Helpful Terms & Glossary
Berlin Iron Antique Jewelry
During the Napoleonic Wars (1789-1815) as in many wars, the populous of the Prussian region was encouraged to donate their gold and silver jewelry and tableware for the war effort. Berlin Iron became a substitute for finer metals. It was iron that was lacquered black and was worn by in place of the jewelry they surrendered. A few pieces are inscribed, "Gold gab ich fur Eisen" (I gave gold for iron). French artists also picked up the fashion and produced Berlin Iron as well. There it was for the exceptional lace-like ornate styles. Some pieces are signed, such as by the famous maker Geiss others are unsigned. It was produced well into the mid 19th century and a bit later, its appeal still holding long after precious metals were back in circulation.
Today pieces are quite rare and collectors abound with prices rising every year. Often the jewelry is quite large, fine, lacey and delicate in design, that and together with its coal black surface has an indescribably handsome appeal.
Antique Cut Steel Jewelry
As early as the 16th century, cut steel production began in Europe. Tiny pieces of actual steel are faceted and shaped, often with facet structures similar to a rose cut diamond, some with a few facets, others highly faceted. Each element has a post at the back and these pieces are inserted into a brass or metal base. They are set close together to form a bed of faceted steel beads in the desired overall shape. Some early work is quite fine, often later work the pieces are larger individual studs and not as refined. Cut steel flourished in the later 18th and later 19th centuries, and finally popularity waned in the earlier 20th century.
The craft was created to imitate the shimmer of diamonds. Their refraction and glimmer, particularly in certain light, has remarkable brilliance. Steel has an alluring appeal with its distinct gray blue coloration, and catches the light from a myriad of angles. It is no wonder it has become so collectible and prized today. Mathew Boulton, an 18th century industrialist, owned a factory in Birmingham, England where cut steel jewelry was manufactured in great quantity. This was no mere substitute however, being prized for its own merits and often exceedingly expensive in its day. In great vogue at the later part of the 18th century, even Napoleon’s second empress, Marie-Louise commissioned a suite, as well as Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. Antique cut steel was often used for similar items as those set with gems, diamonds or paste jewelry. Shoe buckles, hair ornaments, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, chatelaines, and more were all fashioned in this remarkable material.
Steel is thought to be so durable, but is quite ephemeral given the possibility of rust if not cared for over time. Thus many pieces did not often survive. Caring for pieces today is simple: avoid cleaning with water or getting wet or moist. If an article of cut steel does get damp, simply thoroughly dry immediately. One old method of storage is to place in potato starch; or you can put in a box with rice grains to absorb moisture. To clean use a small soft toothbrush to whisk away any dust or dirt and polish with a soft cloth.
Victorian Essex Crystal Jewelry
Essex crystals, sometimes referred to as reverse crystals, reverse painted crystal, Cook's crystals or even Wessex crystals, came into being in the mid to later 19th century. Rock crystal is cut en cabochon (a back with a flat surface, the front rounded and smooth). Skilled artists then carved out the rock crystal from the back in a desired form – often animal motifs. Once carved out, the depressions were then carefully painted in detail. Mother of pearl was often used as a base and backing and once turned to the front, an extraordinary image is evident in-the-round.
Horses, dogs, cats, pheasants and sporting scenes were some of the more featured themes. Even hare, boar and other exotic sporting animals can be found. A wide array of dog breeds is available as well. Depending on the size of the crystal, and the skill of the artisans involved, some are rich is detail and can be viewed from the side and appear near life-like in their three dimensional nature. Later reproduced in the early 20th century, some were often pressed glass imitations, with far less detail, and machine-like quality of color and subject matter (Scottie dogs are common). However,examples from this era can still be exceedingly fine.
However, antique fine Essex crystals are nearly unmistakable. Made until the early part of the 20th century, the skill and craftsmanship needed, and fashion and tastes changing, as the way of most things, the technique died out. No one having the time or willing to afford to pay for such labor intensive work, these are now highly collectible today and pricing is every rising.
