Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Amber – A Piece Of The Sun

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Today’s post is a guest post from Evgenia Fraschetti of Amber Regina. I’m very excited to introduce her to you, and so thankful that she took the time out of her very busy schedule (she just became a new Mom!) to share all these interesting amber facts with us. I grew up in the Baltic and my Mom was always wearing amber jewelry, but there is plenty I didn’t know – I learned a lot of new things here. (more…)

Black Cat Charms And Pendants

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

With Halloween around the corner, I thought this would be the perfect time for a post featuring black cat jewelry. I have to confess that I’m not a huge fan of Halloween myself; I actually think it’s kind of creepy (I know that’s the point, but I still don’t like it). But I do love cats!

Cats as symbols have a long history, as long as civilization itself. Through the ages, there have been many powers attributed to them – they have been considered good and evil, gods and witches, healers and bringers of disease, and some of the things that were done to them are too horrible to even think about (Google “France cat burning” and you’ll see). Black cats in particular were and are viewed with suspicion – we all know that a black cat crossing the street in front of you is supposed to be bad luck, and even to this day, rescued black cats are only half as likely to find new homes as their white, calico, gray, etc. siblings.

But, fortunately, they have also been considered good luck. In ancient Egypt, the cat Bastet was a goddess of love and protection; killing a cat was a crime that brought a death sentence, and many cats were mummified and buried in coffins, just like humans (archeologists found a cemetery in the city of Bubastis with over 300,000 cats in it!).

In England they were thought to bring fisherman back safely from the sea, and sailors believed that a black cat on the ship kept storms at bay. Receiving a black cat as a wedding gift is good luck, and there is an English proverb that goes “Whenever the cat of the house is black, the lasses of lovers will have no lack”.

And in Japan, Maneki Nekos, very popular cat figurines that come in all kinds of materials, shapes, sizes and colors (including black), are believed to bring good luck and protection to their owner.

As I mentioned above, I personally love cats, and certainly think they are good luck, whether black or any other color. And their grace, beauty and air of mystique have always made them perfect models for artists of all disciplines, including jewelry. Here are some of my favorite recent cat charm and pendant finds:

1. Porcelain Maneki Neko good luck charm from Dandan Designs

2. Black polymer clay kitten with Czech crystal rhinestone eyes by Gabiscuits

3. Scrimshaw (pre-ban) ivory pendant with a hand-etched cat portrait by Linda Layden

4.Sterling silver and crystal two cats charmfrom AME Jewelers

5. Antique Czech glass cat charm with rhinestone eyes and a brass collar from Thistle & Bess

6. Playing black cat charm necklace from Trost Jewelry

7. Black cat resin charm necklace by Jessica Meyer of Treasured Charms

8. Enamelled metal playing cat charm from N2

9. Black enamelled sterling silver clip-on cat charm with a freshwater pearl from Thomas Sabo

10. Vintage (1960s) Wells sterling silver and black enamel cat charm from Princess Charming (Ruby Lane)

Wallis Simpson’s Cross Charm Bracelet – A Legendary Piece Of Jewelry

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Wallis Simpson used to say “I’m not a beautiful woman. I’m nothing to look at, so the only thing I can do is dress better than anyone else.” And she did – she was a style icon of her time, and it was not just her clothes; she also had some fantastic jewelry.

She is in the spotlight again thanks to Madonna’s new movie, W.E., which is all about Wallis Simpson and Edward Windsor (King Edward VIII before he abdicated in 1936 in order to be able to marry her), told in a story that alternates between the past and the present. There has been tons written already about the costume design – Madonna was adamant that everything be true to the original, and when she wasn’t able to get her hands on the original designs, had exact replicas created (several of the large fashion houses offered to make them for her).

