The Mod, Mod World of 1960s Jewelry

From left to right: Gold and turquoise bracelet, 1960s. Photo Courtesy: Charlotte Fine Jewellery. Pear and marquise shaped diamond earrings, 1960s. Photo Courtesy: J. & S.S. DeYoung. Coral, diamond and gold ring, 1960s. Photo Courtesy: Hancocks of London.

Organic Shapes, Abstract Forms, Yellow Gold, Turquoise, Coral, Texture, Mod, Pop Art, Hippies, The Great Society, Space Age, The Beatles and tremendous social change all defined the 1960s.

WHEN: 1960 to 1969. At the start of the 1960s John F. Kennedy had just been elected President, the look of the time was put together and ladylike with gloves, pillbox hats and a prim strand of pearls accessorizing a simple sheath dress or suit. By the end of the 1960s, hippies were taking to the streets to protest the Vietnam war. Bright colors, bold color blocking, miniskirts and go-go boots were of the moment and the bohemian look began to take hold as styles became more casual and free from the strict rules of earlier decades.

FAMOUS MAKERS: Cartier, John Donald, Andrew Grima, Jean Schulmberger for Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, David Webb, Harry Winston

MOTIFS: Textured Gold, Space Age Influences, Flaming Stars, Animals, Birds, Flowers, Angular Shapes, Architectural, Asymmetrical 

THE LOOK: Textured yellow gold with bold color combinations, abstract, large-scale, chic and playful. Starbursts, sunbursts and other “space” themes. Cluster rings were popular with a large stone resting on top of a cluster of stones – often diamonds. Ballerina settings were also a favorite with a large center stone surrounded by diamonds — frequently baguettes — that appear to float like a dancer’s tutu, around the central gem.

MATERIALS: Yellow Gold, Silver, Turquoise, Coral, Sapphires, Rubies, Emeralds, Pear and Marquise Diamond Shapes, Cabochon Cut Gems, Baroque Pearls, Lapis and Other Hardstones, Sometimes Carved.

The 1960s were a time of unprecedented change. The U.S. and Russia were competing to see who could land on the moon first, civil rights were in the spotlight and the British Invasion saw rock ‘n roll rise to the top of the charts as the Beatles took over the world. And jewelry design reflected the times. The more formal matchy-matchy ladylike sets of the previous decade were being replaced with bigger, bolder more colorful jewelry that reflected a changing world that was more casual and incorporated influences from foreign lands. Unlike previous eras where there was jewelry that was for day and jewelry that was for night, the 1960s had more of an anything goes attitude and it became acceptable to wear any type of jewelry at any time.

Hollywood also put jewelry in the spotlight. In 1961, the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s was released. The iconic Fifth Avenue jeweler played its own part in the film and its star Audrey Hepburn wore the Tiffany Diamond on her press tour for the movie. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made headlines with their shopping sprees at Bulgari and other jewelry purchases. Harry Winston made its own press by loaning jewelry to movie stars for various events. These celebrity connections put jewelry front and center in the minds of consumers.

The diamond-centric look of the previous decade began to see color take centerstage. Like the changing times, 1960s jewelry saw a shift away from traditional faceted gemstones set in platinum or white gold and a movement to textured yellow gold set with colored gemstones. Cabochon cut colored gemstones became a popular choice in the 1960s, they had a “new, modern” feeling to them and they changed the look of a design. The smoothness of the cabochons provided a distinct contrast to the textured metals that embraced the stone. The combination of textured yellow gold and cabochon gemstones was a chic evolution in jewelry style. It fit the more casual dress code that was coming into play during that decade. It also put hardstones such as lapis lazuli and malachite — which are perfectly complemented by yellow gold — front and center. Oversized rings, bracelets and necklaces began to emerge.

Brooches were still in demand during the early 1960s but they were generally smaller than in previous eras. Birds, animals, flora and fauna as well as abstract shapes were all interpreted in a more playful manner. David Webb created many of his bejeweled creatures — frequently in the form of brooches — during the 1960s, which were wildly popular and are highly collectible.

By the end of the 1960s the Vietnam war was raging, psychedelia was everywhere and it was the “dawning of the age of Aquarius”.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Creating a New Story

Raymond Yard Golfer Rabbit Brooch featuring a collection of Scott West Argyle Blue Diamonds set in platinum with diamonds and a ruby. Photo Courtesy: LJ West.

Colored diamonds are among the rarest and most sought after of all precious gemstones and their rarity desires to be showcased in special jewelry. Recognizing those facts, Scott West, executive vice president of colored diamond company LJ West, began to create jewelry using its vast inventory of extraordinary colored diamonds. But not just any design will do for these special sparklers. “Coming from a firm that specializes in colored diamonds, we wanted to make jewelry,” comments West. “We started looking at auctions and fell in love with different designers and eras. It’s not just about the look – it’s about how the piece is made and why it’s special.” 

