Period Pieces Art Nouveau Jewelry

Period Pieces

White Opal Necklace
September 22, 2017 - 11:01 pm
Estate Jewelry : Gold

White Opal Necklace

Opal is a birthstone for October.  (Time to get a birthday present, maybe?)

Technically, opal is not a mineral, but is referred to as a mineraloid because it does not have an ordered internal structure. Instead atoms in a regularly repeating lattice, opal is made up of spheres of silicon dioxide.  This does not mean it isn't valued and beautiful in jewelry!

The play of color in precious opal comes from the refraction of light from the spheres.  Precious opal has play of color and these stones can be classified by the color of the background:  black, white, and crystal (clear) are the most common terms.  Fire opals rarely have play of color but are a stunning orange color.  Other desirable opals that lack play of color can be green, rose, or yellow.

Guilloché Enamel & Pearl Stickpin
September 20, 2017 - 10:20 pm
Estate Jewelry : Gold

Guilloché Enamel & Pearl Stickpin

Enameling in jewelry is basically the application of glass power which is then fused by heat to make a smooth, shiny, colored field or line on the piece.  There are many different styles of enamel work.  Three of the more common ones seen in antique European jewelry are:

Guilloche: (gee-oh-shay)  Transparent or translucent enamel is placed over metal that has often been enhanced with a pattern. The technique is commonly named "engine turned" for the mechanical cutting of lines on metal to create a design. Light reflects through the transparent enamel, highlighting the engraved pattern.

Champleve:  Channels are carved out of metal to make a well which is then filled with enamel. The partitions are part of the base and not applied on the surface.   French for “raised field” or “raised plain.”.

Plique a jour:  Aftern enameling, the metal backing is removed, leaving a delicate, translucent design that resembles stained glass.


Victorian Emerald Ring
September 16, 2017 - 7:24 pm
Estate Jewelry : Gold : Victorian

Victorian Emerald Ring

Different Ways To Set Gemstones

Gemstones are set into pieces of jewelry in many different ways, depending on the wear expected for the piece and the size and characteristics of the stone.  A few of the more common kinds of settings are:

Prong               This is the setting most commonly seen in engagement rings today.  A diamond is held in place by four (or more) metal prongs that grasp the stone and hold it in place.  There are many variations, most notably the Tiffany setting.

Bezel               The stone is wrapped with a thin strip of metal so that its edge is completely covered.

Gypsy              The stone is set completely within the metal of the jewelry, so that only the top is exposed.

Channel           Used for smaller stones, which are set girdle to girdle in a channel and held in place by metal covering a small part of the top.

Pavé                Small stones completely cover the piece of jewelry.  Each stone is held in place by small prongs, or beads of metal gathered from the surface.

This Victorian ring is gypsy-set with pearls and emeralds.

Edwardian White Gold and Amethyst Brooch
September 1, 2017 - 10:42 pm
Estate Jewelry : Gold : Edwardian

Edwardian White Gold and Amethyst Brooch

By the time Edward became king of England in 1902, he and his wife Alexandria had been established as leaders and influencers in fashion.  Edwardian fashion diverged from the Victorian styles that had dominated England for decades, in part because of technological advances in lighting and  metallurgy.  Yellow gold gave way to white metals as platinum became popular, and use of this metal inspired fine detail in the metal work.

The introduction of electric light vitalized the diamond market.  Diamonds shone brilliantly when viewed in the new, whiter light as opposed to the older, yellowish gas lighting.  This lighting also showcased the new, more delicate fashions with softer fabrics and paler colors.  These fashions were meant for diamonds and paler gemstones, such as diamonds, amethyst, and peridot.

Popular jewelry motifs and styles included Alexandria’s favorite stars, crescents, and dog collars as well as open, graceful bows, many pearls, garlands, and bar pins.


Signed Art Nouveau Buckle
August 31, 2017 - 4:32 pm
Estate Jewelry : Silver : Art Nouveau

Signed Art Nouveau BuckleUnger Bros was a well-known and successful Newark firm that made silver jewelry and accessories up until 1910.  One of their specialties was die-stamped work that imitated repousse.  (The piece shown here is solid silver, however.)

The company was founded in 1872 and went through a number of changes in management and name before switching to the manufacture of airplane parts in 1914, and being sold in 1919 [American Jewelry Manufacturers, Dorothy T. Rainwater, Schiffer, 1988].

Unger Bros made a wide variety a wide variety of Art Nouveau pieces, jewelry, buckles, pocket knives, belts, cuff links, match safes, dresser vases....the list goes on and on.  This belt buckle is a splendid example of their work.



Unger Bros Scarab Cufflinks
February 16, 2017 - 2:16 am
Estate Jewelry : Silver : Art Nouveau

Signed Antique Scarab Cufflinks

One of the most successful American makers of Art Nouveau jewelry (and other items) was Unger Brothers of Newark New Jersey.  There were five Unger brothers; the company underwent a number of name and leadership changes after its inception in 1872.  Originally makers of gold jewelry, they switched to silver to take advantage of the popularity of Art Nouveau design.  Philip Dickinson married into the family in 1880 and was responsible for many of the firm’s fine designs.  The company ceased jewelry manufacture in 1914 and switched to airplane parts.

