Evolution of the Jewelry Industry in America: Late 19th Century

Evolution of the Jewelry Industry in America: Late 19th Century

We will now conclude this series by looking at the 25 years leading up to the 20th century. In the colonial era,  we saw jewelry that was available only to the wealthy as much of it had to be imported for lack of skilled labor and need. For the federal period, the innovation in machines created a bigger market for jewelry to be affordable for more people but we see goldsmiths start to grow in confidence about becoming jewelers. Then in the Mid-19th century the jewelry manufacturing start to decline as the people tire of mass produced jewels and jewelers start to grow their business by establishing jewelry stores that we know today. In the next 25 years, 1875-1900, there are major shifts in the jewelry industry. This is of course driven by the trends of the people and what the current climate is like.

Before we get into all the details and history a set of jewelry I saw at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The set was made in France with amazing enamel details from 1900.

Front view:

Back of the jewelry also enamel:

What was happening in this period?

  • Queen Victoria ends mourning 1887
  • 100 years of America
  • United Press starts in 1880 to challenge monopolies
  • New wave of immigrants
  • Rise of millionaires ex. Carnegie, Rockefeller
  • Rise of the press

In keeping this post to a decent length, I will use a couple of examples to try and explain as much of this period affecting the jewelry industry in the late 19th century.

Let’s look at the beginning of this period at around 1876. The country is celebrating 100 years of independence.  At this stage in the country’s history we have 2 groups; the established Americans who have a long family history of living in America and those newly immigrated to America. Around the time of the civil war there was an influx of immigrants coming to America. I had family that came to this country from Germany in the 1860s through Ellis Island. As many celebrated their American roots there was a renewed interest in the jewelry of their patriotic ancestors.

Weddings are considered a good time to wear beautiful jewelry either as a bride or as a guest but before the 1880s wedding jewelry was not that common among the public. That changed when the Press started covering society weddings. The trend of jewelry at weddings started with Queen Victoria and then the wealthy started to have wedding jewelry be more common. One wedding listed in Martha Gandy Fales, Jewelry in America book, is the wedding of Lilia Osgood Vanderbilt in 1881. The gifts from family and friends included:

  • Pearl and diamond necklace
  • Set of diamonds
  • Diamond and ruby ring
  • Diamond necklace
  • Diamond clasps to secure lace veil for bride’s silver satin wedding dress

Could you imagine receiving any of these gifts? That was not all. The groom after spending a small fortune on the ring was expected to give each of the bridesmaids a gift and the traditional gift was jewelry. What did the bridesmaids for the Vanderbilt wedding receive? There were four bridesmaids all nieces of the bride, they received a diamond pansy pin from the groom. Small gifts were also given to the attendants and ushers from the bride and groom. The rest of America was being exposed to all this wealth creating a need to copy these trends.

How did these events affect jewelry trends?

  • Increase in wedding jewelry
  • Emulating trends of the rich
  • Increase in imitation jewels
  • Revival jewelry started to trend because regular people wanted jewels they did not inherit p315
  • Increase in popularity of silver jewelry
  • Immigrants bring in jewelry design skills
  • New styles of jewelry art nouveau and arts and crafts popular to combat the industrial trend of jewelry

Not everyone was a Vanderbilt so imitation diamonds were getting more popular and not everyone had family that came over to America in the late 1700s so copies of antique jewelry were also in demand. Cameos and diamond necklaces, all the trends from the past were being made and sold to those that had no family jewels. This was not limited to ordinary strands of diamonds, a major trend in the earlier times for the country was the Greek, Roman, and Etruscan jewelry. The revival jewelry we see in museums today.

I saw several of these pieces at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. A few of my photos below:

Earrings by Italian designer Castellini, made around 1870-1880, using ancient technique of granulation

Enamel ring from the 19th century created in 16th century style

Gold and Amber Archeological Revial necklace from Italy made around 1880

Elizabethan Revival necklace in silver, gold, pearl, diamonds, emeralds, agate and glass made in England around 1890, cameo depicts Queen Elizabeth I

You think jewelry manufacturing would start to see a revival? That was not the case. I have included the chart from the last post and added more years and removed the jewelry only listings to focus on the trends for the last half of the century.

We see a slight dip in the Boston Jewelry, Watch and Plate listings in 1876 around the time people are looking to grow their own collection without all the money the wealthier Americans have. This remains unchanged for about 10 years. Then something new happens, the trend is more handmade materials. The over saturation of mass produced jewelry has Americans looking for more novel artistic jewelry and this is the beginning of the Arts & Crafts movement. As we get closer to 1900 the trend for more jewelers and a decline in manufacturers becomes clear.

What gemstones & materials were popular in jewelry at the time?

