Victorian Jewelry & Art Nouveau
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The week before, we had talked about some of the different styles of jewelry and it’s kind of cool because usually after I talk about something in particular it sort of jogs people’s memories. They look around through the jewelry box or whatever and they bring in items. Some people bring them in because they want to sell them. Some people bring them in because ‘Steve, you talked about this. Is this the kind of thing that you were talking about?’ And it’s always neat, even if I’m not getting a chance to buy it, to look at a lot of the items.
With the Victorian jewelry we had talked about how they traveled. There was a certain transition of styles and I had quite a few pieces come in — American Victorian pieces — in the old lockets. One lady brought in a Civil War locket and she didn’t even know it was a Civil War locket. She brought it in and she said I heard you talking on the radio and I think this is what you were talking about. I said this is very cool, this is a Victorian locket. It’s American rather than European. I said did you open it up to look at the picture in it? She said well, I didn’t know it was a locket. I said hold on, let me show you.
There was a little twist thing that you had to twist to open it up. We opened it up and inside was what we call a Dagara-type of a picture. It was a picture on a piece of metal and it was actually a Union soldier in his uniform. She went oh, my God, I think this might be my great-great grandfather. She called me this week and said they did some research. They had an old album of full-sized Dagara-type pictures and this picture was almost like a transfer into a smaller version that was in the locket. So it was kind of cool that she found an ancestor that she didn’t really think anything about through Tradio. I’m not telling you if you have an ancestor you’re looking for call us, but that was just something kind of neat.
Now, after the Victorian period of jewelry we talked about the transition and how the Industrial Revolution came in towards the end of the Victorian period and with the Industrial Revolution jewelry became very popular because it became a lot less costly to make. It wasn’t all handmade. It was stamped out. It was put together by machines and now the masses could enjoy jewelry and this was a great thing, but as in all great things the downside was we had a lot of artisans who were extremely talented and they were sort of rebellious. They hated the Industrial Revolution and this was the start of what we refer to as the Art Nouveau period. This was around 1890 towards the end of the Victorian period, the end of Victoria’s reign into about 1910.
The one thing that really typifies the Art Nouveau period is the mingling of man with nature. In the Art Nouveau period it wasn’t so much man as woman, but we find that a lot of the pins, a lot of the necklaces, a lot of the bracelets and things encompassed nature. We have women’s figures with long flowing hair and the lines themselves of all these types of jewelry rather than linear and very symmetric they’re sweeping lines.
You find that along with nature and flowers we had dragonflies that were pictures in this. We had serpents and snakes because you have to remember back in Victorian times snakes symbolized life and eternity. This started during the Victorian period so we find that, again, a lot of these themes would carry over into this timeframe and this type of jewelry. So we have a lot of the different types of nature, vines intermingled with women’s hair and long flowing lines.
We find that enamel work became very popular during the Art Nouveau period. We’ve talked about cloisonné at a point in time during the show. To give you an idea, cloisonné was when they would take a piece of metal and then they would take little pieces of metal, very thin things and make designs on the particular item, whether it was a vase, a box or whatever, then they would put enamel into these little pieces of wire. These pieces of wire were called cloisons, hence the name cloisonné.
In the jewelry making they would do the same thing. They would actually make an outline in gold of a particular item, usually a lot of peacocks because they had a lot of colors to them or dragonflies because of the nature of the style of the insect. What they would do is they would make this in gold, put little cloisons on the inside, put enamel into the cloisons and then they would fire it and you’d actually get a piece that looked like a piece of stained glass.
This was a very, very big style during the Art Nouveau period, again, because the people who were the real founders at the Art Nouveau period were very, very highly-sophisticated artisans. They rebelled against the Industrial Revolution. ‘Down with the machines! We’re artisans. Don’t cheapen our jewelry. Don’t cheapen our wares.’ So they turned around and really made a lot of unusual stylized pieces.
Lalique was one of the first people. He’s attributed into the Art Nouveau period. He actually used horn, actually tortoise shell and horn in a lot of his pieces of jewelry and, again, it was a throwback to nature. It was a different type of median that hadn’t been seen before ever used in jewelry making. So we find that all these different things came back and these were very popular during the Art Nouveau period.
We see very little diamonds used during the Art Nouveau period, maybe one or two in each piece just as an accent piece. Whereas, later on in the Art Deco period we’ll see that little diamonds were all the rage, but basically during the Art Nouveau period these artisans showed their ability to work with silver and gold in a very stylistic move and, again, very sweeping lines. A lot of this even goes back to some of the styles of the Chinese during the 1800s in some of their wood prints, the way they were painted. A lot of the styles that were used back then, these artisans decided to transfer these ideas and symbolism into pieces of jewelry during the Art Nouveau period. Again, that was somewhere around 1890 to 1910.