The Raymond Yard Connection

West began searching for the right jewelers and partners to create jewelry inspired by the past, but made for the present. Enter the iconic Raymond Yard Rabbit pins. The rabbits were first introduced by Raymond Yard in 1928 and were composed of all white diamonds with colorful enamel details. As the series of rabbits evolved, Yard began adding in colored gemstones. Today those rabbits are being reimagined with colored diamonds in a collaboration between Raymond Yard and Scott West.

“We started working with Raymond Yard on the rabbits about three years ago,” recounts West, who is the third generation in the family business. “We used pink or blue diamonds from the Argyle Mine for the jackets on the rabbits. It’s an iconic piece with iconic stones.”

The colored diamond rabbits have gained even more importance since the Argyle Mine closed this past year and with its closure comes the end of a small, but steady supply of pink, blue and violet diamonds. “With Argyle closing, it’s impossible to find those stones,” says West, noting that LJ West is an authorized Argyle partner.

Design Fusion

West does create some pieces that are “inspired” by Art Nouveau or Art Deco designs. He does not try to make replicas of vintage pieces, but instead creates pieces in a modern way for today’s consumer.

Creating Art Nouveau inspired pieces in today’s world comes with its challenges. “You have to find the right jeweler with the right skills to make these pieces,” explains West, who has a background in engineering and also completed a diamond cutting program in Florida and earned his GD from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). “We have pieces made in New York City, Hong Kong and London. We searched the world for people with the right skill set to make these pieces.”

Art Nouveau jewelry tends to use quite a bit of enamel and West notes that getting the right colors of enamel was not always easy because some colors just aren’t made anymore and whatever is available is left over from many years ago. “Jewelry has always danced between an artisan showing beautiful sculpture or trying to showcase a stone,” says West, who notes that it took two years to create one pair of Art Nouveau earrings. “We build around the color of a stone, it’s a balance. We made a pair of Art Nouveau style earrings with a pink diamond. We wanted the pink diamond to stand out in the Art Nouveau earrings so we created an enameled pink sun.”

When it comes to Art Deco inspired pieces, West calls those designs a fusion. “We can be inspired to make an Art Deco piece the way it was made before, but we changed it some. Art Deco has angles, we softened the angles,” concludes West. “You can see the Art Deco inspiration, you can see how the elements of Art Deco, fashion and other components from today fuse.”

Authored by Amber Michelle

Are Signed Jewelry Pieces More Valuable?

Van Cleef & Arpels Diamond and Platinum Snowflake Bracelet, Photo Courtesy: J. & S.S. DeYoung

When it comes to rare and exquisite vintage jewelry, signed pieces can be among the most sought after and hard to come by jewels. Those highly coveted pieces of signed jewelry are very desirable to collectors as well as to people who want an assurance that they are getting top quality gems, impeccable fabrication and stellar design. The right signature on the right jewel can also add a premium to the price of the piece.

“Signatures can add tremendous value,” comments Miami-based Steven Neckman of the eponymous firm. “If it’s a recognized signature it shows the quality of a piece. When a jewel is signed Tiffany & Co., Cartier, or Van Cleef & Arpels, you know it is well made and that they use quality stones. Generally, with signed jewelry it’s a given that the quality is excellent with strong design.”

New York-based dealer, Richard Buonomo, principle of the firm bearing his name, agrees that a signed piece of jewelry carries a guarantee of quality, prestige and value, but he notes that there are some caveats to a signature’s worth. “A piece is more rare if it is signed, it is scarcity that drives prices up,” says Buonomo. “Still a signature does not always mean much. Some pieces are so generic or have so little design that it doesn’t change the price much.”

The Status of a Signature

Beyond the precious metals, fabulous gemstones and intrinsic design value, people also want signatures to elevate their own status. “People have a desire to be associated with something that lifts them up in society and enhances their status. It’s a basic human instinct,” observes Janet Levy of J. & S.S. DeYoung, in New York City. “A piece of jewelry with a signature denotes both quality and status.”

But what if two pieces are comparable, essentially the same in terms of quality and styling, yet one is unsigned. How do you decide which piece to purchase? According to Neckman, a signed piece of jewelry is more marketable, but that can also vary depending upon how hot a name is in the current market, something which changes over time.

Certain signatures are always top of the list for those seeking signed pieces – Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany & Co. and Harry Winston. But Levy has noticed that over the past ten or 15-years name recognition has increased for many other design firms and that has opened up the market significantly. “There is a much wider appreciation of special designers — Sterlé, Mellerio, Boivin. There were a lot of very refined French design houses and a circle of designers who were more art houses. That world has opened up a lot because people have found out about them online. Now people know names that they didn’t know 20-years ago.”

Vintage Versus Modern

According to Levy, the market for signed jewelry can be divided into two areas — modern and vintage. “If there is a quality signed vintage piece it will be more valuable because these pieces are no longer made and they are very collectable. There are more collectors now, so those pieces are harder to find and more valuable,” explains Levy. “With modern pieces the signature is tied to market demand or quality. The pieces are not as rare because they are in production. The value is influenced by how available and how much demand there is for a particular name.”

Neckman considers signed jewelry to be collectable art and notes that some artists are more valuable than others and cites Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulagri and Cartier as three current top sellers.  

