Category: Historical/Antique and Vintage Jewelry

The Mother of Female Jewelry Designers

For centuries jewelry was designed by men.  Seems odd, doesn’t it, when most all jewelry is worn by women?  But the design field was male dominated for the same reason most fields were–men were seen as the more capable sex and the bread winners of the family.  When did it become clear that women could design for women?

Perhaps the first to recognize this talent in a female was Rene’ Boivin, a Parisian goldsmith and engraver in the late 1800s.  He married Jeanne Poiret, a woman who became his business partner in his jewelry workshops.  Together they created fabulous designs which were in high demand among their elite clientele.

Egyptian Emerald Ring by Maison Boivin

When Rene’ died in 1917, everyone assumed that Jeanne would sell the business but, instead, she and her daughter, Germaine, assumed control.  Jeanne, though not trained as a jeweler, knew a lot from working with her husband.  She’d think out the designs and have someone else render them. She also had a talent for finding good talent, hiring young Suzanne Belperron in 1921 and, when Suzanne left in 1931, the talented Juliette Moutarde took her place.

Suzanne Belperron opened her own jewelry design firm with Bernard Herz, and later, his son, Jean, in a partnership that lasted over 40 years.  Her designs were so distinctive–very fluid and organic.  Even while those around her embraced Art Deco, with its straight lines, Suzanne elevated a more modern design.  Famous women like the Duchess of Windsor and Mona Williams (pictured below) bought her jewelry.  Her work was never signed, though.  She always said that her style was her signature.

Sketch and finished piece by Suzanne Belperron

Juliette Moutarde worked with Jeanne and Germaine at House Boivin until they sold the company in 1976.  Jeanne had died in 1959, but her daughter, a talented jewelry designer in her own right, kept the business going.  Throughout these successful years, custom pieces were never signed by the individual artists.  Perhaps it was seen as too bold, too assertive, for a woman to sign her work back in the early 1900s.

Design attributed to Juliette Moutarde. Made for Claudette Colbert in 1936.

But because of these women, and a few others like Italian Elsa Schiaparelli, female jewelry designers today feel empowered to open their own studios, sign their names to their pieces, and earn their own success in the design world. Thanks to these pioneers, we know names like Paloma Picasso, Elsa Peretti, and Ippolita Rostagno, who have had their own jewelry lines for decades.  And because of THEM, contemporary female designers–from Kendra Scott and Irene Neuwirth to Farah Khan Ali and Erica Courtney find success in the always competitive jewelry industry.

Paloma Picasso design

 

 

 

Elsa Peretti design

Ippolita design

 

 

Irene Neuwirth design

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today we don’t think much about gender when choosing a designer.  If you like the creation, you respect the designer!  But it wasn’t always like that, and I wanted to lift up the courage of Jeanne Bouvin and her team of female designers.  They worked and made their way successfully in a male world.  Good for them and thank goodness for us.  Their combination of talent and determination allowed women who came after to enter the field with confidence.  Because of that, I want to nominate Jeanne Poiret Boivin for Mother of Female Jewelry Designers!

A Bracelet Made of Shells

The state of Hawaii is composed of many islands, seven of which are inhabited.  I have to admit that, until I got to visit the state this past January, I would not have been able to name those islands–O’ahu, Maui, Hawaii, Kauai, Lanai, Molokoi, and Ni’ihau.  Most people know about O’ahu.  How many have heard of Ni’ihau?  With a population of about 160, it is a well kept secret and deserving of the name, the Forbidden Island.  

Ni’ihau has been a privately owned island since 1864, when Elizabeth Sinclair bought it from King Kamehameha IV for $10,000 in gold.  Her great-great grandsons, Bruce and David Robinson, own the 70 square mile island now, and they have kept the island isolated and pristine.  The families that live on the island today are descendants of the original families that lived there in the 1800s.  The people have their own dialect of the Hawaiian language.  They live a lot like their forebears.  This is one place where not much has changed. 

