Antique Jewelry Addiction

...inimitable touch of old charm, a glimpse of another society...
Have a look and enjoy this rare piece in excellent condition: a rare and  heavy filigree necklace in gold, French work of Eugene Fontenay… A  similar necklace plus matching earrings were sold at Sotheby’s for $  52,000 (Important Jewels auction, New York, February 2008 sale N08410,  lot 110).

Have a look and enjoy this rare piece in excellent condition: a rare and heavy filigree necklace in gold, French work of Eugene Fontenay… A similar necklace plus matching earrings were sold at Sotheby’s for $ 52,000 (Important Jewels auction, New York, February 2008 sale N08410, lot 110).

"Art Nouveau moonstone ring on green lemon"

"Art Nouveau moonstone ring on green lemon"

"Colombian emerald beauty on mushroom"

"Colombian emerald beauty on mushroom"

"Victorian precious beetle brooch in garden"

"Victorian precious beetle brooch in garden"

Necklace Of The Spanish Inquisition

Necklace Of The Spanish Inquisition

The Spanish Inquisition Necklace is a diamond and emerald-studded necklace. As of 2008, it is on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., United States. It was given its name by Harry Winston, the American jeweller who acquired it from the Maharaja of Indore, and has no known connection with the historical Spanish Inquisition.


The emeralds threaded onto the necklace were originally mined in Colombia. The diamonds were mined in India. While the necklace’s gemstones are believed to have been cut in India in the 17th century,the early history of the necklace itself is unknown. American jeweller Harry Winston, who named the necklace, claimed that it was owned first by Spanish royalty. However, the first recorded owner of the piece was Tukoji Rao III, Maharaja of Indore, then a Princely State within India, in the early 20th century. Upon his abdication, the necklace was passed to his son, Yashvantrao II, who took up his father’s throne.

In 1947, Yashvantrao sold the necklace to Harry Winston. Winston loaned the necklace out that year to actress Katharine Hepburn, who wore it to the 19th Academy Awards ceremony. The necklace formed part of Winston’s “Court of Jewels”, a nationally touring exhibition of jewels and jewellery including the Hope Diamond and the Star of the East. In 1955, Winston sold the necklace to Cora Hubbard Williams of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Williams held the necklace until 1972, when she bequeathed it to the Smithsonian Institution. Since then, it has been on display in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals of the National Museum of Natural History in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.


The upper half of the necklace consists of many small diamonds threaded onto a silver chain. The lower half of the necklace is divided into two concentric semi-circular strands, each carrying eight pairs of “football-shaped” diamonds and four pairs of barrel-cut emeralds, arranged symmetrically. The centre of the lower strand holds a large emerald supporting a pendant which itself holds five smaller emeralds. The point where the upper and lower halves of the necklace join is marked by two large emeralds threaded onto the chain. Altogether, there are 15 emeralds and 374 diamonds in the necklace. The diamonds of the Spanish Inquisition Necklace are the oldest examples of cut diamonds in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Gem Collection.

Vivacious vintage will spice up every outfit

Vintage jewelry

Vintage jewelry adds a different touch to any ensemble. With bright colors and amusing designs, this is a sure fire way to add a bit of glamour to the plain attire that you might wear to a business meeting or so forth.

Who said that old jewelry wasn’t in style anymore? They were lying to you as many people prefer vintage jewelry as the pieces to spruce up something that you have had lying in the closet. Some vintage jewelry is designed for different seasons or different holidays while some reflect personal interests. Whatever you are looking for for that drab outfit, vintage jewelry is the way to go.


Art Deco jewelry is rich in history

Art Deco jewelry

Platinum Fruit-Salad Bracelet, Buckle Bracelet, Greek Key Bracelet, Fred Leighton, New York

Last May, Nicolas Luchsinger, the U.S. director of Van Cleef & Arpels’ heritage jewelry collection, was in Geneva for Sotheby’s (nyse: BID - news - people ) Magnificent Jewels auction. He didn’t know it, as he sat under the tent beside the Hotel Beau-Rivage, but he was about to be ambushed. Luchsinger was there to bid on just one item, an intact Van Cleef diamond sautoir, the long, swinging necklace that was the “it” accessory of the 1920s and has since become a style icon of that decade. The necklace was supposed to fetch between $150,000 and $250,000, and Luchsinger was prepared to go all the way. But he ended up bowing out. The bidding eventually climbed to more than $1 million. “It was the one that got away,” he says ruefully.

The incident encapsulates the story of Art Deco jewelry since the late 1980s: frequently underestimated, even by experts. While it has always been popular among serious collectors, its current cachet (and the attendant buying frenzy) dates only from the late 1970s. In fact, there was a time when the pieces were worth less than the stones themselves, leading owners to have jewelry broken apart. “It’s crazy,” says Ralph Esmerian, the owner of Fred Leighton, a leading retailer of historic pieces, especially Deco. “That’s like valuing a masterpiece painting for its paint.”

