Estate and antique jewelry is fashionable throughout the United States, and the demand for fine estate jewelry is increasing steadily. Knowledgeable consumers appreciate the significant value unique to estate and antique jewelry. They realize that most of these pieces cannot be duplicated today. Not only by the prohibitive costs, but because the exquisite workmanship simply cannot be copied.
Before committing yourself to the purchase of one these fine pieces, knowledge of the product is essential. As you read through this material, we hope to help you better understand estate and antique jewelry.
Estate jewelry, simply defined, is previously owned jewelry. It may be as old as the late Victorian period or as new as yesterday. Antique jewelry is also previously owned jewelry, but to be considered a true antique, the piece must be authenticated as at least 100 years old, according to the US Customs Bureau. Period jewelry is that jewelry which has recognizable characteristics dating from a definite design period. It may, in fact, be centuries old, but for the present we will confine our discussion to the jewelry we are most likely to see, those dating form the Victorian period to the present.
The primary reason for investing in antique jewelry, as opposed to other works of art, is the simple fact that it can still be put to its original purpose -- that being to complement beauty and fashion.
Some collectors enjoy antique jewelry for its historic or academic value, but most also appreciate jewels from a bygone era that still serves to flatter modern styles and at the same time add that inimitable touch of antique charm.
Though casual buyers of estate and antique jewelry still tend to associate most old pieces of jewelry with the Victorian era, there are definite characteristics that serve to identify those that are, in fact, verifiably Victorian, or dating from the 64 year reign of Queen Victoria of England (1837-1901).
Victoria Alexandrina assumed the British throne at the very crest of the wave known as Romantic Revivalism, a movement marked by the most complex and fastest changing jewelry fashions the world has ever seen. Still a teenager when she was crowned, Victoria was the very paradigm of marital bliss upon her marriage to Prince Albert. Their love for each other was celebrated throughout the British empire and to such a degree that whatever Victoria adopted as fancy, her loyal legions turned into fashion.
Just as Victoria's tastes influenced the aristocracy of the day, so did that aristocracy dictate the fashions of the masses - with disastrous results for the jewelry trade in the latter years of her reign. Following the death of Prince Albert in 1861, the wearing of jewelry during the day fell rapidly out of fashion. The effect of Victoria's growing moral severity and pompous conservatism nearly bankrupted some of the finest jewelers of the time. A group of them eventually appealed to Princess Alexandra, wife of soon-to-be King Edward, to help reverse the trend by consenting to be seen in public wearing lavish pieces of the day.
However, those jewelers were also likely responding to technological advances of the time, including the invention of the steam engine in he 1850's.
By the late 1800's, steam was being widely used in the mass production of jewelry. The resulting drop in quality, while stimulating sales and afford ability, worked against those jewelers for whom craftsmanship was paramount.
Though not all-inclusive, the following characteristics should help the collector of antique jewelry identify authentic Victorian pieces.
The early gold Victorian pieces were all 18 to 22 karat. Following the Stamp Act of 1854, gold content was standardized at 9, 12, or 15 karats, and required to be hallmarked and stamped as such. Non-gold metals used in costume jewelry were either pinchbeck (83 parts copper and 17 parts zinc), mercury gilt, or electric gilt. Other popular metals of the time included silver, silver backed by gold and rolled gold plate. Whenever diamonds were to be set, they were invariably set in white metal so as to enhance their intrinsic beauty.
Predominant design themes employed in Victorian jewelry borrowed from natural origins, i.e., flowers, trees, and birds. Early Victorian jewelry incorporated lights, delicate designs with elaborate engraving. These eventually evolved into the heavier, more conservative designs the Victorian period is more noted for. Two popular design types that originated in the Victorian period were Cannatille and Repousse. Cannatille jewelry utilized twisted strands of gold wire wound into elaborate designs. Repousse, on the other hand, was identifiable for its solid forms with raised and fluted edges that gave the piece its characteristic massive quality.
Jet, coral, human hair, and seed pearls were all popular organic materials used in Victorian pieces. Mourning jewelry, sometimes called memorial jewelry had been popular for many decades prior to Victoria's ascension to the throne. However, upon the death of Prince Albert, the entire British empire was thrown into 40 years of enforced gloom. The public would have none of it and mourning jewelry fell quickly out of favor.
