Jewelry That Tells Of History

The first museum show of its kind, "Masterpieces of American Jewelry" opens this week. Ralph Esmerian, curator of the exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum in New York, offered a preview on The Early Show of the types of jewels that will be on display.

A companion book for the show, "Masterpieces of American Jewelry" by Judith Price, president of the National Jewelry Institute, will be released Sept. 1, 2004, by Running Press.

"Masterpieces of American Jewelry," the inaugural exhibition of The National Jewelry Institute, will be presented at the American Folk Art Museum from Aug. 20, 2004, through Jan. 23, 2005. This exhibit (the first museum show ever to focus exclusively on America's jewelry legacy) celebrates the unique attributes of American jewelry, its creators, and its innovators.

"Masterpieces" will highlight the creativity and design excellence of American jewelry from its beginnings. The 125 pieces in the show were all manufactured and distributed in America from the late 18th century through the 1980s.

In this exhibit, one will find familiar names like Tiffany and Harry Winston. However, there are many surprises as well, including, Cartier, Van Cleef or Bulgari - at some point in their history, these foreign-based jewelers decided to design, manufacture, and distribute their wares in the United States.

The exhibit will focus on five major themes common throughout American jewelry history: Americana, Nature, Humor, Pastimes, and High Style.

AMERICANA: This genre of jewelry pays tribute to the American spirit, with pieces depicting historical events such as the War of 1812, the suffragette movement, or single American flags as an expression of national pride.

Example:
Pocket Watch signed "LM," c. 1910. 18K yellow gold, platinum, diamond, sapphire, ruby and enamel. This watch celebrates Wilbur Wright's flight over New York on Sept. 30, 1909.

NATURE: Nineteenth-century discoveries in the Middle East and Far East inspired a craze for the exotic, yielding the famous Tiffany orchid brooches, among other jewelry inspired by plants and animals from around the globe.

Examples:

  • Orchid Brooches by Tiffany & Co., New York, 1889. Designed by Paulding Farnham, who was the lead designer of jewelry for Tiffany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1889, Tiffany displayed 25 exotic flowers for the Paris World's Fair.
  • Flower brooches. Newark Group, Newark, NJ, c. 1915-1930. 14K gold with enamel coloring. These flowers could be mass produced in editions of up to 500, which meant they were inexpensive and affordable for the everyday man.

    HUMOR: Wit might seem an odd subject for jewelry, but American spunk and optimism has often come out in this art form. Two examples are the Disney charm bracelets created by Cartier in the early 20th century and the pins crafted by Raymond C. Yard (also influenced by Disney creations) during Prohibition depicting rabbit waiters carrying trays of cocktails.

    Examples:
    Master of the Foxhounds & Bunny Pins. Raymond C. Yard, 1931-1940. Gold, platinum, diamonds, sapphires, rubies and emeralds. Raymond C. Yard was supported by John D. Rockefeller when he opened his business. Rockefeller directed many friends towards his new endeavor and soon Yard became a favorite of high society. During and after, the Depression he would make animals come alive with a touch of whimsy -- either going fishing, carrying cocktails or even getting married.

    PASTIMES: These pieces reflect how Americans liked to spend their free time: attending the ballet, or enjoying fishing and hunting. But perhaps no other activity captured American pride more than baseball during the 20th century. The exhibit contains several jeweled tributes to the sport.

    Examples:

  • New York Yankees World Series Bracelet. This bracelet, commemorating Worlds Series triumphs in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941 and 1943, was given by Yankees manager, Joe McCarthy, to his wife, Babe. It is inscribed, "To my loving wife Babe McCarthy, May 19, 1942, from Joe."
    -Cigarette Case with applied game-fish is made with platinum, 18K gold, enamel, diamonds and rubies, Charlton & Co., 1937.
  • Sportsman Jewelry, c. 1920-1950. 14K gold and enamel with various stones. The Fox Hunt Brooch is by Alling & Co., Newark, N.J. The Mallard done in platinum, 14K gold and diamonds, and the Fish & Harpoon Brooch is by William Scheer, New York. The Fish & Rod Brooch is by Sloan & Co., Newark, N.J., and the Racehorse Pencil Case (14K gold and demantoid garnets) is by Battin & Co., Newark, N.J.

    HIGH STYLE: This section includes some of the leading ladies of 1930s Hollywood and their fantastic jewels. One favorite jeweler to the stars was New York-based Paul Flato who made a number of pieces for Mrs. Cole Porter.

    To better place this in context, the exhibit includes photographic portraits of 11 women who became icons of American style wearing their favorite jewels. These women - Mary Pickford, Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Clare Boothe Luce, Barbara "Babe" Paley, Countess Mona Bismarck, Georgia O'Keeffe, Loretta Young, Millicent Rogers, and the Duchess of Windsor - distinguished themselves by creating an inimitable personal style that infused the highest standards of art with the individual spirit.

    Examples:

  • Aquamarine and Ruby Belt Buckle Necklace created by Paul Flato for Mrs. Linda Porter, New York, 1940.
  • Gold Cuffs owned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis made by Van Cleef & Arpels, 1970. 18K and nearly 3 1/4 inches in width.

    The National Jewelry Institute was formed two years ago as a non-profit organization whose mission is the preservation of and education about fine jewelry. The Institute will also foster and support the training of students studying the jewelry trade - including sponsored apprenticeships - in order to help them learn the exacting techniques of fine jewelry craftsmanship and to perpetuate this important artistic tradition.