One of the goals of many American makers of Art Nouveau jewelry was to make it affordable.  To this end, Unger Bros (and other companies) made die-stamped designs that mimicked repoussé work.  These pieces have diagnostic flat backings and are light in weight.  And very, very beautiful.

Much Unger work is still available.  They were known for pins, necklaces, belts, etc.  featuring designs of ladies and flowers—typical Art Nouveau—as well as charming and unusual items like these beetle cufflinks, as well as bulldogs, Indian heads, opossums, and bats.

Amethyst and Pearl Art Nouveau Lavalier
February 3, 2017 - 11:38 pm
Estate Jewelry : Gold : Art Nouveau

Amethyst and Pearl Art Nouveau Lavalier

This is not an amethyst!  This pretty lavalier is set with a garnet/glass doublet.

And what, you ask, is that?  Well.  A garnet/glass doublet is an assembled stone consisting of a thin crown of garnet, usually almandine, fused or glued to a colored glass

They were developed to imitate amethyst, peridot, tourmaline, and other transparent gems popular in the last half of the 19th century.  Amethyst in particular was scarce and expensive.  Russia was the major source of amethyst until it was discovered in Brazil in the nineteenth century, causing the price to drop.  Queen Charlotte owned an amethyst bracelet which was valued at £2000 at the beginning of the 18th century and only £100 two hundred years later.

Why use garnet?  Garnet is the only stone which will easily fuse to glass.  Garnet has a hardness approximately equal to that of amethyst, and greater than that of glass, so the garnet cap keeps the top of the 'stone' from scratches.  And, even though the garnet is red, the cap is so thin that doublets can be made in any color, even colorless.  Looking at the stone from the top, the color is determined by the color of the glass.

Art Nouveau Lavalier
February 1, 2017 - 11:58 pm
Estate Jewelry : Other Metals

Art Nouveau Lavalier

Synthetics and Imitations

When is a gem not a gem?  When it's a synthetic or an imitation.  Are those the same?  Nope.  Synthetic gemstones are man-made, but have the same chemical composition and structure as the natural gem.  Imitations are just that...some other substance that looks like (to some extent at least!) and pretends to be the nature-created gemstone.  

Historically, gemstones have been an easily portable form of wealth.  We've all heard stories about refugees fleeing with diamonds sewn into hems.  Since gems are easily portable and of high value, it inevitably follows that some people will try to pass of imitations or synthetics as the real thing.

But, this is a big but, synthetics and imitations are not intrinsically bad.  It's only when they're made/sold with intent to deceive that the whole business of right and wrong comes into the equation.  Sometimes a substitute 'gem' is the result of ignorance and sometimes it's a good idea.  Way back when, all green gems were known as emeralds, even though there are many other green gems.  And one of the rubies in the British Crown jewel collection, the Black Prince's Ruby, has long been known to be a spinel.  And think of the many elegant ladies who have had their jewelry copied with not-real stones to deter thievery!

One of the very popular imitations, rampant in Victorian times, was the garnet-glass doublet.   Some families spent their evenings working together to pour glass into  gemstone-shaped molds that had a very thin slice of garnet in the bottom.  When cooled and taken from the mold, voila, a gemstone!  The bulk was inexpensive glass, and the flat top, known as the table, hard, scratch-resistant garnet.  The garnet slice in these doublets is so thin that the color of the gem depends on the color of the glass.  Amethyst and peridot were the most popular and many lovely pieces of jewelry held these doublets rather than the real thing.

And sometimes just plain glass was used as an imitation, as is the case in this pretty Art Nouveau lavalier! 

Elegant Amethyst & Pearl Lavalier
January 28, 2017 - 12:35 am
Estate Jewelry : Gold : Art Nouveau

Elegant Amethyst & Pearl Lavalier

Amethyst occurs in  colours ranging from the palest lavender to the deepest red-purple.  Its beauty makes it suitable for any form of jewelry.  A variety of quartz, it has a hardness of 7, which also makes it ideal for rings and bracelets.

This lovely gem has been used by man for adornment since ancient times.  Because of the way it forms, large stones are readily available, making it a favorite of jewelry makers and carvers through the ages.

In Victorian England amethyst was rare and expensive.  Garnet and glass doublets were frequently made to imitate amethysts.  Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) had an extremely expensive amethyst necklace, which lost considerable value after the discovery of Russian amethyst (1799) depressed the market.

Brazilian amethyst commonly is found as perfect crystals lining gas cavities in lava flows These geodes may reach sizes of 4-5 feet in diameter.  Such geodes are commonly found for sale at rock and gem shows along with smaller geodes, which are split and displayed on stands.

