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Jewelry Quotes: Passages from Classic Literature about Gems & Jewels
08 / 29

 

GEM QUOTES

 

 

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

 

Even those of us who write about jewelry on a regular basis sometimes lack the words to describe the beauty of the gems and jewels sitting right in front of us. When I find a quote or a passage so vividly written that I can actually visualize the piece, I save it. The only downside is that I usually end up wanting something I can’t have.

 

If you too love a good literary jewelry reference, read on, but at your own risk!

 

OPALS

 

Pliny The Elder:

There is in them a softer fire than the ruby, there is the brilliant purple of the amethyst, and the sea green of the emerald – all shining together in incredible union. Some by their splendor rival the colors of the painters, others the flame of burning sulphur or of fire quickened by oil.

 

PEARLS

 

20,000 Leagues UnderThe Sea, Jules Verne:

“My worthy Ned,” I answered, “to the poet, a pearl is a tear of the sea; to the Orientals, it is a drop of dew solidified; to the ladies, it is a jewel of an oblong shape, of a brilliancy of mother-of-pearl substance, which they wear on their fingers, their necks, or their ears; for the chemist it is a mixture of phosphate and carbonate of lime, with a little gelatine…

 

DIAMONDS

 

My Antonia, Willa Cather:

I used to imagine that the nobles’ of whom Antonia was always talking probably looked very much like Christian Harling, wore caped overcoats like his, and just such a glittering diamond upon the little finger.

 

The Diamond As Big as the Ritz, And Other Stories, F. Scott FitZgerald:

“That’s nothing.” Percy had leaned forward and dropped his voice to a low whisper. “That’s nothing at all. My father has a diamond bigger than the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.”

 

EVERYTHING

 

The Picture Of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde:

On one occasion he took up the study of jewels, and appeared at a costume ball as Anne de Joyeuse, Admiral of France, in a dress covered with five hundred and sixty pearls. This taste enthralled him for years, and, indeed, may be said never to have left him. He would often spend a whole day settling and resettling in their cases the various stones that he had collected, such as the olive-green chrysoberyl that turns red by lamplight, the cymophane with its wirelike line of silver, the pistachio-coloured peridot, rose-pink and wine-yellow topazes, carbuncles of fiery scarlet with tremulous, four-rayed stars, flame-red cinnamon-stones, orange and violet spinels, and amethysts with their alternate layers of ruby and sapphire. He loved the red gold of the sunstone, and the moonstone’s pearly whiteness, and the broken rainbow of the milky opal. He procured from Amsterdam three emeralds of extraordinary size and richness of colour, and had a turquoise de la vieille roche that was the envy of all the connoisseurs.

 

10 / 04

 

THE FOX AND THE HOUND

 

Below are two examples of 19th century miniature portraiture jewelry. The names for these pieces are often used interchangeably, but they are in fact very different.

© Copyright Sugar et Cie

 

The fox and the hound are recent additions to the boutique. The Jack Russell Terrier brooch on the right, is a Reverse Intaglio Crystal Brooch. It is often erroneously called an Essex Crystal. So much so, that dealers often refer to these pieces as Essex Crystals, even though they know that they are not. The moniker is used so often and is so widespread, that it has sort of stuck. On the left, is a painted enamel miniature portrait of a fox by W.B. Ford, a student of William Essex’.

 

WHAT IS A REVERSE INTAGLIO CRYSTAL?

 

The reverse intaglio crystal is an art form that is time consuming, painstaking, and involves multiple steps.

 

It begins with a piece of rock crystal. The rough is repeatedly polished by hand, with a progressively fine polishing tool to create a domed cabochon on one side and a flat back on the other. The design is drawn on the flat back/reverse side of the crystal cabochon, it is hand carved, and then painted by a master artisan. This yields a three-dimensional appearance. In this particular example, you can even see the shadow of the dog’s muzzle. Finally, it is sealed with a back, typically mother of pearl or gold.

 

The technique originated in Belgium with Emile Marius Pradier (circa 1860). Reverse Intaglio Crystals were developed and popularized by Thomas Cooke in England (circa 1880). There are many out there, but the good ones are few and far between. It is relatively easy to see the difference in the quality from piece to piece. Take out your loupe and you can see the fineness in the details.