There were lots of new designs and ideas taking off. Art Nouveau was becoming popular. The Arts&Crafts was unique because it used more affordable materials like silver and semi-precious gemstones. Below are some pieces from the late 19th century that are from the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Arizona turquoise, demantoid garnets, and gold pendant, by Marcus and Co made between 1891-1902, New York

 

Gold, peridot, diamonds, pearls, and enamel brooch, by Marcus and Co in 1900, New York

 

Gold, plique-à-jour enamel, diamonds, pearl, and ruby pin, made by Riker Bros in 1900, New Jersey

 

Gold, diamond, and enamel pin, made by Tiffany & Co. in 1890, New York

Silver vest chain made by Unger Bros. in 1900, New Jersey

What was the role of the jeweler and jewelry store at the time?

  • Rise of artistic jeweler
  • Price war and low margin for manufacturer
  • Recession, fire, theft major hindrances to industry
  • Establishment of Jewelry League of NYC 1877
  • Wholesales business increase created greater need for reps/salesman

We established in the last post that jewelry stores are starting to come into their own and expand into viable businesses. Jewelry is trending and there were years that were very good but the jewelry industry did suffer from some setbacks. Two notable ones occurred in 1877 and 1882.

In New York City in 1877, on a night in early March a fire broke out at the Waltham building in the center of the New York Jewelry trade buildings. Firemen immediately were at the scene but were unable to save the valuable goods due to how they were stored. The jewelry was stored offices and stores with iron clad safes, doors and windows to protect the building from theft. The fire got so fierce that the building collapsed. The work then began to salvage the wreckage. One company assessed their damage and found that of the $275,000 worth of valuables only about $10,000 could be saved.  Some lessons learned, better comparisons between brands of safes. Tests on how safes could handle damage were measured and shared for future purchases.

Other years that were notably bad for the jewelry industry were 1882, 1893, and 1897 due to combinations of recession, fire and theft. Some examples are a recession that happened in 1882. The Spring of 1882 saw a sharp decline in jewelry sales and many in the industry either lost their job or had to reduce the hours worked. Another problem at that time was a decrease in profit for the manufacturing industry. With the increase in competition the prices were lowered. To reduce costs for manufacturers better machinery and techniques were sought as well as using cheaper materials for the jewelry. Some of these attempts were successful but as you see in the present time cheaper materials is not always the best answer. The jewelry industry cannot wage price wars and still have the message of luxury product unique to the individual.

I covered a lot and still could go on for more posts but I hope you started to see the parallel themes from the past to the present. If you want to understand your industry and customers better, you must understand the environment around you and globally what is trending. Politics and those featured in society have a major effect on trends. America still gets inspiration from England and its royal family. Keeping up with what your neighbor has is still going to happen, just look at how people want the latest in technology. Don’t just follow what is happening in your industry, read business articles on retail trends and policies that can affect you customers. This is one of the best ways to keep up or be a head of your competition and if you are in the jewelry industry you need that advantage as I see this as one of the most saturated and fragmented industries to make it in.

If you enjoyed this series and are interested in looking at my take on the business of jewelry I encourage you to join my email list. I am looking to launch a newsletter soon with alerts and other insights from my blog. Please visit Data in the Rough soon for more articles and thank you for reading.

 

Evolution of the Jewelry Industry in America-Mid-19th Century

On to part 3 of this series, looking at the next 50 years of American history, we are now into the Jewelry Industry in the Mid-19th Century. There are a lot of changes going on and I’d like to highlight a few with two stories. Then look at some of the changes that occurred in the jewelry industry due to what was happening in the world.

Story #1: Farewell to two patriots

It is July 4, 1826 and the country is celebrating 50 years of freedom. John Adams, 90, a major player in the founding of the country and the second president to serve the country is on his deathbed. He served 1 term as president, he was into a more government approach to governing. Thomas Jefferson, a state’s rights advocated disagreed with President Adams policies and debated him fiercely on what he believed to be the better way to run the country. Jefferson was so passionate about the direction of the country that he ran for office in the next election, defeating Adams. Jefferson served 2 terms. This created a bitter rivalry that ended a few years after Jefferson left office. Adams took the initiative and reached out to renew their friendship.

As Adams time grew shorter he must have been thinking about his friendship with Jefferson and the role they played in the country because John Adams last words were, ‘Thomas Jefferson still survives’. Unfortunately, he was wrong 5 hours earlier at Monticello, Jefferson’s home in Virginia, Jefferson, 82, passed away. The end to an amazing chapter in American history.

Story #2: The Lady makes an entrance

Imagine an evening in July around 1841 at Boston, a ball is being held at Faneuil Hall. This is a very important ball as it is in honor of a prince. The trend for ladies was to adorn themselves with flowers as an accessory. One woman enters the ball dressed in a black velvet gown and adorned with only diamonds. This entrance made quite an impression on the press who reported about it many of the local reports. They recounted the event but added in her description that she was an unmarried woman.

What was happening in this period?

