Let me loose at an antique show and I am a bit like a kid in a candy store, wanting every treat I see. But then I somehow manage to narrow it down to a focused search for the most extraordinary pieces of antique jewelry.
This year’s Las Vegas Antique Jewelry & Watch Show was no exception. I hit the ground running on the first day, as soon as the doors opened. My main objectives were to zoom in on what seemed to be the categories out in rare form: Georgian era, brooches, Art Nouveau, cut steel, early Victorian, memorial jewelry, and mid-century signed pieces. I was also on the hunt for the essentials - pieces that a jewelry enthusiast could add to or build their collections upon - authentic museum-quality pieces with provenance, which best represented certain time periods and, although 100-200 years old, could be worn, even if not every day.
Here are my picks for the top eight essentials from exhibitors I have known for years and those whose reputations drove me over to meet them for the first time.
1) Victorian buckle wedding bracelets
Whether you are an antique aficionado or just a girl with a hankering for jewels with a past, then a pair of Victorian, wide hinged buckle bracelets are must-haves. Finding a pair is no easy task - they have usually been broken up when passed down through generations or by a family with two daughters. When you find them, snap them up. They are the go-to bracelets that can be worn one on each wrist with, say, a white t-shirt and jeans, or can be stacked for a more dramatic effect to climb up your arm in a sleeveless shift dress.
Keyamour specializes in these Victorian buckle wedding bracelets and, in fact, all periods of jewelry. Owner Dana Kiyomura also has a wide range of charms, early Victorian padlocks, Edwardian pendants and rings, among other charming and highly wearable pieces. I also saw pairs of wedding bracelets at Kentshire Galleries, Lenore Dailey and Gold Hatpin.
2) Georgian paste riviere necklace
One of my favorites at the show was this riviere necklace in a cushion-cut shaped, foil-backed, cut-down collet set with a vibrant emerald-colored paste. The cuts are more unique than the round or oval shapes that we usually see in these types of necklaces. During the summer months, the pop of color can range from glamorous to playful. In addition, paste offers the collector a price point that isn’t going to call for remortgaging your home.
Kentshire Galleries is akin to a treasure chest of jewels from the Georgian through mid-century time periods. First opening in 1940, this well-known antique gallery is expertly curated by third-generation, brother and sister team Carrie and Matthew Imberman. Every time I visit Kentshire Galleries I walk out with at least five new pieces from my own wish list, and this Georgian paste riviere necklace was no exception.
You can also find an amethyst version with oval foil-back gems. Bell and Bird has an exquisite, Georgian, round, mine-cut diamond riviere, and Pat Novissimo at Lowther Antiques is another source for both colorful, clear paste and gemstone alternatives.
3) Georgian pink topaz ring
When you were young, everything you dreamt of was in pink - from your shoes and your princess gowns to your piles of jewelry. And then you grew up and turned to shades of black, grey and maybe midnight navy, or prints that are loud, hip and vintage. But as far as your antique jewelry goes, you have learned to wear turquoise, moonstone, opal and garnet, and if you are really lucky, you have found chrysoberyl in a ring or a pendant.
But to find a large, cushion-shaped pink topaz was beyond my imagination. Until now. Kentshire Galleries has one in impeccable condition - foil backed with a surround of rose-cut diamonds. This is a sizeable, singular, statement ring rather than a stacker.
4) Interchangeable antique diamond necklace
Some jewels either haunt your dreams or keep you awake at night. This 19th century necklace is one of those pieces. The secret to this already beautifully articulated floral and leaf motif necklace with old mine-cut diamonds involves taking a peek under the velvet of the box to discover 12 or more different fittings that allow this necklace to be transformable. From a necklace into a bracelet, pendant earrings, a tiara, brooches , and my favorite of all - each floret becomes it’s own ornament to scatter throughout your hair. Here is my advice on this piece. Do some “I can make this work” calculations - with so many multiple ways to wear it, it is like buying 12 or more pieces of jewelry. If you amortize the piece over time, you might just be able to justify purchasing it. Either that or you will have to go out and find a member of a Royal family to marry you. This is one I will forever obsess about.