“It’s not just a signature that adds value,” concludes Buonomo. “Some pieces of  jewelry are imbued with a certain character of design that is associated with that name. The jewelry will have all the characteristics of design, quality of materials and manufacturing. That’s when you have a perfect storm for everything to add value to the piece and that’s when you can charge more for the jewel.”

Authored by Amber Michelle

Tiffany & Co: An Iconic American Jeweler

Morganite brooch wrapped in diamonds and platinum, signed Tiffany & Co. France. Photo Courtesy: Spectra

Beyoncé croons Moon River to a rapt Jay-Z in the recently released “About Love” video from Tiffany & Co. that features the chanteuse wearing the famed Tiffany Diamond. The video showcases an iconic singer, wearing an iconic diamond from an iconic jeweler. So, how did Tiffany & Co. gain its status as one of the foremost American Jewelry Houses?

The story began in 1837 when Charles Lewis Tiffany and his business partner, John P. Young, opened a stationery store in lower Manhattan specializing in luxury goods including some jewelry. Originally named Tiffany & Young, the store was renamed Tiffany & Co. in 1853 when Charles Lewis Tiffany took over the business.

The retailer introduced American consumers to luxury when the firm sent out its first direct mail catalog in 1845 featuring a selection of upscale products. That catalog was the predecessor of the firm’s Blue Book, which to this day showcases extravagant gift ideas each holiday season.

However, what really put Tiffany & Co. on the map was diamonds, but not just any diamonds. In 1848, Tiffany & Young traveled to Europe. While on the Continent, they purchased a very large quantity of diamonds from the aristocracy and brought them back to New York. So many of the sparkling gems were purchased that the store had enough diamonds to supply the industrial barons and other wealthy Americans with a steady source of stones. It was the first time that Americans could easily purchase diamonds in the U.S. and the store became known as a diamond buying destination.

The Tiffany Diamond

Another big diamond milestone for the jeweler came when Tiffany & Co. bought a 287.42-carat rough yellow diamond that came from the famed Kimberley Mine in South Africa. Discovered in 1877, Tiffany purchased the rock in Paris the following year. The company’s chief gemologist George Frederick Kunz was in charge of cutting the diamond. The gem was transformed into a 128.54-carat cushion-cut diamond with 82 facets and is known for its spectacular sparkle and depth of color.

The Tiffany Diamond is currently on permanent display at the New York City Flagship store. For most of its life, the Tiffany Diamond has been in a showcase to be seen, but not worn. In fact, it has only been worn by four people: The socialite Mary Whitehouse who wore the jewel to a Tiffany Ball in 1957. It was next worn in 1961 by Audrey Hepburn as part of the press tour for her role in the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. The gem went back into a showcase, until Lady Gaga donned the bauble 58 years later for the 2019 Academy Awards. Now in 2021, Beyoncé is adorned with the sparkler in the “About Love” video.

Tiffany Setting

As the diamond experts of the era, the company wanted to showcase the sparkling stones to maximum advantage and the Tiffany Setting was born. Introduced by Charles Lewis Tiffany in 1886, the Tiffany Setting is one of the most renowned designs from the firm. At the time that it was introduced the Tiffany setting was very innovative. The diamond is set high and is held in place by six prongs allowing maximum light to flow through the stone to amplify its sparkle. To this day, the Tiffany Setting remains one of the most popular settings for a diamond engagement ring.

Soon after the introduction of the Tiffany Setting, the firm once again made headlines when Charles Lewis Tiffany bought the French Crown Jewels and made them into Tiffany pieces.

The headlines didn’t stop there, Tiffany & Co. won the grand prize for jewelry at the Paris Exposition in 1900, the first American company to be given that honor.

In 1902, Charles Lewis Tiffany passed away. His son, Louis Comfort Tiffany took over the firm. An artist in his heart and soul, Louis Comfort Tiffany became the company’s first design director, where he remained until his death in 1933. Inspired by nature with a particular passion for dragonflies, he was an influential designer and leader in the Art Nouveau movement. His jewelry, lamps and glass windows are showcased in museums and can occasionally be found for purchase.

In 1979, John Loring was hired as design director and he shaped the design direction of the firm for the next 40 years. During those years several jewelry designers brought their talents to the company including Jean Schlumberger, Donald Claflin, Angela Cummings, Elsa Peretti, Paloma Picasso and architect, Frank Gearhy.

Introducing Colored Gemstones

In addition to its diamond expertise, Tiffany & Co. has been responsible for the introduction of a few colored gemstones. In 1903, the lovely pink stone kunzite was brought to market by Tiffany & Co. It was named after George Frederick Kunz, Tiffany & Co.’s staff gemologist. Several years later, the company introduced morganite, a peachy colored stone that is part of the beryl family. Kunz named the gem after the financier J.P. Morgan for his contributions to art and science and his donations to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Museum of Natural History in Paris.