And the same goes for the jewelry – what you see in the movie is a mix of antique pieces and reproductions. There is the famous panther bracelet, the zip necklace from Van Cleef & Arpels, and my favorite: the Cartier cross charm bracelet, which was a gift from Edward to Wallis while their relationship was still a secret (set costume designer for W.E., Arianne Phillip,s has described it as being at the center point of their relationship). It consists of a chain of diamonds with nine gemstone-encrusted platinum crosses which she received as gifts from Edward over the course of 10 years to mark certain milestones in their relationship. Each cross has a date and a personal message inscribed on the back, and the fronts are set with sapphires, rubies, emeralds, aquamarines, diamonds and amethysts.

Wallis (who became the Duchess of Windsor after she married Edward) loved the bracelet and wore it almost every day, including at her wedding. The original was sold at Sotheby’s, first in 1987 (the profits from that auction were donated to the research hospital Institut Pasteur in Paris) and then again in 2010 for just over £600,000 (equivalent to around $940,000 today). The one we see in the movie was recreated by Cartier based on drawings they had in their archives.

Cartier recreated 10 pieces of jewelry all in all for the movie, but once the promotional phase is over, they will be destroyed. Seems crazy, but Cartier says they’re doing it in order not to devaluate the originals. One piece they don’t have to worry about though is that cross bracelet – it was lost in the Mediterranean while filming a beach scene in Nice (makes you wonder if someone has found it by now and is hiding it at home, doesn’t it?).

Madonna loved that cross bracelet and wanted to keep it for herself, but Cartier had already said no even before it was lost. BUT, they did make her a similar version which she has been seen wearing quite a bit (I noticed she was wearing it on the Graham Norton show earlier this month).

The movie opens on February 3 here in the US, and I can’t wait to see it. From the previews, it looks gorgeous – the scenery, costumes, the jewelry, everything.

Christmas And Winter Holiday Charms And Beads – Christmas Trees

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Trees have held a special meaning for people since ancient times, and bringing evergreens indoors during winter is something that has long been practiced in many cultures. In some countries, they were thought to keep evil spirits, illness and ghosts at bay; in some they were symbols of deities, and in others, they were simply a reminder that summer – and another growing season – would return.

The Christmas tree as we know it is thought to have begun in the southern parts of 15th century Germany, where people brought fir trees indoors and decorated them with apples. The trees were an important part of the Winter Solstice celebration, and they were believed to keep evil spirits away (who were supposed to be particularly active on Christmas eve). Apples later turned into ornaments, and Martin Luther (the Protestant reformer) is credited with contributing the tradition of adding lights. The custom spread through Europe, but did not reach the US until the early 1800s, and even then, many here regarded them as pagan symbols. It wasn’t until the early 1850s, when a slightly doctored print of of Queen Victoria and her family (in order to “Americanize” them, Prince Albert’s mustache and the Queen’s tiara were removed) with their decorated Christmas tree was published in the US that the Christmas tree became popular.

There is also an interesting variation on the story on how the Christmas tree came to be: the story of St. Boniface. St Boniface was Christian missionary in Germany in the 600-700s, everyone agrees to that, but the thoughts on his impact on the Christmas tree tradition varies. Some say he cut down fir trees in the woods of Thüringen and used their triangular shape to demonstrate the trinity, and the people in the area started bringing the trees indoors, although they hung them upside down from the ceiling. Some claim that when St. Boniface returned to Germany after an absence, he found that the locals had revered to their pagan winter celebrations, which included the sacrifice of a young man under Odin’s oak tree. Enraged, he cut down the oak with a single blow of an axe, which impressed and scared the people. As the oak fell, it had narrowly missed a small fir tree, and when the frightened people asked St. Boniface how they should celebrate, he pointed to the fir and told them to bring such a tree, which symbolized immortality and peace, into their homes.

Today, a Christmas tree is an essential part of the holiday in many countries across the world, even some that are not mainly Christian. They certainly add an unmatched coziness to the celebrations, and every time I walk into a home with a decorated and lit Christmas tree, I feel like a child again – that happy excitement and expectation you always had for weeks (or even months) leading up to the big event.

