In this interview, “Antiques Roadshow” jewelry appraiser Joyce Jonas offers a survey of turn-of-the-century jewelry styles. Looking at the defining aspects of Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, and Edwardian jewelry, Jonas explains the influence of Queen Alexandra and other prominent figures, as well as the impact of such materials as diamonds and platinum.
I bought my first piece of jewelry—a gold ring with a big lapis stone propped on prongs—when I was about 12 with money my grandfather gave me. Then, as a teenager, I worked in my aunt’s jewelry store in New Jersey during the Christmas season. I actually wanted to be a professional opera singer, but I realized I wasn’t going to become Renata Tebaldi. So I went back to school for three years, to the New York School of Interior Design. It was great fun, but I didn’t want to be a decorator.
At that point, a friend and I decided to share our love of jewelry by going into the personalized jewelry business. The idea was to buy jewelry for busy executives who didn’t have time to shop for their wives or girlfriends. We’d write up a profile, go to their offices, and scout jewelry shows. I got to meet a lot of contemporary jewelers and was really getting to know the market. But then my friend decided to go back to teaching. She had to make a living.
I started working part-time with a jewelry designer and saw how contemporary jewelry was made. I met a lot of famous people there because she had a big Hollywood clientele. I worked there for about a year and a half. Then she went bankrupt so I worked for David Yurman for about six months. That was in 1979.
Eventually, I literally talked my way into a job cataloging at Phillips Auction Company. I’d never cataloged a piece of jewelry in my life. I think I dropped about seven pounds the first month. After about three months, they made me the antique jewelry specialist. I’d learned that it was easy to catalog regular jewelry because all the descriptions were basically the same. But there was a lot to learn with antique jewelry.
A year and half later—this was in the early ’80s—I was made the head of the department. I was the first woman to head an international jewelry department on the level of Christie’s, Sotheby’s, or Phillips. At the same time, I started teaching my first jewelry class.
I began doing appraisals and was teaching at New York University twice a week. I was also very active in the American Society of Jewelry Historians. I became president of the society for seven years, and was then elected president emeritus. I was one of the founders.
Somewhere along the way, a friend of mine brought “Antiques Roadshow” over from England. I’ve been on the show for 14 years now and have lectured all over the country, in just about every museum. Somebody saw me on “Antiques Roadshow,” and I got a QVC program on estate jewelry reproductions. Now I’m doing legal work, expert-witness testimony, and different kinds of cases. I was even involved with a murder case involving jewelry.
Collectors Weekly: When you were teaching, did you focus on specific eras or categories of jewelry?
Jonas: I did it all. I taught antique jewelry and the history of jewelry. Then I did 20th century jewelry, starting with Arts and Crafts all the way through the ’70s. I taught at Cooper-Hewitt, I spoke about the symbolism of René Lalique. I’ve done the jewels of the American heiresses, the jewels of the crowns. I’ve done symbolism. I’ve lectured on a variety of topics through the years. I enjoy “Roadshow” because it gives me a chance to share my knowledge with other people.
Collectors Weekly: Did you become particularly fond of a specific era of jewelry?
Jonas: When I was young, my favorite was Art Nouveau. Then I developed a fondness for Edwardian jewelry—its elegance, craftsmanship, and femininity. After that I became enamored with the creativity of the ’30s and ’40s. With limited supplies and resources, they did some absolutely fantastic jewelry during the war years. America came into its own while Europe was busy fighting the war at home. Given the hardships, there were some exciting innovations in the period, like the new combinations of stones and materials.
A lot of European refugees came to this country and settled. We benefited from the arrival of stonecutters, designers, and craftspeople. For the first time, American jewelry was really the strongest on the scene. It was certainly competing with what had been done before in Europe. Harry Winston came out of that period.
After the war, our economy rebounded very quickly. Diamonds became the stone of choice. It was a completely different look from what had previously happened in the ’30s and ’40s. Fashion changed and jewelry changed.
Forties jewelry was getting very hot when I was at Phillips in the 1980s. I don’t think it’s as popular today. Jewelry today is going all kinds of other directions. A lot of it is actually very interesting. But I think a lot of the new diamond jewelry is heavy and very pedantic looking.
I don’t know what the future holds for jewelry design. I just came from a conference at Yale, and one of the jewelers was wearing four picture frames placed at different angles as a necklace. That’s where a lot of contemporary jewelry is. It’s very way-out stuff.
Going back to the turn of the century, the fine jewelry is very different from the studio jewelry. It’s a great juxtaposition. The Victorian era occurred during the Industrial Revolution. It was the first time that jewelry was being mass-produced to any large extent. More jewelry was probably made in the 19th century than in all previous periods combined.
