Jewelry Through the Ages @ the V&A

A visit to the jewelry collection at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum should be on the bucket list of any antique and vintage jewelry lover. The 3,000+ piece collection is a veritable trip back in time, offering the opportunity to see jewelry history from 1500BC to today, and the designs and trends that influenced our favorite pieces from the Georgian, Victorian, and Art Deco periods.

vanda jewelry.jpg

The museum’s collection is a testament to both craftsmanship and care. Most pieces are in excellent condition and several were donated from what must have been spectacular personal collections. It’s easy to be entranced as you learn about the evolution of design and gemstone cutting, and the expansion of materials available to craftsmen through the ages – as shown by the pieces themselves.

Curators did not scrimp on the details: each case provides information on notable historical and cultural events that steered trends, such as why iron jewelry was created during the Napoleonic Wars, and brief biographies of influential craftsmen and designers. For those who crave item specifics, each case has a binder with a complete listing for each piece.

 Etruscan gold rosette made in Tuscany c. 500-400 BC. 

Etruscan gold rosette made in Tuscany c. 500-400 BC. 

 Gold earrings made by Castellani's student Carlo Giuliano c. 1865.

Gold earrings made by Castellani's student Carlo Giuliano c. 1865.

To first see original Etruscan gold granulated wire work c.300 BC, and Castellani’s 19th century Etruscan Revival cannatile jewelry later on, is a real treat. Other collection highlights include incredibly detailed ancient gold chains, the Canning Jewel (a merman brooch with a large natural pearl torso), Art Nouveau enamel designed by René Lalique, and floral diamond tiaras with moving parts (en tremblant) for extra sparkle.

 The Canning Jewel, most likely of European origin c. 1800-1865, with enameled gold, natural pearls, table cut diamonds and Indian rubies.

The Canning Jewel, most likely of European origin c. 1800-1865, with enameled gold, natural pearls, table cut diamonds and Indian rubies.

 Lalique enamel, opal and horn bodice ornament c. 1903

Lalique enamel, opal and horn bodice ornament c. 1903

 Western European diamond tiara c. 1835

Western European diamond tiara c. 1835

Smaller exhibits are organized around different themes, bringing the jewelry’s symbolism and personal significance to life. “Cradle to the Grave” highlights materials and designs believed to be integral to different stages of life: from shell fertility amulets to protective figa pendants to jet and onyx mourning jewelry.

For those wanting to test their gemstone knowledge, a 154 piece collection donated to the museum in 1869 by Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend displays a range of precious and semiprecious stones mounted in gorgeous rings. The swirling, colorful display of sapphires, tourmalines, garnets and more is a spectacular reminder that certain gemstones can surprise you in their range of naturally occurring colors.

 The Townshend gemstone collection was supplemented by a donation from A. H. Church in 1913. Church also compiled the first catalog of the museum's collection.

The Townshend gemstone collection was supplemented by a donation from A. H. Church in 1913. Church also compiled the first catalog of the museum's collection.

It’s also worth it to watch the intermittent video demonstrations, showing how artisans craft items such as enamel jewelry and pocket watch casings. Sadly, museum staff strictly enforce a no photography policy, so while you can’t take any pictures of your favorite pieces, an afternoon learning about them in this temple to personal adornment is a truly wondrous experience.

Egyptian Revival Plique Bracelet

The Bracelet-

Some pieces are amazing because they are comprised of incredible materials, some because they are  difficult to create, and some because they can tell a story about a minute in history. This is one of those pieces.

A little back story- Discoveries of ancient artifacts have strongly influenced jewel making and there were two great periods of Egyptian revival. In the 1860’s the French were excavating for the Suez Canal and discovered Egyptian jewelry. It was so wonderfully exotic and unique it quickly became a popular trend and was reproduced in all shapes and sizes. In 1922 King Tut’s tomb was discovered and again brought the Egyptian style to the spotlight.

This bracelet dates to this later period of Egyptian Revival. It is silver, and has hallmarks indicating it was made in Cairo, Egypt and was imported into Nice, France in the early part of the 20th century, presumably the 1920’s. The Pliqué a Jour enamel and the imagery is just spectacular and even better we know what it means!

All the imagery of this bracelet actually depicts King Tutankhamun and findings within his tomb.

Starting on the Left- A painted alabaster unguent jar with a crouching lion on the lid. This jar would have been used to hold cosmetics and was found in King Tut’s tomb.

 Bracelet; close up of cosmetic jar

Bracelet; close up of cosmetic jar

 Actual cosmetic jar found in Tut's tomb

Actual cosmetic jar found in Tut's tomb

The next; Tutankhamun & Ankhesenamun, wife of King Tutankhamun, she anoints her young husband in this image which forms the back of a gilded chair. She is the half-sister of Tutankhamun, daughter of Nefertiti and Akhenaten. The chair with this scene was discovered in his tomb.

 Bracelet; close up of Tut and his lady

Bracelet; close up of Tut and his lady

 Actual image painted on guilded chair in King Tut's tomb

Actual image painted on guilded chair in King Tut's tomb

The central plaque is of King Tut himself! He is holding a crook and a flail. They were originally the attributes of the deity Osiris that became insignia of pharaonic authority. The shepherd's crook stood for kingship and the flail for the fertility of the land.