 

WILLIAM ESSEX, W.B. FORD AND THE ENAMEL MINIATURE PORTRAIT

 

William Essex (c.1784 – 1869) was an English enamel painter. He is widely regarded as the best enamelist of his generation. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1818. He was appointed enameler to Queen Victoria in 1839 and wrote a treatise on the art of enameling. Most of his work is based on copies of the Old Masters or works by famous contemporaries such as Landseer and Winterhalter.

 

William Bishop Ford (1832 – 1922), the artist who painted the miniature fox portrait at the center of the brooch above, was a student of William Essex’. Ford also specialized in the painting of miniature enamels and exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1854 – 1895. Like Essex, Ford painted miniatures based upon oil painting by famous masters. The fox head portrait above, by Ford, is after “The Fox” (1817) by Abraham Cooper. An engraving print on paper, reflecting the work by Abraham Cooper (1787 – 1868), is part of Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection. According to V&A, the print is “…FROM THE ORIGINAL PICTURE BY A. COOPER.”

 

 

 

Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum, Abraham Cooper, The Fox

 

 

When I first started researching the topic, I wondered why painting a miniature portrait in enamel was considered its own art form. I was surprised to find out how difficult and challenging it was. According to the V&A museum, “The advantage of enamel over traditional miniature painting (watercolour painted on vellum or on ivory) is that it does not fade when exposed to light.” The cons are that it is a challenging process fraught with risk. “The first colours to be laid on the metal support have to be the ones that need to be fired at the highest temperature. Then more colours are added and the enamel is re-fired. The process ends with the colours that need the lowest temperature. Such labour meant that it was an expensive option.”

 

In an article from 1837 in The London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, “Some Account of the Art of Painting in Enamel,” Alfred Essex, William’s partner and brother, writes of the difficulty of achieving the desired colors and crispness of image required to rival the traditional medium of oil on canvas.

 

ESSEX CRYSTAL: MYTH OR FACT?

 

So why does the erroneous moniker “Essex Crystal” persist? Because it is so widespread, dealers still use it to help those that are looking for what they think are Essex Crystals find what they are looking for, and so it goes. How did the misnomer get started? There are several stories circulating as to the origin. William Essex was the enamel painter for Queen Victoria and created other amazing small portraits using enamels. It is possible that because the artwork is so fine and because both are forms of small portraits that Reverse Intaglio Crystals were attributed to William Essex.

 

HOW TO WEAR THEM


In love with the fox or the hound, but not a brooch wearer? A simple addition of one or two hinged bails would make it possible to wear the Reverse Intaglio Crystal as a pendant. I would pair it with an Albert Watch Chain (on the chunky side). Many enamel portraits are being converted to pendants or rings. The fox would also make a lovely pendant. It is relatively lighter and could be worn with a more delicate chain.

 

09 / 08

 

MRS. STANFORD’S JEWELS – NOW ON EXHIBIT AT STANFORD’S CANTOR MUSEUM

 

A little background…During the 19th century, Jane Lathrop Stanford, philanthropist and wife of Leland Stanford (attorney, Governor of California, Robber Baron, and founder of Stanford University), amassed an amazing collection of jewels.

 

Oil Painting Mrs. Stanford's Jewels

 

Photograph by Sugar et Cie of work by Astley D.M. Cooper “Mrs. Stanford Jewels,” Cantor Museum at Stanford University

 

After arranging her jewelry on red velvet in order to photograph and catalog her collection, Mrs. Stanford decided that she really liked the look of the photograph. She decided to commission, local artist, D.M. Cooper to create an oil painting of the collection (c. 1898).

 

It’s currently part of a small exhibition of Astley D.M. Cooper’s work on display at Stanford University’s Cantor Museum through November 16, 2015. Always looking for examples of 18th and 19th century jewels, I went down to take a look. The painting is visually stunning, but to me it is most interesting as a piece of design history.

 

My only wish is that Cooper had painted the jewels in greater detail. One reason for this might be that he painted the final touches from memory. Cooper, a drinker and lover of life, became irritated with Stanford’s demands for formal dress and temperance. “Irked by her pretensions, Cooper stormed out of the Stanford mansion before completing his work.” (A Painter Comes Home, Geoffry Dunn, Metro, March 7-16) The painting was finished later, in the peace, in his studio.