The late Victorian era was greatly influenced by the archeological expeditions in Egypt, Italy and Greece, which brought to light for the first time in the West, the vast array of ancient jewelry.
Designers were quick to capitalize on the public's imagination by launching a wave of reproductions. The works of such designers such as Castellani and Giulano were especially noteworthy, and they continue to be much sought after today.
With the death of Queen Victoria, the stage was set for an explosion of new jewelry designs and manufacturing techniques. Pent-up emotions from decades of extreme conservatism were to act as a catalyst for a sudden and profound break from tradition. The seeds of rebellion were sprouting, eventually to grown and bear fruit as the Art Nouveau period to the early 20th Century.
Exuberant, exotic, emotive, expressive, are terms used to describe Art Nouveau jewelry. What is it about Art Nouveau jewelry that touches the hearts of sophisticates, critical collectors, or just the average consumer? It is the beauty that is felt when one views the great works of someone like Renoir, Servat, or Gauguin.
Many pieces of Art Nouveau jewelry are truly works of art, not merely items of adornment. Some of the ingredients that make Art Nouveau jewelry so emotionally beautiful are the use of subtle color and shading, suggestion of form, delicate turning and mystical imagery.
Appreciation of Art Nouveau takes time. The more one views them, the more apparent their intrinsic beauty becomes. They are imaginative pieces, daring and different from other styles and forms.
The Art Nouveau movement, although short lived (approximately 1890 through 1910) made a lasting impact on the jewelry industry which is still felt today. It was a reaction to the mass produced jewelry that had become so popular late in the Victorian period. The style of Art Nouveau jewelry was a radical change from the somberness and adherence to strict rules which characterized both French and English jewellery in the 1860's and 1870's. There were few restrictions in the design of Nouveau jewelry. The most common motifs incorporated life forms, orchids, lilies, irises, ferns, snakes, dragonflies, animal and human forms. Life-like to dream-like simplicity of metal alone to the complexity of enamel and precious gems. The rebellion against the strict customs of the Victorian and Edwardian periods released an incredible out-pouring of creative energy that not only produced pieces of subtle beauty but also touched the sublime and the mystical. No longer would a piece of jewelry be a mere adornment, now it became a part of one's soul.
Along with the creative energy came a mastery of technique in casting and carving of gold as well as the extensive use of enameling as never seen before.Probably the single most important technique used by Art Nouveau designers was enameling. The type of enameling used most often was known as Plique a'jour.
Plique a'jour is defined as enameling that is transparent with no backing. The effect most often achieved by Plique a'jour enameling is likened to that of stained glass. The technique of applying this type of enameling was extremely difficult and very popular because it exemplified the jeweler's skill and artistry. This effect gave Art Nouveau jewelry a distinctive appearance much like a three dimensional painting. Other types of enameling that were also popular were basse-taille and guilloche enameling, techniques that required engraving the metal or raising a design, then fusing a thin layer of transparent enamel over the work. These and the techniques of Cloisonné' Chamieve' were made popular by Faberge in Russia around the turn of the century. Many times a craftsman would combine the use of different methods of enameling on the same piece.
Unfortunately, when something comes along that generates excitement and interest, so do people who want to take advantage of the public's lack of knowledge.
So how does one differentiate between an authentic piece of Nouveau jewelry or a reproduction?
Quality is the first thing to consider in determining the authenticity of a piece of Nouveau jewelry. Quality should be evident in every part of the piece, from the smallest detail to the overall design.
Enameling is also extremely important in determining the originality of a piece.
The enameling on a reproduction will generally be uniform and sharp with little or no shading. The edges of the piece will appear sharp, showing little or no wear, and in the case of a pin, the pin and clasp will be in "mint" condition. Files and polishing marks which are often an indication of handiwork will not be evident. The hallmark, indicative of many old pieces, will appear new and the various settings will appear identical since they are usually mass produced. Reproductions will also exhibit pits in the gold due to poor or frequently repeated castings, detail work will often be neglected, and much of the design of the piece will not be artistic, a quality that is intrinsically Art Nouveau.
Determining the value and overall quality of a piece of Art Nouveau jewelry is not an easy thing to do. To become skillful at recognizing an authentic piece of period jewelry requires a serious effort. Jewelers and collectors alike must take the time to visit museums and auction houses, places where this type of jewelry can be seen. There is no substitute for the experience gained in the hands-on examination of these pieces.