The people of Ni’ihau are well known for the beautiful shell leis they create.  Families have unique patterns that they use in their jewelry.  Artists use the tiny shells that wash up on the beach, including the highly sought after Kahelelani shell.  The sale of these leis, bracelets, and earrings is a major source of income for the Ni’ihau people.  Prices are determined by the rarity and quality of the shells as well as the skill of the artisan.  When I was on Maui, I bought a beautiful bracelet that came with its own certificate of authenticity.  I was told that, in the past, there were “copy-cats” who undersold the true artists.  So the certificate is important.  Be wary of shell jewelry that seems poorly made or is extremely inexpensive.

My shell bracelet from Ni’ihau.

If you are planning to go to Hawaii, I would encourage you to learn about the history of Hawaii.  It’s loaded with interesting characters like Captain Cook (not Hook), Queen Emma (wife of King Kamehameha IV),  and even Elizabeth Sinclair (an amazing pioneer from Scotland, who ended up owning an island!)   I loved learning about all the King Kamehamehas (there were five of them) and their wives.  Two royal women,  Queen Kapiolani and Princess Lili’uokalani, can be credited with popularizing shell jewelry.  They traveled to England for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, where they wore their long leis and made quite the splash!  

Formal photos of Hawaiian queens, wearing leis. Photos courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society

 

Egyptian and Roman Jewelry at the Kelsey

Egyptian Faience Necklace at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, drawn by Ellyn Marmaduke

Egyptian Faience Necklace at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, drawn by Ellyn Marmaduke

After last week’s group tour to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, I had to decide which artifacts to focus on.  One of the first display cases we stopped at had this beautiful faience necklace worn in Egypt between 1991-656BC.  How many of you know about FAIENCE?  The word sounded vaguely familiar but was totally out of context.  Still, I was drawn to the beautiful blue color and vowed to learn more.  Turns out that Egyptian faience is very different from French faience, which is that pottery with the detailed painted decoration on it.  Egyptian faience could better be described as a combination of clay and glass.  It’s the oldest known type of glazed ceramic.  They can track its existence back to 4000BC.  It molds like clay, but its chemical make-up is powdered quartz.  Since quartz is basically silica(silicon dioxide), the same main elements as in glass, a better phrase for Egyptian faience would be glassy paste or sintered quartz.  The “faience” was glazed with a blue or green vitreous coating, perhaps to resemble turquoise, which was highly prized at that time.

The other jewelry pieces I wanted to learn more about were Roman rather than Egyptian.  They were described as LUNATE and BULLAE.  Again, I felt totally confused by the words.  Our guide told us that young girls wore the lunate pendant, the one that’s shaped like the crescent moon.  Young men wore bullae pendants, the hollow, pillow-like pieces in the upper right of the drawing.

Roman Lunate and Bullae Jewelry displayed at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, drawn by Ellyn Marmaduke

Roman Lunate and Bullae Jewelry displayed at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, drawn by Ellyn Marmaduke

Jewelry has often been used to silently tell the wearer’s status.  Females wearing a crescent moon were known to be unmarried virgins.  The young moon meant a fresh start, with hopes and wishes for a bright future of matrimony.  For thousands of years the moon has been a feminine symbol–the waxing (crescent) moon, the full moon, and the waning moon were associated with a young maiden, a matron, and the elderly woman.  Since maidens in that time period married between the ages of 12 and 17, this was not a necklace they wore for very long.  Young males were given a bulla to wear soon after birth.  It had two purposes.  It was believed to protect them from evil spirits.   In the Roman culture, children were seen as being very vulnerable and needing protection. It also let others know that the child was freeborn rather than a slave.  Wealthy boys had bullae of gold while poorer boys had ones made of leather, but anyone with a bulla was free.  These pendants were worn until manhood, at age 16.

These were just a few artifacts found at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Each one tells a wonderful story if you have the time and inclination to do some digging.  It was fun finding out more about these pieces of jewelry.  And I always love learning the meanings of words!  I hope you can go to the museum and find your own fascinating stories.