In the 1860s, 1870s, there was a group of jewelers and intellectuals—Henry Wilson, John Ruskin, Oscar Wilde—who were saying the Industrial Revolution was a terrible thing. They said it had lowered jewelry quality, and that the factories burned coal and created slums. They wanted a more “honest” jewelry. So people began forming guilds and getting back to handmade jewelry. They didn’t use diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, but lesser materials that everybody could wear.
“In the Edwardian era, everybody wore tiaras.”
In the 1850s, Commodore Matthew Perry went to Japan and literally opened it to the West. As Japan became industrialized in the midcentury, their art heavily influenced what would become the Art Nouveau movement of the late 19th century. The Japanese designs were coming into Paris. The symbolists—the painters, poets, and jewelers—and René Lalique picked up the form.
So you’ve got Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, and regular Victorian jewelry all working its way toward the end of the century.
In 1870, new diamond mines were discovered in South Africa, which brought many diamonds to the marketplace. Late Victorian colored stones were very popular. Pearls came back into fashion. At the end of the 19th century, you’re looking at diamonds and pearls.
From the 18th century on, they set diamond jewelry in silver. Even though silver tarnished, it still created the white look they wanted. Diamonds set in gold would have a yellow cast. They all knew that platinum would be the ideal metal. But they didn’t have the resources or equipment to work with it because platinum is very hard. It takes a very high degree of heat to melt it, whereas silver is soft and malleable. However, once melted, platinum was incredibly malleable and so strong that you only needed the thinnest rim to hold the diamond in place.
By the end of the 19th century, platinum was being used widely in jewelry. The Art Nouveau movement was in style, and the Arts and Crafts movement became a major industry. Several cities became centers of it: New York, Boston, and Chicago. California also became one. It was far freer and more open to various influences than the English movements. The Arts and Crafts movement led to the studio work that came after the war. When the studio movement began, they were using dental tools. They didn’t have the proper tools to make jewelry.
Queen Victoria was still on the throne at the end of the century. She was wearing black—she wore it for 50 years. Since England was always at war, and there were so many casualties, the women wore a lot of black jewelry—jet jewelry. There was a whole lifestyle of mourning and mourning jewelry through the end of the century. When Edward and Alexandra took the throne, the look began to change. He was a dandy and loved fine clothes. She was a Danish princess and very beautiful. He became the emperor of India and brought back fabulous jewels that were used to make jewelry.
By 1905 or so, platinum was fully on the market. Beautiful openwork, lacy jewelry with diamonds became the turn-of-the-century look all over the world. Women of the theater and gay men in Paris would wear some amazing creations by Lalique and other jewelers. You had the Arts and Crafts movement in America in different cities, and women for the first time were learning the trade.
In America the Arts and Crafts movement presented an opportunity for women to express their creativity. They had real teachers; people like John Ruskin came to the U.S. and taught. So it was very important because a lot of women made jewelry.
With Arts and Crafts, the English were trying to break out of their system of mass-manufacturing jewelry. But they weren’t the only ones rebelling against the 19th century; Germany, Austria, and Spain were as well. Spain had Art Nouveau jewelry as did other countries. It was very popular in Belgium. In Spain they went nuts over the things architect Antoni Gaudí was doing. Art Nouveau jewelry had an impact on ladies like the actress Sarah Bernhardt and people like that. The more traditional Victorian ladies wore the colored stones and pearls.
We always put fashion and jewelry together because they work together. In the mid-19th century when they were making all the revival jewelry, the clothing was much heavier and larger—wide skirts, long sleeves, and high collars—because the revival jewelry was big and heavy. By the end of the century, the fashions got smaller and lighter. The big skirts disappeared.
Then came the S-shape at the turn of the century, which was a corset that pulled in. In the movie “Gone With the Wind,” the maid is pulling in the corset to make it tighter and tighter. That was the turn-of-the-century look. Everybody had these corseted, tiny waists and magnificent gowns from Worth or wherever they bought them.
The American community was strong in England. Very wealthy Americans like the Vanderbilts married their daughters off to the second sons of Englishmen. The first sons got all the money, but the second sons still had a title. So these young women became Lady Cavendish and so on. The Americans and the English were throwing magnificent balls for royalty and the American aristocracy—the Carnegies and Mellons. It was a very luxurious time.
The Arts and Crafts movement also spread to Germany and Austria. The German jewelry at the turn of the century is called Jugendstil, the young style. In Austria, it became the Vienna Secession or the Union of Austrian Artists. Some of the most magnificent jewelry was made during that period. They had a school for making jewelry, purses, furniture, and all kinds of things. They lasted until the ’30s and the Second World War.