Now the reverse is true: The pieces are worth much more than the stones. And yet, even auction houses continue to underestimate the demand. Luchsinger points to Van Cleef Ludo-Hexagone diamond bracelets, magnificent pieces with circular and baguette diamonds. In 1998, one sold for $74,000; in November 2000, another went for $116,000. And in December 2006, one topped out at $251,000. Yet at all three auctions, the estimates were $40,000 to $60,000. That the demand for Art Deco is so robust—and is expected to stay that way, according to the experts we consulted (see “Deco as an Investment” on page 116)—reflects an unusual vortex of conditions.

First off, the style has gone from Jazz Age to timeless in its vast appeal. What other period jewelry, after all, can claim both the Duchess of Windsor and Sarah Jessica Parker as devotees in their respective times? Rebecca Selva of Fred Leighton, the celebrity go-to estate jeweler, has adorned such stars as Parker, Cameron Diaz, Nicole Kidman, and Uma Thurman in Art Deco for the red carpet. “This is not your typical grandmother’s jewelry,” says Selva. “It goes with everything, and it’s still absolutely chic.” Says David Bennett, the head of Sotheby’s jewelry department for Europe and the Middle East: “Art Deco was everything jewelry was meant to be—beautiful, glamorous, and romantic.”

If the appeal is broad, the number of pieces—not just great pieces—is limited, because production was never large. “Today, jewelers want to be able to sell thousands of pieces,” notes Lee Siegelson, whose eponymous heritage-jewelry business specializes in pieces from the 19th century through the 1940s. “In the 1920s, you’d be lucky to have 20 pieces by the end of the year.”

Then there’s the coup de grâce: These pieces are the product of a time many consider the pinnacle of jewelry craftsmanship. “You’ll never see anything like it again,” declares Esmerian. “Back then, you had to apprentice under a master jeweler. It is not as it was in the 1920s and ’30s. Today, people want coffee breaks.” Moreover, apprenticeship was the norm in a number of related fields— diamond-cutting, lapidary, enameling, rendering, carving, gold- and platinum-smithing—and the cornucopia of artisanal talent contributed mightily to the quality.

That is particularly seen in Art Deco jewelry’s exploiting of platinum, which began to be used in jewelry-making only around 1900. It enabled fine jewelers to set stones with far less metal, because platinum is so strong and so light. “Cartier became quite famous for their white-on-white jewelry,” says Sotheby’s Bennett. “They started the monochrome trend.” Van Cleef made use of this metal in the newly invented “invisible” settings, for which stones are cut so that they slide into one another, making it appear as though they have no underpinning. “The invisible setting let jewelry take on the look of ribbons of light,” Luchsinger says. “Without the adaptability of platinum, it wouldn’t have been possible.”

Traditional skills were also used in the service of imagination: New cuts were introduced, among them baguettes, trapezoids, and trillions (triangles with slightly curved sides). Jewelers also began cutting hard stones, such as crystal, turquoise, malachite, lapis lazuli, coral, onyx, and jade, to accompany diamonds. The contrasting use of brilliant gemstones gave rise to its own style, known as fruit salad. Cartier’s version, called tutti-frutti, is still among the most sought-after.

A well written piece by Stephanie Cooperman written for  Forbes Magazine

Diamond Engagement Rings, A History

Because of their beauty, strength and durability, diamonds for centuries have symbolized the eternal love of two people that have pledged to join together in marriage.

The actual tradition of giving a diamond engagement ring as a promise of marriage is thought to have started in 1477, when Archduke Maximillian of Austria presented Mary of Burgundy with a diamond ring. This practice became a trend among royalty and the wealthy, and the rest of the world’s upper classes began to embrace it over the next few centuries.

But giving a diamond engagement ring as a symbol of betrothal really started to become an established, widespread tradition once the gems became more accessible and affordable to the public. And that all started in 1870 with the discovery of diamond mines in South Africa. These new sources flooded the market and led to the creation of the De Beers conglomerate to control the worldwide diamond supply. During these early decades of the De Beers dynasty, diamond sales flourished in Europe, the United States and other key world markets.

By the late 1930s, however, the United States and much of Europe was in the wake of the Depression, and Europe was bracing for the start of World War II – and demand for diamonds had plummeted to an all-time low. Thus, De Beers diamond mogul Sir Ernest Oppenheimer sent his son Harry to New York to meet with the N.W Ayer advertising agency. The plan was to transform America’s taste for small, low-quality stones into a true luxury market that would absorb the excess production of higher-quality gems no longer selling in Europe. The result of Ayer and young Oppenheimer’s efforts was a campaign – led by the enduring “A Diamond is Forever” slogan – that helped turn the United States into the premier market for the world’s supply of gem-quality diamonds. The successful campaign also cemented the diamond’s status as the engagement ring stone of choice in America.

