Friday, April 26, 2013

The Great Gatsby: Glamour of the Roaring Twenties


In anticipation of the upcoming release of Baz Luhrmann’s new adaptation of the film ‘The Great Gatsby’ we take a closer look at the sumptuous style and elegance of Art Deco period jewellery, which was at its height in the decade in which the story takes place: the glamorous 1920s.

The central character of the film Daisy Buchanan played by Carey Mulligan, is bedecked with sumptuous deco jewels luxuriously set with an abundance of diamonds and pearls.

After the end of World War I, women enjoyed a new freedom of living and a more important part in society and this was reflected in the clothes and jewellery that they wore. Originality became sought after, bringing a freedom of expression to designers and makers. Working closely with the fashions of the time, jewellery design incorporated new or rediscovered materials and developments in technology and followed the forms of a new artistic revolution adopted by artists and architects.

After the naturalism of Art Nouveau, geometry became the new style and forms became simpler and purer with an enhanced clarity of lines and shapes. Platinum became the metal of the decade and this was the perfect background to set off the distinct blocks of colour of large transparent gemstones contrasting with opaque materials such as onyx, jade and coral.

Headdresses, layered pearl bracelets, drop earrings, hair slides and big diamond rings – Carey Mulligan looks every inch the wealthy flapper girl. Of course, it will take more than jewels to recreate the style, elegance and talent of one of our favourite actresses in this film, but at Berganza we are lucky enough to boast a fantastic selection of Art Deco jewellery from the 20s period that will help along the way. Surely the most luxurious decade of all was the 1920s, and what better way to channel glamour and style than to wear a genuine piece of original Art Deco period jewellery?

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Tudor Rings

On display at the Victoria & Albert Museum is a mesmerising collection of over 150 objects, jewellery and paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries, shown to highlight the relationship between the British Monarchy of the Tudor and Stuart courts and the Russian Tsars. This exhibition would be of interest to anyone fascinated by hand crafted objects from this period, with some being good enough to be presented as gifts to foreign Royalty. Within this exhibition are three gold finger rings that were made in the 16th – 17th centuries. One is an ancient sapphire intaglio set within an early 17th century ring, another is a memorial / wedding ring circa 1550 – 1600 and lastly a signet ring circa 1580, all with decorative scrolling shoulders, which are interesting comparisons to some important new additions to our collection. The V&A holds a vast array of important rings from this period and we are lucky to have such pieces of museum quality here at Berganza.

The Treasures of the Royal Courts exhibition coincides with our recent acquisition of an extremely rare medieval ring, circa 15th – 16th century. It is a yellow gold ring set with a faceted ruby and is in excellent condition. At this time, rubies would have come from both India and Ceylon, and diamonds were rare. By the early fifteenth century diamonds and gemstones were being faceted as this brought out the desired reflective properties that the earlier cabochon cut gemstones just didn’t display. Yellow gold would have come from various sources, as it was being imported from the Arab world and European production was increasing, with the first gold producing mine in Europe being at Trenmitz in Bohemia, discovered in the 1320s. This ring is a rare and fascinating example of early gemstone cutting, set within its original typical crescentric scalloped closed back quatrefoil collet, tapering inwards to trumpeted supportive shoulders carved with foliate imagery and further detailed with niello inlay. At approximately 500 hundred years old, this is still set with its original ruby and is in remarkable, wearable condition.

Comparable pieces to this new addition are our earlier medieval amethyst cabochon ring, circa 14th – 15th century and the cabochon sapphire ring circa 12th – 15th century . This rounded effect of a cabochon was gained by polishing and rubbing the stone, which is seen prior to the early 15th century. The amethyst probably came from Europe, as quartz at this time was found in Germany, France and Switzerland, with amethyst being the purple variety. Sapphires were a popular choice, coming from Ceylon and encircling regions, finding their way to jewellers via trade routes.