  • Deaths of Jefferson and Adams 7/4/1826
  • Increased productivity in manufacturing
  • 1828-tariff on imported manufactured goods encourages American jewelers to import unmounted stones and design/set themselves
  • Queen Victoria takes throne 1837
  • Discovery of gold and silver (1859 more silver discovered in Nevada)
  • Death of Prince Albert 1861
  • American Civil War
  • Discovery in 1869 of diamond mines in S. Africa increase diamond supply, better diamond cutting methods

I think the best way to look at this period is to break it down into 2-time periods. The first 1825-1850, the death of Adams and Jefferson mark a change in the country as the old fades away and the new takes over. New fashions, new manufacturing facilities, more technology a few of the many changes driving the US economy. Some things don’t change as America still follows the British trends. Queen Victoria has taken the throne as a young woman, starting the trend of wearing flowers more fashion forward. Flowers like the ones at the beginning of my post were commonly worn at weddings, just as Victoria had done when she wed Prince Albert of Germany.

Then there is the second half, 1850-1875, the debate on government versus states’ rights is becoming more of a hot topic as well as the idea of slavery. The end of this period is marked by war and death. The civil war lasting about 4 years took a major toll on the country and trade. Prince Albert’s death also put the Queen in mourning so the outfits and accessories were very somber for this time.

How did these events affect jewelry trends?

  • Neo-classic designs more Greek focused
  • Floral jewels-romanticism
  • Mourning jewelry
  • Patents for better closures/sliders for necklaces
  • Enameling becomes popular
  • Increased demand in diamonds
  • New finishes for metal

As mentioned above mourning jewelry is still popular but with all the death there is some signs of being a bit more novel than just wearing the typical crosses or miniatures like I showed in the Federal Era post. Below is a picture of a mourning necklace made of French jet in the shape of stars. This was made around 1865-1875. French jet is a glass made so fine that it looks like genuine jet. Photos taken by me at Historic New England Eustis Estate, unless noted differently.

What gemstones & materials were popular in jewelry at the time?

  • Diamonds
  • Colored Gems-opals, garnets, amethysts, turquoise
  • Hair
  • Pearls
  • Tortoiseshell jewelry
  • Cameos in glass and ceramics
  • Lava
  • Coral
  • Mosaic
  • Quartz
  • Scottish Pebble
  • Jet
  • Berlin Iron Jewelry
  • Ivory
  • Oriental
  • Swiss enameled jewelry
  • Irish Bogwood
  • Gold and silver discovery of gold in Black hills
  • Malachite and Lapis

This is a long list and what the real message here is that it was a much more prosperous time. Not all these styles and materials were found/ made in the US. At this time, more traveling was going on. Below are some mosaic buttons bought between 1855-1865 in Rome.

A closer look at these luxuries! Could you imagine your coat having that much detail?

Another item bought in Rome between 1840-1860.

This shell cameo was carved by the artist Constantin R. Franz, depicting the goddess Venus. At the exhibit where I took these photos mentioned in the details was the idea of how this piece could be used. Wearing the goddess of beauty was to send a subtle message to those around of the wearer’s powers of attraction.

More examples of jewelry at the time:

Carved Ivory bracelet made between 1840-1860 carved in Germany

Side view of bracelet

Bog Oak brooch, 1850-1880, Ireland

What was the role of the jeweler and jewelry store at the time?

  • Portrait jewelry better with invention of camera
  • Jewelry stores become more established, Tiffany, Black Starr & Frost
  • Patents for better methods of delivering jewelry to masses: pearls, electroplating, manmade materials, closures
  • Increase in diamond demand
  • South & West jewelry industry starts to grow

Business is now picking up, even with the troubles that the Civil War would bring at the end of this period, jewelry was clearly an item on people’s list. To try and stand out from others in the industry, jewelry stores are now trying to build their brand. For Boston, a good example is the jewelry store Jones, Ball & Poor built in 1849. This was no ordinary store the architect was very talented and his design was to rival all existing jewelry stores at the time. The store had a wholesale and retail department. You entered from a different door depending on your interest, the ladies could enter from one door and not be disturbed by the wholesale business men.

Let’s imagine entering this store on the retail side.  There were offices for bookkeepers and partners in a separate area and a workshop for engraving, repairing and setting stones downstairs. The store also had a bathing room to help in the health and appearance of the clerks. A safe is in the store and one is located downstairs. The downstairs safe was for clients who were going out of town and wanted a place to store their jewels and other valuables like silverware. As you walk in the store you see the ceilings and walls are painted with the interior in an Elizabethan style. You pass by cases and counters decorated in gold and white filled with jewelry that looked like it was a tale from Arabian Nights. You go up to the second floor to see a huge clock in the corner that has a golden American eagle winds out, in a pose that looks like it is guarding the clock. The store was also known for its watches and clocks. Can you imagine the treasures you’d find? Below are a few that I saw from that era and some from Skinner Auction House.