Lace translated into platinum and diamonds. This is the phrase used to describe Edwardian jewelry. The Edwardian Period was a short period, dating from 1901 to 1910, during the reign of King Edward VIII, son of Queen Victoria. Edward was 56 years old when he succeeded to the throne.
The Edwardian Period is sometimes lost or forgotten, sandwiched between two great periods, that being Art Nouveau and Art Deco. The opening years of the century were still under the spell of Art Nouveau. While many Art Nouveau artists concentrated on design, many of the larger firms such as Cartier and Tiffany were making headway in improving the appearance, setting and cutting of diamond jewelry.
In direct contrast to Art Nouveau, many of the designs initiated between 1901-1910 were rather understated. The restraints of Victoria's era were followed by the extravagance and sophistication of the reign of Edward VIII. Edwardian jewelry was the jewelry of high society and nowhere was the Edwardian style more apparent than in the jewelry of the period.
As discussed previously, many of the periods had overlapping characteristics and Edwardian jewelry was no exception. It had its roots in the closing years of the Victorian period. In contrast to diamond jewelry made in the late 19th century, diamonds were made to look as fine and delicate as possible in order to blend with the lace, silk, and feathers, or marks of total femininity of the Edwardian lady. Diamonds were essential in the development of an Edwardian piece of jewelry, with many of these pieces being among the finest jewelry ever made.
Princess Alexandra, Edward's wife, and the Princess of Wales had a great influence on fashion of the period. Probably the strongest influence on Edwardian jewelry was the dramatic progress made in gem stone cutting.
The pear shape lent itself well to the elegant Edwardian themes, but the stone cutting used in Edwardian jewelry was just a hint of what was to come in the subsequent period, Art Deco.
Other characteristics of Edwardian jewelry include the extensive use of platinum. Invisible settings of platinum extended and flattered the brilliance and whiteness of the stones. Millgrained setting was made popular during the period. Millgraining required that a thin bead of metal securing the stone would be ridged and textured with tiny grains or beads. This effect would create an extremely fine, almost imperceivable rim around the diamond. Knowing the strength of platinum, designers skillfully produced pieces that were extremely thin and lightweight, masterpieces of engineering. Platinum also lent itself to the open work designs and scalloped patterned edges that gave the illusion of fine hand-made lace, unmistakably Edwardian. Also very characteristic of the period was the use of knife edge wires. These were thin blades of metal with a sharp edge facing upwards, so that only a fine "knife edge" of metal was visible.
The bow, which is characteristically Victorian, took on a new meaning in the Edwardian period. Made of platinum and produced in a honeycomb pattern of fine mesh, the bow was used to match the delicate fabrics and hand embroidery worn by the rich. Brooches, pendants, and rings were also made in that very delicate style. One design that emerges during this period was the "Negligee" pendant. It had two drops of unequal length hanging from another single stone or a thin chain. The "sautior," a long necklace consisting of pearls or a find chain ending in a tassel, was also made popular during the period.
Although much of the jewelry produced during the period was grand and expensive, many other less expensive pieces were also made popular. Bar brooches, half hoop bangles set with pearls, diamonds, or colored stones, gypsy rings worn by both men and women, cross over, half hoop, snake rings, and gold chain bracelets set with turquoise and pearls. Star settings also became popular during this period. Although much of this jewelry was produced late in the Victorian period, it is recognized as being Edwardian.
The prosperity and open display of wealth were brought to an abrupt end by the realities associated with World War I. The attitude that would emerge following World War I was one that would surprise the whole world. The Edwardian period, as we know it, would never be recaptured.
It was an age of prohibition, cocktail parties, flappers, and the Charleston - "The Roaring Twenties." It was a decadent period, a strong reaction to the strict Victorian ideals that still prevailed.
The Art Deco period, although almost entirely an American phenomenon, derived its name from the Exposition of Decorative Arts and Modern Manufactures in Paris in 1925.
The difference between Art Deco and other periods, is that the design aspects that were applied to Art Deco jewelry were incorporated into everything from toasters to ocean liners. The central theme of Art Deco is its geometry and symmetry. Its boldness of both design and color had such universal application. This is one of the fascinating aspects of the Art Deco movement.