Book Review: Stoned by Aja Raden

Stoned

Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and how Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden was published in 2015.  A friend bought me the book, and it may well be one the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.  Gemology and history are two of my favorite subjects, and this book intertwines them into eight fascinating stories.  Each chapter is a stand-alone story, of places, events, and peoples as varied as the Spanish Armada and World War I or Marie Antoinette and Kokichi Mikimoto.

Aja Raden writes with a sense of humor and an irreverence for how humans can behave when they desire something.  Her stories are intriguing and revealing, and I love how she ties gems and jewelry into topics like economics and politics.  As the author states, jewelry isn’t just a set of objects, but symbols–“tangible stand-ins for intangible things.”

In a nutshell, the chapters discuss the following:

  1.  How glass beads bought Manhattan

  2.  History and rise in popularity of the diamond engagement ring

  3.  Emeralds and their significance to the Spanish Empire

  4. The necklace that “started” the French Revolution

  5. The pearl, Le Peregrina, that stirred the rivalry between two queens

  6. How Faberge’ eggs hurt Tsarist Russia and fueled Communism

  7. How Mikimoto’s cultured pearls saved the Japanese economy

  8. How wristwatches served in World War I

I enjoyed each chapter and feel that anyone who reads a jewelry blog would like this book.  If you read it, please share your thoughts through our website.

 

 

Symbols of Good Luck and Good Life

I never realized there were so many good luck charms until I started working at a jewelry store.  Sure, I knew of the 4-leaf clover and the rabbit’s foot, but I’d never heard of the “ankh” and the “cornicello.”  One of my more embarrassing moments came recently when a woman came in with her husband’s necklace.  It needed repair so I wrote up a repair slip, describing the piece as a “hot pepper pendant on a gold chain.”  Everyone laughed at me when I took it back to the shop.  “That’s not a hot pepper,” chuckled the bench jeweler.  “That’s a gorno.”

The "corno" pendant

The “corno” pendant

“Huh? What’s a gorno?”  Well, truth is, he wasn’t completely sure.  And the fact is, it’s not a gorno.  It’s a corno or a cornicello.  Turns out this is the Italian word for “horn” or “little horn.”  It apparently protects the wearer from the evil eye.  The evil eye is a look, given to inflict harm or bad luck.  There is widespread belief in the power of the evil eye, but, supposedly, it started in ancient Greece.

Now, the “evil eye” I’d seen before, a few months back when working with a different customer.  It’s kind of confusing, because some people wear an amulet of an eye, as protection from evil.  They call the amulet the evil eye.  So I guess an “evil eye” can be either bad luck OR good luck.

I think every culture has their own version of a good luck charm.  The “ankh”(pronounced awnk) is actually the Egyptian symbol for life.  As the key of life, it represents zest and energy, and some people wear it as a protection from demons.  It resembles a Christian cross, but has a loop at the top.

The "ankh" pendant

The “ankh” pendant

I guess we all can use a little good luck from time to time.   Can it hurt to wear a good luck charm?  It’s just nice to know there are so many options.

 

Happy Birthday Queen Elizabeth II

Celebrating Queen Elizabeth's 90th Birthday

On the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday, it seems like the perfect time to examine her taste in jewelry.  Since few women have been photographed as often as the Queen, it’s very easy to see her style.  She loves pearls, and often wears both the classic pearl stud earrings and three strand pearl necklace.  If she has a special event, she’ll wear a tiara–she has several to choose from– and a gemstone-studded necklace.  But what I found really interesting is how she accents her outfits with a brooch.

She’s received and worn brooches since she was a teenager.  Her brooches come from all over the world, and her collection numbers well over one hundred.   Many of them have names, like the Flame Lily and the Three Thistle.  One of her favorites is the diamond brooch, the Jardine Star, which she’s wearing in the picture above. Some of the brooches are actually badges, representing specific organizations and are worn by the Queen as a mark of her ties to the groups.  I found one blog that really gives a lot of detail and history about Queen Elizabeth’s brooches, and you can access it here.  And if you just want to see pictures of them, click on this link.

three thistle brooch

three thistle brooch

The Queen has been in her royal role for over 60 years.  She had her Diamond Jubilee Celebration in 2012.  She has served her country and the commonwealth loyally.  So, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! QUEEN ELIZABETH!!