In 1968, Tiffany & Co. launched Tanzanite, a blue-violet gemstone from Tanzania, found in the foothills of Mt. Kilamanjaro. Soon after, the retailer debuted tsavorite, a type of green garnet. The gem was named in honor of the Tsavo National Park on the border of Kenya and Tanzania where the stone was found. Thanks to Tiffany & Co. these gems can be found in a wide array of jewelry from various firms.

The Next Chapter

Throughout its history, Tiffany & Co. has been a leader in design and innovation. And with its storied history and global name recognition, Tiffany & Co. remains one of the most successful and prestigious American jewelry houses today. On January 7, 2021, luxury product group LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, completed its acquisition of Tiffany & Co. marking the beginning of a new chapter in the story of the venerable retailer.

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Elegance of Edwardian Jewelry

Diamond and Platinum Edwardian Era Bow Brooch, Photo Courtesy: Paul Fisher, Inc.

Opulent, Refined, Luxurious, Lifestyles of the Rich and Royal, White, Platinum, Pearls, Diamonds all defined the Edwardian era.

WHEN: 1901-1915, the Edwardian era officially began during the reign of King Edward VII in 1901 (although he was coronated in 1902) and ended with the start of World War I in 1914/1915, historians vary as to the exact dates. Edward, the son of Queen Victoria, began to take on many official duties after Prince Albert, the Queen’s husband and Edward’s father, died. The Edwardian style began to develop in the late 1800s and blossomed during his reign. Even though this same time period was known as the Belle Epoque in other parts of Europe and as the Gilded Age in the United States, the jewelry had the same design aesthetic.

FAMOUS MAKERS: Boucheron, Cartier, Chaumet, Fabergé, Garrads, LaCloche, Marcus & Co., Tiffany & Co.

MOTIFS: Bows, Ribbons, Garlands, Laurel Wreaths, Florals, Feathers and Tassels, Stars, Millegrain

THE LOOK: White-on-white platinum with pearls and/or diamonds, light and lacy, intricate, formal and regal

MATERIALS: Platinum, Pearls, Diamonds, Pink Topaz, Peridot, Demantoid Garnet, Amethyst, Turquoise, Blue Sapphire, Ruby , Emerald, Aquamarine, Kunzite, Opal, Moonstone and Alexandrite

King Edward was known for his love of luxury and revelry. There were many parties and celebrations during his reign and dressing up was required. Not just dressing up to look good, but dressing up to show your rank in society and your respect for the rank of those around you.

Status-conscious Edwardians were not shy about piling on jewelry. If you want to see layering at its best, look at women of the Edwardian era. They started with a choker or dog collar and then added more necklaces of varying lengths that dropped to the waist, or longer. The dog collar was particularly popular as Edward’s wife Queen Alexandra favored the style to hide a scar on her neck and others followed suit.

Brooches and pins were also popular, with fashionable Edwardians wearing numerous pins during the day on their bodice, as epaulets and in their hair. It was also customary to wear a few bracelets stacked together on each arm along with several rings.

For an evening event, along with all the other jewelry, tiara’s, jeweled combs or other hair ornaments were worn. Tiara’s were especially important if royalty (king, queen, prince or princess), or upper echelon nobility was present. And for evening, bigger brooches were worn, often a few at a time, with star motifs being favored.

There were a number of technological events in the Edwardian era and two that made a big impact on jewelry and fashion. In 1903, the high heat oxyacetylene torch was invented. The torch was able to easily heat platinum to its melting point, allowing jewelers to stretch the metal until it became very thin. Platinum, which is a very strong metal was then formed into delicate, but very elaborate settings. It was also pierced to create openwork adding to the lightness of the pieces both aesthetically and in terms of weight. Jewelry created in the Edwardian era is surprisingly light weight given its larger sizes.

A second major technical advancement was availability of electricity. It made a big change in fashion. Heavy fabrics, brocades and velvets in dark colors that were beautiful by candlelight looked dreary and drab under electric lights. They were replaced by pastel colors and lighter fabrics such as silk or taffeta. These new styles were the perfect backdrop for the intricate, openwork jewelry of the era.

Diamonds and pearls were two of the most used gems in Edwardian jewelry. Set in platinum they reinforced the era’s formal white-on-white design aesthetic. The diamond mines in South Africa were producing an abundant supply of diamonds making them readily available and cost effective to use in jewelry design.

Pearls on the other hand were much more rare as cultured pearls had not yet been perfected and brought to market. Pearls were natural and much harder to come by making them scarce and far more valuable than other gems.

When World War I erupted, the gracious and luxurious lifestyle of the Edwardian era came to an abrupt end.

Authored by Amber Michelle

The History of Jewelry: Joseph Saidian & Sons

David Webb, objet d’art

Looking at beautiful jewels is truly one of life’s greatest pleasures and in the book, The History of Jewelry: Joseph Saidian & Sons, there is plenty to enjoy. Published by Tourbillon International in association with Rizzoli and authored by jewelry expert, Caroline Childers, The History of Jewelry takes you on a tour of jewelry as seen through the lens of Joseph Saidian & Sons and their 150-year family legacy in the business.