I wouldn’t forget the jewelry a brooch I saw in the Historic New England exhibit. A brooch from 1870.

 

The store has been renamed and has moved around Boston a few times. The current name is Shreve, Crump and Low.

So even though business is growing there are also divisions in the jewelry industry, specifically between jewelers and manufacturing jewelers.

I created a line graph from the Boston Almanac listings of the Jewelry and Jewelry Manufacturers. If you’d like to see the listings the link to the eBooks is here. Some were poorly copied so those were not counted. Also to note, some businesses have a listing in several spots. For example, there were some that were listed as both a Jewelry Manufacturer and in the Jewelry, Watches and Plate business. I included the double counting for this chart to illustrate my point. Some directories had a Watches category but I did not include them as I want to focus on jewelry.

Notice from 1842 until 1860 there are 3 categories Jewelry, Jewelry Manufacturing and Jewelry, Watches and Plate. Then we see that from 1865 on the category has dissolved into Jewelry, Watches and Plate.  I suspect that many of these businesses were wanting to branch out and expand their offerings.  At the start of 1842 the categories are all around the same amount but Jewelry, Watches, and Plate businesses really start to grow in numbers around 1867 and double in size to almost 120 listings in 1872. The growth in the Jewelry Manufacturing is nothing compared to this. So why the sudden change from lots of manufacturing to this new wave of jewelry businesses? Like many industries in America at the time there was one that focused on the craft not the machine. For the next installment and final post of this series we will look at the Arts & Crafts movement.

Evolution of the Jewelry Industry in America: Federal Era

Welcome back for part 2 on my series about the jewelry industry in America. We will look at the 4 periods leading up to the 20th century to give us a better idea of what to look for in trends that are happening now that will affect the jewelry industry. If you missed the first part here is a link to see how I plan on laying out the post and what other eras we will look at.

America: home of the free

The colonists are tired of taxes and English rule. Fighting for and winning independence started a trend of patriotism with Americans living in the Federal Era of 1775-1825. Taxes on imports lowered and a new wave of ideas swept over the citizens. Influenced by great thinkers like Thomas Jefferson, there was a trend for Neo-classical taste. Everything from art to fashion reflected these tastes. A classic example of the trend in jewelry was a coral tiara worn by Mrs. John Quincy Adams. This painting is dated around 1816. Mrs. Adams wore this while living in London with her husband who was serving as United States Envoy Extraordinary (Minister to the Court of St. James). Photo courtesy of Dept. of State, Washington, DC.

Federal-Era-Jewelry-Industry-Mrs-John-Quincy-Adams

Wearing the coral tiara above, below is a close-up of her coral tiara and an alternate jet tiara. Photo courteous of the Smithsonian Institute.

Federal-Era-Jewelry-Industry-Mrs-John-Quincy-Adams-Coral-Jet-tiara-comb

What was happening in this period?

  • America free from British rule
  • Wars (ex: War of 1812)
  • Reduced taxes on foreign goods
  • No organized currency
  • Innovation in manufacturing

How did these events affect jewelry trends?

  • Manufacturing in America leads to more local choices vs acquiring abroad
  • Lots of color in gems, diamonds still not super popular; topaz, amethyst and aquamarine top choices
  • Neo-classic tastes preferred, Rome trending in England and carried over to US
  • Jewelry created for state occasions, and diplomatic gifts
  • Watches easier to acquire

With a new government came new jewelry. Medals were created with a patriotic theme to be given as gifts to allies or for those in societies that had served the country. This feeling of newness inspired jewelry and clothes to model the Greek and roman era.  Innovations in manufacturing the jewelry industry reaped the benefits of mass production. Cameos were one of several items that with mass production created a way for more people to afford the luxuries that were only afforded to the wealthy and titled.

There was a trend still for mourning jewelry. Below is a brooch I saw at the Historic New England Eustis Estate in Milton, Massachusetts.

Federal-Era-Jewelry-Industry-Mourning-brooch-1793

This brooch was made in 1793. The person being remembered is Mehitable Livermore who passed away at age 29.  Her initials are given (M.L. on the urn) with the inscription on the stone, Not lost but gone before. A beautiful sentiment for a life not fully lived and a way to help those left behind find some comfort in their loss.

Not sure of what she died from but I did a little research and found she was married with five children at the time of her death at age 28. She lived in New Hampshire her whole life. The brooch is made of enamel, gold, ivory and hair. Hair jewelry was still popular as well.

What gemstones & materials were popular in jewelry at the time?

  • Pearls
  • Topaz, amethyst, aquamarine
  • Diamonds and paste
  • Amber, coral, carnelian (used in roman jewels)
  • Jet and shell
  • New materials (Wedgewood-imitation cameos, steel, iron, brass)
  • Gold and silver

You saw the coral and jet tiara of Mrs. Adams above but another warm colored stone was carnelian. I saw this picture at the Eustis Estate.