 Bracelet; close up of Tut's sarcophagus

Bracelet; close up of Tut's sarcophagus

 Tut's actual sarcophagus

Tut's actual sarcophagus

Moving right along is a war scene showing Tut vanquishing Nubians and Syrians. Tutankhamun is in a chariot leading the Egyptian forces. This was painted on a wooden box also found in his tomb.

 Bracelet; Close up of war scene

Bracelet; Close up of war scene

 Actual wooden box in King Tut's tomb

Actual wooden box in King Tut's tomb

Lastly  a lovely Unguent vase. . Elongated vase flanked with floral openwork ornamentation, cut from a single block of alabaster. Presumably used as a perfume bottle which was also found in the tomb.

 Bracelet; Close up of perfume bottle 

Bracelet; Close up of perfume bottle 

 Actual object in King Tut's Tomb

Actual object in King Tut's Tomb

The story and the work make this just a wonderful piece of wearable history and we are lucky to have it in our shop. 

Easter Eggs at the Fabergé Museum

From 1885 to 1916, the last two tsars of Russia commissioned fifty jeweled eggs as Easter gifts for their wives and mothers. Made in the workshops of  Peter Carl Fabergé, these fabulous objects have become world famous as both masterful examples of the jeweler's art and symbols of over-the-top opulence. After the execution of the Russian royal family in 1918, the eggs were dispersed all over the globe. Today, the largest collection of eggs is housed in the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg. Here they are in all their glory:

 Imperial Coronation Easter Egg, 1897

Imperial Coronation Easter Egg, 1897

 Bay Tree Easter Egg, 1911

Bay Tree Easter Egg, 1911

 Rosebud Easter Egg, 1895. 

Rosebud Easter Egg, 1895. 

 Order of St. George Easter Egg, 1916. 

Order of St. George Easter Egg, 1916. 

 Hen Easter Egg, 1895. 

Hen Easter Egg, 1895. 

 Resurrection Easter Egg, 1886 - 1898. 

Resurrection Easter Egg, 1886 - 1898. 

 Cockerel Easter Egg, 1900. 

Cockerel Easter Egg, 1900. 

 Fifteenth Anniversary Easter Egg, 1911. 

Fifteenth Anniversary Easter Egg, 1911. 

 Lilies-of-the-Valley Easter Egg, 1898 

Lilies-of-the-Valley Easter Egg, 1898 

 Renaissance Easter Egg Jewelry Box, 1894.

Renaissance Easter Egg Jewelry Box, 1894.

If St. Petersburg, Russia seems like a bit of a trek, we recommend at least visiting the museum's website, where you can read the individual stories of these infamous eggs. 

Posey, Posie, Poesy, Posy Rings!

However you choose to spell it, its hard not to be charmed by the secret messages hidden inside posy rings. 

 English posy ring c. 1700 in the collections of the British museum. The inscription reads "Love is the bond of peace."

English posy ring c. 1700 in the collections of the British museum. The inscription reads "Love is the bond of peace."

Often exchanged as wedding rings and always as a token of affection, posy rings have been around for a very long time. How long? An ancient Greek ring dating to the 4th century BCE was inscribed "To her who excels not only in virtue and prudence, but also in wisdom." 

By the late Renaissance, publishers were printing books of verses (a "posy" is simply a short poem) to be used as inspiration for lovers who needed a bit of help expressing their feelings inside gold rings. 

Here are a few of our favorite posies from 17th-century England:

 

The sight of this deserves a kiss.

In thee a flame in me the same.

To me till death as dear as breath.

We strangely met, and so do many. Now as true as ever, any.

Love him who gave thee this ring of gold ‘Tis he must kiss thee when thou art old

If I think my wife is fair, what need other people care?

This hath no end, my sweetest friend.

Thou art my star, be not irregular.

In thee I find content of mind

The love is true that I.O.U.

My love is fixed I will not range. I like my choice too much to change.

To love entyre is my desyre.

Silence ends strife with man and wife

 

 

Brimo, Di Castro & Kugel at Academy Mansion

While heading towards Museum Mile the other day we stumbled upon one of the neatest things one could possibly stumble upon: an exhibition of fabulous treasures from Europe displayed in a storied NYC mansion. 

 "Academy Mansion," as it's called, is located at 63rd street and 5th. Originally built in 1921 by the heir to a baking powder fortune, the splendid residence is best known as the one-time headquarters of the New York Academy of Sciences. Now it's used as an event space, and the restored interiors are worth a visit even when empty of art:

 Entry hall at Academy Mansion, located at East 63rd St. and 5th ave.

Entry hall at Academy Mansion, located at East 63rd St. and 5th ave.

The current exhibition represents the combined efforts and inventories of three super high-end European galleries: Brimo de Laroussilhe of Paris, Alessandra Di Castro of Rome, and Galerie J. Kugel of Paris.  Expect to find museum-quality gems tucked between ancient Egyptian sculptures and Renaissance furniture. 

 Jonah and the Whale casket. Strasbourg, c. 1640 -1660. Signed P. Crispin. Enameled gold, baroque pearls diamonds, rubies, pyrite, silver. From Galerie J. Kugel. 

Jonah and the Whale casket. Strasbourg, c. 1640 -1660. Signed P. Crispin. Enameled gold, baroque pearls diamonds, rubies, pyrite, silver. From Galerie J. Kugel. 

The exhibition is free and open to the public through the end of October, and definitely worth the trip to the Upper East Side.