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in their youth

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in their youth

Queen Elizabeth, youthful at heart!

Queen Elizabeth, youthful at heart!

If it’s Red, is it Real?

ruby1

Most of us know that not every red gemstone is a ruby.  Garnets, tourmaline, and even diamonds can be red.  But if you are in the market for a ruby, know that many substitutes exist.  I recently put on a seminar about rubies, their imitations, and synthetics.  Let me share three pieces of advice on buying a ruby.

1) Buy it from an A.G.S. member store. Only jewelry stores who adhere to the strict consumer protection standards of the American Gem Society  will have the A.G.S. sign by the front door.  These stores are required to be informed on ethical issues and questionable practices facing the gemstone and jewelry industry.  At least one employee of the store must be a registered jeweler, which requires yearly testing to renew the designation.

American Gem Society

2)  Look at that beautiful stone under the microscope.  All A.G.S. member stores are required to have a microscope at their store.  Ask to look at the piece you’re considering.  If the stone shows some inclusions under magnification, especially whitish or colorless rounded crystals or a lacy-looking fingerprint, that’s a good sign.   Be suspicious of a stone that looks perfect under magnification.  Natural rubies generally have inclusions.  Remember to ask about treatments on the stone.  Most rubies have been heat-treated to improve their color and sometimes their clarity.  Heat treatment is permanent and does not affect the durability of the stone.  If the stone has fractures that have been lead glass-filled to enhance the clarity, it is not as valuable as one that has not. In fact, most gemologists feel that these “composite rubies” shouldn’t even be called rubies because so much of their weight is due to the lead-glass.  Be aware that a glass-filled stone is not durable and should never be subjected to heat or an ultrasonic cleaner.

3) Don’t assume that, because it’s old, it’s real.  Synthetic rubies have been produced since the early 1900s.  Rubies were also imitated using glass, assembled stones of garnet and glass, and other natural red stones like spinel.  Even the “Black Prince’s Ruby” in the British Imperial Crown is actually a 170 carat red spinel!

British Imperial Crown with the "Black Prince's Ruby"

British Imperial Crown with the “Black Prince’s Ruby”

The History and Origins and Stories of Turquoise

Turquoise_Cerillos_Smithsonian

Almost everyone has heard of Turquoise.  It is one of the oldest, most popular gem stones of all time.  Turquoise has a rich and colorful history, and it originates in a few places around the globe.  Studying turquoise is like taking a journey around the world and back in time.  Sounds fun, right?

HISTORY AND ORIGIN

Imagine yourself in the time of King Tut, in Egypt, around 1330BC.  Thousands of laborers worked the mines in the Sinai Peninsula, finding turquoise for the pharaohs.  When King Tut’s treasures were discovered, they included pieces of beautiful blue turquoise.  Although the mines in the Sinai had long been forgotten and depleted, when they were re-discovered in the mid-1800s, people did try to work them.

In the 12th and 13th centuries AD, on the other side of the world, in the land of the Native Americans, turquoise was mined for the Aztec Kings.  It was used for pendants, beads, and for trade.  Proof exists that the prehistoric peoples of the Anasazi and Hohokam tribes mined turquoise in areas we call the Southwest, and traded it to people who carried it hundreds of miles from its origin.

The robin’s egg blue of “Persian turquoise” was treasured by the peoples of Persia (now Iran), Afghanistan, Siberia, and Turkistan (now Turkey).   Turquoise was found in ancient graves dating from the first to third century AD.  And it was from this area that turquoise first made its way to Europe in the late 1600s.  Because it traveled through the land named by the French as Turquie, many believe that the stone got its name by Frenchmen who thought Turquie was its origin.

China’s love of turquoise dates back to the thirteenth century AD.  There it was used mostly for carving and decorative items.   In Tibet, the stone was used for currency and as an amulet.  Although there were a few mines in China, most of their source came from Persia, Tibet, and Turkey.

