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JEWELRY IN AMERICAN MUSEUMSU.S. museums have begun to acquire and exhibit world-class collections of artistically significant heritage jewelry.
By Janet Zapata
Several years ago I was attending a panel discussion and was asked why jewelry education was taken less seriously in this country than it is in Europe. I answered that until museums begin collecting jewelry seriously, it will remain a step-sister of the decorative arts. Half the audience stood up and clapped! Today, I am pleased to report that museums have begun to “accession” (acquire by purchase or donation) jewelry just as they do the other decorative arts.
Some institutions with an established jewelry tradition have accelerated their interest in this area. A leader in this trend is The Metropolitan Museum of Art which recently opened a new gallery, the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Galleries for 19th-Century European Sculpture and Decorative Arts. There its collection of 19th-century European jewelry is installed. In the past, the Met has included jewelry from historical periods such as Egyptian, Greek and Byzantine in permanent collections and published books on topics such as Islamic jewelry. As with all objects in the museum’s collection, jewelry is accessioned only if it is an art form, says Curator Clare Le Corbeiller.
The Walters Art Gallery was established by Henry Walters, whose eclectic taste in jewelry ranged from 3000 BC to the first decade of the 20th century. Now the gallery ambitiously continues its founder’s tradition. It has held several exhibitions of jewelry, most notably “Gold of Greece: Jewelry and Ornaments from the Benaki Museum” and “Objects of Adornment: Five Thousand Years of Jewelry from the Walters Art Gallery,” which traveled to 10 venues from 1984 to 1987.
Since a new gallery devoted to the jeweled arts opened in 1988, the Walters has received steady donations, especially of American jewelry. Significant examples include a bangle bracelet with an eagle and the Confederate flag, believed to have been produced in New Orleans at the outbreak of the Civil War, and a Tiffany & Co. necklace designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany that complements other turn-of-the-century items in the permanent collection.
Cooper-Hewitt, the Smithsonian Institution’ s National Museum of Design, has always accepted gifts of jewelry. Its collection ranges from pieces by ancient Egyptians to those by contemporary artist-jewelers, with a special emphasis on costume jewelry. The museum recently accessioned an Italian micro-mosaic parure with views of St. Peter’s Square, the Pantheon and the Coliseum. This parure is typical of the mid-19th century souvenir jewelry visitors would purchase on a trip abroad.
Among institutions that recently have begun to focus on collecting jewelry are the Toledo and Newark museums. The Toledo Museum of Art just purchased a brooch by English designer George Hunt, which it exhibits next to an Alexander Fisher silver and enamel box and a C.R. Ashbee silver bowl and spoon set with chrysoprase. Although it is the first piece the museum has acquired outside its ancient and Renaissance jewelry collection, Curator Roger Berkowitz intends to continue adding jewelry that will build on strengths in established collecting areas.
The Newark Museum, which takes pride in collecting New Jersey fine and decorative arts, has begun to acquire jewelry by Newark makers. The recently accessioned enameled angel brooch by Krementz & Co. and dragonfly veil pin by A.J. Hedges are just the beginnings of what Curator Ulysses Dietz hopes will be a significant collection. The Newark Museum held several jewelry exhibitions in its early years and Dietz would like to resume this activity.
The American Museum of Natural History in New York, noted for its collection of gemstones, has accessioned 19 pieces of jewelry. Dr. George Harlow, curator of gems and minerals, says the museum would like to reorganize the existing jewelry and diamond cases within the next fiscal year to include this new collection and other pieces in the museum’s holdings. Exhibits will be arranged by period and style, from the earliest example a Shang-yin period jade ornament to an Art Deco aquamarine set. If you are tired of storing that Lalique necklace in your vault and want to find it a “happy home,” many museums would gladly accept your gift. The only proviso: it must be artistically significant. The serious collecting of jewelry by museums in this country has finally come of age. The new interest in accessioning and exhibiting jewelry will not only give the public a look at these marvelous treasures, but also provide scholars with material for years to come.
Janet Zapata, a silver and jewelry historian, has written|
"The Jewelry and Enamels of Louis Comfort Tiffany"
THE MEANING OF JEWELRY MARKSIn 14th sentury, English King Edward I instituted a statute requiring that all gold and silver jewelry be tested for standards of assay at the headquarters of the Guild of Goldsmiths before they could be sold. If approved, an item was struck with a mark as a guarantee of quality. Over time, marks were added to signify the date, place of assay and maker of pieces. Though never intended as such, hallmarks are a critical tool in the identification and dating of antique jewelry.
