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Please feel free to contact us regarding any of the pieces on our site. Please send a description of the piece you are wondering about, along with the price and era that it comes from. We will return your email as soon possible. 

Or call in to the store at 303.573.5049

1417 Larimer Street
Denver, Colorado, 80202
USA

(303) 573 5049

Since 1977, Victoriana has remained, within a 2 block radius, in the heart of LoDo in Denver, Colorado. Currently located at home in Larimer Square since August 2008, visiting is an experience in and of itself. Victoriana reflects a nostalgia not found in any other jewelry stores in the region. Within the century old cases is a hand picked collection of jewelry ranging from gold-filled Victorian bar pins to signed platinum and diamond necklaces from the 1930’s. Proprietors David and Veronica Prebble work with jewelry buyers throughout the world, and the couple travels to jewelry shows to find the best-quality pieces possible. “For the past 200 years, Jewelry has been the highest expression of the various design periods,” David says, “We appreciate well executed design from almost every period.” -Victoria Magazine / February 2010

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Sapphire

David Prebble

Rough Blue Sapphire

Rough Blue Sapphire

Etymology: sapphire (n.)

mid-13c., from Old French saphir (12c.) and directly from Latin sapphirus (source also of Spanish zafir, Italian zaffiro), from Greek sappheiros "blue stone" (the gem meant apparently was not the one that now has the name, but perhaps rather "lapis lazuli," the modern sapphire being perhaps signified by Greek hyakinthos), from a Semitic source (compare Hebrew sappir "sapphire"), but probably not ultimately from Semitic. Some linguists propose an origin in Sanskrit sanipriya, a dark precious stone (perhaps sapphire or emerald), literally "sacred to Saturn," from Sani "Saturn" + priyah "precious." In Renaissance lapidaries, it was said to cure anger and stupidity. As an adjective from early 15c. Related: Sapphiric; sapphirine.

Birthstone: September

Anniversary: Non-traditional Engagement

Blue Sapphire: both 5th and 45-year anniversary

Mohs Scale: 9

Refractive

Index: 1.762 to 1.770

Geography: Afghanistan, Australia, Myanmar/Burma, Cambodia, China, Colombia, India, Kenya, Laos, Madagascar, Malawi, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, United States, and Vietnam

The importance of the origin of sapphire is more important than with most gemstones. The following are the most commonly used origins in jewelry for sapphires.

Thai sapphires tend to have a bit of a dull blue-green tone to them and seem hazy compared to others. Thai sapphires tend to be dark blue or black. 

Sri Lankan sapphires have similar effect as the Thai, but with deposits that more intense blues have come out of, and have been found a touch below the intense saturation of the Burmese sapphires, and can have a sleepiness to them, much like the rare, Kashmir blue sapphires. (Please note: in 1948, the British Colony of Ceylon was granted independence as Ceylon. In 1972, the country became a republic within the Commonwealth, and its name was changed to Sri Lanka. As a result many old stones and descriptive terms used in the industry, still refer to Sri Lankan sapphire as Ceylon.) 

Burmese sapphires are really set apart for their clarity, and intense royal blueness. These stones, although atmospheric and gorgeous, are much more crisp and tonally blue than Kashmir.

Kashmir Sapphires far exceed all of the prices and desired attributes of any other sapphires. These stones are often described for their “sleepiness” because of the silky, atmospheric properties of the stone’s internal structure. It really does have a dreamy effect and although they are an intense blue, they have a purple ring to their color. Those Kashmir stones were found on just on side, of one hill in the Indian state of Kashmir and were mined almost all mined out during the 1930’s. There are a few stones found every year with the return to hard-rock mining in that mine, but it is thought that those stones are limited, and therefore the Kashmir sapphires are the most expensive, due to their rarity. 

Talisman: Sapphire is a symbol of wisdom and knowledge, this is why it is often associated with education, a healthy memory and as a guard against envy. In Ayurvedic practices, sapphire is often used to treat issues created by our environment, such as nervousness, worry, stomach aches, digestive issues and bloating, as well as rheumatism and inflammation, and skin problems such as eczema.

Grading: A nice sapphire should be bright, clear and not have any foggy areas which are often referred to as “silk” or veils, which are caused by minute rutile threads that run parallel in the crystal. If enough rutile threads run through the crystal in equal directions, a star effect can be found, these are star sapphires and are sought after for the highest contrast and star effect, called asterism. The clearer the star sapphire, the more expensive it would be, because it will heighten the contrast of the asterism, rather than fogging it out. In other sapphires, some inclusions are desirable too, such as in the Kashmir sapphires which have an equal spotting of inclusions that give them a velvety look, but only with significant, intense color saturation. All sapphires are part of a family of minerals called corundum, including ruby, which is an extremely hard aluminum oxide composition. Sapphires come in many colors, such as violet, green, yellow, orange, pink, purple and of course a variety of different blues, being the most recognizable. In its purest state, corundum is actually colorless. Colorless sapphires were once popular diamond replacement, and have made a return to popularity in recent years. Clear sapphire is rare to find naturally, because most of the corundum family will include trace elements that cause there to be color in the stone. For example, in a blue sapphire, it only takes a mere hundredth of a percent of titanium to cause the blue color in the mineral. In ruby or pink sapphire, trace elements of chromium cause the coloration. Most gemological institutes do not grade sapphires, however they can provide a report of the mineral composition of the specific stones, with a general determination of it’s origin. 

Historic Pieces: 

Blue sapphires have been one of the most sought after gem stones in the history of gemological collection and interests. Although fabled as far back as King Solomon and the exchange with Ceylon and her stones in the 10th century bc, the oldest known example, specifically, of sapphires in the west only date back 1000 years with the octagonal shaped, rose-cut St. Edward’s Sapphire. In 1042, St. Edward’s Sapphire was set in a ring and worn as his coronation ring until his death in 1066. He was buried with the ring in Westminster Abbey, where it sat for 97 years until he was canonized and his body was reinterred and move to a shrine in a chapel that was built in his name. The stone was taken at that time, to be placed with the relics associated with him, but it somehow ended up with the royal jewels, and miraculously survived through the years and changes of power. It was last set in 1838 as the center of the top cross finial in Queen Victoria’s Imperial Coronation Crown, along with one of the largest of sapphires in the royal jewels collection; the Stuart sapphire. 

Left: The imperial crown of Queen Victoria, 1838. Center: The chapel and shrine of St. Edward the Confessor at Westminster Abbey. Right: The imperial crown of Queen Victoria, after 1909, was set with the Cullian II diamond, at which point the Stuart sapphire was re-set in the reverse of the crown.

Left: The imperial crown of Queen Victoria, 1838. Center: The chapel and shrine of St. Edward the Confessor at Westminster Abbey. Right: The imperial crown of Queen Victoria, after 1909, was set with the Cullian II diamond, at which point the Stuart sapphire was re-set in the reverse of the crown.

The Stuart Sapphire is a giant 104 carat oval-cut sapphire with a fine blue color gradient. Its the center piece to the head-band of gold on the crown, which is set with a multitude of rose-cut diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies. The Stuart sapphire is thought to have originally been worn as a pendant, the reason for this is that the stone was drilled through the center to accommodate a bail, which explains why the oval-cut of it is asymmetrical in the crown. The Stuart sapphire is named after the Stuart royal family, who “reunited” England and Scotland over a tumultuous 400 years of exchanges. They had taken the sapphire originally from Scotland, as far as we know, and it bounced around the monarchs, even leaving with James II in 1688 when he exiled to France. A century later it was back on English soil, where it ended up in the hands of King George who passed it on to his grand daughter Victoria, and set in her coronation crown. In 1909 the Stuart sapphire was moved from the center-front of the crown, to the center back of the crown to make room for the outstanding Cullian II diamond. 

Of course, not all sapphires come from the English aristocracy. The Logan Sapphire is a flawless 422.99 carat cushion-cut blue Ceylon sapphire. This sapphire is approximately the size of a chicken egg, and it is thought to have come from a discovery of large stones found all over Sri Lanka, in blue sapphire, ruby and cat’s eyes. It was most-likely cut in Sri Lanka, and probably exported through the Messers O. L. M. Macan Marker & Co., who were responsible for exporting the “Blue Giant of the Orient,” the worlds first largest sapphire. The Logan sapphire takes its name from its owner; Polly Logan, who was gifted the sapphire in a brooch of platinum, set with 20 diamonds around it that total 16 karats, by her previous husband, and known philanderer M. Robert Guggenheim. Upon donating it to the Smithsonian Museum just a year after his death in 1960, she said “Every time I looked at it, all I could think of was my no good, cheating husband!” 

