Elyse Karlin on the Beautifully Unrefined Origins of Arts & Crafts Jewelry

February 4th, 2010

As the publisher and editor-in-chief of “Adornment, The Magazine of Jewelry and Related Arts” Elyse Karlin gets to spend most of her time looking at, researching, and thinking about jewelry. In this wide-ranging interview, Karlin places the U.S. branch of Arts and Crafts in context with contemporary jewelry of the time in Europe, discussing the prominent role of women in the movement, the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites, and the stylistic differences between British and American Arts and Crafts jewelers.

I started collecting jewelry when I was about 13 years old. I was very close to an interior designer who took me to antiques shops. While she looked for paintings and objects for her clients, I gravitated toward the jewelry counter. I started asking questions and buying little pieces for $10, $12, and it turned out I had a good eye. I was pretty much self-taught because up until the last 20 years or so in this country, you had to talk to dealers to learn about jewelry.

Although, I started out collecting little Victorian pieces, my two main areas of interest today are the Arts and Crafts movement and Modernist jewelry. My first job out of college was as an architectural reporter in Boston—I have a degree in journalism—and that prompted me to take some architectural-history courses.

That’s when I learned about the Arts and Crafts movement. I got interested in the buildings and interiors from that period—the jewelry came later. In 1993, Schiffer Publishing asked me to do a book on Arts and Crafts jewelry, and then I really did my homework and discovered there was quite a bit of jewelry made and not that well known.

The heyday was roughly 1890 to 1920, although the Arts and Crafts movement itself started earlier in England. The real impetus was William Morris, who never designed jewelry but was both a designer and a socialist—two aspects that were important to the movement. Mass marketing had begun, and factories had started producing goods. Morris hated what was coming out—the way that everything was stamped out and looked the same—and wanted people to go back to creating beautiful handmade things.

He also didn’t like that people were working under terrible conditions in factories. He wanted to go back to the old guild system in which a group of artisans each did their own part of something. Later on, jewelers jumped on this bandwagon, but furniture, tapestries, embroideries, and other objects came first.

Collectors Weekly: When did the movement reach the United States?

Karlin: The movement spread to other countries in Great Britain, including Scotland and Ireland, and to Europe and Scandinavia before reaching the U. S. in the late 1890s. Artists here read important European magazines like “The Studio” and learned what the artists were doing in England. Important designers from England also came here and lectured, and that’s really how the word spread.

But unlike the Americans, the British jewelers, at least the first generation, were not trained as jewelers. They were architects and fine artists. They taught themselves jewelry making, and you can see that in what they made—it’s often very amateurish and crude looking, though wonderful in its own way. The metalwork isn’t very fancy, maybe just a piece of sheet metal that was cut out and twisted and turned. On the other hand, many of the Americans jewelers, especially those in Boston and Chicago, were already fine jewelers, and they adopted the Arts and Crafts style because they liked it.

The British tended to work in silver or base metal. You see a lot more gold work in American jewelry, particularly in the Boston area. Also, you rarely see a diamond in European Arts and Crafts jewelry, maybe a tiny accent, whereas some of the important Boston jewelers used sapphires, diamonds, and other stones. The higher-end materials were often used with commissioned pieces. That was true in England, too. So when you see these anomalies, it’s probably because it was a commissioned piece.

The British tended to use semi-precious stones. If they used a good stone like a sapphire, it didn’t need to be of the highest quality, they only cared about the color. Most of the stones were cut cabochon, which is rounded with no facets, because you don’t spend the time to facet a stone if it’s not high quality. In the United States, I think a lot more customers commissioned pieces. So you do see precious stones and faceted stones. But the overall feel of the pieces is still quite similar.

Cloak clasp by Nelson and Edith Dawson.

Cloak clasp by Nelson and Edith Dawson.

A couple of other things influenced the movement in England and carried over here. One was the Rational Dress Society. Prior to the Arts and Crafts movement, women had to wear corsets and stays, which were tight around the waist and the neck. Arts and Crafts movement artists opted for very soft, flowing clothing—art clothing—which mainstream women didn’t wear. But this new jewelry went very nicely with that art clothing, and the same thing came to the United States. So there was also an art-dress movement in this country.

In fact, women were involved in all aspects of the movement. You never hear about woman jewelers before the Arts and Crafts movement, which is not to say there weren’t any. But during the Arts and Crafts movement, you suddenly see a lot of prominent women jewelers. They supported the suffragist movement, which started in England and then came to this country, and the suffragettes wore some of the jewelry.

So women’s rights are intertwined. Women for the first time were being allowed to go to college, play tennis, and ride bicycles, and clothing was changing so that they could move more easily. There was just the feeling it was time for women to come into their own. But there was also something about jewelry making that was considered acceptable. It still wouldn’t have been acceptable for a woman to go out and become CEO of a company, but jewelry was something you could do at home, so you were still where you belonged, so to speak.

Collectors Weekly: Who were some of the most prominent female Arts and Crafts jewelers?

