Silver Jewelry & the Aesthetic Movement

During the nineteenth century jewelry designers (and all the other sorts of designers, for that matter) were obsessed with historical revival styles. Classical, Gothic, Renaissance, Egyptian, you name it the Victorians revived it. While we love finding these revival pieces today (Etruscan Revival, anyone?), some Victorians started to get sick of re-hashing old styles and longed for design that was fresh, new and original. These people became followers of what came to be called the Aesthetic Movement, which celebrated ‘art for art’s sake,’ separate of any historic motifs or meanings. 

 Aesthetic style wallpaper design by Bruce James Talbert, c. 1878. Victoria & Albert Museum

Aesthetic style wallpaper design by Bruce James Talbert, c. 1878. Victoria & Albert Museum

In 1854, around the same time the Aesthetic Movement was becoming a big deal, Commodore Perry and the US navy bullied Japan into a trading agreement with the United States. 

 A Japanese woodblock portrait of Commodore Perry c. 1854 ... he wasn't necessarily Japan's favorite guy...

A Japanese woodblock portrait of Commodore Perry c. 1854 ... he wasn't necessarily Japan's favorite guy...

Beautiful Japanese artwork that had rarely been seen in the West was suddenly available at boutiques and world fairs across Europe and America.

 'Evening Snow at Kambara' by Utagawa Hiroshige, woodblock c. 1834. 

'Evening Snow at Kambara' by Utagawa Hiroshige, woodblock c. 1834. 

Those inclined towards the Aesthetic aesthetic were enamored, and Western takes on Japanese art appeared on everything from teapots to jewelry. Many striking aesthetic-style jewels were fabricated in silver, and feature japanesque motifs like fans, flowers, bamboo and birds engraved on bold, geometric silver pieces. Oftentimes colored gold details were applied on top of the silver in imitation of Japanese shakudo work. 

This aesthetic chain and locket are currently in our cases at Gray & Davis.

The addition of delicate engraving on such large-and-in-charge pieces makes for quite a statement, even today. 

With a little bit of luck

With St. Patrick's Day right around the corner, we decided to learn a little bit about our favorite vintage lucky charms. Here is what we found. 

One in 10,000 clovers will have the coveted, lucky fourth leaf. The leaves symbolize faith, love, hope and luck.

14k gold, diamond and seed pearl clover necklace in our online shop.

 

 

Iron horseshoes were thought to ward off malevolent imps and spirits in the Middle Ages, and the shape has endured as a lucky charm.

Victorian 15k gold and pearl horseshoe bracelet in our online shop.

Catching the "lucky break" from a bird's breastbone, or "wishbone," may date back to the Middle Ages, according to folklore. We do know that some cultures "read" a goose's wishbone to determine the severity of the approaching winter up until the 19th century.

Vintage 14k and pearl wishbone necklace in our online shop

Also, because the NYC St. Patrick's Day parade is literally around the corner, we will be closed on Tuesday, March 17. We will return to our regular hours on Wednesday, March 18. 

A tale of tassels

Tasseled pieces pop up several times throughout jewelry design history. It's hard to say what inspired each one: some were based on archaeological styles, others seem like they were simply meant to express joyful movement. For use in personal adornment, the tassel dates back to ancient times and is even referenced in the Bible. 

 Mid-19th century 14k gold tassel with floral, hand engraved detail. Featured on a 14k gold 25" rope chain. Both available at Gray & Davis.. 

Mid-19th century 14k gold tassel with floral, hand engraved detail. Featured on a 14k gold 25" rope chain. Both available at Gray & Davis.. 

We see some fabulous examples of tassel jewelry from the mid-19th century and early 20th century; some are flirty, some are fun, all are fabulous. We have seen them made of beads and fabric, but the whispery softness of gold has to be our favorite.

 Late Victorian 10k gold tassel necklace with black enamel and stippled detail. Available at Gray & Davis. 

Late Victorian 10k gold tassel necklace with black enamel and stippled detail. Available at Gray & Davis. 

Panthere de Cartier, a feline inspired line by the infamous French jewelry house, features tasseled necklaces and earrings, once again reviving the style seen in these kinds of antique pieces. 

 

Right: 14k gold Victorian tassel necklace, available at Gray & Davis; Panthere de Cartier print advertisement.

January Birthstone: Garnets!

Garnets are a quite versatile gemstone. They occur in almost every color of the rainbow - from electric green to golden orange - though of course the varieties most are familiar with are a rich, purplish red in hue. 

 Victorian gold and garnet festoon necklace. Available at Gray & Davis. 

Victorian gold and garnet festoon necklace. Available at Gray & Davis. 

Besides their alluring appearance, garnets have traditionally been ascribed with a number of apotropaic powers. Garnets help to ward off nightmares, wounds and diseases of the skin. If danger is present, a garnet will lose its luster. One who wears a garnet will be the recipient of love and loyalty, which is a warming thought for a cold winter month.