Left: Polly Logan when she was still Mrs. Guggenheim, pictured in a 1950 tour of her home during a party and publicity spread about her estate Firenze. Right: The Logan sapphire on display at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. 

Left: Polly Logan when she was still Mrs. Guggenheim, pictured in a 1950 tour of her home during a party and publicity spread about her estate Firenze. Right: The Logan sapphire on display at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. 

Even the grand, romantic, and somewhat sad story of Wallis Simpson includes one of the great sapphire of the 20th century. Between 1949 and 1966 the Duchess of Windsor collected a group of jewels from Cartier’s “Pantheré” collection. This collection was inspired by the water color that George Barbier did in 1914 for Louis Cartier Jr. which turned out to be a great advertising campaign and embodied the early Art Deco in Paris. In the 1930’s the Cartier brothers brought Jeanne Toussaint into the fold, and did she embodied the style and love of jewelry that Cartier represented. In fact she was the chief reason for the Pantheré collection, which has been a seasonal staple of any of Cartier’s designs. 

Left: Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. Center: In 1949 the Duchess purchased this Pantheré brooch from Cartier. The white gold and platinum clip features a 152.36 carat Kashmir cabochon-cut sapphire. Right: The original panther advertisement illustration for Louis Cartier (Jr) and Bros. by George Barbier in 1914.

Left: Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. Center: In 1949 the Duchess purchased this Pantheré brooch from Cartier. The white gold and platinum clip features a 152.36 carat Kashmir cabochon-cut sapphire. Right: The original panther advertisement illustration for Louis Cartier (Jr) and Bros. by George Barbier in 1914.

In February of 1981, on both sides of the pond, the hearts of the public were won over by a young woman from Sandringham, Diana Spencer. Her family had a long lineage with the royal family, so it was no wonder that, in that year, she was engaged to Prince Charles, and slated to be the next queen of England. However, we all know the story; 2 princes, and an unhappy marriage in the paparazzi lens and wham, a scandalous divorce from the monarchy, and a nightmare ending with a fatal tryst in Paris. Her graceful demeanor and flare for fashion, yet inability to escape the formality of her station, lead to a constrained sense of style that was glamorous yet contained and so proper for someone as outspoken as her. When she was engaged, she wanted a ring that reminded her of her mother’s hands, so she settled on an unusual choice, a 12 carat oval Ceylon sapphire, surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds in a 2-toned gold cluster-style mounting by the jewelers Garrards & Co. of London. After her death, each of her sons was allowed a memento of her personal effects, her youngest, Harry chose the sapphire ring, while his older brother, William, chose her Tank Francaise watch from Cartier. In 2010, when Prince William proposed to Cate Middleton, the brothers swapped these mementos, and Cate has worn the sapphire ring ever since. 

Left: Princess Diana, wearing a pink dress by Catherine Walker, 1990-92. Right: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, with daughter Princess Charlotte on the day of Pippa Middleton's wedding, 2017.

Left: Princess Diana, wearing a pink dress by Catherine Walker, 1990-92. Right: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, with daughter Princess Charlotte on the day of Pippa Middleton's wedding, 2017.

Whether Sapphire is your birthstone, or it has won you over as a special stone that holds on to some sort of idea, we hope to be able to offer you something special for that special something. Please check out our selection of all sapphires by searching in search bar on our home page or clicking here.

-Zach Burk

Historic Style

David Prebble

The Life and Times of Marjorie Merriweather Post

Left: A photograph of Majorie the day she was presented to King George V and Queen Mary at the Court of St James on June 26 1929. Right: Probably the most recognizable painted portrait of Marjorie, by Giulio de Blaas, memorializing that day, finished in 1931.

Left: A photograph of Majorie the day she was presented to King George V and Queen Mary at the Court of St James on June 26 1929. Right: Probably the most recognizable painted portrait of Marjorie, by Giulio de Blaas, memorializing that day, finished in 1931.

I do not believe that there is anything as inspiring as a figure from history who lived their life with grace, elegance, and poise. Marjorie Merriweather Post is a supreme example of this iconic sentiment. Born in 1887, in Springfield Illinois, by the time that she was 30 she had inherited the vast fortune from her father’s company; Postum Cereal, which afforded her a life such as such. During her time, she built one of the most important collections of early 20th, object de virtu, exotic plants, costumes, and jewelry in the Americas. She left a legacy of the Hillwood Museum in Washington DC, which you can visit today to get a more thorough look her life and legacy, and I would highly suggest looking through their website to get a feel for the pieces that they display on rotation. (www.hillwoodmuseum.org)

She was married before she became the heiress that we think of, and at the young age of 18, to her first husband, Edward Bennet Close. It was during that time that they had 2 daughters (Adelaide and Eleanor,) and her father passed away, making her the wealthiest women in America in 1914, at which point her and her family moved to New York City, setting up residence on 5th Ave in the Burden Mansion. 

Left: Marjorie in her 1905 wedding photograph. Center: The Burden Mansion was built as one of the most important townhouses in NYC 1901. It was commissioned by William Sloane for his daughter Adele upon her marriage to the steel manufacturer James Burden, sold to post in 1914 and then reconfigured in 1924 to accommodate an apartment block on 5th Ave, with a separate entrance to the private residence on East 92nd St, complete with concierge, and parking for her guests. The mansion boosts 54 rooms, and 17 bathrooms. Right: Known as the most influential art dealer of all time, Sir Joseph Duveen.

Left: Marjorie in her 1905 wedding photograph. Center: The Burden Mansion was built as one of the most important townhouses in NYC 1901. It was commissioned by William Sloane for his daughter Adele upon her marriage to the steel manufacturer James Burden, sold to post in 1914 and then reconfigured in 1924 to accommodate an apartment block on 5th Ave, with a separate entrance to the private residence on East 92nd St, complete with concierge, and parking for her guests. The mansion boosts 54 rooms, and 17 bathrooms. Right: Known as the most influential art dealer of all time, Sir Joseph Duveen.

It was upon moving into this vast residence, inspired by the French, Galeries des Glaces of Versailles, that Marjorie first developed her voice as a collector. Working with the infamous art dealer Sir Joseph Duveen, the art collector for Kings, Queens and the Stars alike, they decorated the house, and under his tutelage she collected antique French furniture for entertaining and business networking. She focused on working the society circuits of her new city, so much so, that in 1919 she divorced her first husband and married financier Edward Francis Hutton, who soon became the chairman of the board at her company Postum Cereal, later developing and expanding it by buying smaller companies of the same ilk and merging them into General Cereal by 1929. So grateful and smitten was Hutton that he gifted to Marjorie some of the most important Art Deco fine jewelry works by Cartier that have ever been made. It was with this merger of taste and desire that her real collection of amazing jewelry began.

Left: Portrait by Frank O. Salisbury 1934. Right: The Mar-a-lago estate Palm Springs FL 1928

Left: Portrait by Frank O. Salisbury 1934. Right: The Mar-a-lago estate Palm Springs FL 1928

The 1920’s dropped-waist dresses and elongated silhouettes were one of Marjorie’s signature looks. She commissioned incredible ensembles for every occasion, keeping with the times, as her iconic gray-streak accentuated the stylish finger wave she wore, such as in nearly all of her portraits by one of her favorite painters, Frank O. Salisbury. The roaring 1920's were hers, and all of New York society revolved around her home, from fine dinner parties, musicals and costuming balls. She hosted annual retreats to Florida's Palm Beach, where she built, the now well-known resort that she called Mar-A-Lago, completed in 1927. (It was Marjorie who actually deemed the 3-acre property the "Winter Whitehouse" in the 1930-40s, where her diplomat husband hosted politicians and heads of state.)

Marjorie enjoyed dressing up for portraits and photographs, and was always photographed in the creations that she had made, such as the 1926 Everglades Ball in Palm Beach, hosted at the Mar-a-lago estate, where she had a wonderful Starry Night themed gown made. The parties in Palm Beach were massive, wild affairs.

Marjorie enjoyed dressing up for portraits and photographs, and was always photographed in the creations that she had made, such as the 1926 Everglades Ball in Palm Beach, hosted at the Mar-a-lago estate, where she had a wonderful Starry Night themed gown made. The parties in Palm Beach were massive, wild affairs.