Kind of a funny footnote to this whole thing, these artisans really pushed this Art Nouveau period. They really pushed their wares and they were beautiful pieces. I mean it was great. Art Nouveau is probably one of my favorite timeframes. Besides jewelry we see Art Nouveau glassware; again, very flowing stylistic things. We have ashtrays. We have figurines. We have bronzes. All these show the Art Nouveau period, the Art Nouveau style. It became so popular that a lot of these jewelry makers jumped in and said man, this stuff is selling like crazy.
So, once again, the Industrial Revolution jumps in, starts to copy all the Art Nouveau pieces of jewelry and bronzes and things like this, makes them much less expensive, much more readily accessible to the population and cheapens the prices again. Now all the artisans are feeling like they’ve gotten trashed because the idea was to be rebellious against the Industrial Revolution. Once again the Industrial Revolution jumps in, cheapens their products and Art Nouveau becomes very popular because it’s less expensive, was more cheaply made and, again, more available to the masses. So this was sort of a paradox to these artisans at that particular time.
Now, the next timeframe of jewelry making — again, you’ll find a lot of these pieces out there — is what we refer to as the Art Deco period. Art Deco is the timeframe somewhere around 1915 to 1935. It could be a year or two different, but I’m just giving you timeframes when this stuff really became popular. Now we’re around the beginning of World War I and we’re finding that women are starting to take a big role in the workforce. They’re on the lines making machinery. They’re making weapons. Styles have changed from the Victorian long dresses with long sleeves and high necklines. Now women are wearing trousers and they’re dresses are above their knees and some of them had slits in the side so that they could do this wild dance called the Tango.
Along with the fashion that the women are wearing, jewelry designers have jumped on the bandwagon and now they’re starting to come up with ideas that the women can wear for these fashions to accessorize. Unlike the Art Nouveau period where we have lines that are very flowing and sweeping, when we start talking about Art Deco it’s very geometric, very symmetric, very linear, the lines are very straight.
To give you an idea, the Empire State Building was built during the Art Deco period, these long lines. Go to South Beach and you’ll see all the old Art Deco buildings and apartments and condos and stuff, very linear, very square. We look at a lot of the bronzes and things and one of the things that you’ll see on these are the flappers. You know the women had very short cropped hair, this was a new style. We find whippets and greyhounds in a lot of these designs as far as in artwork, in bronzes and things. Again, this was the perfect dog. I mean he was very linear and symmetric, these long straight lines. This was, again, symbolic of the Art Deco period.
Now, we find that after the war opulence started to become commonplace. People wanted to show off. They were starting to make money. The economy was coming around. The stock market was doing good. Everything was wonderful and the designers had an abundance of small diamonds around. You have to remember, during that Art Nouveau period diamonds were very, very scarcely used in a piece. Now you have all these different designers with all kinds of diamonds lying around, let’s start making some diamond-encrusted jewelry.
The women have short sleeves on their dresses. They could start wearing a lot of bracelets. They could wear multiple bracelets. They’re doing a lot of evening wear, so let’s make all kinds of diamond-pavade or diamond-studded watches for them to wear. They’ve got these low-cut dresses now, so let’s make long sweeping necklaces with all kinds of diamonds that are set into them.
We find that cultured pearls started to become very popular at this point of time because, again, they were making these 30, 36 and 48 inch long necklaces. You could layer them around the neck and drape them. They had what we call rondelles or little round sort of wheels in between the pearls themselves and they would turn around and set diamonds into these little rondelles so it would accessorize not only the piece of jewelry, but the pearls themselves were accessorized with these extra diamonds.
These Art Deco pieces that we see, again, long linear, lots of multiple diamonds, we’ll find these. The metal of choice at that particular time was platinum. Platinum was readily available so the jewelry makers said hey, you know what, this works out great for us. Platinum is very strong. We can set all these little small diamonds into these pieces using multiple diamonds and multiple settings and the platinum really won’t wear out as quickly so it gives us a great look.
We find that the designers really started to care about their jewelry. We find what we refer to as bead set work, which is they would actually drill a little hole in the metal, set the diamond into it and then carefully work with a very sharp tool little designs around that diamond. It looked like there were little beads actually set around that diamond, hence the word bead setting.
We find not only did they worry about the beautiful style on the front of the piece, when you flip over a lot of Art Deco pieces of jewelry, especially in the brooches and bracelets, you’ll find they were highly polished. They were highly worked. They really spent almost as much time on the back of that piece of jewelry as they did the front. So there was a very high degree of craftsmanship during the Art Deco period.