Packed with images depicting the detail in each piece of jewelry, the full-color photography showcases a selection of jewels from historical eras and the present day that highlight a range of materials and styles. Each chapter has a different theme from the jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier to Indian jewelry and modern jewelry. 

We visited Ariel Saidian, owner Joseph Saidian & Sons, in his New York City store to find out more about the inspiration behind the book.

What inspired you to write a book?

ARIEL SAIDIAN: We’re a multigenerational business and we have plenty of stories from over 150 years in the family business. We had so many amazing pieces of jewelry and so many stories; we wanted to tell those stories. The book was written as an introduction to people who come to see us for the first time. It’s a way to show them what we do and to introduce ourselves. Our history helps to build trust with customers.

How did you choose the pieces of jewelry that are in The History of Jewelry and what, if any, commonality is there between the pieces?

AS: The jewelry that made it into the book was a snapshot of what was in our inventory and what we were doing that day. There were pieces that should have been in the book but they aren’t because they were out with a client, or for example there was a piece that was with Van Cleef & Arpels in France for six months being authenticated. It was what the showcases looked like three years ago when we wrote the book. We have sections on Indian jewelry, objets d’art, Van Cleef & Arpels, the book was saying this is what we were into at this point in time. Not all of the pieces in the book are for sale.

What makes good jewelry design?

AS: If someone falls in love with a piece then it is good design. Stones, metals, period, none of it matters. The only thing that matters is that someone falls in love with a piece of jewelry. It’s a very personal art form.

How important is a story to a piece of jewelry and why is it important?

AS: Sometimes we have an amazing piece of jewelry and it has no story, no provenance, but we fall in love with it. The beauty of the piece speaks for itself. A lot of customers ask for provenance, my tongue in cheek answer: The provenance is that it’s beautiful.

The book includes jewelry never before seen by the public. Why were they never seen before and why include them in the book?

AS: Showing those jewelry pieces helps tell our story. The book is not limited to objects that people use to adorn themselves, it includes snuff boxes, gold clocks, desk objects and gem set swords. Many times when a man comes in to buy a present for his wife, he will end up buying something for himself as well. It shows the range of what we do.

How do you decide which pieces to keep in your private collection?

AS: The jewelry and objects that we keep in our personal collection are there not only because of rarity or value. A pieces is there because it is so beautiful that we fall in love with it and it can’t be replaced.

What should people look for when buying estate jewelry?

AS: First, you must fall in love with the jewel. Then ask, does it come from someone you trust? Can you wear it comfortably? You don’t want to get something home and find out it’s hard to wear — earrings that are too heavy or a ring that falls to the side. Check to see if the piece is in its original condition, does it have repairs? Find out if the piece is signed and authenticated.

When people read The History of Jewelry, what do you want them to take away?

AS: We want people to smile and enjoy the jewelry in the same way that we are lucky enough to enjoy it every day.

Authored by Amber Michelle

5 Reasons to Sell Vintage Jewelry in Your Store

Art Deco Brooch. Photo: JS Fearnley

The glamour and elegance of bygone eras is captured forever in precious gemstones and metals that were beautifully crafted and the height of fashionable jewelry when they first debuted. Fast forward to today and vintage jewelry is more desirable than ever, speaking to the contemporary jewelry aficionado in much the same way that it did to the original owners of these pieces.

If you’re looking for new ways to drive business — and who isn’t these days — estate jewelry may be exactly what you’re looking for. The Jewelers Circle offers the following five reasons to stock vintage jewelry in your store.

  • UNIQUE JEWELRY.  Many estate pieces are one-of-a-kind jewels. Each piece is unique simply because these jewels are no longer being made. Today’s consumers — especially Millennials and Gen Zer’s — are fiercely individualistic. They want to create their own fashion statement and express themselves in a way that is distinctive to their lifestyle. These shoppers will love a selection of jewels that convey their personal style and most importantly – no one else will have what they are wearing. The attention to detail and the high level of workmanship that went into vintage pieces is much different from jewelry that is commercially produced today. Strong design that stands the test of time makes some estate jewelry look as fresh and fashionable today as it did when it was first made.

  • VINTAGE JEWELRY IS SUSTAINABLE. Today’s consumers — especially younger shoppers — are environmentally conscious. Vintage jewelry is not only beautiful, but it fits into the circular economy as it is being reused and no new resources — metals or stones — need to be wrenched from the earth. That’s a big plus for today’s eco aware customers.

  • ESTATE JEWELRY IS COLLECTABLE. Collectors enjoy the thrill of the chase and tracking down that perfect piece to add to their treasure trove. Vintage jewels offer plenty of collecting opportunities. A collector may like a particular period, such as Edwardian, Art Deco, or 1970s. They may be wild for a certain gemstone, or motif such as florals, animals, bows or geometric forms. You can help your collector find that special item and build a relationship with that person that will last for years. As a retailer you can source a virtual vault of jewelry on Jewelers Circle to appeal to the specific tastes of your customer and the aesthetic of your jewelry store.