By the end of 1929, however, the social scene in New York had changed dramatically, and with the crash of the stock market and the beginning of the great depression, Marjorie stopped her spending, locking up her valuables in a bank vault and cancelled the insurance. Due to the fact that everyone still needed to eat, and her company was General Foods, she lost little business, instead she put her efforts into charitable work, such as the first “meals on wheels” for the elderly in New York, and food banks in both her and her husband’s names. Her niece, the Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, did not slow her spending at this time, and it was public knowledge that Marjorie was deeply troubled and embarrassed by this fact. 

Barbara Hutton and her first husband, Alexis Mdivani, 1933. Her spending at this time was out of control and made headlines during the depression, her family even offered a dowery to Alexis of $1 million, and their marriage only lasted a year. Hutton is wearing the infamous Hutton-Mdivani commissioned Jadeite bead and ruby necklace by Cartier which sold at auction in 2014 for over $27 million!

Barbara Hutton and her first husband, Alexis Mdivani, 1933. Her spending at this time was out of control and made headlines during the depression, her family even offered a dowery to Alexis of $1 million, and their marriage only lasted a year. Hutton is wearing the infamous Hutton-Mdivani commissioned Jadeite bead and ruby necklace by Cartier which sold at auction in 2014 for over $27 million!

The gossip columnists wrote about Marjorie a lot at this time too, not only because of her disgust for her niece’s overly-indulgent lifestyle, (Barbara Hutton famously burned through her vast family fortune of $600 million along with her 7 husbands, by the 1970’s,) but also for Marjorie’s second divorce! Ed Hutton was a known philanderer, and it is believed that Marjorie also spent her fair share of time flirting with the likes of young men, no doubt enchanted by the wealthiest woman in the world. In 1935 she divorced Hutton and soon was on to the next love of her life, a married man named Joseph E. Davies, the attorney and soon-to-be American Ambassador to the Soviet Union. They had met at the same Palm Beach ball years before, and had secretly fallen for one another. They both waited for their divorces to get together though and finally were able to marry one another in December of 1935, retiring to her yacht the Sea Cloud. It seems ironic that Marjorie had issues with Barbara Hutton’s spending when her Yacht alone was listed as the world’s most expensive and lavish privately-owned sea vessel, complete with a staff of over 70 seamen, butlers, footmen, lady's maids, cooks and even a surgeon for the on-board operating theatre! 

Left: Upon marrying Joseph E. Davies, Marjorie renamed her Yacht Sea Cloud, from its original, 1931 name Hussar V. Right: Marjorie with her only child from her 16 years with Ed Hutton, Nedenia, who went on to a glamorous life of her own in the dramatic arts as an actress of stage and screen, changing her name to Dina Merrill. 

Left: Upon marrying Joseph E. Davies, Marjorie renamed her Yacht Sea Cloud, from its original, 1931 name Hussar V. Right: Marjorie with her only child from her 16 years with Ed Hutton, Nedenia, who went on to a glamorous life of her own in the dramatic arts as an actress of stage and screen, changing her name to Dina Merrill. 

Although at this time Marjorie had stopped spending large amounts money on new works of jewelry, she did commission Cartier with the task of redesigning pieces that she had already had made. Her most famed emerald sautoir was always too long for her liking, and with the new styles of the 30’s, more constrained looks were in vogue, so she had the pendant taken off permanently and converted to a brooch and had the sautoir shortened into a clavicle-length necklace. It was originally made in the late 20's by Cartier, London out of gold and platinum, with an array of pavé-set diamond beads, a cascade of 24 tumbled emeralds, with 24 smaller tumbled emeralds reflecting from the interior of the necklace. The pendant was set with a door-knocker shaped bail-drop pendant, encrusted with pavé-set diamonds and emeralds with carved emeralds dripping in a symmetrical design. The main carved emerald on the pendant has a floral motif and a Persian engraving that translates to The Servants of Shah Abbas. In my opinion, this is one of the most important Art Deco pieces that Cartier has ever made because it exemplifies the era and the influence that design from the mid to far-east had on designers in Europe and America. 

Marjorie in costume for the 1929 Everglades Ball, dressed as Julia, featuring her Cartier sautior.

Marjorie in costume for the 1929 Everglades Ball, dressed as Julia, featuring her Cartier sautior.

Franklin D, Roosevelt appointed Davies to Ambassador to the Soviet Union in April of 1936 and by the end of January 1937 Marjorie and her new husband were sent to Moscow on government business, with Davies being charged to soften tensions between the two country amid the growing concern over Nazi Germany's occupation of the Rhineland earlier that year. Marjorie, as a diplomat's wife, and collector of object d'art found herself in a fortuitous situation; since the execution of the last Romanovs in 1918, many items from their imperial estate had been auctioned off by the Russian government, and 2 of the pieces had ended up in Marjorie's collection prior to even visiting Russia. They were both by Fabergé; a guilloché box and the Catherine the Great Easter Egg. Since then, she had developed a passion for the Romanov's porcelains, and jewels. So, along with the Russian's distaste for the history of those objects, and the suppression that the Romanov's represented, many objects were sold for very little in order to fund the Soviet defenses. Marjorie and Davies stayed in Moscow for 18 months, spending a small chunk of her fortune collecting and exporting those pieces back to her home in New York, and therefore preserving one of the largest collections from the Imperial Russian family in existence to this day, which she added to throughout the rest of her life. 

The Catherine the Great Easter Egg by Carl Fabergé. Originally gifted to the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna from her son Tsar Nicholas II in 1914. This egg was purchased by Eleanor Close Post, and given to her mother Marjorie in 1931, starting her collection of Russian imperial object. 

The Catherine the Great Easter Egg by Carl Fabergé. Originally gifted to the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna from her son Tsar Nicholas II in 1914. This egg was purchased by Eleanor Close Post, and given to her mother Marjorie in 1931, starting her collection of Russian imperial object. 

Upon finishing Davies' assignment in Russia, the couple was sent to Belgium, also on diplomatic service. Marjorie set up home in the Palais du Marquis d'Assche in Brussels. This was once the home of the Royal family and Marjorie reveled in the majesty of the space, decorating with her collection of French furniture, sent from New York and her newly acquired Russia art. She spent her time between the New York and Belgium, entertaining royalty, diplomats and socialites alike, but during a visit to New York, in September of 1939, England and France declared war on Germany, and the Davies were forbidden to return to Brussels for fear that they would be captured en route or if the city became occupied by the Germans. Luckily, Marjorie sent assistants and friends to collect her belongings and have them returned to her in the United States before the war reached Brussels. 

Palais du Marquis d'Assche in Brussels, home for Marjorie and her husband, the Ambassador to Belgium and Grand Duchy of Luxembourg the year proceeding WWII. 

Palais du Marquis d'Assche in Brussels, home for Marjorie and her husband, the Ambassador to Belgium and Grand Duchy of Luxembourg the year proceeding WWII. 

Upon their return from Europe, Marjorie and Davies received a lot of flack for their sympathetic point of view Russia and Stalin, which haunted them during the McCarthy era. Although these sentiments were somewhat frowned upon, Marjorie never let it get into her craw and her patriotism shined through. After the Bombing of Pearl Harbor and for the remainder of WWII, she emptied out and rented the Sea Cloud to the U.S. Navy for survey of the North Pacific for the price of $1 a year. 

Portrait of Marjorie Merriweather Post in 1946 by Frank O. Salisbury, featuring a necklace set with an exquisite 58.33 carat cushion-cut kashmir blue sapphire, which was originally gifted to Marjorie from Hutton in 1920 and set in a bracelet by Cartier. Like most of her jewelry from this time, the stone has been mounted and remounted, coinciding with different decades and marriages and was actually realized as a convertible, which can be taken out of the bracelet and set in this necklace as well as another ring designed by Harry Winston in the 1950’s. 

Portrait of Marjorie Merriweather Post in 1946 by Frank O. Salisbury, featuring a necklace set with an exquisite 58.33 carat cushion-cut kashmir blue sapphire, which was originally gifted to Marjorie from Hutton in 1920 and set in a bracelet by Cartier. Like most of her jewelry from this time, the stone has been mounted and remounted, coinciding with different decades and marriages and was actually realized as a convertible, which can be taken out of the bracelet and set in this necklace as well as another ring designed by Harry Winston in the 1950’s. 