 

Close up view of a portion of the oil painting Mrs. Stanford's Jewels showing a six strand pearl necklace and other pieces of jewelry

 

Photograph by Sugar et Cie of work by Astley D.M. Cooper “Mrs. Stanford Jewels,” Cantor Museum at Stanford University

 

 

A CLASSIC COLLECTION OF VICTORIAN JEWELRY

 

I happened to find the following information regarding Mrs. Stanford’s collection in “Bejewelled by Tiffany,” (Clare Phillips). It might give you some insight into the quality of her collection. The Stanford name can be found multiple times in Tiffany & Co.’s surviving ledgers from the 1870’s and 1880’s. Her collection is also purported to include pieces from the Queen of Spain (Isabella II)’s collection.

 

Stanford’s collection includes many classic 19th century pieces, the kind you might see in the Victoria & Albert museum in London or at the Met in New York: bangle bracelets, a diamond arrow brooch, a diamond studded pocket watch, cameos, parures, jeweled hair combs, portrait brooches….

 

A close-up of Astley, D.M. Cooper's Jane Stanford's Jewels

 

Photograph by Sugar et Cie of work by Astley D.M. Cooper “Mrs. Stanford Jewels,” Cantor Museum at Stanford University

 

JEWELLERY IN 19TH CENTURY OIL PAINTINGS

 

Within the Cantor Museum, there were surprisingly few portraits of Mrs. Stanford wearing her jewels (especially ones including the details that I love). This was perhaps the best: Jane Lathrop Stanford, 1881, by Léon-Joseph-Florentin Bonnat (France) oil on canvas, Stanford Family Collection. The detail of the jewelry is not completely clear, but no one can mistake the lovely (and large) sapphire ring that she’s wearing on her index finger.

 

Close up of a portrait of Jane Stanford showing her jewelry

 

Photograph by Sugar et Cie of work by Léon-Joseph-Florentin Bonnat “Jane Lathrop Stanford,” Cantor Museum at Stanford University

 

Although it is well-documented, I’m not sure that today it is commonly known that Stanford University struggled financially after Leland Stanford’s death. Mrs. Stanford worked tirelessly to ensure its financial stability.

 

SELLING THE COLLECTION

 

Jane Stanford traveled to London during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebration in order to find a buyer for her jewelry collection, but was not successful. In her will, Mrs. Stanford provided for her collection to be sold and for the proceeds to fund museum acquisitions. According to the Spokane Daily Chronicle, September 1, 1906, “The world famous collection of precious stones and jewelry, the property of the late Mrs. Jane Stanford, will be sold by the Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr. University Association as soon as possible… Many offers from leading Eastern jewelers are already on file…”

 

 

03 / 27

 

THE TRADITION

 

From the late 1800’s into the mid 20th century, when an engagement ring was purchased at a luxury jewelry store, a sterling silver ring box was included. Unfortunately, Tiffany’s, Birks, and others no longer offer this option. Your diamond ring is now most likely to be presented in a velvet or leather box, which of course is still nice. But somehow, its not quite the same as a velvet or silk lined sterling silver ring box that screams – HEIRLOOM.

 

Why have these ring boxes become so highly sought after? Perhaps it’s the fact that silver can be engraved with initials or a special date hinting (a work of art in itself). Or perhaps some can’t stop collecting until they get their hands on THE ONE. Whatever the reason, women love these pretty sterling silver objects and men know their wife-to-be, will appreciate having an antique or vintage box to go with their antique or vintage engagement ring. 

 

vintage sterling silver ring box

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2015

 

These boxes are a beautiful way to display, store, or present an important ring (Christmas, Birthday, Anniversary) and we are always on the look out for ones to add to our online collection. And like many of you, we like to know as much as we can about the details of the antiques that we buy and enjoy sharing with those that are interested.

 

vintage sterling silver ring box

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2015

 

Over the years we have come across a few from the U.S., some from England, but the majority of the ones we have been interested in, come from Canada (Birks, Ryrie, Ellis Bros.). The English ones are relatively easy to research and date due to England’s system of hallmarking. Canadian ring boxes can be a bit trickier.

 

an example of a Canadian Sterling Silver Mark

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2015

 

While the Canadian silver ring boxes are for the most part marked sterling or plated, dating them is a bit harder. You can’t simply look at the hallmarks, look for the city mark and then look up the date letter to determine the year the piece was made. It was this quest that led us to dig a bit deeper. It is unlikely that you will be able to pin down the year, but you will have a better chance of identifying the period correctly.

