This spectacular Art Nouveau pin/pendant depicts two sinuous swans perched amidst willowy cat tails. The swan, with his undulant neck and elusive aura, was a favorite subject among Art Nouveau designers. This piece was made around 1900 by American jewelry company Krementz. It is masterfully decorated in translucent enamels in pastel orange, light teal, and chartreuse green. Polychrome enameling is especially difficult since different colors melt at varying temperatures and if overheated, the enamel will burn or the colors will fade. The subtle shading on the swans’ necks is particularly beautiful! A shimmering dimensionality on the body of the swans is achieved by engraving a feather texture on the gold beneath the iridescent enamel.
George Krementz started his jewelry business in Newark, NJ in 1866, creating pieces of exceptional quality and design. Quintessential Krementz often has an Art Nouveau bent and the company is known for their beautiful enamels. Newark was the epicenter of high end jewelry for the American bourgeoisie during the second half of the 19th century. Krementz was the last of the famed Newark jewelers to close its doors in 1997.
There is no denying that we at Doyle & Doyle are inordinately enthusiastic about jewelry. Of course we foremost love jewelry because it is pretty, but it is the pieces that bear contextual significance that really get us going! Unless you inspect, feel, magnify, compare, and research jewelry all day long, the importance of a really special jewel isn’t always obvious. My new blog segment, “Why We Love It” will take a closer look at some of our most unusual pieces and detail what it is that makes us swoon!
This locket is one of those pieces that has captivated us since it first came to the store, and the wonder has yet to cease! It is what the Germans might call a Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art”. The piece is made of 18 karat gold, platinum, diamonds, glass, ivory, and watercolor paint. It dates to the early 1900s and is quite impressive in scale– about 2 ½ inches long. The front is decorated with guilloche enamel. Guilloche refers to a type of machine engraving that was especially popular in jewelry of early 20th century. Engine turning machines create intricate repeating patterns that precisely engrave the metal, similar in function to a spirograph toy. The incised metal was then covered with a layer of transparent enamel, resulting in a subtle three-dimensionality captured beneath the glossy surface.
Enamel is finely ground glass that is fused to a metal base by kiln firing. Noxious substances, such as mercury and lead, were used in antique enamels that resulted in beautifully saturated, but delicate hues. These amazing colors in enamel jewelry of yore are unparalleled by modern (albeit non-toxic) formulas. The bail is also covered in a blanket of purple, and is in pristine condition. A thin stripe of white enamel circumscribes the locket and really makes the platinum and diamond medallion in the center pop! The medallion is exemplary of the Edwardian style popular in the early 1900s: all white and very lacy.
However much I love the front of this awesome locket, my favorite part is when you flip it over. The entire back side showcases a hand painted miniature portrait of a very dapper gentlemen (whose name I ponder often) framed under glass. Before photography, one had to rely on the skilled hand of an artist to capture the likeness of a loved one, and only the wealthy could afford such a service. Before 1700, miniatures were painted with watercolors on vellum, a fine animal skin. Between 1700 and 1900, the canvas of choice was a thin sheet of ivory. It is special that this locket contains a painting; photography had been around for over fifty years and painted portraits were quickly phasing out.
The watercolor on ivory portrait in this locket is masterfully executed. When viewed under magnification, you can see the individual hairs of our monsieur’s eyebrows– it is exquisite! The major drawback to watercolor paint is its proclivity to fade over a short period of time. This painting is incredibly vivid considering its age.
This locket is beautiful. There is no denying that! But what makes it so much more exciting is the combination of multiple media, expert craftsmanship, and historical techniques on top of excellent condition!