In 1946 she found herself in a scandal that challenged the snobbery of Long Island's upper class, when she tried to sell her 122 acre estate of Hillwood to the Long Island University for a sporting and administrative facility. The local, wealthy and all white residents showed up in protest for fear that their neighborhoods would be over-run with riff raff of minorities and middle-class students. She spent 4 years in court before the sale would be finalized and the school would take over the property for a sum of $200,000. Although she was a glamorous and aristocratic person, her town-to-earth demeanor and previous charitable endeavors lead her to give, give, give with the intention of education at the forefront, not only for whites, but for anyone who wanted to learn.

Left: Diadem by Eitienne Nitot et Fils, set with 79 Persian turquoise stones that total 540 carats, and 1006 old mine-cut diamonds that total a whopping 700 carats, all set in 18 karat gold that is topped with sterling silver. Center: Set with 38 pear-shaped diamonds, 262 round diamonds, with 90 oval and pear shaped cabochon Persian turquoise stones, all set in platinum. by Harry Winston 1961. Right: A bracelet comprised of 50 oval cabochon Persian turquoise stones, 138 round diamonds, and 32 pear shaped diamonds all set in platinum. by Harry Winston, 1961.

Left: Diadem by Eitienne Nitot et Fils, set with 79 Persian turquoise stones that total 540 carats, and 1006 old mine-cut diamonds that total a whopping 700 carats, all set in 18 karat gold that is topped with sterling silver. Center: Set with 38 pear-shaped diamonds, 262 round diamonds, with 90 oval and pear shaped cabochon Persian turquoise stones, all set in platinum. by Harry Winston 1961. Right: A bracelet comprised of 50 oval cabochon Persian turquoise stones, 138 round diamonds, and 32 pear shaped diamonds all set in platinum. by Harry Winston, 1961.

In the 1950's her collecting of object really stemmed from her love of jewelry. She had pieces made by the houses of Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels as well as Harry Winston. With Harry Winston she focused on commissioning jewelry that referred to historical objects. In the 1950's there was a trend to take apart and sell individual stones from a piece, as is the case with the diadem by Etienne Nitot et Fils. This diadem was commissioned by Napoleon in 1810 for his bride, Marie-Louise. It was a part of a set that included a necklace, earrings, and comb which were studded with a multitude of diamonds focued around many deep, rare emeralds. Upon her death in 1847, she left the set to her Aunt, the Archduchess Elise, whose family kept the set until 1953, when it was sold to Van Cleef & Arpels. VCA removed the emeralds as a sales tactic, setting the stones in contemporary pieces with the catch phrase "An emerald for you from the historic Napoleonic Tiara." The diadem was then set with Persian turquoise in place of the emeralds and sold to Marjorie, who then commissioned Harry Winston to make a matching necklace, earrings, ring and bracelets of diamond and Perisan turquoise. She wore the set with a matching dress, seemingly inspired by Marie-Louise herself, from this 1810 portrait. 

Left: Col. C. Michael Paul with Mrs. Marjorie Merriweather Post at a Red Cross ball in Palm Beach, 1967. Right: Empress Marie-Louise of France, 1811

Left: Col. C. Michael Paul with Mrs. Marjorie Merriweather Post at a Red Cross ball in Palm Beach, 1967. Right: Empress Marie-Louise of France, 1811

Davies and Marjorie's marriage was in shambles by the mid 50's, and she lost the home that she had bought for him upon their return to the states. They parted ways on bad terms and half of her collection of Russian art went to him, which she quickly purchased from his estate upon his death. She did marry one more time in 1958 and divorced after a short 5 years to Herbert May. The remainder of her life was spent running social fund raisers, specifically for the National Symphony Orchestra and the Red Cross. With friends like Ladybird Johnson and the Duke & Duchess of Windsor, the attendance and laughs filled Mar-A-Lago and her estate of Hillwood in DC, (purchased with she was married to Davies to entertain government officials while he was assistant Attorney General, named after previous estate on Long Island,) where she spent her final years refining her collections, hosting square dance-themed fund raisers and other philanthropic work and enjoying her world-class gardens. 

Marjorie Merriweather Post died on September 12th, 1973 from heart failure at Hillwood. Her legacy and incredible life story embodies the spirit of the 20th century woman. Through her style, love of the arts and history, as well as her incredible wealth, her soul will live on through Hillwood and her incredible financial contributions and cultural generosity to American institutions such as the Smithsonian and American Symphony Orchestra. She really is the first lady of the American modern age, which is a title that can never be bought. 

-Zach Burk

Surfacing - Part 2

David Prebble

Enameling

           Enameling is an incredible art form.  It uses the heating and cooling of silica (particulate glass) to treat the surfaces of metals, creating a thin layer of color and shine by mixing materials and elements which effect the glass glaze. Enameled glass has been used in place of rare gemstones to add color for thousands of years, so it is no wonder that it is thought to have first been discovered in the birthplace of the Bronze Age, the Eastern Mediterranean islands of Crete and Cyprus. 

           Sometime around 3200 BC, a young person, low on the “totem pole” presumably, discovered an unexpected yet sophisticated craft, alchemy. She would have either witnessed or been a part of a ritual one evening in the dark of night, when her group’s spiritual leader would have taken a piece of malachite and thrown it into the fire, turning the flames a bright green as the stone burned away, serving as a metaphor for some spiritual understanding. The next morning, this young alchemist would have been tasked with cleaning the cinders from the fire, only to find a melted and cooled puddle of solid copper, the residual remains of the malachite. This would have been the beginning of the alchemy that led mankind into the age of bronze, a process that we now refer to as smelting, later done in a more kiln-conducive stone basin. 

Left to Right: Rough Malachite, Sliced and polished Malachite, and a stove heating of Malachite for the purpose of smelting much like that of the early bronze age craftsmen. 

Left to Right: Rough Malachite, Sliced and polished Malachite, and a stove heating of Malachite for the purpose of smelting much like that of the early bronze age craftsmen. 

           These new materials and techniques were also applied to jewelry, and for the first time, in most cultures, jewelry became more than strung beads. Jewelry became a form of communication. It allowed people to understand who was important and why, without having to ask, and was used as a social device to keep the divide among the wealthy and the working classes, as well as for the garb of the religious and armor for warriors. 

           During this new age, the liberation of thought flourished and peoples across the globe became more aware of their fragility, community, mortality and therefore their belief systems which derived from their pursuit of an afterlife. This allowed for a convergence of cultures and god-figures to be tasked with specificity, which led to a blending of materials for ritual, like the amazing rhyton (or drinking vessel) pictured below, used in celebratory ritual by the Minoan people. The bull is a common antique imagery in almost all cultures, from Shiva in India, to this example from Crete, made of soapstone, with gilded wooden horns, a shell snout and glowing rock crystal eyes, representing a hurdle of power, triumph and sacrifice. In Knossos there are frescos depicting bulls being leaped over in what is thought to be a sport. Bull-leaping would have been a celebratory occasion, heavy with harvests, libations and ritual, much like bull racing is throughout the Mediterranean. 

Left: Minoan Bull Head Rhyton (Drinking Vessel) 1500 bc, Crete. Right: Knossos palace, Fresco of Bull-Leaping, Crete, 1450 BC

Left: Minoan Bull Head Rhyton (Drinking Vessel) 1500 bc, Crete. Right: Knossos palace, Fresco of Bull-Leaping, Crete, 1450 BC

           These rituals included sacrifice of both bull and sometimes man. In most of the Bronze Age cultures of the Mediterranean, cultural leaders and the shamans would have been held in high regard and might have even been one in the same. They would have worn the finest clothing depicting their importance, complete with jewelry made of the rarest materials; with stones brought from far away lands; golds mined from the earth; and craftsmanship of the finest artisans in all the lands and overseas. For this reason, the specific home of the first enamelists is unclear, except to say that they were the early Greek jewelers and craftsmen, with the earliest being entombed in the 1950’s (AD) as evidenced during an excavation on the island of Cyprus where 6 rings were found in the Mycenaean tomb of Koklia (Kouklia). These rings are the first examples employing the technique of vitreous enameling that archeologists and historians have found. They were done in a style of cloisonné as coins that sit atop beautiful cannetille ring designs, with granulated-lined bezels holding them in place, all in pure gold. The glass surface may have worn away, but the composition of such chemistry is still in place. These 6 rings are the earliest known form of enameling in the world and date to having been crafted over 4000 years ago.