Federal-Era-Jewelry-Industry-Mrs-Harrison-Otis-portrait-1804

This is Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis, painted in 1804 by Edward Greene Malbone in Boston. This Massachusetts native was said to be quite beautiful and a wonderful host.  The necklace of pearls and a carnelian cross is the perfect example of the on-trend jewelry at the time. The exhibit had the cross strung with carnelian beads due to the previous owner’s preference but this cross seen below is the one in the portrait.

Federal-Era-Jewelry-Industry-Mrs-Harrison-Otis-carnelian-cross-1804

What was the role of the jeweler and jewelry store at the time?

  • Specialization occurs especially with manufacturing
  • Failure more common in jewelry industry
  • Few people buying due to wars and limited resources
  • Less taxes on foreign, non-British goods means more variety beginning of the modern jewelry store
  • More jewelers as Goldsmiths get more experience and start advertising as jewelers
  • With increase in specialization, jewelers can provide to other stores and clients outside their local community

For the jewelry industry, there is this energy of new ideas, new opportunities and an easier path to enter the jewelry business. The business outlook was good with more goldsmiths calling themselves jewelers and specializing in their trade making jewelry of their own. There was still demand for jewelry from England but now other countries could be imported and stores were soon filled with a variety of jewels. Then in the beginning of the 19th century the cracks in the government’s system widened creating problems for the jewelry industry.

Had the country been a bit more stable the opportunity to start a business may have had higher barriers, that could have saved many new to the jewelry industry the pain of failure. Several things were working against the jewelry industry in America at the time. Looking back at the what was happening at the time, no organized currency was detrimental to any business, not just jewelry. The Second United States Bank was not an institution until 1817 and still needed work that had them reorganize the system in 1819. Loans were liberally offered but many trying to make it in the jewelry industry failed near 1812 when the war broke out and supplies and customers were hard to come by.

What saved those few businesses that survived? Being very organized with their money and merchandise. Even though the taxes were changed by the new government there were still taxes on foreign goods. The government was trying to encourage more jewelers to produce their own goods, for jewelers relying on imports for their sales this created too much cost and crippled their profits, that was if the store could receive these goods with the blockades that occurred with the war. The bright side was the failed business gave way to the more established ones and the industry was on its way to creating some of the most iconic stores we know today. Next in the series is the Mid-19th century; what it was like, how it affected the trends and where it was taking the jewelry industry. Looking forward to you returning soon for more Data in the Rough!

Evolution of the Jewelry Industry in America: Colonial Era

A lot of talk has been made about the future of retail. I cannot walk down a street or look out a window on my commute without being reminded of the shift in consumer spending. Store closing and out of business signs seem to be popping up in Boston and online. Type in ‘store closing’ and see what that search brings you the words: panic, scramble and apocalypse were in the three stories at the top of my list. Much of the retail ‘apocalypse’ talk has been pointing to the apparel part of the industry. The question I ask seeing these stories is what does this mean for the jewelry industry?

To be able to better understand the future it helps to understand the past. A very overused saying but still insightful. For the rest of the month I want to focus on the jewelry industry in America. This will be a return to my book bling series by focusing on one book: Jewelry in America (1600-1900) by Martha Gandy Fales. It is divided into 4-time periods:

[1] Colonial (1600-1775)
[2] Federal (1775-1825)
[3] Mid-19th Century (1825-1875)
[4] Late 19th Century (1875-1900)

This book is more than just pictures of antique jewelry Ms. Fales looks at trends of the country and how the jewelers and jewelry stores evolved. That is how we will learn and be better prepared for the future by recognizing how trends in the country affect trends in the jewelry and the industry.

Confucius states it best, ‘Study the past if you would define the future’. Why use a quote by a Chinese scholar that lived long before the time America was founded? Because the beginning of this story starts in another country, long before America became a country of their own…

In the beginning
History tells of the Pilgrims that came over from England to worship without persecution, but traveling to a new world was typically for trade or war over resources. In 1608 John Smith was with a crew to look for new resources. Settling in what is now Virginia, Captain Smith thought practically about creating an environment for survival not treasure hunting. Reading Fales stories about Smith reminded me of the 1995 Disney movie Pocahontas. So much of that movie was inaccurate but some of the plot was following history, the villain and leader of the crew, Governor Ratcliffe, is in a mad fever to find lots of gold, but the men have no real experience with it, they are hunters and builders not goldsmiths. But that doesn’t stop Governor Ratcliffe from having the crew devote their time to digging.

Disney Pocahontas scene: Governor Ratcliffe has crew dig for gold

Well in real life goldsmiths were sent over with Smith’s crew due to the false hope of their being large amounts of gold found. In fact, the crew included two goldsmiths, two refiners and a jeweler, none of which could practice their craft in the new world. What happened when there are no materials and few customers? The jeweler returned home to England.

