Thomas Laine Jewelry Blog
A mid-week day off is a rare treat. This week I found myself with a work-free Wednesday and, amazingly, no errands or obligations…so what did I do? I spent the afternoon on a quest to see some of Manhattan’s most amazing vintage and antique jewels.
Gray & Davis
My first stop was Gray & Davis, which has been located right in the heart of Manhattan’s diamond district on 47th street for over a decade. The first thing to catch my eye was a pair of 18th century Spanish emerald chandelier earrings. With the conquest of the New World, Spain gained access to South American emerald mines that produce some of the world’s most beautiful stones, so there is some amazing Spanish emerald jewelry from this period. The earrings were stunning. It was love…for a moment. Then my eyes wandered to a pair of paste drop earrings from the 1820s. (“Paste” refers to colored or colorless glass that was used historically in costume jewelry to imitate gemstones.) With their beautiful cushion shape and gorgeous patina, it was love all over again. A definite addition to my wish list…
My next stop was Fred Leighton, which is perhaps the city’s most famous vintage and antique jewelry mecca. Visit the showroom if you’re ever strolling along the particularly elegant stretch of Madison Avenue on which it’s located (in the mid sixties); you won’t be disappointed. As I entered the dazzling space, I immediately honed in on a ring featuring a gemstone that represents somewhat of a holy grail among gemologists like myself; a padparadscha sapphire. Sapphires come in many colors; blue, of course, pink, yellow, and more. But padparadschas are an incredible bright pinkish orange color. The ring was a perfect fit. The agony! But then my eyes wandered yet again to a case full of Art Nouveau jewelry and I was officially a goner. There sat a ring made by Marcus & Co. – a storied jewelry house that was one of the first in America to champion the Art Nouveau style. The ring featured a large deep green peridot surrounded by gorgeous floral detailing and enamel work. A dream ring for a dream life, indeed.
A La Vieille Russie
My final stop was A La Vieille Russie, which is located opposite the Plaza Hotel. They specialize in American and European antique jewelry and Russian objets d’art. I admired a diamond necklace from the Victorian period. It was in a simple style, known as a rivière, that is a row of collet-set gemstones, usually graduated in size, that sits right at the base of the neck. But then my attention actually shifted from the jewels to the Russian pieces. Before the Revolution, the Russian Tsars and their court lived at a level of opulence that boggles the mind. I was in awe as I examined a collection of plates, cups, and dishes that were entirely crafted of enamel in the plique-à-jour style. The trademark of plique-à-jour – which means “letting in daylight” in French — is its transparency. Light passes through each colored glass cell and the imagery glows like miniature stained glass. It is challenging and time-consuming to create, and therefore incredibly expensive. The idea that anyone could have owned an entire plique-à-jour dinner service is really quite extraordinary.
For next month’s “NYC for Jewelry Lovers” topic, I will be visiting the Museum of Arts and Design at Columbus Circle to visit an exhibit called Fashion Jewelry: The Collection of Barbara Berger. Ms. Berger has been collecting costume jewelry for decades and has amassed an extraordinary collection which features some of the finest pieces from all of the biggest names. The exhibit opens on June 25th and, frankly, I am counting the days. If you’re in the city, I suggest you put it on your must-see list too.
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