With the First World War, everything took another direction. Around that time, Tiffany designed the Tiffany mounting to show off the new diamonds. They needed a new mounting that would let light come through. Platinum kept all the jewels white. The lacy feminine style lasted until about 1915. By that time, there was an influx of oriental designs.
The Russian ballet was a strong influence in Paris. The costumes, colors, and music were very exotic. There was a move away from lacy Edwardian jewelry. It became denser, tighter, and more exotic as we moved into Art Deco.
Collectors Weekly: Where did the feminine influence come from at the turn of the century?
Jonas: Queen Alexandra. She was one of the most beautiful women in Europe. She had great style and posture and was very dignified. Czarina Alexandra was her sister. She was married to Alexander of Russia, who was later assassinated. The two sisters reveled in the jewels they got when their lives were wonderful. Then came the Russian revolution, the war, and everything else.
Queen Alexandra was extremely feminine, and the style suited her. She could drape herself in long pearl necklaces, long diamond necklaces, and stomachers, which were big, triangular-shaped corsets. The people looked up to royalty for inspiration. Everybody looked up to the queen for her look. Fancy dress balls were popular. So it was all part of the lifestyle around the turn of the century.
Collectors Weekly: What were the characteristics that set Art Nouveau, Edwardian, and Arts and Crafts apart from each other?
Jonas: Arts and Crafts used simple materials—copper, brass, and silver instead of gold. They used stones that weren’t valuable, like turquoise, tourmaline, and pearls. The whole point was to make jewelry that was affordable to anyone. Belts were very popular. The Art Nouveau movement was nothing like that. It was about excitement and outrageous designs. Symbolism and metamorphosis were a part of Art Nouveau. The great leader of the movement was René Lalique, who made some amazing fantasies of jewels. It was for the bold and daring. It was completely different from Arts and Crafts.
Edwardian jewelry was just the opposite. It was for the lady who didn’t want to call attention to herself just to call attention to herself. She wore beautiful gowns and jewels. She changed five, six times a day and needed help to do it. So you went from an inexpensive, functional-materials type of jewelry in Arts and Crafts to the outrageousness of Art Nouveau to the formality of Edwardian.
Then came Art Deco, which stylized all the pre-existing movements. It copied Egyptian and Aztec design and so many other things. It wasn’t like Edwardian jewelry, which could never have enough diamonds or platinum.
What’s also interesting is how each of these developments was impacted by the technology and events of the time. For example in the ’30s and ’40s, platinum was withdrawn from the market because it was needed for the war effort. It was an act of treason to be found with platinum. That’s why they used yellow gold in the ’40s. Platinum was forbidden in jewelry during both world wars.
So each generation had its own set of things to deal with. Platinum was used again after the First World War until the Second World War broke out in Europe. We stopped using it in America by ’41. The ’30s were all about diamonds because this was before DeBeers and the cartel was firmly established. At one point in the ’30s, diamond dealers were able to stockpile and buy a lot of diamonds. So you had a great many diamond bracelets and things like that during the ’30s. You wonder how we could have so many diamonds in the Depression, but we did.
When World War II came along, women for the first time really left the home and went to work in factories. They were never the same after that. They’d been emancipated. But the jewelry of the ’40s reflected the limitation in materials. We weren’t getting stones from the Far East; we were getting them from South America. The strong designs of ’40s jewelry were completely different.
Collectors Weekly: What are the different types of jewelry found within the movements?
Jonas: They liked pendants and belt buckles in the Arts and Crafts movement. They liked big shoulder clasps that you could use to close your coat. The basis of the Arts and Crafts revolution was functionality. The Arts and Crafts movement in Germany and Vienna was mostly anti-academy. They thought the academies were boring, and they were influenced by Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau. Some of the designs laid the groundwork for Art Deco.
A typical piece of Art Nouveau jewelry could be anything. Dog collars and necklaces in general were very popular, enameled jewelry, and hair combs. Hair was one of the significant motifs of the movement. A woman’s hair was very sexual.
Everybody wore tiaras. As much as they wore all their diamonds, they wore tiaras. In the Edwardian era, you’ve got magnificent diamond necklaces, beautiful tiaras, corsage ornaments. You’ve got stomach ornaments. You’ve got magnificent brooches and all in this wonderful lacy garland style. You have very strong differences and very strong contrasts. The Edwardian colors were soft. If you hand to choose a dominant color of the period, it would be sapphire. They used coral and turquoise in the daytime. But it wasn’t like the jewelry of the Arts and Crafts movement, which went for big turquoise in a big matrix. The Arts and Crafts jewelers stayed away from precious stones.