 

the inside of a vintage sterling silver ring box

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2015

 

A LITTLE HISTORY

 

So we did a little research, tracing the histories of these Canadian Jewelry companies that used to offer these sterling silver little beauties: when they merged, when they changed their names, and how their maker’s marks have changed over time. This, in conjunction, with the style of the box, the amount/type of wear, and the materials used, helped us get a better idea on the circa of the box.

 

Here is some of the information we compiled. It is a brief chronology (not an in-depth study) that provides some clues via key dates in the history of these famous firms.

vintage sterling silver ring box

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2015

 

RYRIE, ELLIS BROS. & BIRKS

 

Ryrie, Ellis Bros., and Birks were all premier jewelry companies in Canada during the 19th and 20th centuries. Birks is the only one that continues on today.

 

Birks or Henry (or Henri depending upon the reference) Birks & Sons was founded in 1879 by Henry Birks in Montreal. Ryrie was founded in 1879 by James Ryrie in Toronto (later becoming Ryrie Brothers in 1897). P.W. Ellis Jewellery Company was founded in 1872 by Philip William Ellis and brother Mathew C. Ellis in Torronto. It later became Ellis Bros. Limited. The company is listed as PW Ellis & Co. Limited on a catalogue dated 1915/16 and Ellis Bros. Limited on a catalogue from 1922. While these dates do not point to the exact date of the name changes, they are good reference points, from primary sources, which you can use to assess the maker’s mark that is on your box (or piece of jewelry from these makers). Keep in mind, that it is not an exact science and the marks did not change overnight.

 

All three luxury jewelry companies have storied pasts that became intertwined during the first quarter of the 20th century.
Ryrie Bros. was an independent company until 1917, when it became part of Birks. It appears that fundamentally, Birks purchased Ryrie (some report it as an affiliation and others as an amalgamation). The Ryrie reputation must have had value, as the combined entity was then renamed Ryrie-Birks, with the Ryrie name in the first position.

 

Ellis Bros. was also a successful jewelry business in Toronto. It was an independent, acquiring others along the way until 1928, when the wholesale portion of the business folded. In 1933, the retail business was absorbed by Birks. This time, the name was changed to Birks, Ellis, Ryrie. Eventually, the combined businesses became just “Birks” as it is known today.

 

 

04 / 02

 

THE LOOK OF LOVE

 

Maybe the “Look of Love, Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection” can help answer the question. Written by by Graham C. Boettcher, Elle Shushan, and Jo Manning, it is part exhibition catalog and part romantic tale.

 

Not to be confused with the “Evil Eye” or “Tiger’s Eye”, or any other “Eye” jewelry, a Lover’s Eye is a miniature portrait of a loved one’s eye set into a piece of jewelry: brooch, ring, locket, pendent, stick-pin etc.

A picture of the book

I have purchased it for my collection (see pictures of the book purchased from the Birmingham Museum of Art, above and below) and can personally recommend it. If you are a collector of antique jewelry or books on antique jewelry, the 97 color images justify the investment. It is a great reference book for your collection or library. The book also includes a well-researched account of the origin and history of the eye-miniature, a chapter on the language of sentiment expressed through gemstones, and six very entertaining short stories inspired by various Lover’s Eyes. At this time, the book is currently available through the The Winterthur Museum Bookstore, the Birmingham Museum of Art’s Bookstore, and on Amazon.

ROYAL TRENDSETTERS AND EYE MINIATURES

 

Lover’s eye jewelry was supposedly popularized by King George the IV (at that time, the Prince of Wales). He had one of his favorite artists of the day, paint his eye hoping to use it as a romantic gesture to win over the woman who had previously rebuffed him. He had the miniature portrait set into a locket and shipped it off, hoping to persuade her (Maria Fitzherbert) to marry him. As the story goes, the gift, or the letter that went with it worked and she eventually gave in. They married in secrecy, due to the King’s (George III) disapproval, in December of 1785.

 

SENTIMENTAL JEWELRY

 

The Lover’s Eye is merely a single chapter, lasting only 50 years (1780 – 1830), in the voluminous novel of Sentimental Jewelry of the 18th and 19th century. Not many were created to begin with, they were often painted on delicate mediums (e.g. ivory), and the ones that still exist are now approaching or have past the bicentennial mark. All reasons why these miniature works of art are relatively scarce and tend to command a pretty penny when they come to market. If you are a fan of Sentimental Jewelry, check back, as will be sharing more on this topic in our next blog.