1 of 6 rings from Cyprus, 13th century bc Mycenaean tomb of Kouklia

1 of 6 rings from Cyprus, 13th century bc Mycenaean tomb of Kouklia

           Of course this blog post isn’t a story of ancient Greece, but rather a story about the art of enameling. There are several types of enameling processes that have been utilized in different cultures and styles of jewelry design. In our realm, we cover Georgian to Retro eras of jewelry, which ranges in years from the late 1700’s through the late 1960’s, with design influences dating back to the 15th century. With this in mind, I am going to go through those eras of design with examples of enameling techniques and styles that were popular at those times.

           In the 15th-17th century, enameling was used to coat the surface of an entire wire to give it a thick, almost bone-shaped figure, as well as by pooling it with a brush between wires that are soldered onto a surface which is referred to as cloisonné, (from french meaning “partitioned.”) A few of my personal favorite pieces from this time period came from the Cheapside Hoard, a huge cache of jewelry found under the streets of London in 1912. Because of the burial of the chest that they were stored in, the enameling has been under climate control and is in exquisite condition - a real rarity to behold.

Salamander from the Cheapside Hoard, gold, emerald, diamond and white enameling. circa 1550-1650

Salamander from the Cheapside Hoard, gold, emerald, diamond and white enameling. circa 1550-1650

           Grisaille (from french meaning grayness) is another method often referred to at that time, which is a style of Limoges (referring to painted imagery in vitreous enamel from the French town of Limoges where it was developed,) enameling that works only in shades of grays or tonal mixtures that give the appearance of blacks and whites. Grisaille was often used to depict scenes of Greco-Roman myth placing the characters in contemporary, recognizable locations or situations, but with classical characters, to comment on the times that told a narrative by delivering an image without any confusion of color or abstracting of the line. It was also used for portraiture and is a term that can also be used outside of vitreous enameling, such as with ceramics and watercolor painting. 

Left: A sterling silver enameled brooch with a grisaille enameled center, c. 1830 currently for sale at Victoriana. Middle: A grisaille enamel metal of Penicaud John II (16th century) louvre. Right: A grisaille silver plate by Pierre Courteys c. 16th century.

Left: A sterling silver enameled brooch with a grisaille enameled center, c. 1830 currently for sale at Victoriana. Middle: A grisaille enamel metal of Penicaud John II (16th century) louvre. Right: A grisaille silver plate by Pierre Courteys c. 16th century.

           18th century enameling really spearheaded and finessed the technique that we refer to as Basse Taille (from the French, meaning “low size.”) This technique refers to the engraving of a metal surface with a low relief, in most cases thick silver or gold plate, engraved with a pattern and then glazed with several layers of transparent, tinted enamels on top of the engraved surface to give the effect of depth. It was used in many Georgian era rings, lockets and backings of rose-cut diamonds. The use of cobalt was very popular as a color at this time, so most of those pieces are a deep, intense cobalt blue. With the revolutionary war, a dark side of design and jewelry imagery crept up with the lover’s eye, painted on porcelain, surrounded by frames of woven hair and enameled backings and stones set in a plethora of configurations. 

4 Georgian era diamond and gold rings with Basse Taille enameled tops. 

4 Georgian era diamond and gold rings with Basse Taille enameled tops. 

A blue enameled, diamond, and pearl ring, with a painted lovers eye on ivory in the center, c. 1790. 3/4 x 1-1/4 x 7/8 inches

A blue enameled, diamond, and pearl ring, with a painted lovers eye on ivory in the center, c. 1790. 3/4 x 1-1/4 x 7/8 inches

           The 19th century was an incredibly important time for jewelry, with the technology evolving to include details that were so specific to the wearer and the era of Victoria and the entire aesthetic, as well as the boom of a middle class and the fall of autocratic society around the globe. Sweet flowers, intended to mean one thing or another, were painted in a Limoges style, and set with pearls and diamonds, like the pansy pictured below. These were sweet gifts often given amongst lovers, friends and family alike, and enamelists all over Europe, England and the United states made a lot of jewelry. 

Left: A 14 karat yellow gold serpent bangle with diamond eyes, and basse taille green enameled skin, c. 1900 Available at Victoriana Antique and Fine Jewelry. Right: A sterling silver locket and pin-receiver set with a style of limoge enameling known as champlevé (meaning "raised plane" in french) c. 1880 Also available at Victoriana Antique & Fine Jewelry. 

Left: A 14 karat yellow gold serpent bangle with diamond eyes, and basse taille green enameled skin, c. 1900 Available at Victoriana Antique and Fine Jewelry. Right: A sterling silver locket and pin-receiver set with a style of limoge enameling known as champlevé (meaning "raised plane" in french) c. 1880 Also available at Victoriana Antique & Fine Jewelry. 

           These sweet images represented the optimism that Victoria lived for the first third of her reign, prior to the passing of Prince Albert. These depictions often referred to anima and flora, and since she was known as the Empress of India (which was a colony of the United Kingdom at the time,) the image of snakes also became very important as it represented the power of Shiva, who wore a cobra around his neck and limbs, and was therefore used in jewelry to support the Queen and her colonial kingdom, and great fodder for enamelists to work with!

           Upon the passing of Prince Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria fell into what we now refer to as the mourning period, the prolonged and dark 20 years of her reign that influenced fashions of the mid-1800’s, making dark and moody statements with jewelry of black stones, such as jet, agates, onyx and jaspers oftentimes outlined with mizpahs and/or statements of poetic sentiments in black enameling. Most enameled jewelry of the mourning period was simple - outlines of black or white details on floral and geometric motifs that were once colorful and cheerful but now decorative en sol. 

Left: An enameled 10 karat rose gold signet ring with champlevé enameling. c. 1860-80. Right: A 14 karat yellow gold cross with black enameling on the surface of the face. c. 1870

Left: An enameled 10 karat rose gold signet ring with champlevé enameling. c. 1860-80. Right: A 14 karat yellow gold cross with black enameling on the surface of the face. c. 1870

           This was also a time of revivals on the continent, and with the discovery of Etruscan tombs filled with artifacts in Tuscany, Italia, the Castellani family began a huge revival movement of archeological jewelry with granulation, cannetille and enameling styles done in the Etruscan style. Designers across Europe followed suit with Gothic, Renaissance, and Egyptian styles, heavily using enameling along with other techniques to represent those time periods and appeal to the look of the 1870’s.

Left: A bloomed gold brooch, with cannetille wire cloisonne enameling, emeralds, pink sapphires and natural pearls, c. 1862 by Castellani Right: A bloomed gold pendant, with a cloisonne boarder framing a micro-mosaic of the Lamb of God in the center, c. 1860 by Castellani

Left: A bloomed gold brooch, with cannetille wire cloisonne enameling, emeralds, pink sapphires and natural pearls, c. 1862 by Castellani Right: A bloomed gold pendant, with a cloisonne boarder framing a micro-mosaic of the Lamb of God in the center, c. 1860 by Castellani

           By the 1880s, the Victorian look had returned to its adoration of the almost saccharine, floral and romantic styles before the mourning period. The Art Nouveau movement had just began, in a style that was more modern and visual exciting than all other styles that had come before, emerging from Paris and Vienna. Artists like Alphonse Mucha, Gustav Klimt and Antoni Gaudi had taken the world by storm, but more importantly for jewelers René Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany began their companies, making some of the most exquisite enameled object d’art and jewelry that the world had ever seen. Both men worked in glass blowing, so their understanding of the enameling process and science behind it made a language that both floated through. Their amazing works focused on thin, gradient enameling in all styles afore mentioned, from Cloisonné to the Pliqué a Jour (from the French, meaning “Light of Day”) which has a stained glass effect when held up to the light and was, specifically, Lalique’s signature technique. 