At the turn-of-the-century the Edwardian period ushered in an all-white look because of the tiara, the white gown, the white dog collar, the white diamond necklace, the white corsage ornament, and white pearl earrings. In fact, it’s very often called the white era. The marquee-shaped ring from the 18th century was popular, as was enameled jewelry. That’s when people started wearing the enameled watch on a chain.
Collectors Weekly: Were the movements related to social class or background?
Jonas: Both, actually. The Arts and Crafts Movement was started by a group of intellectuals. The leading Arts and Crafts jewelers set up guilds and became teachers. But unlike the Renaissance, when the jeweler made everything—the enameling, the goldwork, the stone setting—the Arts and Crafts jewelers didn’t have the skills. Maybe a handful of them could do it all, but most couldn’t. So they would have to call in an enamellist, and so on.
By the time they were finished with the jewelry, which was supposed to be very inexpensive, it had priced itself out of that market. The only time it became available to the public at large was when Liberty & Co. in London began selling it, which was the antithesis of what the Arts and Crafts founders wanted. They didn’t want this to be mass-marketed in a department store. But that was the only way it could reach the general public.
Then came Art Nouveau and the plique-a-jour technique. Tiffany and Lalique perfected this translucent enamel during the period. If you hold it up, it looks like stained glass. It’s absolutely magnificent. Lalique was responsible for bringing plique-a-jour to the fore in France. Tiffany did stained glass windows, but not like the plique-a-jour that Lalique was doing.
At that time, there were few American jewelers. And although some houses signed pieces, that practice didn’t really start until the 1920s. So a lot of Edwardian jewelry is unsigned, and we don’t know who made it. But Tiffany & Co., Marcus & Co., and Black, Starr & Frost produced a lot of it in America.
Collectors Weekly: What do you look for if a piece is not marked?
Jonas: If it’s not marked, it’s very hard to say whose it is, particularly the Edwardian. Later on, some houses identified the pieces with a catalog or inventory number. You don’t have that with the Edwardian pieces. At the beginning of the century, some of the ones that might have been made by Cartier of Tiffany have serial numbers but no name. You probably could say they were interchangeable, but Cartier developed a very distinct look with its Edwardian jewelry, as did Tiffany.
American Edwardian jewelry looks very different from the English. It had big stones and very little delicate openwork around it. English Edwardian jewelry uses a smaller stone and has beautiful metalwork.
Collectors Weekly: Who were some of the most influential designers at the turn of the century?
Jonas: Fabergé, Tiffany, Marcus & Co., and Cartier are some very important names. They produced from movement to movement. After the Edwardian style went out of fashion, they all did jewelry in the ’20s. A lot of the Edwardian styles stayed around for a long time. The catalogs reveal when they withdrew platinum from the market. If you look at catalogs from 1917 and 1918, they have the same style Edwardian rings, but they’re in 14-karat white gold instead of platinum. You can tell an original, early Edwardian piece from a later one because the metal is totally different.
Collectors Weekly: So materials play a big part in identification?
Jonas: Exactly. You can identify early Edwardian, too, because you’ll sometimes find a piece that has gold and platinum together. Some early pieces that were made, let’s say, in 1890 will show platinum and gold or platinum over gold, that kind of thing. It’s not until about 1906 that you really see all-platinum. Of course, it came off the market when the war broke out. But platinum was revolutionary, as was the discovery of new diamond mines. Then Mikimoto developed the cultured pearl at the beginning of the 20th century, and the pearl market took off.
Collectors Weekly: Were some designers associated with a specific movement over another?
Jonas: Yes. When you think of Art Nouveau, you think of René Lalique. When you think of Arts and Crafts jewelry, you might think of the Gaskins—they were a married couple—or you might think of Archibald Knox. He was a Scotsman who designed for Liberty & Co. Henry Wilson made a great many pieces of metalwork and jewelry during the British Arts and Crafts period.
Fabergé, Cartier, Tiffany, and Marcus & Co. are associated with the Edwardian style. In German jewelry, Theodor Fahrner is a name that sticks out. In Austrian Arts and Crafts, you have two architects, Josef Hoffman and Koloman Moser, who made some of the most interesting jewelry.
Collectors Weekly: Are reproductions common in jewelry?
Jonas: Yes, they’re the biggest problem in the marketplace. When I’m appraising, I have to judge whether a piece is a reproduction or not. That’s what we, the specialists, have to do. There are ways of spotting reproductions in Edwardian jewelry. One is the milgraining, which is the small beaded work around the top of the stone. In the real period pieces, the work is very crisp and clean. Each milgrain is separate. With the mass-produced pieces, it’s just a piece of metal, then some milgraining, and then more metal.