  • SET YOUR STORE APART FROM THE COMPETITION. Having a collection of estate jewelry that no one else has will set your store apart from the pack. Any jewelry store will have cases filled with sparkling diamond engagement rings, but how many jewelry retailers in your area have a case filled with one-of-a-kind engagement rings showcasing antique diamonds in beautifully detailed settings? Or, a fabulous cocktail ring from the 1950s that highlights an oversized colored gemstone? Bold gold link chain necklaces and bracelets are a fashion favorite today and you’ll find 1940s retro gold pieces that will fit in with this trend just as well as a piece that is made today.

  • DRAW IN NEW CUSTOMERS. Once word gets out that your store offers a different and interesting selection of jewelry that no one else has, you’ll find that new customers start seeking you out. You’ll attract a new range of customers that may not have had your store on their radar. Now they’ll have a reason to come in and view the vintage jewels.

Every piece of estate jewelry has a story to tell. Whether it is the story of the previous owner, a bit of history about the maker, or the style of the times, the story continues and grows as the next person makes the jewel a part of their life.

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Charm of Vintage Diamond Engagement Rings

Old mine diamond set in rose gold and platinum. Photo: Hancocks London.

For those who love reading Jane Austen and sipping tea from a china cup, a vintage engagement ring may be the right choice. From the romance of the Victorian era, the elegance of Edwardian jewels and the high voltage glamour of Art Deco, there are unique and beautiful choices that will suit any taste.

“I’ve seen a massive resurgence of interest in vintage diamond engagement rings over the past ten or 15 years,” reports Los Angeles-based Grace Lavarro, Jewels by Grace. “People are not always looking for big and fancy, now they want more charm and personality. They also ask a lot of questions about the history of the ring. This generation is very excited about history.”

People are also captivated by the uniqueness of vintage engagement rings, which plays into the desire for personalization that has been gaining momentum over the past several years.

“There is a migration by brides to the concept of having an engagement ring that is rare and unique to associate with their relationship and the rarity and uniqueness of their commitment,” comments Lauren Levy, president Lauren DeYoung Jewelry, Inc. “It’s a concept that resonates with people right now and vintage engagement rings fit into that idea.”

Old Cut Diamonds

While settings in antique and vintage engagement rings are certainly a draw for their beautiful styling, old cut diamonds are the main attraction for couples looking for something different and interesting, says Guy Burton, director, Hancocks London.  “Our specialty is antique and vintage stones, which we then make into one-of-kind rings,” London-based Burton explains. “We really showcase the antique cuts. They’re more unique and beautiful and people are looking for unique. A few years ago, people didn’t know the difference between modern and vintage cut diamonds. Now people know about old cuts and they are fascinated by these hand cut stones. You really won’t find two alike.”

Old cut diamonds do have a special charm all their own. Unlike the precision angles found in modern cut stones, old cut diamonds, because they were cut by hand, are often slightly imprecise, which gives each stone its own special character and personality.

Burton suggests having a Gemological Institute of America (GIA) report for any vintage or antique diamonds so you can sell with transparency. Lavarro also finds that her clients want a GIA report with their stone, even if it is a low color. “My brides don’t care about the color of the diamond. They will go with a lower color, bigger stone to get a better price,” she says.

Sustainable Engagement Rings

People are much more environmentally conscious today and couples look for engagement rings that are going to show their love for one another as well as their love for mother earth. Vintage engagement rings are an attractive choice because they do no harm, nothing new needs to pulled out of the ground to make these pieces.

“Couples are sourcing reclaimed diamonds and recycled pieces,” says Levy. “People want to know what the environmental impact is and they want to reduce the negative impact on the environment. People are asking questions before making an investment. They ask about lab grown diamonds and their impact on the environment too.”

Lavarro also finds that sustainability is an important factor for couples who are selecting a vintage engagement ring. “People are looking for green choices and vintage is the height of green.”

Be Platinum or Go Gold?

For the past couple of decades platinum has been the popular choice for bridal, but now there is a renewed interest in yellow gold.

“Yellow gold is most popular right now,” observes Burton. “Yellow gold is seen as more unique and different since platinum has been used a lot for many years. With gold there is a good contrast between the stone and the metal.”

Lavarro has noticed an uptick in interest in Victorian rings. “Art Deco was the king of eras, but now with the return of yellow gold, the Victorian era — especially cluster rings — is gaining popularity.”

On the other hand, Levy finds that platinum continues to do well, “We always have consistent requests for Art Deco rings. They are very wearable because the platinum settings are strong, but there is a resurgence of interest in yellow gold.”

Fall In Love With Color

Some brides are looking for vintage rings with a colored gemstone center as an alternative look to the more traditional diamond engagement ring.

“Some people start by wanting a diamond, then they fall in love with color,” explains Levy. “Ruby and sapphire are the most requested stone. They are durable and will go with everything. The main barrier to color for most people is that it won’t go with their wardrobe.”

Sapphires, ruby and spinel are popular choices for brides who visit Lavarro, who notes a new trend over the past couple of years, “Women want a diamond solitaire in a gold setting and then they pair it with an eternity band. They are going all out on the band and it may have color.”

