Posts tagged antique jewellery

Two-in-One: the flowerhead on Boucheron's Lys Radiant necklace is detachable and may be worn as a brooch.

The end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century saw some of the most inventive and technically accomplished jewellery ever seen in the history of the decorative arts.  It was a time in which the rich and well off wore jewellery all day, every day- sometimes more, sometimes less, but always something.  The many changes of wardrobe often required a change of jewellery- so designers were obliged to be creative in their designs and produced clever pieces which could be taken apart and reassembled as different jewels.  Not only did this have novelty value, it proved to be extremely useful for society hostesses.

It is very pleasing to see that jewellery houses are beginning to embrace the concept again with gusto- it has always surprised me that designers have not embraced transformable jewellery earlier, especially in today’s climate where the occasions to wear high jewellery are rare.  Transformable pieces have multiple appeal: bigger pieces can be made smaller and worn for less formal occasions; the client gets much more wear for the money they pay; when sold at auction, transformable pieces on average sell at a 20-30% premium, according to Christie’s.

Engineering perfection: Van Cleef and Arpels zip necklace in yellow gold, sapphires, diamonds and emeralds.  It can also be worn round the wrist as a bracelet.

An Edwardian Classic: Pendant/brooch on white gold, pearls and diamonds available to purchase at Bentley and Skinner.

Van Cleef and Arpels recently revisited an old classic with their zip necklace.  They have always been masters of jewellery engineering and this necklace is no different.  The concept was originally suggested by the Duchess of Windsor, but the first one was not produced until the 1950s.  The most recent incarnation is produced in white gold, diamonds and coloured sapphires- and can be refastened round the wrist as a bracelet.

Boucheron actually produced a transformable necklace back in 2002.  It featured in Beauté Dangereuse, Solange Azagury-Partridge’s debut collection for the brand as creative director.  The Madone necklace, as it was called, could be worn as a belt, or as a necklace and bracelet, the necklace being of adjustable lengths.  More recently, they produced and eye-watering necklace named Lys Radiant.  Executed in white gold, rock crystal, white and yellow diamonds, this fantastical lily flower can be worn as a necklace or detached and attached to the lapel as a brooch. 

Cartier were the undisputed kings of versatile, transformable jewels up until the 1940s.  They pioneered the famous Art Deco double clip brooches, which could be worn singly, as a pair or as one large piece clipped onto a frame.  They have recently gone back to their Belle Epoque roots with an original diamond hair ornament which can be transformed into a necklace or bracelet.

Speaking of hair ornaments, this was the metier of Chaumet.  They reminded us of this last year, when they launched the ‘Natures de Chaumet’ high jewellery collection.  The talking point was the ‘Firmament Apollinien’ tiara.  Executed as a wreath, reminiscent of the triumphal laurels of Classical times, it is executed in sapphires and diamonds, the leaves beautifully rendered.  This piece can be taken off its frame and worn as a necklace.

If you feel that high jewellery is too extravagant a look, or your budget doesn’t stretch to Chaumet and Cartier, most reputable antique jewellery dealers will have something in stock, whether an Art Deco clip or a pair of bracelets that transform into a necklace.  Transformable jewellery is particularly special- it requires that much more labour and love to create and represents the inventiveness and creativity of a designer. 

Belle Epoque Beauty: Cartier's new high jewellery hair ornament can also be worn as a necklace or bracelet.


Chaumet's 'Firmament Apollinien' sapphire and diamond tiara, from its new 'La Nature de Chaumet' high jewellery collection.

Continuing this week on the theme of sapphires, Chaumet has returned to its roots with the launch of a ravishing sapphire and diamond tiara.  It is part of the ‘Natures de Chaumet’ new high jewellery collection and it pays homage to the beautiful Belle Epoque jewels the house created at the beginning of the century.

Chaumet's sapphire, diamond and moonstone laurel ring, from the collection 'La Nature de Chaumet'.

Historically, tiaras are what Chaumet is best known for.  The tiara reached its apogee at the beginning of the 20th century and Chaumet created bespoke pieces for illustrious clients such as the Dukes of Westminster, the Princes Youssoupov, the Vanderbilts and the Empress Eugenie.  The company’s archive in Paris contains hundreds of metal mock ups created for the production of these pieces.