Realistically, the crew needed to hunt and settle the land (build shelter, etc) to survive. Like Smith was doing in the movie as he surveyed the land.

Disney Pocahontas scene: John Smith explores new world

Had to sneak of photo Disney’s John Smith in!

Once more colonists settle trade picked up but the role of the jeweler was much different than it is today.

What was happening in this period?
• People were settling in America
• English influence
• Low morality rate

I mention the top two points in my story above but to touch on the last point, with this new land came disease and poor conditions of living that lead to deaths at an early age than we have now. Death was a major part of colonial life a fact that the people embraced and accepted as best they could.

How did these events affect jewelry trends?
As people came to America and started a new life they bought some jewelry with them but the trend in this era was simple jewelry. Colonists did not have a major need for extravagant jewels when they are doing daily chores. Also, many of these colonists had religious influence that did not put a lot of value on jewelry.

With the English being the ones who lead the start of the colonies in America, England held a major influence over the jewelry brought into the country. Colonists had their jewels brought from England and imported jewelry for buying. Jewelry was also still primarily for nobility and the rich. In addition, the trend until the late 17th century was that men wore far more jewels than women. Signet rings, buckles, buttons, etc. all sparkled on men with a high status.

With a low morality rate, memorial jewelry was a major trend. Lockets, rings, cameos, anything to mark the remembrance for those that had passed.

What gemstones were popular at the time?

Cannot fit all the jewelry I’d like to in this post but a great example of garnet jewelry from the time with a famous owner. This necklace was owned by Martha Washington, America’s First, First Lady. Order from London (no surprise there) by her husband George in 1759. Photo courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies Association, Virginia.

What was the role of the jeweler and jewelry store at the time?
Neither really existed at the time. There were not dedicated jewelers or jewelry stores. Silversmiths/goldsmiths doubled as jewelers and sold some wares in their shops. Not much was made with limited materials, skills and customers. Those that could afford the good jewelry bought from England, the most trusted source of jewelry at the time. England also had higher taxes on imports from other countries so English jewelry was what was most commonly sold.

I personally loved reading about a famous American patriot, silversmith and budding jeweler. Paul Revere was a Bostonian that has several silver pieces in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston as well as a ring I got to see on a trip there last winter.

There were a lot of years in this period but not too much happening in the world of jewelry in America. Next, I will look at the Federal Era and America’s freedom from England and how that made great changes for the jeweler and the stores! Sign up for emails and return for more Data in the Rough!

Revival Jewelry: Highlights from the Boston Exhibit

Spring will be here next month but while the weather is still deciding to go back to winter or move forward to warmer weather you can take in a new jewelry exhibit that has come to Boston. This new exhibit is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I signed up for a lecture last week to coincide with the new exhibit. The new exhibit is on revival jewelry. I was telling my dad about the lecture and the new exhibit when he asked ‘what is revival jewelry?’ My short answer was that is jewelry that is copied or inspired by jewelry from the past. Revival jewelry has a lot more history to it. I want to show highlights of the exhibit and hopefully give more detailed examples of what is revival jewelry is.

What is Revival Jewelry?

With images of the past readily available to artists, they can draw inspiration from the history, art and ideas to guide their current designs. Sometimes it is subtle and in other cases it is a copy of the technique.  This trend started in the early 1900s.

Revival Jewelry to connect with the past

Lots of exciting discoveries and inventions were made in this time but one discovery excited the early 19th century and that was the discovery of the Egyptian rulers’ tombs. Scarabs, hieroglyphics, golden gods were a few of the things that fascinated the British explorers and the public as they learned more about this exciting chapter in history.

The top item in the picture below, is a scarab from Egypt created around 740-660 BC. Beneath that is a brooch made of Gold, platinum, faience, diamond, emerald, smoky quartz and enamel by Cartier in 1924. Detailed view to the right.

To connect with a feeling

Nationalism

Revival jewelry was being made for the patriotic wave that swept over Europe in the 19th century cameos of Queen Elizabeth I were reemerging as a tribute to the current strong female monarch ruling Britain, Queen Victoria. The one featured as an example in the museum is below.  This cameo necklace was made around 1890 and made with gold, silver, diamonds, pearls, emeralds, agate, and glass.

Vacations

Different parts of the world are known for different styles and techniques in jewelry. Coral was a souvenir from Naples, micro mosaics were associated with Rome. Recall any trips where you have bought jewelry because it was inspired by images or techniques of the past?

Revival Jewelry to master old world techniques

Sometimes the best way to learn is recreating the art itself. Some of the techniques featured at the exhibit were:

Enameling

This pendant was a favorite of mine from this group. It is titled Girl Blowing Bubbles, circa 1910 made by a designer from Spain of gold, platinum, pearl, ivory, sapphire, diamond and plique-a-jour enamel.