An engagement ring and wedding band are two pieces of jewelry that will get a lot of wear, Levy offers the following advice when selecting these rings, “Put thought into the jewelry,” she concludes.  “You will wear your wedding dress for one day, but your engagement ring is a special piece of jewelry that will last a lifetime.”

By Amber Michelle

July Birthstone: Ruby

Above: Art Deco platinum, carved ruby and diamond bracelet, courtesy of Paul Fisher, Inc.

Celebrated present-day as the July birthstone, rubies have unceasingly enchanted and entranced humankind. From Greek mythology to Burmese tradition, the scarlet stone has served as a symbol for various societies, cultures, religions, and philosophies. Aptly referred to as the “King of Gems” in Sanskrit, rubies continue to be one of the most precious and coveted gemstones.

Ruby and sapphire are a variety of the mineral corundum, a crystalline form of aluminum oxide. Corundum is a 9 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, second only to diamond, making it a highly popular and wearable gemstone.

Ruby’s iconic red pigment comes from the presence of chromium in the compound: the higher the chromium concentrations, the stronger the red hue. Chromium can also cause fluorescence, which further increases the red color intensity. Rubies of the most saturated color, coupled with natural fluorescence, are referred to as “pigeon blood”. Untreated, gem-quality rubies with vibrant shades of red are especially rare and highly sought-after, asserting higher per-carat prices in the colored stone market.

The inimitable geology of Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and Mozambique are all sources for exceptional ruby crystals. For centuries, deposits in Burma (now Myanmar), especially those from Mogok in Northern Myanmar, produced incredible specimens of rubies, some with extraordinary “pigeon blood” vibrancy. In the late 2000s, gem-quality rubies were discovered in Mozambique, and the country has since become the world’s largest ruby producer. 

From armor augmentations to lavish ornamentation, craftsmen have employed the “King of Gems” for centuries, particularly as a mineral of choice for jewelry. Rubies have graced countless jewels through the various eras and design periods and continue to play an important role in the modern-day colored stone and jewelry fabrication markets.

Van Cleef & Arpels, platinum, ruby and diamond “margueritte” flower brooch, courtesy of J.&S.S. DeYoung, Inc.
Cartier 18K Gold and Ruby Clips, courtesy of G. Torroni S.A.

References

Giuliani, G. & Groat, L. (2019, Winter). Geology of corundum and emerald gem deposits. Gems & Gemology, 55(4), 464-489. GIA. https://www.gia.edu/doc/WN19-geology-of-corundum-and-emerald-gem-deposits.pdf

July Birthstone. GIA. https://www.gia.edu/birthstones/july-birthstones

May, L. (2016, November 23). 5 minutes with… A Burmese pigeon’s blood ruby ring. Christie’shttps://www.christies.com/features/5-minutes-with-A-Burmese-pigeons-blood-ruby-ring-7917-1.aspx

Rees, L. (2020, August 21). See the world’s rarest and most famous rubies. Galerie Magazinehttps://www.galeriemagazine.com/rubies-most-famous/

Ruby. SSEF. https://www.ssef.ch/ruby/

Ruby Care and Cleaning Guide. GIA. https://www.gia.edu/ruby-care-cleaning

Ruby Description. GIA. https://www.gia.edu/ruby-description

Ruby Quality Factors. GIA. https://www.gia.edu/ruby-quality-factor

Shor, R. & Weldon, R. (2009, Winter). Ruby and sapphire production and distribution: A quarter century of change. Gems & Gemology, 45(4), 236-259. GIA. https://www.gia.edu/doc/Ruby-and-Sapphire-Production-and-Distribution.pdf

Young, K. (2019, February 10). Rock stars: Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but blood-red rubies are a cut above other gemstones. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/rubies-the-real-rock-stars/

In the Chaumet Heritage Department

By Marie Chabrol

Image Above: The blue private room. Photo : ©MarieChabrol

Place Vendôme, besides the famous column of the world and the Ritz, the most famous French and international jewelry houses offer to dazzled eyes walkers and enthusiasts their most beautiful diamonds, their most beautiful emeralds and their dazzling ornaments. But this place contains well-kept secrets. Among its unknown places to the general public, there is one more surprising than the others: the Bureau Bleu. It is in this boudoir, beautifully restored, that I take you to discover a small part of one of the most beautiful treasures of the place : the archives of the house Chaumet.

Some drawings from the Fossin album, circa 1810. Photo : ©MarieChabrol

François-Régnault Nitot first installs the house at 15 Place Vendôme where he acquires in 1812 the mansion. We find there his apartment and his shop. Almost a century later, Joseph Chaumet moved the house to 12 of the same place. We are in 1907, the address is now final. This mansion dates, like the rest of the square, from the end of the 17th century. On the first floor is the Chaumet museum and its famous “tiara hall”. This apartment was the on to Claude Baudard de Vaudrier, lord of Saint James, treasurer general of the navy of King Louis XVI. In 1777, he commissioned architect François-Joseph Bélanger for the Grand Salon. Now restored and classified as an historic monument, this place is one of the most beautiful on the Vendôme square. The Bureau Bleu was to be a room. It was especially for many years the one of Beatrice de Plinval: hired in 1969, she was a designer, curator, creator of the internal museum of the house, she is also the “memory” of the house. His successor was recently appointed. Guillaume Robic – passed by the Ministry of Culture, the CMN or the Monnaie de Paris, took office in the house on January 1, 2018.