Now that we’re properly educated on the subject :-), here are some recent favorite Christmas tree charm finds:

Collage by Charms Guide

1. Sterling silver charm by Rembrandt

2. Sterling silver charm by Amanda Jo

3. Sterling silver charm with a gold star by Brighton

4. Sterling silver charm with marcasites and cubic-zirconias by Judith Jack

5. Enameled pewter charm by Jewelry by Aimee

6. Pandora charm bead in sterling silver with a 14k gold star

7. Sterling silver charm bead for the Lovelinks Petit collection. By Lovelinks

8. 18k gold charm with emerald and blue and pink sapphires by Tiffany & Co

9. Rhodium plated charm with metallic green epoxy and crystals by Swarovski

10. Sterling silver charm bead by Zable

For more Christmas-related charms, also see my Santa’s Sleigh charms post.

All content © Charms Guide

Puffy Hearts – The Classic Silver Heart Charm Bracelet

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Today we are going to talk about one of my favorite types of charms: puffy hearts.

Puffy (or puffed) hearts are also known as répoussé hearts (more on that later) and first became popular in the late 1800s. They stayed in vogue until around 1910 when for some reason they lost their popularity, only to re-gain it in the 1930s – 1950s.

Today, vintage puffy hearts are much sought after fashion jewelry pieces. They are priced accordingly, and you can expect to pay quite a bit for a pristine Victorian heart charm or an enameled heart from the 1940s in perfect condition. Unfortunately, there are many fakes out there, some so good that there are times when even the experts are fooled, so if you are shopping for a vintage puffy heart bracelet, it pays to do a little bit of reading and research first.

Puffy hearts have hollow cores and are made either from two halves put together, or one piece of metal folded over. The designs are either répoussé (aka repoussage – a technique where the design has been hammered into the metal on the reverse, the side that eventually ends up as the interior of the heart, and shows up in relief on the front) or chasing (the design is impressed into the front of the heart, creating depressions).

Photo: General Whimsy

Victorian puffy hearts were mostly made from silver (or gold filled), sometimes with beaded edges, gypsy set (= flush with the surface of the charm) with precious, semi-precious or glass stones (cabochons or rose cut) vitreous enameled (the “lucky color” turquoise was especially popular and these gorgeous charms are some of my favorites), and often beautifully engraved. They were hung on rigid bangles or substantial link chains with adorable heart and key padlock clasps. Puffy heart locket charms (and pendants) were also very popular, and held pictures or a piece of hair.

Hearts from the 1930s, 40s are usually silver (the other precious metals were used for products needed in the war), and in the 50s silver or gold. They are most often hung on chain bracelets (thinner than the Victorian ones), sometimes with heart padlocks, sometimes with other clasps.

Photo: Sunday and Sunday

30s-50s hearts are often more “puffy” than the Victorian ones, and have glass or rhinestones, either gypsy set or simply glued in, sometimes engravings (hand or machine), vitreous or cold enamel, and guilloché. This term is often used as a name for a certain style of enamel, but it is in fact the name of the process itself, and describes a pattern or design machine-carved into the metal (and then covered with enamel). It is important to understand this distinction, because you will see many painted and enameled charms erroneously described as guilloché. If they don’t have that machine-cut pattern underneath the enameling, they are NOT guilloché. The machines used for this type of carving are not made anymore, and you won’t find any guilloché charms produced today.

The most prolific charm designer in the 40s and 50s was Walter Lampl, whose catalog at one point consisted of over 750 charms. The charms came in huge variety of designs and were made from sterling silver and 14k gold, often set with pearls, precious and semi-precious stones. The “flower of the month” puffy heart charm series was (and is) extremely popular. Each charm features a guilloché background, enamel, a painted flower and the birthstone of the month set above the flower. The Lampl Company also made amazing movable charms, and the charm bracelets celebrities were given at the end of each episode of “This is your life”.