From the 15th – 16th century we have a silver signet / fede ring in our collection. Silver was produced mainly in Western Europe and was also gained as a by-product of lead mining around this time. It was considered the second most precious metal to gold and was also used as settings for gemstones. This piece is engraved with an image of a dog, representing fidelity, two overlapping hearts and two clasped hands to the rear of the shank, making this a fede ring of love imagery. This is a fair size, leading us to believe this may have been the wedding band of a noble man.

Furthermore, we have another new addition from the 14th – 15th century of a silver gilt seal ring engraved with an image of the Agnus Dei. This has an oval bezel with intricate engraving and dotted border, bearing resemblance to the signet ring in the aforementioned exhibition at the V&A and the detailing in the signet / fede ring above, which would have been worn by a gentleman of religious belief.

Rings from the late medieval period that are in fine condition are extremely rare. Those detailed above are fantastic examples of the types of workmanship seen at this time, across different metals and serving different purposes. To own and even wear a medieval piece of such rarity is to own a piece of jewellery history, comparisons of which can be seen on display in museums and in portraits from this time. See pictured, Queen Elizabeth of Austira, 1571, with two yellow gold rings set with early faceted gemstones, and further to her dress.

The ‘Treasures of the Royal Courts’ exhibition is on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum until July 14th 2013.
Sources: Cherry, J. ‘Medieval Goldsmiths’, The British Museum Press, 2011.
For comparison: Scarisbrick. D, ‘Rings, Jewelry of Power, Love and Loyalty’ Thames & Hudson, 2007, Page244.
Oman, C.C, ‘Victoria and Albert Museum Catalogue of Rings 1930’ Anglia Publishing, 1993, image 281, 16th century, image 256, 13th or 14th century.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Roman Jewellery – Pompeii and Herculaneum

The British Museum’s eagerly awaited new Exhibition ‘Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum’ will be opening on 28th March. With more than 34,000 visits booked three weeks before the opening this is a once in a lifetime chance to gain a fascinating insight into daily life at the heart of the Roman Empire, and some of the top exhibits are items of jewellery worn by the people of these cities at the time of the eruption – one of the most impressive exhibits being a gold snake bracelet made of solid gold. In celebration of this exhibition we will be highlighting a few selected pieces from our extensive collection of Roman jewellery.

In Roman times to be adorned in gold from head to toe was a sign of the very highest status. Images of real and fantastic animals were of widespread popularity in jewellery design, and indeed one of the highlights or our current collection of genuine Roman rings at Berganza is a gold lion ring made during the 1st century BC.

Finger rings were the most popular type of jewellery worn during the Roman period and were worn by men, women and children. Most male finger rings had a function to perform. These were signet rings used as a form of royal insignia by higher-ranking officials. Ladies rings however were used solely as decoration and were ornately carved in precious metals or gem set with garnets, cornelians, agates and jasper.

A significant signet ring in our collection is a grey chalcedony ring dating from the 2nd century AD. The ornate gold ring is set with an intaglio, or engraved gemstone, carved with a full-length figure of the Greek god Zeus, seated on his throne and holding a sceptre. Zeus was god of the sky and ruler of the Olympian gods, and we can only imagine that the original owner of this ring was an important man of the highest rank in Roman society. The shank of the ring is ornately decorated with filigree, a fine gold wire that was finely manipulated by bending and soldering to form the most intricate of designs, popular amongst those who could afford it to show off their wealth and status. Gemstone engraving was an important art form in Roman times, and due to the hardness of the stones was something only the most skilled and specialist craftsmen could achieve. The designs would often take months to be cut into the stone using abrasive powder ground from an even harder material. The complexity of the image was important in ensuring the seal could not be copied.