Here are some other interest historical facts related to the engagement ring:

  • The tradition of placing both the engagement ring and wedding band on the fourth finger of the left hand stems from a Greek belief that a certain vein in that finger, the vena amoris, runs
  • directly to the heart.
  • In the Middle Ages, men often kept a betrothal ring suspended from the band of their hats, ready to give to their chosen maid.
  • Posy rings, which were inscribed with love poems and messages, were popular betrothal rings from the Middle Ages until Victorian times.
  • A popular engagement ring style during the Renaissance was called the “Gimmel”, or twin, ring.
  • The ring was typically made of two (or three) interlocking rings: one worn by the bride-to-be, and another by the groom-to-be (and sometimes a third worn by a witness). All three parts were reunited into one to become the wedding ring on the day of marriage. Martin Luther and Catherine Bora were wed with an inscribed gimmel ring in 1525.
  • The smallest engagement ring on record was given to two-year-old Prince Mary, daughter of Henry VIII, on the event of her betrothal to the infant Dauphin of France, son of King Francis I, in 1518. Mary’s tiny gold ring was set with a diamond.
  • A diamond cluster ring in the shape of a long pointed oval was popular as an engagement ring during the time of Louis XVI (1754-1793), and remained fashionable for 150 years afterward.
  • Hearts were popular motifs for engagement and wedding rings during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Such rings often combined rubies (signifying love) and diamonds (signifying eternity).
  • Despite the diamond’s growing hold on the bridal market, colored stone rings were still quite popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
  • Often, the first letter of the stones within the setting spelled out the name of the giver or a word (for example, “dearest” would be represented by diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, epidote, sapphire and turquoise).
  • Queen Victoria’s (1819-1901) engagement ring was in the form of a serpent. The snake motif was believed to be a symbol of good luck.
  • The Tiffany, or solitaire, setting was introduced in the late nineteenth century.
  • The “princess ring,” a type of English engagement ring sporting three to five large diamonds in a row across the top, was popular in the United States in the early twentieth century. The
  • three-stone style has enjoyed a major comeback recently.
  • In the early part of the twentieth century, platinum was the metal of choice for engagement rings because of its strength and durability in holding a diamond. However, platinum was declared a strategic metal during World War II, and its usage was restricted to military purposes. This led to the rise of both yellow and white gold in bridal jewelry.
  • The famous “A Diamond is Forever” campaign established many of today’s standards for diamond engagement rings, including the “two months’ salary” guideline – which basically says that a prospective groom should plan to spend two months’ salary on an engagement ring for his bride-to-be.

How do you know how old that is?

That has to be the number one question that buyers ask me.  The answer is research.  A lot of research. With most antique pieces, a specific date or year is usually not available unless the piece is signed or hallmarked or has documented provenance. However with a little knowledge, you can usually get pretty close to the age of a piece.

I try to read and study as many books and articles on antique jewelry, clothing and history that become available to me. Even studying old photographs helps in the research process. Actually seeing how pieces were worn and what they were used for is very useful information. So if you are looking  for information on Victorian jewelry, for example, look at old tintypes. The  U.S. Library of Congress  has a vast digital collection of old photographs on their website.  I could easily spend hours looking at them. Which leads to my next step. The internet.

When I first started collecting, there were no personal computers or internet. So now it is absolutely amazing to me what can be found on the internet, as far as research goes. So many fabulous sites devoted to antiques and antique jewelry. A wealth of information! Don’t forget about searching images as well as articles.

If you are interested in collecting certain types or eras of antique jewelry, there is probably no better way to learn about them than actually holding and inspecting many, many pieces of jewelry. Up close and personal.  After a while, you begin to see how pieces of certain eras were made. The materials used. The construction of a piece. Certain cuts of stones. Engraving techniques. It all helps to date a piece. This does take time and attention to details, but it will help you to discern between the true antique and the freshly made item.

Remember also that vintage style or antique style does not equal antique or vintage. So don’t let certain words lead you to believe that a piece of jewelry is old just because of a descriptive word. These days the words antique, vintage, Victorian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, estate piece, (just to name a few) are being tossed around quite liberally to describe a style. Usually not meant to be deceiving, but to a new collector or buyer, it can be quite confusing.  My favorite has to be “it was my grandma’s”. Not to say that someone’s  grandma did not have antiques, but to many people, the word “grandma” conjures up an image of an elderly woman in a rocking chair. I can tell you that my sister is a grandma and she does not fit that image at all! So just because it belonged to “grandma” does not make it old.

If you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask! I am pretty sure that most antique dealers to not bite! Most reputable dealers will happily answer your questions. And yes, even a reputable dealer can be fooled sometimes. It happens. We are human. You never stop learning in this business. It is just part of the process of becoming a reputable antiques dealer. So arm yourself with knowledge. Do some research and have some fun. You will meet some great people along the way and in no time, it may just be you answering the question of  “How do you know how old that is?”.

Text written by Wicked Darling running an antique jewelry business in  Georgia, United States

Click here to visit her beautiful collection of antique jewels