He was also one of the few who hallmarked his charms, and they are easily identified. If you see WL in a shield (or the more obvious WALTER LAMPL, or LAMPL), you’re looking at a Walter Lampl charm. They are highly collectible and many sell for hundreds of dollars today.

You can also find reproduction puffy hearts from the 70s and on, made with old molds (or molds created from old charms, or just plain copies) but these have little or no value from a collector’s standpoint (yet…). There are many that are quite lovely and beautiful pieces of jewelry in their own right (and honest sellers will label them “repro”, “reproduction” or “vintage-style”), but if you are looking for vintage or antique pieces, it’s good to know that these are out there and be on the lookout for “antique” charms from the 80s…

Also, if you are buying an entire assembled vintage charm bracelet, be sure to inspect each charm, as well as the chain, closely. While some of the charms may be antique, others may be repros. There is nothing wrong with that of course, as long as the seller is up front about it, and you don’t pay premium price for something that is misrepresented to you. How can you tell? As I mentioned earlier, it is not easy. But there are a few clues to look for: anything rhodium-plated is not vintage or antique. Also inspect the embossed designs closely. Victorian ones are crisper, more detailed and deeper than those from the 40s, and modern day reproductions are even less so. Also, many contemporary charms are treated with chemicals to give them that vintage tarnished look. Try scraping lightly with a fingernail, and if the tarnish comes off, it’s a sign that it’s not vintage. This is not a foolproof method however, since you can also tarnish silver with the help of eggs (thanks to the sulphur), which leaves no residue.

But don’t let all this talk about fakes scare you off. Puffy hearts are wonderful little pieces of art, and the more you educate yourself, the more likely you are to end up with a true vintage treasure. To me personally, the more I know, the more I enjoy shopping for them – it almost becomes a sport to “spot the fake”. 🙂 Happy shopping!

Costume Jewellery

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Costume jewellery encompasses adornments of all kinds (necklaces, charms, earrings, pendants, charm bracelets, brooches, rings, bangles, etc.) made from inexpensive materials and intended for wear with current fashions. It is also known as junk or fashion jewelry, but the former is quite a misleading term, since many vintage pieces were made from high quality materials by well-known designers (and are sought after collector’s items today).

The term costume jewelry is rumored to have been coined by Coco Chanel in the 1920s or 30s. She developed a collection of unconventional, colorful and bold jewelry pieces meant to finish off an outfit without breaking the bank. The jewelry was made from materials like faux pearls and glass and was an instant hit

If we think of costume jewelry simply as more affordable jewelry, then it had certainly existed before the 1920s (the Victorian era is a prime example). But what Coco Chanel did was to turn it from something you would buy because you couldn’t afford the real thing (and hope nobody noticed) into a chic and contemporary fashion statement. Women were not ashamed to flaunt the fake pieces because they were not meant to be passed off as precious jewels – they were an appreciated art form in themselves.

In addition to being affordable, a huge advantage of costume jewelry was (and is) that you didn’t have to get it insured, lock it in a safe and only take it out on special occasions, and fear that it got scraped or nicked when you did wear it. Chanel wore her pieces everywhere, including on the beach. And when styles changed, you could just get rid of your old pieces and buy new ones to match the look of the moment.

Around the same time, Italian-born designer Elsa Schiaparelli (famous for her trompe l’oeil sweaters and surrealist-inspired dresses, such as the lobster dress she created with Salvador Dali) also developed a line of costume jewelry. Hers was also big and bold, but more on the Dada-inspired side. As an interesting side note, one of her jewelry designers was Jean Schlumberger, who later became vice president of Tiffany & Co.

Elsa Schiaparelli bracelet. Photo via So Suburban Chic

Other 1930s well-known designers who developed their own lines of costume jewelry include Emanuel Ciner, Cartier, Trifari, Boucher and Eisenberg. Many of the designs were bold, colorful and quite “blingy”, but you could also find more delicate designs intended for the more conservative customer.

