The frosty white-on-white look epitomized Edwardian refinement a hundred years ago, during the last great period of hand-made jewelry. Not coincidentally, the Arts and Crafts movement had flourished for several decades by then, promoting excellence of design and workmanship, along with an artistic approach to selecting materials. This led, in Edwardian times, to a passion for carved crystal and to creation of exquisite medallions like the one featured here: a likeness of the goddess Athena, intricately worked from the back into a disc of iridescent glass with the hypnotic sheen of opal.
The subject of the intaglio reminds us that Neo-Classicism was another strong element of Edwardian taste. In this, they took inspiration from Georgian and Regency examples. While classical subjects weren't abandoned during Victoria's long reign, they were executed on a grander scale and in a more florid manner than suited the Edwardian spirit of restrained connoisseurship. Eighteenth-century Georgian influence is also apparent here in the metalwork's form, which suggests a Chippendale lattice pattern.
In one interesting aspect, however -- its size -- this treasure shows the early 20th century exuberance that would flower in Art Deco days. It's the biggest jewel of bar brooch form that I've ever seen: 3.25 inches long!
That it's marked only "Sterling" -- rather than with figural stamps typical of European silver -- makes American origin likely. However, the superb intaglio is almost certainly Bohemian, French or Italian. The carving rests in a simple bezel setting, as was favored in the Arts and Crafts tradition. It fastens with an extremely sturdy pinstem and has the old open C clasp appropriate to its age. The pin would originally have been elongated past the edge of the brooch but, like most of those, it was shortened and filed to a new point at some time for safety's sake. Condition, as you see, as absolutely lovely; dating is circa 1905 and provenance is a New York estate.
Athena, as you may remember, was the goddess of wisdom and handicrafts, but is pictured most often helmeted, in her guise as goddess of war -- meaning the more disciplined, strategic side of it. In ancient Greek mythology, she advised heroes including Odysseus, Jason and Heracles. She's definitely a useful spirit to have on your side!
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