This article offers basic information on country of origin hallmarks and makers' marks compiled from research submitted by Elyse Zorn Karlin, Discovering Hall Marks on English Silver by John Bly and Bradbuiy ~s Book of Hallmarks: A Guide to Marks of Origin on British & Irish Silver, 1544 to 1989, originally compiled by Frederick Bradbury, F.S.A. Consult the list of references for more sources on marks.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Eagle's head: minimum of 18k gold, in use since 1838.
Owl in an oval: gold imported to France, in use since 1893.
Winged head of Mercury: gold for export, in use since 1879.
Wild boar's head: silver (.950), in use since 1838.
Wild boar's head and eagle together:
mixed metals, after 1905.
In 1907, the National Stamping Act required that, allowing certain tolerances, silver marked sterling be .950; that gold jewelry be the karat marked; and that gold-filled, rolled gold, gold plate and silver plate objects be so marked.
Head of Apollo facing left: gold jewelry.
Head of Diana: silver jewelry.
Crossed AA: gold imported to Austria, 1898-1901.
Crossed AA and imperial eagle: gold imported to Austria, 1901-1921.
Crown and crescent: silver .800 or .850, in use after 1888.
Geschüst: registered trademark design.
Déposé: registered trademark design in France, Germany and Austria.
Papal gold mark: Rome.
English Silver Hallmarks
English silver jewelry pieces may carry some or all of the following marks:
Variations of the Leopard's Head, also called King's Mark, general guarantee of quality, also recognized as London town mark.
MORE ABOUT PLATINUMThe Misconceptions & the Truth
For years, the jewelry industry has been harboring some misconceptions about platinum. Now that more companies are working in the precious metal again, jewelers have learned some valuable lessons about working with platinum.
Platinum is too difficult to work with; metal-smiths need an extreme amount of expertise. "Platinum is not difficult, just different," agrees James Huckle, product manager for jewelry in the U.S. offices of Johnson Matthey, New York, Ny. "The learning curve is steeper, but a good metalworker can master platinum's differing properties." Both Stuller and Johnson Matthey offer excellent guides for metalworkers learning to make platinum jewelry.
"Anyone with a modicum of experience can learn to work in platinum," says Christopher Cart, director of the assembly department at Stuller Settings, Lafayette, La. Cart has given seminars at trade shows and meetings, where he sits at a bench and shows jewelers platinum metalworking techniques. "It's true, however, that working in platinum does require extra time, especially in the finishing process."
Platinum jewelry must be plated with rhodium.
Platinum by itself is white enough so rhodium plating is not neccessary.
ABOUT COSTUME JEWELRYAlthough inexpensive jewelry existed prior to the 20th century, the peak of costume jewelry production began in the 1930's in Europe, and is often attributed to the appearence of the middle class. This type of jewelry was mostly made of base metals, vermeil (gold leafs bonded to silver) and sterling silver set with semi-precious gemstones (topaz, amethyst, peridot, citrine ,coral...), some organic materials and enamels.
By the 1930's, rhinestones (the bottom of glass coated with silver powder or silver leaf to imitate diamonds) was in high demand in Europe. Costume jewelry usually reflects the material, techniques and fashion trends of a period.
The design and material used in costume jewelry often helps to identify the period when it was made. For example, certain types of hair combs, perfume bosmalltttles and dress clips were produced in the 1930's. The costume jewelry of Art Deco and later the Retro period are easily recognizable by their sophisticated style and appearence.
Vermeil jewelry was mainly used during World War II, because of the short supply of gold. Today, the styles of the early periods are becoming very fashionable. Unfortunately, many of the pieces produced today lack the vibrancy and quality of the original pieces.
DIAMONDS FROM PEANUT BUTTERPeanut butter is being turned into diamonds by scientists with a technique that harnesses pressures higher than those found at the center of the earth.
Edinburgh University experts say the feat is made possible by squeezing the paste between the tips of two diamonds creating a "stiletto heel effect". The scientists also revealed they can turn oxygen into red crystals using the same method.
