SO. It’s been a while. This whole stupid virus thing *gestures frustratedly* has really thrown me for a loop, but I think I’m finally becoming a human being again, as opposed to a gigantic festering ball of anxiety. I’m probably at 20% human, 80% festering anxiety ball, which is a vast improvement compared with previous weeks. Looking at lots of distracting nonsense helps, so I will ease back into this newsletter situation with a strict dose of whimsy.
The tiny ivory, gold, diamond and enamel elephant above is an automaton; wind him up and he shuffles along, occasionally lifting his head up and down. He was purchased by King George V in 1935 and is still in the collection of the British royal family, but it wasn’t until recently that he was discovered to be a Fabergé creation. Made by famed Fabergé head workmaster Mikhail Perkhin in 1892, the elephant was actually the surprise treat inside the Diamond Trellis Egg, one of the Imperial Easter Eggs commissioned by Tsar Alexander III as a gift for his wife, Tsarina Marie Feodorovna. In 2015, Caroline de Guitaut, senior curator of decorative arts for the Royal Collection Trust, was doing catalogue research and noticed that the 1892 Fabergé invoice for the Diamond Trellis Egg included a detailed listing for a tiny automaton elephant surprise that sounded extremely familiar to her. Further investigation of the Trust’s elephant led to the discovery that it had a lid, and under the lid, Fabergé hallmarks.
After the Russian revolution, the Diamond Trellis Egg was sold by Lenin’s Antikvariat in the late 1920s, and sometime around this point the egg and its elephant were separated. The pocket-sized pachyderm was recorded as missing for decades, when in fact it had been safely sitting in Buckingham Palace since 1935. In that time, the companion egg made its way through a number of private collections and is now part of the McFerrin Fabergé Collection at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences. Egg and elephant were finally reunited there for a temporary exhibit in 2017.
Click through to the Trust to see the little guy in action, and an interview with curator Caroline de Guitaut in which she takes us through her discovery and also gives us some background on the Danish inspiration for the elephant’s design.
Contemporary London jeweler Theo Fennell created this 18k gold and diamond ring with a blue topaz dome that opens to reveal a tiny recreation of Stonehenge. Buy it (for a mere $27,500) and pretend you’re Lord Summerisle.
I mean, it’s a platypus. I have to include a platypus. The brooch is 14k gold with diamond eyes, and sold for $1,250 last month in the “Mollie Brewster Broussard Collection Part II” auction at Doyle New York.
This is actually the second time I’ve highlighted an “Apple of my eye” ring by the venerable London jeweler Wartski. This one features a tiny carnelian and gold apple set within a diamond and platinum eye — but back in the day at The Hairpin, I included one with a pale green apple made of Connemara marble. I think I like the green better?
René Lalique introduced his incredible Art Nouveau jewelry to the world at the 1900 International Exhibition in Paris, and immediately sent shock waves throughout artistic communities all over the world. This fantastic “Cockerel” diadem was one of the pieces he displayed. Made of gold, horn and enamel, it features a three-toothed hair comb that supports a free-standing and delicately carved and detailed head of a rooster. A large faceted amethyst is propped in its beak, and the piece is finished with iridescent blue and green enamel.
Lisbon’s Calouste Gulbenkian Museum bought the piece from René Lalique in 1904 and it remains in their collection today.
E. Wolfe & Co. is another venerable London firm. They’ve been designing and manufacturing jewelry since 1850, and they’re particularly known for their adorable animal and bird brooches. This is their “Mouse on Wheat” brooch. Look at his little tail!!! See their brooch page for a billion other bejewelled creatures.
Rowan and Rowan is selling these two circa 1820 pendants of Napoleon as a set. The one on the left is fairly standard, with Napoleon carved in coral and striking his usual belligerent jackass pose. The pendant on the right features a chain that, when pulled, causes Boney’s arms and legs to fly up in the air.
This 22k yellow gold “Charming Monster” cuff bracelet is by the contemporary French jewelry firm Jean Mahie. It’s 100% not my style, but I love it. Odd little smiling figures swirl across the surface of the cuff, which is finished with hand-hammered edges.