Earrings were commonly worn by women at the time and there were many different styles and types. Towards the end of the Roman period the custom became popular of making patterns in sheet-gold by cutting out portions of the metal with a chisel. This process came in to use in the second century AD was popular for necklaces, however we have in our collection a pair of earrings that were handcrafted in the 3rd century AD using this technique. Composed of a square sheet of gold pierced with squares and triangles producing a geometric lace-like pattern, each earring is centrally set with a cobalt blue spherical glass bead, attached by fine gold wire in a method typical of the period.

As Roman jewellery was made chiefly out of gold, many decorative processes were available to the goldsmith. Some of the most ornate processes were filigree and granulation work. These closely related processes are for decorating goldwork by the application of wires and grains of gold. Filigree consists of fine gold wires which are soldered in patterns on a background. Our ancient Roman gold pendant is one such example and consists of a drop-shaped solid gold plaque set with an intricate pattern of scrolled, twisted and plaited gold wire.

These are just a few of the ancient techniques that were used to create a rich variety of styles in Roman jewellery. This extraordinary jewellery that has survived almost 2000 years has not only endured through the preservation of museums. It has also endured due to the pleasure and enjoyment gained from wearing such a significant piece of history and craftsmanship. This jewellery was made to be worn and enjoyed in Roman times but has lasted through millennia, and the incredible part of this? It can still be worn and enjoyed by us today.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Romance with Rubies

Rubies are one of the most beautiful gemstones in the world. They evoke emotions of love, lust and true romance. Rubies are said to bring the wearer love and power, and have long been a symbol of passion, energy and life, stemming from their intense red colour. The name ruby was derived from ‘ruber’ meaning ‘red’ in Latin and has been used in jewellery for centuries. In Biblical times they were regarded as a most adored gemstone, ‘She is more precious than rubies’, Proverbs 3:15. Indeed, there is nothing that says ‘true love’ more than a blood red ruby.

Ruby is very hard and durable, bearing the same qualities as sapphire – both sharing in the corundum species of gemstones. On the hardness scale corundum is just below diamond, making it a striking alternative to diamond and adding a colour most desired. Traditionally rubies are red, but can occur in many differing shades from a lighter pink to dark, deep red.

The most important mines for rubies are undoubtedly the Burmese mines from the Mogok region in Upper Burma (Myanmar). These mines have been worked for centuries and produce the finest, gem quality stones of a very distinctive red with specific inclusions. Different mines bear different shades of ruby. It is from here that the highly revered ‘Pigeon’s blood’ hue is found of a bluish-red, along with other desirable shades that too are only found in this region, namely those with a certain pink tinge. We are extremely lucky to have a range of rubies from the old Burma mines in our collection. Although mining is still active there, the yield is somewhat insignificant to what it used to be, very rarely producing the quality rubies that were mined many years ago. This means rarity is a huge factor when it comes to the fine rubies from this region, as it is such a distinguishing feature, hard to find and highly sought after. Other areas of occurrence include Vietnam and Thailand, also Central Asia and East Africa.

Bearing in mind the rarity of the hue of these rubies, matching them within a piece of jewellery is exceptionally hard to achieve, especially with natural unenhanced stones. Today, creating a desirable hue within a ruby can be made by heating and certain treatments, which is quite common in modern jewellery as demand for these hues outstrips supply. We ensure all of our rubies are natural and unenhanced.

Rubies can be fashioned into faceted gemstones or en cabochon depending on their qualities and both are seen within jewellery. When certain silk-like inclusions are arranged in a particular manner within the stone they can display an optical effect when cut en cabochon called ‘asterism’, or ‘star ruby’. As the name suggests, when light is reflected in a particular way onto the gemstone a shimmering star can be seen. This phenomenon is rare and is therefore desirable. Colour primarily, clarity, carat weight, cut, origin and whether it is natural or enhanced are key to their value. Today, very fine rubies are fetching extraordinarily high prices and continue to ascend due to their increasing rarity and of course, desirability to own such a magnificent piece of nature.