Left: The Peacock Necklace, 18 karat gold, enameling (both cloisonne and pliqué a jour,) opal, amethyst, ruby, sapphire, demantoid garnet, emerald, chrysoberyl, and pearl. c 1903-06 by Tiffany & Co. Center: "Dragonfly Lady" corsage ornament made of 18 karat gold, pliqué a jour enamel, chrysoprase, moonstones, and diamonds, designed by René Lalique, c. 1903 Right: corsage ornament 'Willow Catkins' made of 18 karat gold, pliqué a jour enameling, limoge enameling, and opals c. 1904 - by René Lalique

Left: The Peacock Necklace, 18 karat gold, enameling (both cloisonne and pliqué a jour,) opal, amethyst, ruby, sapphire, demantoid garnet, emerald, chrysoberyl, and pearl. c 1903-06 by Tiffany & Co. Center: "Dragonfly Lady" corsage ornament made of 18 karat gold, pliqué a jour enamel, chrysoprase, moonstones, and diamonds, designed by René Lalique, c. 1903 Right: corsage ornament 'Willow Catkins' made of 18 karat gold, pliqué a jour enameling, limoge enameling, and opals c. 1904 - by René Lalique

           Tiffany and Lalique really were the leaders in enameling from the 1890s through the entire Art Deco period of the 1920’s. Enameling after the Art Deco period began to focus more on the minimal side of enamel which were mostly coating an entire surface, or sifted and stenciled. These are the most common type of enameling techniques practiced today, as with many new styles that employ the use of imagery transfers and more involved imagery. 

           Something that I did not touch on was that of one designer at the turn of the century who influenced enameling more than any other enamelist prior. His name was Carl Faberge.  His story with enameling is long and involved, so I will leave that for another blog post focused on the turn of the century in Russia and the amazing works that he made for the last of the autocratic social networks and the fall of the Tzars. 

Surfacing - Part 1

David Prebble

This past weekend I attended the Northwest Jewelry Conference in Seattle and was so pleased with a few of the topics at the show. There were 3 lectures that stuck with me in particular and worked well with one another. The thread that wove these three topics together for me was Surface. The surface of things is one of the languages that lets people know the speciality and importance of an object d’art, painting, whatever, and the surfaces give tribute to the process that it was made by, either by nature or by man. Over the following week I am going to write about both the technical and the historical aspects of jewelry and the jewelry making process. The first being what follows, a small investigation into exotic natural pearls. 

Exotic Natural Pearls

Nature has an amazing way of making beautiful objects without any intention of it. It happens everywhere around the world, and in a plethora of formats, sometimes even as a tumorous agent! This is the case with pearls. Pearls are the byproduct of a mollusk being infected by a parasite entering the body of any given mollusk’s tissue, then not being evacuated by the mollusk, and remain in the tissue like a tumor or cyst. In time the mollusk grows, making a larger shell for itself by organizing calcium carbonate, and a small amount of proteins that keep the shell attached to the mollusk’s body. As the shell grows, so too do any deposits that are made around the parasite that serves as the nucleus to the pearl. The process is very similar to what happens in mammals with kidney stones and calcium deposits. It is rare to find a pearl in any given mollusk, only 1 in 10,000 mollusks make a pearl worth any value to the jewelry industry. Imagine the magic of ancient man, boiling or dehydrating the meat of a mollusk to be eaten, only to come across the magical bead of a natural pearl found inside. These animals have served as inspiration to man since their discovery. So what are these alchemist creatures that we call mollusks? What differentiates them from one another and the pearls that they produce?

Mollusks are a type of invertebrate, found in both fresh and salt waters, and consist of approximately 85,000 species! Mollusks derive their name through French mollusque which originated from the Latin word mollis, meaning soft and the study of mollusks is known as malacology. Mollusks consist of 3 main groupings:

-Cephalopods include squid, octopus and cuttlefish. These animals are considered mollusks by their taxonomy, however they are much more intelligent behaviorally and are very neurologically advanced. These animals do not calcify pearls, but rather only specialized bones,  and beaks.

-Gastropods make up over 80% of the mollusks and include freshwater snails, sea snails, sea slugs, limpets, land snails and slugs. They can make rather complex shells and some species make the rarest pearls in the world.

-Bivalvia make up the remaining mollusks. These mollusks are the most common foods to humans and consist of familiar groups such as oysters, mussels, clams, cockles and scallops. They have 2 shells referred to as values that mirror one another and are attached at a single sinew consisting of a protein that allows the nervous system of the animal to open and close for the purpose of filter feeding. Unlike gastropods and cephalopods, most bivalves do not move or swim, with the exception of scallops and Limidae.

The exotic pearl producers are the only mollusks that I am going to focus on, however the entire genus is a fascinating group of animals, with abilities not seen anywhere else in nature, from glowing in pattern, to changing color and some being able to swarm or individually attacking whale and other giant animals in the deep seas, and worth knowing more about if you enjoy educating yourself on biological marvels.

North American Pearls

The fresh water of North American rivers are home to several species of mollusks, most common being the Unio, which includes 300 species of its own. These mussels create small to large, baroque pearls in irregular shapes, that have a mirrored and brilliant luster to them. They can range from cream whites, to light grey, or from purple-browns or golden-pinks. 

Left: Unio mussels on the side of a rock. Center: Natural banding on baroque pearls to be set or strung. Right: Unio shells have a bright mother of pearl. 

Left: Unio mussels on the side of a rock. Center: Natural banding on baroque pearls to be set or strung. Right: Unio shells have a bright mother of pearl. 

When the Spanish first discovered north America, the Native American tribes of the eastern coastal regions used shells of the Quahog clam as a form of currency between each other. The pearls did not have as much significance to the indigenous peoples as it did to the Europeans and the Spanish exploited that fact, and exported hundreds of thousands of pearls back to Europe in “trade” for very little, except disease and displacement. In Europe aristocrats paid high dollar for their court’s jewelers to string them, and use them in elaborate pieces of jewelry. In fact, the demise of ships from the Spaniard fleet of the late 1490s was due to a misunderstand of the sea during a hurricane near modern-day Haiti, which happened while Columbus was exporting a massive cache of pearls from all over North America to Europe. Many of these caches are still lost to the sea, and the only remnant of the Santa Maria that has been verified was an anchor to the ship, but a few parcels of pearls have been found near the Florida Keys, one in a lead casket containing thousands of natural pearls that have not yet entered any market, and will hopefully be kept together and placed in a museum for posterity sake. 

Quahog pearls, (Mercenaria mercenaria,) are nearly all pearls, mimicking the coloration of the clams that produce them. In their instance the colors range from a deep purple, lilac to a brilliant white and most of the time have some sort of banding of these colors. Quahog pearls have a luster to their nacre that is porcelaneous, shiny and reflective and come in smooth symmetrical, bouton, and baroque shapes, most commonly being symmetrical or baroque.

Left: Quahog clam feeding at the bottom of the seabed in nature Center: An example of various colors and shades of Quahog pearls. Right: A Quahog shell has the same coloration as the pearls that it makes, and was often used as a form of currency as carved beads, sometimes worn as jewelry.

Left: Quahog clam feeding at the bottom of the seabed in nature Center: An example of various colors and shades of Quahog pearls. Right: A Quahog shell has the same coloration as the pearls that it makes, and was often used as a form of currency as carved beads, sometimes worn as jewelry.

Abalone pearls are an orient-rainbow iridescent pearl, with an opalescent effect to its surface and mirroring to its luster. These pearls come from the abalone (Haliotis) species of salt water snails and are found not only on the west coast of North America, but also in New Zealand. Their pearls range in size, and are typically more of a horn, or baroque shape. Their shells are often times used as mother of pearl in jewelry and in fine inlay work due to the color range within their iridescence. Abalone snails are farmed extensively in China, Japan, and Chile, and it is a popular food source in many parts of the world. Historically, the snail’s tissue was a common dehydrated food source for Native Americans and the shell was also used as an ashtray for the burning of incense. The popularity of Abalone in the late 19th century led to over-consumption and in 1900 laws were passed in California, agreeing that the Chinese and Japanese fishermen would not take any Abalone north of the intertidal zone. 

Left: An Abalone snail feeding off a rock in nature. Center: Abalone pearls in various shapes and sizes. Right: A beautiful Abalone shell.

Left: An Abalone snail feeding off a rock in nature. Center: Abalone pearls in various shapes and sizes. Right: A beautiful Abalone shell.

Baja pearls come from the Baja bivalvia (Pteria sterna) and are found from the Sea of Cortez as well as the northern coast of South America. Baja pearls are like the smooth, and more regular little sibling to that of the abalone pearl. They range from a grey-purple to a dark black-purple with a rainbow orient-mirroring effect. These pearls are typically baroque shaped with lips and folds that are a reminded of the lip to their shell, which is the base that holds them on to rocks and coral in nature, and is more exaggerated than most mollusks. 

Left: A bivalvia attached to a coral in the gulf of California. Center: Baja pearls in a range of greys with orient-mirrored lusters. Right: The shell of the Baja bivalve has an exaggerated arm that it attaches itself to coral, rock and seabeds with. 