Professor Malcolm McMahon, based at the Center for Science and Extreme Conditions at Edinburgh University, is one of the scientists involved. He said: "Pressure can cause extraordinary changes in all kinds of materials and can create completely novel materials.
We are currently developing techniques that will create pressures of up to five million atmospheres, much higher than the pressure at the center of the earth, to find the holy grail of high-pressure physics, the metallic phase of hydrogen".
PINS, BRACELETS AND RINGSPins, bracelets and rings depend less on the size and shape of the wearer than do necklaces and earrings. Virtually any woman can find something that will fit. But, as with all jewelry or clothing, hard-and-fast rules are anything but, and the most important element is proportion. For rings, consider the size and shape of your hands. Large rings for large women and small rings for small women. But what if you want exactly the opposite?
Try to find a delicate style of ring in a design proportion that doesn’t get lost on a heavy hand; try to get a scaled-down but still dramatic version of a ring for a petite hand. For a woman with ugly knuckles, a fairly simple ring that does not call attention to your presentation will do. And consider the skin tone when selecting metals and gemstones.
Bracelets flatter just about every woman if they fit correctly. A large-wristed woman needs a larger bracelet that moves freely. Incidentally, a few dramatic bracelets are a terrific, elegant way for a large woman to accessorize for cocktails or an evening dinner. A petite woman may be able to carry off dramatic bracelets, as long as they don’t fall off. Nothing detracts as much from the look of a bracelet as the need to keep fiddling with it all day.
Pins, however, are probably the one jewelry accessory any woman can wear anywhere. Simply by moving or turning the same pin, a woman can get a different look, draw the eye to a different place or make a different statement. Metal and gemstone colors should be considered, but are less crucial than in other types of jewelry because the wearer can move a pin farther from her face or other part of her body.
HOW TO RELATE FASHION AND JEWELRYFine jewelry design evolves rather than changes drastically from season to season like clothing design.But most current jewelry trends will complement apparel trends. The key is knowing which type of jewelry to use with which type of clothing. Here’s a guide:
Here are some other general guidelines.
Earrings complement almost any outfit. They should flatter the face first, the outfit second. Bracelets and rings also go with just about anything. Rings should flatter the hand, but advise the customer to be careful so the ring doesn’t snag a delicate knit.
A necklace should flatter the wearer and the garment neckline; make sure it won’t slip inside the garment or get tangled on a button.
And in every case, consider the mood of the outfit tailored clothes require stronger jewelry than a dainty dress.
TOP JEWELRY TRENDSHere are the top trends in jewelry design, according to industry experts:
WEDDING IDEASTodays wedding jewelry is available in many styles and motifs. For the participants, a wedding ceremony is an ideal occasion for showing off a variety of jewelry and accessories. Bridal jewelry and ornaments often supplement the colors of the traditional wedding dress - white and ivory.
However, wedding ornaments can also emphasize the individuality of the bride and the style of the wedding ceremony. The right choice of wedding jewelry will emphasize the various color accents of the wedding dress.
A recent trend among brides is to change clothing and jewelry several times during a wedding celebration.
The most popular wedding ornaments:
Pearls: pearls of different shapes and sizes are widely available. The majority of brides prefer white, white- rose or dyed pearls, usually creamy in color.
Earrings: consider drop earrings decorated with pearls and gemstones. They look exclusively effective and are well suited for a wedding dress.
Hair Ornaments: diadems with beads, crystals and gems are quite popular not only for brides, but also for bridesmaids.
WHITE vs YELLOWBecause of its originality and neutrality, white gold jewelry is very popular. Thanks to it's neutral color, white gold does not stick out and is perfectly suited to any outfit. Indeed, white gold looks perfect regardless of what type of clothing you are wearing.
The same cannot be said about traditional yellow gold. Sometimes, yellow gold doesn't coincide with a person's character, because it is defiant and rather charismatic. Yellow gold is very specific and will not be compatible with your appearance if you wear shorts, jeans or a t-shirt.
Another distinctive difference between white and yellow gold jewelry is that white gold looks fine with diamonds or jewels. Neutral white gold draws attention to a diamond or a gem, and adds an element of secret and intrigue to an ornament. Yellow gold can have that similar quality, but white gold is more superior.
So, the next time you are shopping for jewelry, pay attention to white gold! It looks original, beautiful, interesting and intriguing.
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