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!