Amethyst may be heat treated to lighten dark stones, or to change the color completely or partially to yellow, to produce citrine or bicolored ametrine.

Many myths are associated with amethyst.  The name comes from the Greed 'amethustos' which means 'not drunken'.  It was used as a talisman to prevent drunkenness, and thus was a popular material for wine glasses.  Leonardo Da Vinci wrote that amethyst was able to dissipate evil thoughts and quicken the intelligence.

This lovely Art Nouveau lavalier is set with a large central amethyst and has an amethyst dropper.

Garnet and Pearl Ring
January 26, 2017 - 9:09 pm
Estate Jewelry : Gold

Garnet and Pearl Ring

Garnet RingThe birthstone for January is the garnet.  To most people, this means the dark red stone, as shown in this ring, but garnets are an incredibly diverse group of gems.  At least eleven major types of garnet are known, ranging in color from colorless to black, and including yellow, orange, and green.

Garnets are rarely synthesized, but misleading trade names are, alas, often seen.   Cape ruby, Arizona ruby, California ruby, Rocky Mountain ruby, and Bohemian garnet all refer to Pyrope garnets.  Malaya is a trade name for a pyrope-spessartine that varies in color from red, through shades of orange and brownish orange to peach and pink.

This vintage ring is 14k gold set with a beautiful garnet surrounded by seed pearls.

 Legends: Noah used a garnet lantern to steer his ark at night. Travelers carried garnets for protection from evil and disaster.  Garnets are said to promote sincerity and stop loss of blood.

Care:  Garnet is a hard gemstone [7 to 7.5], but like diamond and sapphire, can be chipped, so treat your jewelry with the care it deserves.

Marquise Diamond & Emerald Ring
January 9, 2017 - 2:09 am
Estate Jewelry : Platinum : Vintage

Marquise Diamond & Emerald  Ring

Rings have been worn for many reasons, adornment being a major one, since prehistoric times.  Wood, iron and other non-precious metals, gold, semiprecious stones, precious stones, cameos, seals...the variety is fascinating.  As methods for working metals and cutting stones became more sophisticated, so did ring designs.

Cocktail rings became popular during the Prohibition Era, presumably because the wearers wanted to call attention to their uninhibited behaviour (drinking illegal cocktails) and status (rich!).  Certainly the rings, big and flashy and generally beautiful, are attention-getters.  Big, flashy rings continued to be popular in the 1940s and 50s and onward.  Today, rings of this type are often referred to as Statement Rings.

This diamond and emerald ring can certainly make a statement for you!  The central marquise-cut diamond is surrounded by emeralds and more diamonds.  It’s beautiful and romantic and a grand companion to any cocktail—or lady’s hand.

Titanic-Era Peridot Necklace with Seed Pearls
August 4, 2013 - 7:56 pm
Estate Jewelry : Gold : Edwardian

Titanic-Era Peridot Necklace with Seed PearlsTitanic-Era Peridot Necklace with Seed Pearls

Titanic-Era Peridot Necklace with Seed Pearls


Peridot [the 't' is silent] is the birthstone for August.  It is a lovely semiprecious stone, transparent and lime or olive green in color. Favored by King Edward of England, and given by Napoleon to Josephine, this stone is evocative of nature—its lovely color brings to mind the green fields and burgeoning hopes of spring.

In Ye Olden Days, it was thought that all green stones were emeralds (and all red stones were ruby, all blue were sapphire). Not all of history’s famous gems, including some in crown jewel collections, are what they were thought to be. Many historic "emeralds" are actually peridot.

Peridot is the gemstone for 16th wedding anniversaries, the state gemstone of Nevada, and the national gem of Egypt. Peridot is sometimes called “Brazilian Emerald.”  “Chrysolite” is a mineralogical term that includes peridot, and it is sometimes called by that name.

Originally mined on an island in the Red Sea which was the property of Egyptian Pharoahs beginning around 1500 BC, the island and its green treasure was guarded jealously, with death the fate of would-be thieves!

The location of the island called Zabargad, and later St. Johns, was actually lost for centuries. Mining started again after the island was rediscovered in the early 20th century, but the mines played out in the 1930s. Peridot also sometimes occurs in meteorites – how cool is that!

The legends and lore of peridot are numerous, as might be expected of a stone with such a long history of popularity. Here are a few:

            brings good luck, peace, and success;

            attracts love and helps friendship;

            calms anger, soothes nerves. and dispels envy;

            helps dreams become reality;

            was worn by pirates (Arr!) for protection from evil;

            protects against terrors of the night when set in gold;

            works best when worn on the right arm [Pliny the Elder].

Peridot can be broken by a sharp blow, and it can be scratched, so take care! Do not clean peridot in a home ultrasonic cleaner; use warm, soapy water and a soft brush. (And work over a bowl of water, not the sink drain.)

Co-Written by Jocelyn Reynolds (Period Pieces,  and Jenny Andersen,