Left: A bivalvia attached to a coral in the gulf of California. Center: Baja pearls in a range of greys with orient-mirrored lusters. Right: The shell of the Baja bivalve has an exaggerated arm that it attaches itself to coral, rock and seabeds with. 

Conch pearls come from the Conch snail (Strobus gigs,) which is a historically a food crop and makes large large pink pearls that range is shades of light pink to deep coral and rose-colored pears. These pearls are some of the rarest in the world, and unlike many of the mollusks that have been manipulated by man to farm the mollusk to get cultured pearls, the Conch organism will bleed out if impregnated with a bead or nucleus more than not. These pearls can have a dramatic fire effect under the luster of the nacre, and can be banded, smooth, solid, baroque and very rarely a rose-bud. These pearls can bring prices shockingly high, depending on their specific attributes and rarity. 

Left: The Queen Conch snail's eye peeking out of it's shell. Center: An absolutely gorgeous example of a conch pearl with bi-lateral fire striping. Right: A familiar conch shell, commonly sold to tourists throughout the caribbean 

Left: The Queen Conch snail's eye peeking out of it's shell. Center: An absolutely gorgeous example of a conch pearl with bi-lateral fire striping. Right: A familiar conch shell, commonly sold to tourists throughout the caribbean 

Scallop pearls most commonly come from Lion’s paw Scallops (Nodipecten subnodosus,) along the western coast of central America. These pearls are symmetrical, irregular, and baroque in shape and come in an unusual maroon and white spotted and banded colors with surfaces that are porcelaneous and could easily be confused with a ceramic or glass of some sort. Lion’s paw Scallops tend to be a heavier scallop, and therefore do not swim as often as smaller species of scallops. Scallops that do swim, (I highly recommend YouTubing it if you haven’t seen one swim) tend to expel parasites and therefore do not have a nucleus to a pearl in their shell. 

Left: Scallops are the only bivalvia group that typically swim from one place to another. Center: The Scallop pearl with its scalloped nacre in a deep maroon. Right: The Lion's Paw Scallop's shell has thick sculptural waves along the top of it's shells.

Left: Scallops are the only bivalvia group that typically swim from one place to another. Center: The Scallop pearl with its scalloped nacre in a deep maroon. Right: The Lion's Paw Scallop's shell has thick sculptural waves along the top of it's shells.

Spiny pearls come from the Spiney shell oysters (Spondylus princeps) and have gained popularity over the past decade. They occur in the Sea of Cortez, as well as along the coast of modern day Peru. The shell of this species is, as the name implies, is a spiny surface with many sharpe edges gutting from it’s surface that grow along with each ridge. It is no surprise that the surface of the pearl from this mollusk also has a strange surface, appearing faceted, yet round, with flat areas, much like the a golf ball’s surface. 

Left: Spiny oysters have beautiful blue spotted tissue that filters micro organisms out of the water. Center: The orange-skin like surface of the spiny pearl. Right: A Spiny oyster attached to a piece of coral. 

Left: Spiny oysters have beautiful blue spotted tissue that filters micro organisms out of the water. Center: The orange-skin like surface of the spiny pearl. Right: A Spiny oyster attached to a piece of coral. 

Giant Clam pearls, from the Giant Clam (Tridacna gigas) are mostly found in the waters around the Philippines. Their coloration is a stark white with brilliant grey that read like that of some enameled metals. These giant creatures can grow to be as large as 6 feet across, and make pearls that are typically more symmetrical than other exotic species when small, but since they grow so large through time, the nacre becomes bulbous and globulous in their baroque shapes. They are also found throughout the Indian Ocean as well as the rest of the South Pacific and are used in both jewelry, but also collected for specimen decor and carving.

Left: Like the Spiny oyster, the Giant clam also has varying deep blue tissue and is so large that it can serve as home to fish like clown fish and other small symbiotic fish. Center: A more typical shaped clam pearl. Right: The Giant clam shells, intact, have brought high dollar from auction of collectors of natura. 

Left: Like the Spiny oyster, the Giant clam also has varying deep blue tissue and is so large that it can serve as home to fish like clown fish and other small symbiotic fish. Center: A more typical shaped clam pearl. Right: The Giant clam shells, intact, have brought high dollar from auction of collectors of natura. 

A fisherman and pearl collector found Giant clam pearl was found near his home in Palawan, Philippines in 2006. He kept the pearl as a good luck token, under his bed, for ten years before bringing it to government officials in 2016. It is thought to be the worlds largest pearl, weighing in at a weight of 72 lbs. This broke the world record for the Pearl of Lao Tzu, which weighs in at just under 15 lbs, another Giant pearl for in Palawan in 1939, which appraised from 42 - 93 million dollars!

A fisherman and pearl collector found Giant clam pearl was found near his home in Palawan, Philippines in 2006. He kept the pearl as a good luck token, under his bed, for ten years before bringing it to government officials in 2016. It is thought to be the worlds largest pearl, weighing in at a weight of 72 lbs. This broke the world record for the Pearl of Lao Tzu, which weighs in at just under 15 lbs, another Giant pearl for in Palawan in 1939, which appraised from 42 - 93 million dollars!

Melo pearls come from the Melo Melo snail (several volute) which is a large smooth conch-like shell that is found from Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and the northern coasts of Australia. Like the pearl, the Melo Melo snail is beautiful! Their strange snail bodies are not what you might think of when you hear the word snail, but rather it is a meaty, muscular, alien-like creature with zebra stripes of dark brown and white. The pearls likewise are not what you think of when you hear the word pearl; they come in oranges, honeys, beige and light browns and have a luminescent, porcelaneous sheen to their luster with a lot of evenly distributed fire to it. Their shape attributes, much like Cassis pearls are spherical-oval and baroque and are often times confused with the Cassis pearls with the exception most often being the intensity of orange warmth to their color. Melo pearls can bring a shockingly high price per karat, sometimes as high as $9,000 dollars per carat! In some instances the level of rarity is so high! A particularly large specimen went to auction at Christie’s in 2010, and sold for a whopping $722,500.00 USD!

Left: The amazing stripes of the Zebra Melo Melo Sea Snail. Center: The striped fire in the nacre of the Melo pearl. Right: The shell of the Melo Melo.

Left: The amazing stripes of the Zebra Melo Melo Sea Snail. Center: The striped fire in the nacre of the Melo pearl. Right: The shell of the Melo Melo.

These are only a few of the types of pearls that have great interest in the world. With culturing operations starting to revitalize the Red and Arabian Seas we might soon be looking back towards the lovely lustrous Oriental Pearls that were once ever so popular in the mid-east. Many of those pearls were the most expensive and rarest of perfect natural pearls in the history of the industry.

The culture of natural pearls and the environment are topics that go hand in hand. With over-harvesting, pollution, and rising water temperatures/climate change in mind, the future of the pearl industry is a vague, but an important topic. Not only do these topics effect all of the people within the industry, but it also serves as an indicator of the health and wellbeing of the seas, oceans and waterways of the natural world. It is important, when collecting luxury items like these rare pearls, for consumers to keep in mind that the existing jewels on the market today support the jewelry industry, and not an industry that does not use the meat of these animals or the entire animal. There are many sad stories of mounds and mounds of over-harvested shells, specifically in search of pearls, being thrown back into the seas with no profit and only dead animals. Please consume cultured pearls from reputable dealers or pearls that are second hand from antique jewelers.

-Zach Burk, August 2017

Cassis pearls are another of the rare, and very expensive species of gastropod formed pearls. Their atributions and color designations are very similar to that of the Melo pearl mentioned above, but tend to be less orange and more creamy or yellow, with clear fire in the nacre. 

Cassis pearls are another of the rare, and very expensive species of gastropod formed pearls. Their atributions and color designations are very similar to that of the Melo pearl mentioned above, but tend to be less orange and more creamy or yellow, with clear fire in the nacre. 

Aquamarine

David Prebble

Aquamarine comes from a family of gemstones that we call Beryl. Beryls are some of the most beautiful and desirable gems sought after through the history of jewelry. When colorless, the purest of beryls, it is referred to as Goshenite, however beryls gets their name from the greek word beryllos, meaning green stone. The reason for that is that we referred to them is by the coloring that occurs when there are minute chemical claws in the composition of the mineral, one of the most common being chromium which makes a beautiful green stone, famously known as Emerald. Another color designation includes Morganite, rich in manganese, it turns the stone a variety of peach, pinks, and rose colored stones. Manganese is also the trace mineral that causes the very rare deep red beryl, referred to as a Scarlet Emerald. Lastly, we have 2 color designations that result from beryls rich in iron, the first being yellows that are referred to as helios (Greek for sun,) and aquamarine (meaning seawater.) 