Granulation

This is technique uses small balls of gold to add texture to the designs.

These gold earrings were made around 1870-1880 by Italian Designer Castellani. Look at the bottom part and see all those dots, each separate when added.

A more current artist, Italian born Andrea Cagnetti created this Chort pendant in 2002. This is 22 karat gold!

Revival Jewelry to recreate familiar creatures

Stories and lore of the past have captivated many throughout history but there are creatures that keep drawing mystery and inspiration to artists trying to say what it is that fascinates them with a certain subject like…

Snakes

As early as the beginning of creation these creatures continue to mesmerize people all over the world.

An amulet with a vulture-headed snake made in Egypt around 664-525 BC.

Snake belt by Elsa Peretti, 1970s made of silver and sapphires.

One of my favorite ways the snake is interpreted is by Bulgari. This diamond, gold, platinum, ruby, enamel watch created in the 1960s was one of the highlights for me of the exhibit!

Medusa

This was another theme that had my personal favorite piece. The Head of Medusa pendant created by Cartier in 1906! The materials are platinum, gold, diamonds, natural pearl coral and enamel.

There were many other pieces, cameos, crosses, coins, but these were some highlights to give you a better understanding of the different types of revival jewelry. What is your favorite era? A piece above that you really liked? If you are in the Boston area between now and August 2018 you should make plans to see Past is Present: Revival Jewelry!

Marie Antoinette: How a Diamond Necklace Ruined a Queen

book-cover

Marie Antoinette has been described as a beautiful, witty, wasteful, out of touch, the list can go but in How to Ruin a Queen by Jonathan Beckman, he describes a view of the Queen I never saw her as, clueless. Beckman details and pieces together the history of Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair as though you are part of the jury. He presents the different angles of the story that seem like unrelated events but combined created an unbelievable domino effect that lead to the end of the French monarchy.  There were three key parts that created this incredible story. The first transports you to 18th century France where you learn about a little girl named Jeanne whose father was the illegitimate son of priapic Henri II. Henri II was a king who ruled France from 1547 to 1559.  The family lost their right to reign in 1562 and the France was filled with uncertain times as the War of Religions took over the country.

Thankfully the family did not try and put Jeanne’s father in power, he was lazy and squandered his money. He married a beautiful maid that worked at his family’s home when she became pregnant. This woman was Jeanne’s mother and wanted to live an entitled life. This was not to be the family was broke and Jeanne and her siblings spent their early life begging and being beat by their mother. Jeanne’s father died and not long after Jeanne’s mother left her children, Jeanne age 6, to fend on their own.

Jeanne found a couple with children who took Jeanne and her younger sister in. The family tried to teach Jeanne a trade so she could make a modest living but that did not satisfy the wants of a girl who remembered her father’s tales of being a descendant of a King of France. Jeanne thought marriage would be a good escape except she got pregnant by a man with no fortune and little promise of moving up in his situation. The children died at birth and Jeanne was left with a husband she did not care for or would provide her the lifestyle she wanted. Both her and her spouse spent money quicker than they could make it and were always in debt to someone.

It did not seem that their future held any promise of living with little care of money.

The second part was Cardinal Rohan; he had come from a long line of family members whom had held high offices in the Royal Court. The role of Bishop for the French Court was the job Rohan was striving for. His downfall was he loved the excitement of court and got caught up in the gossip. He was working in the Austrian court when he overstepped his bounds and spoke rudely of Empress Maria Theresa. Her daughter, Marie Antoinette never forgot the slight and embarrassment to her mother. She held a grudge against Rohan from then on. That episode occurred around 1772.

The third part, the makers of the necklace. Louis the XV, Louis the XIV’s (the Sun King) son, wanted to have a special gift made for his long-time mistress Madame du Barry. Louis XV wanted Boehmer and Bassenge, a Parisian jewelry company to create a necklace so grand the likes had never been seen before. They took to the task of collecting the diamonds for a necklace named ‘The Necklace of Slavery’.

Sketch of Diamond Necklace
Sketch of Diamond Necklace

 

It had 647 stones and weighed 2800 carats. The streamers to the side went down the wears back to balance them out, so they would not fall forward! The cost today for this necklace would be around $14 million dollars. Unfortunately, Louis XV died two years later and Madame du Barry was banished from court. Louis XVI offered to buy the necklace for his wife and Queen Marie Antoinette but she refused it. From other sources the reasons were the money should go to other parts of the government/country. Another was she did not want jewelry made for another woman and a woman the current Queen did not like. So the jewelers were stuck with a necklace and no buyers.