Fortunately we have quite a range of fine rubies in our collection, from star rubies, to ruby and diamond three stones, to calibré cut rubies, to beautiful classic ruby and diamond clusters. Owning a ruby set piece of jewellery, particularly one that is as nature created with no enhancements, should be treasured as a most important jewel as it is one of the most prized gemstones of all.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

New Video Feature – Discovering Sapphires

We’re delighted to introduce our new video feature, Discovering Sapphires.

This short presentation explores the history of the gemstone that is emblematic of romantic love for many societies around the world and presents items of fine sapphire jewelry from our collection.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Celebrity Jewellery Watch: Period and Antique Engagement Rings

It would seem that period and antique engagement rings are becoming increasingly popular with international celebrities.

Perhaps the first to kick off this recent trend was Welsh beauty Catherine Zeta Jones, who in 2000 received a ten carat antique marquise cut diamond engagement ring dating from the 1920s from Michael Douglas, with an estimated value of around two million dollars. Though not of Hollywood fame, in 2005 Camilla Parker Bowles was given an Art Deco diamond ring by Prince Charles. Set with a central emerald cut diamond flanked by six diamond baguettes, it was once owned by the Queen Mother. Another family heirloom, Scottish actor Ross McCall proposed to American actress Jennifer Love-Hewitt in 2007 with an antique diamond ring that had been in his family for over one hundred years. The following year another American starlet, Scarlett Johansson, became engaged to actor Ryan Reynolds with an antique cushion cut diamond solitaire on a gold band. And in late 2009, the Spanish pair Penelope Cruz and Javier Barden became engaged, the ring being an antique sapphire and diamond cluster ring on a gold band, all the stones in collet settings. Finally, just this year British comedian David Walliams proposed to his Dutch supermodel girlfriend, Lara Stone, with a period ring dating from the 1930s composed of a diamond centre stone with diamond set shoulders.

It is no surprise that the world’s most stylish women are wearing antique engagement rings, as they will ever be a fashionable yet timeless choice.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The most mysterious of settings

‘Serti Mysterieux’ or invisible setting as it is known in English has fascinated people for much of the last century. It is based on a very simple premise. You should only see gemstones, no metal should be visible in the setting.

In 1929, a relatively unknown Parisian jeweller named Jacques-Albert Algier developed and patented a method of holding a stone in place without pushing metal over it – no claws, no collets. He did this by carving a groove in the side of the gem and sliding the gem along rails of precious metal, setting gemstone next to gemstone and effectively masking the metal. It gave him what appeared to be an invisible setting.

In Spring 1933, Cartier picked up on this method of setting and used it sparingly, but with an already full catalogue of Art Deco pieces they did not pursue it further.

Enter Van Cleef & Arpels. This was the perfect firm for the ‘serti mysterieux’, with Alfred Van Cleef being an accomplished lapidary (stone cutter) himself and Julien Arpels a stone aficionado. Having founded VCA in 1906 they were keen to make a name for themselves. In December 1933, nine months after Cartier they filed a patent for a process they called ‘serti mysterieux’. VCA were not the only ones to use invisible settings, but of the few houses who did, they alone are responsible for popularising it.

One of the many difficulties in this particular setting is cutting a precise groove on either side of a stone. The stones used were so small and the level of precision required so great that they would have used crude saw blades made of silk and coated in diamond powder. The amount of stones broken in this process was enormous. They needed approximately 50% more stones to account for wastage with this type of setting. Invisibly set pieces would also take months to complete, with the more complicated pieces requiring even longer than that.

Not only did a gemstone have to be grooved in perfectly straight lines, but they also had to be faceted precisely to fit next to each other with no gaps. This calibré cutting required the lapidary and the jeweller to work hand in hand to ensure that all the component parts fit perfectly.
Serti mysterieux was an immediate success. It remains to this day the finest example of the jeweller’s capability for combining beauty with technical ability.

We are very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to purchase this rare vintage example of invisible setting. And, we hope that the lucky lady who gets to wear it will treasure it as much as we have.

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