Mountings range from brooches, to cufflinks, pendants, bracelets and other jewelry forms. Some are quite massive, others delicate and petite. Look for ones with great depth and fine painting. Subject matter too determines price as some dogs breeds, for instance, are much more common than others. Certainly the setting can greatly influence price as well as condition. Chips and cracks are to be avoided. A world unto themselves, their imagery is captivating and it is no wonder they have become so sought after today.
Halley's Comet Brooches
Celestial events captivated the imagination and were interpreted into jewelry as early as the 18th century. Passing comets, stars and moons all insinuated their way into precious metals and objects of personal adornment. With the passing of Halley's Comet in 1836, England in particular began to produce diminutive brooches representing this most famous of comets. Almost all are under one (1) inch in length (although a few are larger) and come in a variety of materials and gems.
From gold to cut steel, diamonds to strass or paste, these antique brooches are an area of collecting that spark wonder and allude to the mysteries of our universe. Often worn in small groups, they possess a head, often of one larger gem, a linear element and a tail also studded with a tinier gem. Some are elaborate, others simple and austere. Continuing the tradition, later generations still produced them until the early 20th century when they fell out of favor. Occasionally later costume jewelry we see large comet-like rhinestone brooches set in base metal but these stylistically have little relation to their earlier forbears.
Antique Lover's Eye Miniatures
Portrait miniatures of just an eye, often referred to as lover's eyes, are as captivating, symbolic and evocative as jewelry can be. There is controversy over the origins, but certainly began with the portrait miniature itself. Portrait miniatures were the photographs of their day, and were tiny paintings of family, loved ones and those departed and were usually extremely personal remembrances often set in jewelry and worn close to the person.
It was the late 18th century when the painted eye alone first appeared. It is reported to have begun when the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Fitzherbert wanted to exchange portrait miniatures. However, their romance was a secret as Mrs. Fitzherbert was Catholic widow. One of the court miniaturists came up with the idea of painting just an eye. Only the wearer would know whose eye it really was. The Prince later married Maria Fitzherbert in 1785 but it was declared illegal. Had the marriage continued, the Prince could not have become George IV and taken the crown, with a Catholic wife.
The eye miniatures were popular from around the 1780's to around 1830, and fell from popularity once Queen Victoria reign began. While some eye portraits were painted after that time, most fall within that time period. Some do date later however. While originally their purpose was love related, as with almost all trends, they changed over time and some are in honor of frienship and others of a memorial nature.
Lover's eyes are most often set in brooches, but occasionally rings and even boxes and stickpins. As with any artist, there were good and bad portrait painters, and thus good and bad portrait miniatures. However, there are some factors to look for.
They are highly sought after and very collectible today. However, this means that fakes are produced, particularly in England. Eye miniatures were rather scare in their day so a buyer should be careful from whom they purchase eye miniatures. Be wary in particular of very fancy settings and mounts. Forgers take out hair and inserts from lockets and crystals and place in it either a newly painted eye, or a very convincing piece of an old portrait miniature they have cut out. The fancier the setting - gem set, fancy bracelets, rings, intricate settings, the more one needs to be careful. Also, Victorian settings may be suspect, as most eyes were Georgian, though again not always.
One is to look for overall aesthetic appeal - is the eye the right size and shape for the "frame" in which it sits? It is an eye sitting in a great deal of empty space? Does it look lifelike? Does it have bags under the eyes, or a brow, perhaps a shadow of a nose or hair so appears to be painted from someone's eye? Or is it just a "dead" looking eye? Are the colors subtle and have lifelike skin tones? Does the paint bead up, or does it seem part of the ivory? Is the crystal covering chipped at the edges? Is the gold rim chipped and obviously removed? Does the ivory piece have ragged edges or not fit properly? No edges should be visible ideally. Most all miniatures were painted with watercolor and gouache and when viewed with a good loupe or magnifying glass is extremely delicate - almost like tiny points of color.