This is the same timeframe when we get a lot of designers that we’ve heard of nowadays. Tiffany’s really popped up and did a lot of work during the Art Deco period. Harry Winston or the House of Winston became extremely popular during the ‘20s. Van Cleef & Arpels, another serious name in designers, Cardeaux, Shreve Crump & Low.
A lot of these pieces they designed out there they actually what we call ‘signed’ their pieces of jewelry. When we talk about signed pieces of jewelry, no they didn’t set there with a pen and ink and just put their name on the back of it. The designer or the company that would make it would actually stamp their name into that particular piece of jewelry, whether it was a ring or a necklace or a bracelet. It would be stamped somewhere on there, usually on the clasp so it wasn’t like a big nametag.
People who were ‘in the know’ when they would buy a piece of jewelry they made sure that the Van Cleef & Arpels or VC&A initials were stamped into that piece of jewelry. Nowadays, collectors always look for these designer names in their pieces of jewelry. Lots of times when you see my commercials in the paper or you hear me on radio or television, we sit there and we tout the fact that we will buy Van Cleef & Arpels or Cardeaux, Winston or Tiffany pieces.
Unfortunately during this big demand for gold, people with these pieces didn’t have the knowledge that I’m trying to give to you right now and took those pieces into gold shops. The guys would throw them on the scale, figure out the gold content, pay you for the gold and you’d walk out the door happy. They would turn around and melt it, they were happy. Unfortunately, there were thousands, virtually hundreds of thousands of dollars of fantastic antique jewelry pieces that were scrapped during this timeframe.
The past three years I have lots of different dealers who know what they’re buying. They’re buying from people who are not as knowledgeable as them. They throw it on the scale, pay you $800 for the gold in it, pick up the phone, send it to me and I pay them $3,000 to $4,000 for the same piece because I’m buying a signed piece of Van Cleef & Arpels or a signed piece of Cardeaux, a signed piece of Tiffany. These signatures make a big, big difference on a lot of these pieces of jewelry.
Sometimes a piece of jewelry is ugly and, yet, eventually it finds its way into a melting pot. Basically, if these pieces are signed by sought after designers they’re going to carry a big premium. I’ve tried to stress over the years if you’ve got items that you’re not sure, before you sell them come and see us at Westchester Gold & Diamonds. We’re always looking for fine pieces that are signed. If you’re not sure bring them in, we’re more than happy to look at it and tell you what you have.
Also during the Art Deco period we have what we call the Egyptian Revival. You have to remember that King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922 and with that the fascination of Egypt sprung back. We had a lot of Egyptian designs back in Victorian times, but also Deco period. Again, with the discovery of King Tut’s tomb Egyptian styles became very, very popular and we find a lot of the Egyptian Revival pieces.
Some of the gemstones that we find besides diamonds, a lot of larger Kashmir sapphires, Burma rubies, Lightning Ridge opals, jade, mother of pearl, onyx, coral, a lot of carved gemstones. We find a lot of the designers, especially Van Cleef & Arpels, did a lot of beautiful platinum bracelets and necklaces. They would take emeralds and carve the emeralds in the shape a lot of times of flowers. Sometimes even the rubies, emeralds and sapphires were carved in the shape of scarabs, which was basically what we call a dung beetle. They were discovered in King Tut’s tomb and during this Deco period they were set into platinum along with the diamonds. This was very indicative of a lot of the designers, but you’d see a lot of carved gemstones during this period of time.
This was a heyday. This was the time when people had money, the Rockefellers and a lot of the big train people, Flaglers and things like this. We had some beautiful diamond-studded and gem-studded pieces of jewelry. The stock market was going wild and lots of people jumped into the stock market. It was just going up and up and up and then 1929 rolled around and we had the stock market just explode. It went all the way down and this was the beginning of the Great Depression.
During this time all that opulence went down the drain and we saw people selling their jewelry. We saw them being ripped apart and sold for the diamonds and the gold weight and it’s funny how history repeats itself. For better or worse lots of times stuff like this happens again. People have these great pieces of jewelry. They’re sold. They’re torn apart. The diamonds are sold. The gold is sold. The platinum is sold. It’s redesigned and it starts a cycle of life all over again.
I’m Steve Duke the owner of Westchester Gold & Diamonds. We’ve been dealing in fine jewelry, art, antiques and things of value for over 37 years now. We weren’t selling shoes yesterday and opened up a gold shop today. If you’ve got fine jewelry or jewelry you may have inherited, you don’t have any idea what it’s worth and you’d like to get an appraisal on it or turn it into cash, please stop by and see us at Westchester Gold & Diamonds. We’re in the Baers Plaza behind ABC Liquor. With that we’re going to take a quick break and return to Tradio.
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