AMERICAN ORIGIN

Now that we’ve traveled around the world, let’s focus on our own backyard–the Southwestern states of Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.  There are many mines in each of these states and turquoise lovers know the origins of their stones.

NEVADA:

The Ajax Mine, a relatively new mine, yields stones ranging from light blue with dark blue veins to dark green with light blue areas. The Blue Diamond Mine, inaccessible in the winter months, produces light to deep blue turquoise exhibiting swirling or mottled patterns of light and dark blues.  Carico Lake Mine resides on a dried up lake bed, and its turquoise is a clean spring green color with black spider web matrix.

ARIZONA:

Bisbee, Arizona is the site of the Bisbee Mine, closed since the early 1970s, but known for the intense blue color of its turquoise and the fine webbing of its dark matrix.  The Kingman Mine is one of largest domestic turquoise mines.  Its turquoise ranges from light to dark blue with some tints of green.  Its matrix can range from white, light brown to black and it’s frequently flecked with pyrite or quartz.  The Sleeping Beauty Mine produces a soft blue, like a robin’s egg blue, turquoise, with little or no matrix.

NEW MEXICO:

The Cerrillos Mine, 10 miles south of Santa Fe, is the oldest known source of turquoise in America.  The huge deposit was originally exposed at the surface but has now been mined more than 200 feet deep. The turquoise that comes from Cerrillos varies in color from tan and khaki green to blue-green, blue, and even white.

STORIES

My own story of turquoise starts in Tucson, Arizona at the 2015 Gem Show.  Wanting to buy a piece of turquoise, I came upon Helen Shull, owner of Out of Our Mines, in Nevada.  She told me that the piece of turquoise I selected came from a new mine called the Candelaria Pickhandle Mine.  The interesting name comes from the fact that an old pickhandle, left by a miner decades ago, sent the signal that turquoise was present.  Helen and her husband, out walking their land in Nevada, found this old, long forgotten pickhandle and began to mine the area.  My piece is beautiful, blue with golden matrix.

turq1

My favorite story of turquoise came from the Native Americans who saw the blue stone as giving of life and good fortune.  One of their legends says that people danced and rejoiced when the rains came, and their tears of joy mixed with the rain and seeped into Mother Earth.  That mixture became the “fallen sky stone”–Turquoise.

Much of my information for this blog came from http://www.traderoots.com/Turquoise_About.html, if you want to know more about this magical stone.

 

 

The History of the Diamond Engagement Ring

Diamond Engagement Ring - Dearborn Jewelers

A ring has signified union and commitment for thousands of years.  But when did a diamond become part of the equation?  Prior to 1870, around the time diamonds were discovered in Africa,  diamonds were too rare and expensive for most of us.  They were seen as a symbol of status and wealth, not love and commitment.  There is a well documented case of the Archduke Maximillian of Austria commissioning a diamond engagement ring for his bride, Mary of Burgundy, back in 1477.  But most brides of the time had a simple band.

It was not until the late 1920s that a diamond engagement ring first became popular.  DeBeers, the company that monopolized the diamond market for decades, was eager to market its increasing supply of diamonds to the middle class.  When the U.S. economy faltered in the 1930s, demand for diamond rings fell dramatically.  DeBeers responded with tempting advertisements showing movie stars wearing diamonds.  They tried to educate the public by introducing the 4 C’s. (Color, Cut, Clarity, Carat)  Then, in 1947, their “A Diamond is Forever” campaign launched the idea that giving a diamond when you propose ensures a marriage that will last forever.

By 1965, eighty percent of all new brides had a diamond engagement ring.  At first, most brides sported a solitaire ring, a style popularized by Tiffany and Co.  But in the 1970s more engagement rings had accent diamonds along with a center stone.  Now it’s common to see many diamonds in an engagement ring.  Today’s rings average over 1 carat total weight in diamonds.

What’s next for the engagement ring?   Some say that the trend is to substitute a sapphire (or other colored stone) for the center diamond.  But I have a hard time believing diamonds will ever lose their stature.  Diamonds really are forever.