It is very hard to tell if a miniature is real if it actually came from a period miniature to begin with! If buying from the internet, make sure you email or call a dealer with any questions you may have. All honest dealers will be more than happy to take back an item if you are not satisfied so know a dealer's return policy. Examine the jewelry with a magnifying glass or loupe. Also, be sure to obtain a written invoice clearly stating a description and price.
Prices are quite high and usually range from $3000 up to well over $6000 depending on the quality of the painting, and the setting itself, the rarity and overall aesthetics of the jewelry. Some settings can be encrusted with diamonds or pearls; others are just more simple coral or gold. And remember, dealers - even the most experienced - are not perfect so trust your instincts.
Antique Micro Mosaic Jewelry
The origins of micro mosaics date back centuries to Roman times and portable mosaics began as early as Caesar’s reign. Micro mosaics are made of heated glass that is pulled into small strands and cut into tiny pieces called tesserae. Metal oxides are added to the glass to achieve color. The tesserae are then placed and glued to form an image. The mosaic is placed within a surround of stone or glass and then placed in a frame. Micro mosaics were either set in jewelry or occasionally framed just as a miniature painting would be. Even in the early 18th century, micro mosaics were sold to visitors in Italy and the art form reached great popularity in the mid to late 19th century. Micro mosaic jewelry has today once again found favor and is highly prized for its intricacy, charming depictions and delicacy of work. Venetian mosaics employ a variety of shaped tesserae; Roman mosaics are often comprised mostly of rectangular shapes of tesserae. Mosaics from Florence are termed pietra dura and use pieces of shaped hardstone to form images, the pieces of stone usually much larger and set in a black background.
The value is determined by a number of factors. Condition as always is one of the most important factors. But the size and delicacy of the work in a micro mosaic should be considered. Much 20th century jewelry for tourists used relatively large tiles and is quite crude compared to earlier pieces. Some go from fine work, to extremely fine tesserae no larger than a needle tip that resembles a painting, the tiles merging into one image. Also, subject matter is important. Most common are flowers, architectural scenes in Italy or Europe, or religious themes. However, some contain bug images, animals, highly realistic landscapes, birds, flowers, dogs, or other more unusual subjects. These can command higher prices.
What is paste? The origins of the term paste are unknown. However paste is a collective word used for cut leaded glass that is faceted to resemble gems or precious stones. Sometimes it is referred to as strass. Georges Frederic Strass, a Parisian jeweler in 18th Century France lends his name to these stones. Around 1730 and after, he became world famous for his paste jewelry (sometimes the term French paste is still used today). Appointed to the post of jeweler to the King of France in 1734, Strass's fame was assured. He used a mixture of glass and lead that makes glass highly reflective and began mounting them in the most sumptuous of settings. The stones are coated with a metal coating or foiling, sometimes tinted, to make them even more brilliant and refractive. The mid and later 18th Century was awash with paste and even Marie Antoinette wore it copiously.
The craftsmanship required to cut paste is demanding and is thought to be more difficult than the art of cutting diamonds. Diamonds are harder thus easier to work with in many respects. Examining 18th Century paste shows the variety of stone cuts – marquise, oval, pear and all manner of shapes and sizes. A surprising variety of shades and colors was utilized. The jewelry can be of very high quality and skill and is usually set in silver. Paste was used in everything from men's shoe buckles, to the most magnificent of tiaras. Most strass or paste jewelry ranges from the 18th century through about 1850, but the word has come to be used to encompass other finer imitation stones through the early 19th Century. Paste jewelry has drawn a special collector, thus quite expensive and more and more difficult to obtain, particularly in the earlier examples or ones with color. Its luster, glow and shimmer are incomparable.