The 1940s saw more abstract and industrial-inspired jewelry, and, with many materials taken off the market for war-related production, jewelry made from Bakelite and Lucite jelly bellies (many made by Coro and Trifari) were introduced. Miriam Haskell created beautiful jewelry from wood, shell and beads, and Marcel Boucher (who previously worked for Cartier) designed gorgeous enamel pieces.

Miriam Haskell Wood Earrings. Photo: Bag Borrow or Steal

Costume jewelry’s popularity continued to rise, and in the 1950s, it reached new heights. Post-war optimism and joie de vivre abounded, and designers were once again able to get their hands on materials that had been unavailable during the war. Hollywood movie stars wore costume jewelry both on and off screen, rhinestones were everywhere, and pearls of all colors continued to be extremely popular.

The charm bracelet was in style again, and the leading manufacturer at the time was Walter Lampl, who designed a huge collection (around 750) of both costume and high-end, many of them puffy silver heart charms. Costume jewelry designers picked up on the trend, and many made charms in different materials. Trifari and Schiaparelli continued their popularity, and some of the other notable jewelry designers of the 50s include ModeArt, Napier, Dior (who had a whole bunch of famous designers working for them), Alice Caviness, Sherman, Hobe, Sarah Coventry, Hollycraft, Joseff of Hollywood (who designed the jewelry worn in huge productions such as Gone with the Wind), and Schreiner.

Photo: Jennifer Lynn’s timeless jewelry

In the 60s, mod, hippie and ethnic jewelry was in style, and popular designs included flower-power and op-art. Materials such hemp, plastic, paper, and Lucite in neon-bright colors were all the rage. Trifari, Coro (under the name Vendome) and Schreiner were still very popular, along with other designers such as Kenneth Jay Lane, D&E, and Coppola e Toppo.

The 70s saw a drop in the enthusiasm for costume jewelry, but designers such as D&E, Kenneth Jay Lane were still popular.

In the 80s, shows like Dynasty and Dallas once again brought big, bold costume jewelry into the limelight. Designers such as Larry Vrba (who was head designer at Miriam Haskell in the 70s), Robert Sorrell and Eric Beamon, as well as fashion houses like Lagerfeld, Delacroix and Balenciaga created colorful, over-the-top pieces to complement clothes.

Today, almost all fashion designers like Dior, Prada, Valentino, Badgley Mischka, Armani, Yves St. Laurent, etc. have their own line of costume jewelry. Trifari, Coro, and Kenneth Jay Lane are still creating costume jewelry. You can find their pieces in their own stores, large department stores, and, of course, online.

There is also a huge market for very inexpensive, no-name costume jewellery. Many small businesses buy this type of jewelry and re-sell it. If you want to buy wholesale costume jewellery, you need to have a tax ID number, which you can get from the IRS (available for free for registered businesses of any size). If you want to sell costume jewelry at fairs, online, or in a store, this is definitely the way to go. Wholesalers usually have all types of jewelry available, and it can be very affordable.

For those who, like me, have a fondness for the designer costume pieces from the past and are fascinated enough by them to do a bit of research (and perhaps want to start a collection), the best advice is to read as much as you can about the designer(s) you want to focus on. Look at pictures of their jewelry so you get a feel for their style and the materials they typically used. Read up on trademarks.

There are lots of gorgeous unsigned vintage pieces out there (and many were designed by the big names), but until you have trained your eye enough to recognize a piece by a particular designer, the best way to ensure you are buying a quality designer piece is to look at the stamps or signatures.

Regardless of whether your tastes run to vintage or modern, there is a piece (or many pieces, in my case!) of costume jewelry out there that is perfect for you and the outfit you want to match it to.

Also, don’t miss my post about goregous modern costume jewelry made from vintage and/or recycled items.