The Edwardians engraved the sides of the rings and things like that. Most of the copies don’t have engraving on the sides. The workmanship on the inside of an Edwardian ring—the back of it—is beautiful. Every stone is beautifully set and evenly matched. On the reproductions, the backs are ugly and the openings are uneven. They’re rough looking.
The other thing is that platinum gets a wonderful patina with age. It’s just experience, but these are easy things to look out for. The reproductions are a mess. So anybody can look and see the difference with a few pointers.
Collectors Weekly: Do any of these eras stand above the rest for collectors today?
Jonas: Not if they’re buying designers. Jewelry today is derivative: It’s all copied from some other period. Diamond jewelry has no real identity of its own, and most of it is not terribly attractive. I think people fall in love with pieces today based on the designer. A lot of companies who were in unrelated fields—Chanel, Gucci, Prada—are making jewelry these days. This is a very strange time. So it’s very hard to have a clear identity right now.
To me, it’s always been about wearing what you love. Jewelry is so personal. It’s the most intimate thing of all. But the most beautiful thing about a piece of jewelry is that it tells a story if you want to read it.
It tells the story of the time it was made, the materials that were available, who was on the throne at the time. It tells an economic story and a political story. Think of all the people who lived in concentration camps and sewed some stones into the linings of their clothes so they’d have them if they ever got out. Jewelry is far more important in our lives than people often acknowledge.
Collectors Weekly: Are there any appraisals or stories that stand out from your years on “Antiques Roadshow?”
Jonas: Yes, a couple. One I particularly enjoyed had to do with a man who came to the show with a magnificent 19th century-revival gold cuff. It was heavy with beautiful stones, and it had a message on one side. He explained that the cuff had belonged to his aunt, who had been in a concentration camp in World War II.
She’d been an opera singer, he said, and she would sing in the camps and everything. She met a man who was a goldsmith in the camp, and she started to learn about gold and buying jewelry. When she left the camps, she sang for money in the piazzas in Italy. Then she would go out and buy jewelry. She amassed quite a collection. When she came to this country, her family sent her money to help her get by.
After we went off the air the man said, “We sent her all that money and then found out she’d been pissing it away on jewelry.” It was so funny, but it was an amazing story. I found out later that he eventually sold it. I gave him an estimate of $8,000 to $10,000. He got $10,000 for it.
Another time, a man came in with two of the most extraordinary 16th-century cameos I’ve ever seen. One was carved just like the Sistine Chapel, and I really thought it was by Cellini or somebody like that. The entire cameo was covered just like the Sistine Chapel with God’s hand reaching down to man’s hand, with hell and all of the animals and people in hell. The whole cameo was covered.
Collectors Weekly: What advice do you have for someone new to jewelry collecting?
Jonas: Buy a 10-power loop and learn how to use it correctly. People sometimes close one of their eyes when they’re using it. You’re supposed to keep both eyes open.
In the beginning, you should follow your tastes. If the piece speaks to you, then that’s the piece you should look at. Then learn how to examine it. Also, one has to learn to look for what we call marriages. Is the ring the same color at the top? Does it have the same style as the top? It’s very common for a brooch to be made into a ring.
It’s very important to learn how to examine a piece of jewelry closely. It’s like being a detective. You’re looking for what’s wrong with it. It may be beautiful, but you’ve got to train your eye to see solder marks, which are very bad for a piece of jewelry. In the old days, they didn’t know how to work with gold. They didn’t have lasers. They used solder because it was softer, but it can eat through the gold. It’s not uncommon for the top of a ring to have one style and the shank to have another because it was a commercial shank.
I once had an Art Nouveau pendant that I wore a lot and it had a link chain attached to it. I would refer to it as “my Arts and Crafts chain.” One day I ran into a man who sold findings, and he said, “I sold that chain.” That’s when I first realized it had been a commercial chain all along. Even I didn’t know, so you’re constantly learning.
Price guides are pointless because the prices are based on what the dealers are getting. They’re not good examples of how much the pieces cost. The market has totally changed anyway because it’s gone softer since the recession. Now would be the time to find some bargains if you have the money. But people aren’t selling because the market is soft.
It’s very important to be cautious about what a dealer says. You have to learn how to examine a piece of jewelry. Don’t accept it at face value. Don’t ever accept an antique piece or a period piece at face value. Examine it closely and know what you’re looking for—the different colors of gold, the different patterns in the top and bottom, signs of lead solder, and things like that.
(All images in this article courtesy Morning Glory Antiques)