Black dot paste is paste which has a tiny black dot "painted" on the very bottom underside of the stone. In setting the paste, often pitch or similar sticky material was utilized to anchor the stone during setting. This black then shows through. It is thought to have mimicked the open culet of early diamond cuts, which often look quite dark or black. The culet is the bottom of the stone, where in today's modern stone cuts all the facets come to a perfect point. In years past, the facets did not meet in a point but joined around a flat area on the bottom. Black dot paste is one hallmark of very fine quality paste. However, there are many examples of excellent paste which do not have these tiny black dots.
An extraordinary metal when combined, copper and zinc made a convincing gold substitute. Christopher Pinchbeck (1670 - 1732) developed the alloy. It was used during the 18th and early 19th century as a durable yet less costly substitute for gold. It fell out of favor during the mid-nineteenth century after 9k gold was legalized and as rolled gold and gold plating were invented. Often termed Pinch for short, it is evident today why the metal was so successful as it has a rich hue, sheen and look and has been styled in a grand manner with just as much care, skill and attention to detail as an item in gold. It doesn't tarnish or flake, change color or have any of the inherent problems that much of the gold substitutes exhibit that came into later use. Quite scarce today, it has become highly collectible and is admired for its own attributes. Often gilt or rolled gold pieces are incorrectly identified as Pinch. Pieces that date after about 1840 are rarely of true Pinchbeck and it is often found in rose color and yellow hues.
Piqué is the now lost decorative art of inserting minute bits of metal into a medium to form a design. Tortoise shell, ivory, mother of pearl and even other metal have all been the basis on which to inlay this work. Often brass, silver and gold are the primary metals with which are then worked into the medium. There are two types of piqué. Pique posé and piqué point. Pique posé uses pin head shaped pieces of metal and piqué point flat strips. Dating to the 17th century, this marvelous craft decorated small personal objects such as etui, boxes, portrait miniature covers and then later into the 19th century was revived and was seen in jewelry as well.
In some cases, such as with tortoise shell, this base material is heated or wetted rendering it malleable and then grooves are prepared. Metals points and strips are then inserted into the heated or wet materials, and once cooled or dry, it then seals itself around metal.
Stuart Crystal Jewelry
King Charles I was executed in 1649. He was part of the Stuart Monarchs in England that reigned from 1603 to 1714. His followers began to wear, sometimes in secret, rings that often had a faceted rock crystal with locks of his hair, initials, or rings with his image to show their loyalty to his reign. As with many trends, it began there but transformed to more of a personal memento. Stuart Crystal jewelry, as it is now termed, stemmed from that political origin.
While memento mori and memorial jewelry had been worn since the 16th century, memorial rings arose. Worn for family and loved ones they often had a faceted crystal and underneath a skull, a lock of hair, bits of silk, or tiny gold cherubs or crowns with bits of twisted gold wire referred to as a cypher or cipher. Not always memorial in nature, some examples were a tribute to marriages or other rites of passage.
This type of ring and jewelry maintained its popularity until the early to mid 18th Century. Often slides, stickpins and lockets in a number of shapes and sizes (but always quite compact) are come across. also made in the same manner. This type of jewelry is quite rare and has become highly collectible with pricing on the open market reflecting such. The facets of the crystals with the tiny mementos beneath are so fascinating and enigmatic it is no wonder their presence has inspired many an enthusiast.
Vauxhall Glass Antique Jewelry
As early as the 18th century, England began producing items of jewelry from their famous glassworks factory outside of London. Situated in Vauxhall, the glass ware and jewelry simply began to be referred to as “Vauxhall Glass”. Although there seems to be no concrete proof the jewelry was produced at that factory, the term stuck. A number of colors were produced from clear, to deep blacks and a rich burgundy red. Little has survived of those early pieces but they were evidently quite adored in their time. What most often survive today are 19th century examples. Revivals of this material occurred in the mid to later part of the 19th century, patents were taken out, and various items were again produced. Insects and bugs, tiaras, earrings – all manner of jewelry was produced in this reflective, appealing material. Often it can be recognized by its mirror backing, but it is not always the case. A few pieces do survive so collecting is still possible.
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