Replica of Diamond Necklace
Replica of Diamond Necklace

This is where the stories intertwine, Jeanne wants money and feels entitled to have her share of prestige that was denied her due to her past. She lies about knowing the Queen. Rohan is desperate to get back into the Queen’s favor for his promotion that the possibility that this woman could help was an opportunity that he could not walk away from. The jewelers heard of Jeanne’s connection and got an opportunity to see if she could convince the Queen to rethink buying the necklace.

Jeanne gets her hands on the necklace and she and her husband try to pawn off a few stones at a time. They are not too successful and time is running out to keep fooling the jewelers that the Queen owns the necklace and will pay for it soon. When the news reaches the Queen about the necklace and its payment the King has Jeanne and Rohan arrested and a trial take place about all the secrets. One interesting idea that was mentioned was that the Queen would never have wanted that necklace, not because of the previously mentioned reasons but because it wasn’t her style. She was mentioned to like leaving her graceful neck free of adornment.

I looked up some photos to see about her taste in jewelry.

marie-antoinette-portraits

Other evidence is put out there but that was something I had not thought could be a major insight into Marie’s style.  What do you think a good point or not?

I won’t go on with how it ends for the major players but obviously, it tarnished Antoinette’s already fragile reputation. The trail started in August of 1785 and judgement was passed in May of 1786. For those that know important dates in 1791 the French Revolution, ended the monarchies major influence and in 1792 the family was arrested with Marie Antoinette being beheaded on October 16, 1793.

Today though is Marie Antoinette’s birthday, born November 2, 1755. The book had a statement that seemed fitting when looking at the lives of those involved in this scandal, either knowingly or unknowingly. You are never more unwittingly in peril than when you think you’re the author of your own fate, but are in fact a character in someone else’s plot. Something to think about in our own lives.

ma_2_photo
painting of Marie Antoinette

I’d love to know your thought on this piece of history! Have you read the book or seen any of the movies that mentioned the necklace? Hilary Swank starred in a movie based on the scandal, The Affair of the Necklace (2001), did you see it? I hope you enjoyed this post return soon for more Data in the Rough!

Opals: A Time When They Were Cursed

It’s October! A time for Fall Festivals, Daylight Savings Time, and October Birthdays! Oh and of course Halloween! Being in the New England area you cannot escape this holiday, not that I want to. Part of the fun of Halloween is the spooky stories. So I thought for this post I would look at the time opals were considered bad luck.  Opals are referenced in many cultures, aborigines believed opals were the ‘creator’s footprint that touched the earth at the base of a rainbow to bring harmony.’ Which is similar to an Arabic legend stating opals fall ‘from the heavens in flashes of lightning.’ Whatever way you describe them the flashes of color are undeniably breathtaking. It’s hard to think anyone could see these stones as bad luck.

dragon-opal

The bad luck started in 1829 after a popular novel written by Walter Scott, Anne of Geuerstein, made this reference to opals. The plot entailed, ‘Lady Hermione, who is falsely accused of being a demoness, and dies shortly after a drop of holy water accidentally falls on her opal and destroys its color.’ I see this as fiction and not to be interpreted literally but the public at the time viewed this story differently. The way the public interpreted the text, ‘to mean that this genius author was warning of the bad luck an opal can bring, so they stopped buying the beautiful gemstone.’ You read that correctly, the public stopped buying opals and the opal market plummeted 50% within a few months of the novel’s publication. The market stayed down almost 50 years.

What brought opals back in fashion? A celebrity endorsement, by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Prince Albert was fond of opals and had jewelry for his Queen made with several.

the_secret_of_englands_greatness
Painting of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the Queen is wearing an opal tiara in this picture

One notable one was the Oriental Circlet a tiara made in 1853 by Garrard and designed by Albert. The Queen’s daughter-in-law had many of the opal jewelry switched out with rubies but I have photo shopped some opals in to recreate this tiara to its former beauty.

albert-opal-tiara

The tiara as it is now with rubies. From my research it seems Alexandra was a bit of a believer in the opal superstitions, or didn’t want to take any chances.

albert-ruby-tiara

Which do you like better the rubies or the opals?

Prince Albert’s love of opals was not enough to shake the curse, Queen Victoria who openly thought this superstition nonsense bought opal jewelry for her daughters as wedding gifts. This was a major sign of approval. Buying a wedding gift must be thoughtfully picked and there are plenty of superstitions associated with being married. This gesture made it clear if it was good enough for the Queen and her family then there was reason anyone else could give to counter that. This seemed to put opals back in fashion and have remained sought after gems ever since. Below is a pair of gemstone earrings owned by Queen Victoria that have some white opals included.

victoria_opal_earrings

Do you have any jewelry that you felt held a strange power or had occurrences that you couldn’t explain? Had you heard the superstition that opals were bad luck? Do you own any opals? I have seen plenty at the auctions and they aren’t cursed enough for them not to get a decent bid! Below are a few I’ve enjoyed viewing. Hope you enjoyed the article and come back for more treats from Data in the Rough!

opals-at-auction