and shells have been widely used, and enamel has often been important. In most cultures jewellery can be understood as a status symbol, for its material properties, its patterns, or for meaningful symbols.Jewelry online

Post a Comment

You must be logged-in to post a comment.

Login To Your Account