This ca. 1890 yellow gold and enamel necklace is by Alfred Phillips. Alfred was the son of Robert Phillips, one of the most important 19th century archaeological revival jewelry designers in London, and he was a talented jeweler in his own right. This necklace features thirteen beautifully enameled openwork links that, upon closer examination, reveal two overlapping fish. Between the links are black and white enameled lozenges, each set with a central old-cut diamond and a pearl drop.
These slightly creepy little baby pendants first emerged in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t until World War I that they became popular good luck charms among British soldiers at the Front. Called “fumsup” (for “thumbs up”) charms, they usually have a metal body and a wooden head — which allows the bearer to “touch wood” for good luck — and cupid’s wings at their feet to symbolize love. This one, in 10k gold with red glass eyes and articulated arms, has “fumsup” printed on its chest, while others also sometimes include a four-leaf clover on the forehead or the words “touch wood” elsewhere on the charm. Click through to this Collectors Weekly post to see photos of the original box and poem that accompanied the charms.
Need the perfect piece of jewelry to commemorate 2020?
It’s actually a Victorian vinaigrette pendant in 9k gold studded with bezel-set turquoise. The back of the pendant opens to allow the wearer to insert a piece of perfume-infused sponge or cloth, and the scent is then released through the tiny incised holes in the front. The piece has English hallmarks for Chester, 1891.
This ring isn’t particularly whimsical, I just want it. Circa 1880, an absolutely electric 8.5 carat unheated Burmese ruby is set in a band of gold with elaborate black enameling and ringed with old cut diamonds set in silver.
This circa 1880 pendant features a beautifully expressive dog’s head carved from a piece of smoky topaz. The piece was designed to be a seal, but the base is unengraved.
This Tiffany & Co. 18k textured gold owl brooch has cabochon emerald eyes and a hinged wing that opens up to reveal 52 (52!!!) round diamonds. He looks like he just sidled up and is trying to sell you a watch, but instead it’s a SHIT TON OF DIAMONDS. He’s up for sale in the Christie’s Jewels Online auction that runs until April 24.
This silver seal ring is circa 1500 and may be Venetian. The bezel is engraved with stars and two “dancing dragons,” according to the dealer, Peter Szuhay.
This pair of antique English mittens is included in the Rare Books, Autographs & Maps featuring the Mary K. Young Collection auction being held online at Doyle New York on April 22. Circa 1830-40, they’re made of knitted silk net and embroidered with Prince of Wales plumes in silk, with appliquéd gilt foil crowns studded with small seed pearls and faux/paste gems. One has a tear to the hem and the other has a bit of blue dye bleeding into the ivory feathers, but otherwise they’re in remarkable condition for their age and delicacy. They were formerly the property of Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor.
This original Ernest H. Sheperd drawing for Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows is also on offer in the April 22 auction at Doyle. Showing Mole and Ratty rowing towards a bridge, it illustrates the line “They got the boat out and Rat took the sculls,” in ink on watercolor board. It’s signed and dated for 1956, indicating that this was one of the line drawings that Shepard redrew for a new edition of the book that was scheduled for 1959.
I’ll finish up with this sweet English fob seal. Circa 1840, it features a carnelian seal set in 10k rose gold, and the design carved into the seal uses images, words, and a letter to create a message that would be clear when pressed into wax.
Reading the above from top right, it says “(Eye) (saw) (ewer) friends who R (awl) (well).”
I saw your friends, who are all well.
I truly hope your friends are all well, and you and your families, too. I’m thinking about you, and if you need to talk or yell or simply connect, hit me up with a reply to this email or a tweet at @rococopacetic. And you’ve seen this absolute masterpiece of a TikTok, right? It made me laugh.
Ok; love you guys. Stay safe. xxxx
OH ALSO — if you’re a P.G. Wodehouse fan like me, there’s an online auction coming up at Freeman’s on May 7.
Ok bye xxx
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