Aquamarine, and all beryls, rate 7.5 - 8 on the Mohs scale of hardness. These minerals are durable and strong gemstones, however, their trace minerals often times compose flaws in the stone that are most gaseous and therefore more volatile than those of the corundum or diamond families of stones, so it is advised to proceed with caution when wearing beryls for everyday use as they can scratch, crack and break more easily than their Mohs scale rating would lead us to believe. 

Aquamarine can be found all over the world, from Sri Lanka to Montana, or Brazil to Madagascar, but with a special place in our home state of Colorado. Aquamarine is our state gemstone in Colorado, and geodes containing blue aquamarine can be found at the summit of Mt. Anteroom in the Sawatch Range, and as far north as the Big Horn Mountains in Wyonming. The world’s largest known reserves of beryls, however, is Brazil. 

Aquamarine is amazing for its faint to deep aquatic color, in blues and teals. It has intrigued and enchanted people for ages for its resemblance to the ocean, sea and sky. One of the most interesting discoveries within the human histories of aquamarines is that of the Don Pedro Aquamarine. This giant crystal was discovered by 3 prospectors at Pedra Azul, in Brazil. It was broken up into 3 pieces, and the prospectors sold those 3 crystals to an unnamed Brazilian collector, who had the 2 smaller stones divided, cut and faceted for jewelry. The largest of the 3 remained uncut, as a crystal until the early 1990’s, when a German dealer named Jürgen Henn invested in the majority of the stone in a deal and arrangement that took a year to sort out. He entrusted the massive 24 inches gem to the extremely talented stone cutter Bernd Munsteiner, who has been renowned for his fantasy cuts since the 1960’s. Hen and Munsteiner specifically preserved this stone as a way to honor, and preserve the mineral for its rarity and wonder. It is now cut and carved in a modified obelisk, measures 14” in height and weights 10,363 carats, (apx. 4.6 lbs.) and was finished in 1993.

The Don Pedro aquamarine, both in the rough crystal form (right) and in it's carved and fantasy-cut obelisk (left)

The Don Pedro aquamarine, both in the rough crystal form (right) and in it's carved and fantasy-cut obelisk (left)

The Don Pedro made it’s world debut at the annual gem fair in Basel Switzerland. It traveled and was exhibited around the world, but Henn’s Brazilian partner really wanted to sell it and turn a profit. Panicked that it would be cut up into more useable faceted stones for use in jewelry, Henn and Munsteiner turned to gem collector Jane Mitchell. She and her husband, Jeff Bland bought the Don Pedro in 1999, and later donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 2011 for their permanent National Gem Collection. Although it may reside permanently in the United States, it is named after the first, and the last kings of Brazil, and is a reminder of Brazil’s natural richness and amazing geological features.

My personal favorite jewelry pieces of aquamarine are also from Brazil. In 1953, when Queen Elizabeth of England was crowned the queen of the United Kingdom, at which time the Brazilian government gifted her a fantastic necklace with matching pendant earrings for her coronation. Set with diamonds in platinum, the queen was so thrilled with her aquamarines, that 4 years later, she commissioned a tiara to match. A year after this the Brazilian government added to their gift 5 years earlier by giving a bracelet in a similar style set with 7 large aquamarines. Then, “in 1968, the queen and prince Philip made their first state visit to Brazil and the Governor of Sao Paulo presented the queen with a V-shaped ‘hair ornament’, as it was described at the time, also made of aquamarines and diamonds.” (-Leslie Fields The Queen’s Jewels) These aquamarines were then added to her tiara to enhance the, already outrageous, aqua and diamond crown. The queen still wears this parure to this day, often times with her very famous set of clip brooches by Louis Cartier that she was gifted on her 18th birthday in 1944, (what a lucky girl...)

Because of their natural clarity and iron rich structure, the aquamarine gem is most often cut as an emerald cut. This step cut, with long table-like facets allows for the color to come through and enhances the over all color that comes through it. A great example is this large aquamarine is an emerald-cut that is all about the emergence of the Retrospective of the Art Deco and Nouveau movements. It was made by designer Jean Fouquet sometime between 1925 and 1930. It is technically of the Art Deco movement, but this piece seems to go one step beyond that. Both minimalism and luxury give name to the irreverent Retro stylings of Hollywood and the 1950s that followed. Most designers in the late 20’s were working in filigree, bead work or more elaborate styles that accentuated the length of the flappers waist line, but in this piece Fouquet shows a structure and conceptual format to his design, with a progressive cobra-snake chain, set with heavy links, and a gold and black lacquer bar that drop down to a white gold, round disk turn-table, and the music that it spins is that of a large, stunning emerald-cut aquamarine, with warm undertones that play off of the gold and black. He was not interested in following fashions, but rather what fashion would become. Its as if he was saying “Take your decorative arts and shove them, you glutinous world!” and he was right, soon there-after the stock market crashed and the decorative arts fell by the wayside along with most of the modern world. The depression took over and for the following 20 years the jewelry industry struggled to find a voice. When it emerged, designers looks to this style with a new found respect. It represented the materials; the beauty; the difficulty of values, and blatant call for indulgence. It also represented their story, the fallen, mass-producing companies of those roaring 20’s. It also represented the future, with a word of caution to those artists who listened, which whispered, stay true to your designs, because those works will give you a name that lasts.

Jean Fouquet, 18 karat white and yellow gold, black laquer and aquamarine. c. 1925-30

Jean Fouquet, 18 karat white and yellow gold, black laquer and aquamarine. c. 1925-30

Whether you are a March baby, gemologist, collector or just admire the aquamarine, it is truly one of the great stones used in antique and estate jewelry. In 1902 Rene’ Lalique designed one of the most enchanting of his insect motifs. It wasn’t something a mythological nymph, or an Egyptian revival, rather, it was simply damselflies, working together to hold up this amazing aquamarine stone. Lalique, as with all of the French Art Nouveau craftsmen, took a moody, smokey approach to the lines of his design. These works are truly the most nuanced works found in all of modernity. Since the Renaissance, artists had tried to reinvent realism in so many ways that they had forgotten the spirit of the arts, but the late 19th and early 20th century artists made a swamp of thought that was so rich in conceptual sludge, that we can only surmise that this was due to the extreme advancement of technologies, war, industry, the demand of the middle classes, and fall of the aristocracy which, in turn, evolved the collective creative conscious into the movements that came to fruition ever so fast. 

In Rene’s work we find ourselves giving archetypes to these magical little creatures. They represent beauty, yes, but they also beg the question, was Lalique finding narrative in his work? We know for certain that his understanding of enamel, glass and materials was that of genius, but what was he saying through such incredible technical masterpieces? Perhaps in these and many of his works at this time, he anthropomorphizes insects, fish and flora to give name to the philosophies of those times and call a return to nature in such an industrial age. Maybe, it is because of this, that he was able to develop a sense of the future and the ideas of modernity at such a young age. Maybe he was foreseeing a society absorbed in its technologies and reveling in its glutenous disregard for its natural resources. This is what I find so beautiful about Lalique’s work; not that it was so finely made, or that the imagery is magical and pretty, but that it is like a story yet to be told. His work is a meditation on culture, and its purely human ability, to step back and look at nature for what it is in that Zen sort of way. He was pursuing perfection by allowing for nature to return to the decorative in a way that was elegant and fashionable, but true to its self. Rene Lalique seems to have practiced this Wabi-Sabi of the western industrial revolution, and here, with a cluster of damselflies (and yes, damselflies are a real insect) he reminds us that perhaps the best thing to do for design in the technological age, is to look at nature, and the materials that we use, such as this amazing, and revered aquamarine.

Rene Lalique, Damselfly collar. c. 1902

Rene Lalique, Damselfly collar. c. 1902

In the metaphysical world, aquamarines rule the throat chakra, and inspire the wearer to speak with a strong sense of truth and love. They are believed to heal and aid with argumentative personalities and during times of litigation. They are also believed to keep on safe during travel.

Please, take a moment and peruse our selection of Aqua Marines at the moment. It really is such a great stone to be lucky enough to call your birthstone, and makes a great gift for that special someone you love.

-Zach Burk March 6, 2017