Drawing for a platinum and diamonds brooch, circa 1910. Photo : ©MarieChabrol

The Chaumet archives

Discovering the archives of the house is first of all immerse yourself in an absolutely amazing and particularly complete set. Very early, the in-house jewelers gather documents to keep a trilateral order. Albums are made, gathering drawings, sketches and gouaches. Which ones are numbered. Some albums are ordered around a theme like knots when others date from a particular time. Even today, the archivists of the house do not know who made these albums. There are no documents or “mission orders” in a way. It seems that this fund was first created in a completely empirical way. The oldest drawings dating from 1810. We are in full period F.-R. Nitot whose head of workshop is Jean-Baptiste Fossin. It is not about gouaches as elaborate as those we could see during the last exhibitions devoted to this medium. It is about, in this album, sketches often made in graphite pencil. There are only a few colors, but the work of the volume is quite remarkable.

A yellow gold and diamond brooch, circa 1970. Photo : ©MarieChabrol

To understand the richness and the complexity of the fund, some numbers are needed. Also the archives of the house Chaumet are composed as follows:

  • 80,000 drawings mainly in the famous albums
  • 66,000 negatives of which 33,000 are actually glass plates.
  • 300,000 photos on paper that represent jewels before delivery. A nuance however, this important figure incorporates duplicates. Indeed, some pieces could be the subject of 3, 5 or even 10 identical photo prints.
  • Then add accounting documents: account books, deposit books and even about 500 plasters mainly made in the nineteenth century.
  • Finally, and this is one of the richness of this fund, the house retains some 500 models in nickel silver (often enhanced with gouache) which represent a part of the achievements of the house. This is mainly about tiaras and brooches.
It’s all about bows, circa 1920. Photo : ©MarieChabrol

Among the important elements, it must be borne in mind that this fund is fairly homogeneous. Which is not always the case with archives. Wars and removals are all problems for conservation. Here, there is probably no talk of “white areas”. Archivists arriving to find the elements that researchers may need by consulting the various components of the fonds: drawings, photo plates, paper prints or accounting documents … etc.

A diadem drawing in the Fossin album, circa 1810. Photo : ©MarieChabrol

Chaumet’s researches and willingness to perpetuate as well as to exploit its archives also made it possible to understand their constitution. We know for example that from 1870 the house have in-house photographers. The photo studio was also spruced up in the square because of the light. Before moving several times. But the study of some photos reveal the reflection of the column …

A brooch drawing, certainly in platinum, diamonds and maybe aquamarines. Photo : ©MarieChabrol

The digitization, a token of protection

From 1990, the house programs annual campaigns of restoration and conservation of its archives. Old albums are entrusted to graphic arts conservators (INP) in order to stabilize them when they are too damaged. Neutral papers and boxes of protection are thus integrated in order to preserve this fund for a long time. Work is also underway creating optimum hygrometric conditions for the preservation and consultation of documents. The heritage department of the Chaumet house is gradually growing. One, then two people to count today 5 people full time.

A brooch drawing mixing white and yellow gold, diamonds and maybe a cat’s eye chrysoberyl. Circa 1970-1980. Photo : ©MarieChabrol

Photos are among the most complicated documents to keep. The papers dry and crackle, the prints pass and do not support the light of day. For example, the gouachés of the exhibition of La Piscine will have to find in the dark for 18 months after two months of exposure. A time necessary to “rest” and sustain them.

This sketch from 1907 served as inspiration for the re-edition of the brooch presented in the Haute Joaillerie collection of July 2017. It should be known that it still exists and that it will be exhibited in Tokyo from June 2018 as part of a great exhibition devoted to the house. Photo : ©MarieChabrol

Since the 2000s, digitization has helped the work of archivists. Thus bill books between 1838 and 1958 are now available in digital format. Saving time for researches. Since last year, it is the photographic collection which is digitized progressively with the rhythm of recurring campaigns. Because it takes time, a photo sometimes requires up to 15 minutes of work to get a satisfactory result.

A brooch drawing in yellow gold and diamonds. Circa 1970. Photo : ©MarieChabrol

Be blown away

This visit and discovery of the archives will have been particularly inspiring. The album Fossin is remarkable for its content. But the thematic album on the knots is even more surprising. Hundreds of pages, sketches, gouaches testify to the talent of the designers of the house. And the bow, DNA of the house, has been treated more than sharp. At all times, in all styles and with all possible materials, it is reinvented perpetually. Exciting! Finally, I immersed happily in a 70s album where the yellow gold is perfectly treated. Work with thread and stones for timeless renderings. A real nice trip made possible by the team of the house who knew how to answer to my too many questions!