Designs that were characteristic of the earlier periods were generally an attempt to escape from the clutch of the industrial monster known as mass production. The Art Deco movement was an attempt to combine the harshness of mass production with the sensitivity of art and design.
Art Deco jewelry was influenced, to some extent, by the two previous periods, Art Nouveau and Edwardian. Borrowing from Art Nouveau its highly stylized and graceful designs, Art Deco took the free flowing curves and naturalistic motifs and replaced them with a harshly geometric and symmetrical theme. Borrowing from the Edwardian period its use of platinum and diamonds, designers of the period discovered new techniques to work with platinum that enabled the implementation of designs with precise and intricate shapes and outlines.
Diamonds were cut in shapes never before seen such as emerald cuts, pear shapes, and marquises. These blended well with the symmetrical nature of the jewelry.
Color also played an important role in the development of Art Deco jewelry. The pastel colors, that were uniquely Art Nouveau, were replaced with a vivid display of bold colors. The stark whiteness of platinum combined with diamond or crystal is a fundamental theme of Deco jewelry. The application of color was usually dramatic. Black and white were the preferred colors, but ruby, sapphire, emerald, turquoise, and coral found extensive use in jewelry of the period. Interesting to note: The designers of the period never hesitated to use inexpensive stones such as crystal and coral with platinum and diamond.
Gone were the cameos, tiaras, and lavalieres of the Victorian period. In were the long pendants, bangle bracelets, cocktail rings, and elaborate accessory items such as cigarette cases and holders along with heavily jeweled compacts. Perhaps the item of jewelry most recognized of this period was the double-clip brooch. The two identical clips could be attached together and worn as a single brooch, but more frequently they were worn separately on the lapels or belt of a dress.
The Art Deco movement virtually died with the onset of the Depression and the outbreak of World War II.
A brief attempt was made to revive the period following World War II but failed, yet it is now undergoing a revival as one of the most unique periods in the development of design in the 20th century.
The creative spirit that helped foster the innovative designs of the Art Deco period would never be recaptured, but fortunately, many examples of jewelry of this period still remain.
With the war in Europe, jewelry production in the United States came to the forefront. Many of the jewelry firms in Europe were shut down and several of the European designers immigrated to the United States.
While Europe was in a deep depression, the United States was enjoying an economic recovery. The jewelry market in the United States had never before been so important.
Jewelry took on an American look, incorporating the flowers, bows, and sunburst designs of previous periods, but with a Hollywood flair. Hollywood stars became the trendsetters as royalty had been previously.
Jewelry during from the mid 1930's until the late 1940's became bigger and bolder than ever before. Large gemstones, many well over 100 carats, were often used.
Aquamarine, citrine, topaz, and synthetics became ever more popular. Rose gold replaced the platinum used during the Deco period, since much of it was needed to fund the war.
Following World War II, the jewelry designs became more traditional and understated. Platinum came back into use and rose gold diminished. The big, bold styles of the Retro period went out of style and were replaced by the more tailored styles of the 1950's and 60's.
General Properties - Sterling silver is an alloy consisting of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% of other metals, usually copper. Most silver jewelry is made using Sterling silver because pure silver is too soft and needs a stronger metal like copper to preserve its ductility (capable of sustaining large plastic deformations without fracture).
All silver in our items are guaranteed to be Sterling silver.
Stampings - Most Sterling silver jewelry will be stamped by either STER, or .925 to designate that the piece is Sterling silver. Some pieces may not be stamped, however, this does not mean the piece is not Sterling silver.
Sterling Silver Care - The natural tendency for Sterling silver that is alloyed with copper is to tarnish after exposure to oxygen. This is normal and is expected from Sterling silver. There are various silver cleaners and polishing cloths on the market that can remove tarnish from Sterling silver.
Rhodium Plating - There are many occasions where Sterling silver may be plated by rhodium, which is a highly desirable metal, even more valuable than platinum. This process gives the piece a very high polished shine that actually gives the jewelry the appearance of white gold or platinum and also prevents the piece from tarnishing.
It is highly suggested that you do NOT use silver cleaners or polishing cloths to clean silver jewelry that has been plated with rhodium. This is because the cleaner will remove the rhodium and leave behind unpolished silver which may be undesirable in appearance.
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