The laurel as a decorative element has been used since antiquity- it was the tree sacred to Apollo, bringer of the Sun and a symbol of triumph and immortality.  The symbolism was not lost on Emperor Napoleon, who famously wore a golden laurel wreath when he crowned himself in Nôtre Dame in 1804.  It was the direct inspiration for a diamond wreath tiara created by Chaumet in around 1885 and this in turn has inspired the ‘Firmament Apollinien’ tiara, as it has been named.

This piece brings together the best elements of the house: an archival motif given a contemporary twist together with the very best of modern craftsmanship.  The piece is transformable into a necklace- important in this day and age when tiaras are hardly worn.  Many jewellery houses producing contemporary tiaras seem to have neglected transformable jewellery- in the Edwardian age it was considered almost essential in a big piece.  Not only does it does it render the piece more versatile, it also celebrates the pinnacle of a craftsman’s abilities.  Transformable jewellery has the added advantage of achieving 20-30% higher prices at auction.

Nickel and handpainted mock ups for tiaras from Chaumet's archive.

The ‘Firmament Apollinien’ is the largest of several important jewels in this laureate line- clients can also browse through beautiful rings, necklaces and bracelets, some set with pink sapphires as an alternative.  These pieces have also been updated with the addition of specially cut moonstones, which adds a dreamlike quality to the collection.  As if a tiara wasn’t dream enough.

Belle Epoque diamond wreath tiara by Chaumet, c. 1885.


Gold and onyx bracelet by Luis Miguel Howard; each of the coloured stones is the birthstone of the recipient's grandchildren.

There is a trend that has gone on for some years now which has quietly been gaining strength and which has gone largely unremarked on by fashion commentators and jewellery bloggers: the revival of intimate jewellery.

Victorian acrostic locket spelling out REGARD using the first letter of each precious stone.

Jewellery has always been used to celebrate special occasions: marriages, anniversaries, engagements.  Commemorative jewellery has been around forever and a day and has been struck since Ancient Greek days to commemorate battles, reigns, state occasions and triumphs. Intimate jewellery, however, fully came into its own during the Victorian era where there was an insatiable appetite not for grand parures heralding important life landmarks, but for smaller, more wearable jewels that marked more private occasions, such as births, anniversaries, christenings, birthdays and even deaths.  The Victorians loved crystallising intangible memories into photographs, miniatures and knick-knacks, and even more so, jewellery.  They explored and expanded the symbolic meaning of precious and semi precious stones and incorporated the language of flowers into jewellery.  A favourite motif was the forget-me-not, which was rendered in pearls, rubies diamonds and especially turquoises and was popular as presents to prospective sweethearts.

Another popular theme which began to gather momentum during the Regency was acrostic jewellery: pieces that used the first letter of each precious stone to spell out a message; so DEAREST might be denominated as Diamond, Emerald, Amethyst, Ruby, Emerald, Sapphire, Turquoise.  Spurred on by the Romantic movement and a more than passing curiosity in the esoteric, it was also the age in which birthstones and their meaning fully came into their own.

Contemporary locket by Loquet, filled with winter symbols.

Intimate jewellery today is more than a passing fad or fashion.  In an age of mass market and consumerism it allows for a little individuality without having to fork out for the exhorbitantly expensive Bond Street unique pieces.  Birthstones and their symbolism remain hugely popular and I have made several bespoke inexpensive pieces celebrating children and grandchildren using birthstones.  With modern technology, it is now possible to take, say, the imprint of a loved one’s fingerprint, or their signature and incorporate it into a discreet medallion or bracelet.  Hand on Heart is one of the best companies in the United Kingdom doing these at the moment.  For wonderfully made silver, go to Theo Fennell and ask them to engrave any message you want in their handwriting.  Another brand which has done roaring trade in intimate jewellery is Loquet.  Started by Sheherazade Goldsmith and Laura Bailey, you can personalise lockets and charm bracelets with birthstones and symbols.  It is in fact an ideal godparent gift, as you can add relatively inexpensive charms every year.

Most importantly, the best thing about intimate jewellery is that it has been reinterpreted in a contemporary manner, and we are long past jet mourning jewellery or rings made out of hair.  Whether you decide to buy an antique (and they remain eminently collectable) or something new, there is plenty out there to suit every taste

Victorian yellow gold and turquoise bracelet embellished with turquoise forget-me-nots, a popular motif of the era.