Pat Saling has many of these jewels that are fit for a queen: a garden of en-tremblant, early 19th century floral brooches; an Art Nouveau ultra long, plique-a-jour enamel feather brooch; a Victorian bracelet with multiple hearts with bombe-set turquoise; and tiaras, sautoirs and pendant earrings from the Art Deco period.
5) Signed Carlo Giuliano pendant on a chain
Anytime I see a Giuliano signed piece, my heart skips a beat. One of the masters of the Revivalist Movement, Giuliano was primarily influenced by Renaissance pieces and archeology. His attention to craftsmanship, old-world goldsmithing, and details such as enamel work as well as symbolic motifs all make for highly collectible jewels. This exceptional pendant is circular in shape and is set in the center with nine old mine-cut diamonds with an openwork frame of pearls. It extends out to an elaborate scroll border, enhanced with pale blue, white, black and translucent red enamel suspended from a chain of blue enamel quatrefoil flower heads with alternating diamond and pearl centers. It is inscribed October 25th, 1898, and signed C.G. This is a piece to wear with a subtle, streamlined wardrobe and, as it is rich with ornate detailing, it is a jewel that needs little else. Maybe a pair of double-drop earrings and a ring or two.
Joden Jewelers, which was established in 1970, is a family-owned operation located in Pennsylvania. It is a brick-and-mortar jewelry store with an online presence and is a renowned international dealer to other jewelers. In addition to its antique and estate collection, Joden carries one of the largest collections of Giuliano jewelry.
6) Early 19th century Iberian earrings
Whenever I see museum-quality examples of Iberian earrings, I look, I touch, and I am awed by their imperfect character and handmade quality. I am equally concerned about their weight on the ear and the dreaded droop of the lobe. Some antique earrings are purely for admiring, but these particular earrings are as light as a feather and also only 1.5 inches in length. They are from the Iberian Peninsula, which produced outstanding jewels until Napoleon's invasion of Portugal in 1809. These are not just beauties to gaze upon, they can actually be worn, and worn comfortably. The gold and emerald combination lights up the face.
Cyrus and wife Rihanna, owners of Bell and Bird, have built their Austin, Texas-based store and website with a unique eye for early period jewels that will retain their value, so they usually get snapped up quickly. So what are you waiting for?
Other dealers who exhibited some wonderful Iberian pieces included Spicer-Warin, Lowther Antiques and Lucy Verity.
7) Art Nouveau dragonfly brooch
Sometimes you just have to go with what Mother Nature has in mind for you. And while I still get a little jumpy about having a live dragonfly land on my dress, one from the Art Nouveau era in gold with plique-a-jour enameled wings, and a ruby and diamond jeweled body, is just the way I would want to find an insect. This one is a rare addition to any collection as it can be worn in numerous ways - on daytime jackets and dresses, or an evening gown.
Humphrey Butler was founded in June 2000 by a former auction house specialist who accumulated more than 22 years' experience working for both Christie's and Sotheby's. Based in new Pall Mall premises, Humphrey Butler specializes in such dragonfly brooches, plus estate jewelry and more contemporary luxury items dating from the 18th century to the present day, and has grown to cover an international base of customers.
8) Late Victorian diamond flexible bracelet
This flexible, late Victorian bracelet set with old mine-cut diamonds looks a bit like a tiara in its design, and reflects a sense of regal elegance when it encircles the wrist.
Simon Teakle’s eye for acquiring some of these most intriguing and rare antique jewels stems from his 20 years at Christie’s, spent running its New York jewelry department. A qualified gemologist, Teakle has handled jewels belonging to Eva Peron, Doris Duke and Elizabeth Taylor. There is never a show where he disappoints - from his signed jewels from renowned houses to his pieces that range between early Victorian and Art Deco.
*Note to collectors: Remember to always ask as many questions as you feel comfortable, obtain a guarantee or invoice with a statement of authenticity, and beware of reproductions, particularly in portrait and lover’s eye jewelry, memento mori pieces and giardinetti rings, as well as all pieces from the Art Deco movement.