Karlin: In England we have Edith Dawson, who worked with her husband, Nelson. We have Georgina Gaskin who worked with her husband, Arthur. There were a lot of husband-and-wife teams. We have Sybil Dunlop, who worked a little later in the 1920s. She’s what we’d call the second or third generation, and her jewelry sort of borders on Art Deco—very colorful gemstones, laid out in a random pattern. Dorrie Nossiter did similar work, and sometimes people get their jewelries confused.

William Morris’ daughter May Morris made jewelry. It wasn’t particularly wonderful—she was better known as an embroiderer—but today those pieces are in museums because she was such an important figure. And there was May Partridge, whose husband, Fred, was a very well known jeweler, but they didn’t work together really. She did her own beautiful enamel work. I’d say those are the more important and prominent women jewelers, and their pieces go for a lot of money today.

Collectors Weekly: Did Pre-Raphaelite painters influence Arts and Crafts jewelry?

Karlin: Absolutely. First of all, William Morris was friendly with the Pre-Raphaelite painters. They were in the same social circle, which is a fascinating story on its own because William Morris’ wife, Jane, had an affair with Dante Gabriel Rossetti. These people were very bohemian for their time. We think of them as Victorians, but they were pretty wild. So Jane Morris was a model for a lot of these artists, and that’s how she met her husband.

The Pre-Raphaelites believed that all art after Raphael was awful and overdone and so their work went back to painting from a simpler time, from a sort of Renaissance period, and they put women in these beautiful, flowing dresses instead of tight Victorian dresses. And they painted jewelry into the paintings as well, antique and ethnic jewelry.

Morris’ contact with the Pre-Raphaelites influenced Arts and Crafts jewelry, and the women of the Pre-Raphaelite movement wore art clothing that was also adopted by the Arts and Crafts artists. There were social and even marital connections with the Arts and Crafts movement. A few of the painters designed jewelry pieces, not for general consumption, but for personal use, for friends or lovers. So it was all kind of intertwined.

Collectors Weekly: Was this influence only in Britain?

Karlin: The Pre-Raphaelite, yes, but the Symbolists in France influenced Art Nouveau, which is a cousin of Arts and Crafts. Pre-Raphaelites and Symbolists are sort of similar movements in different countries. The Symbolists influenced Scottish and German Arts and Crafts jewelry. So it was related to similar movements in other countries even if it was called by a different name.

Collectors Weekly: Did Arts and Crafts jewelry have this sense of the handmade even in Germany and Scotland?

Karlin: Yes and no. Most of it was handmade, but in Germany there were two different groups doing this new art. One made handmade pieces exclusively, and the other believed in the use of machinery, which was heading toward what the Bauhaus became—good design with machinery. Liberty & Co., a big company in England, saw that Arts and Crafts was doing very well, so they created their own versions using machines, while trying to make it look handmade in the design.

Necklace in British Suffragette colors, green, white, violet. Photo courtesy of Tadema Gallery, London.

Necklace in the British suffragette colors of green, white, and violet.

The Americans were more open to machines, although they weren’t making pieces that could be stamped out by the hundreds. They might use a machine for polishing, whereas the English were against machines entirely, with the exception, of course, of the retail stores that made imitation Arts and Crafts jewelry. They were actually very successful and today are very collectible. Other companies that embraced machines included Murrle Bennett, which was a German producer whose goods were imported to England.

People say that one of the things that killed the movement was when the retailers started making jewelry. The pieces were no longer handmade or unique, and they just flooded the market. For example, Charles Robert Ashbee started the Guild of Handicraft, which was really the first group to make Arts and Crafts jewelry in England. He was an architect who decided to offer classes to young men who needed a trade, and then it evolved into the guild. When his guild went bankrupt, Ashbee claimed it was because companies like Liberty had put them out of business.

Two other important British male jewelers I should probably mention are John Paul Cooper, an architect who taught himself jewelry, and Alexander Fisher, a great enamelist who taught many English and American jewelers. The Americans came to England to study with him to learn enameling—he had studied in France.

Collectors Weekly: Who was buying this jewelry?

Karlin: In England, the goal was to create simple, artistic jewelry that anyone could afford. But the public was interested in a different aesthetic, late-Victorian and Edwardian jewelry, which was happening at the same time. So it really only appealed to a very artistic group of people. A few pieces even went to the royal family. At least one of Victoria’s daughters, I think, purchased some Arts and Crafts jewelry.

Collectors Weekly: Who were some of the major American designers?

Karlin: In the Boston area we had Josephine Hartwell Shaw, Elizabeth Copeland, Edward Everett Oakes, and Frank Gardner Hale. In the Chicago area we had the firm of Kalo, Frances Koehler, and Madeline Wynne. She was the daughter of the inventor of the Yale lock. In New York we had Louis Comfort Tiffany. We put him in the Arts and Crafts area, but he had his own look and design. Tiffany & Co. did some pieces in an Arts and Crafts style, and so did Marcus & Co. Both of them were known for using native stones like Montana sapphires, Mississippi River pearls, and Maine tourmalines.

There were also some jewelers in the Midwest, like Mildred Watkins, a teacher in Ohio, and the Forest Craft Guild in Michigan. They did metalwork on the West Coast, but not a lot of jewelry. Boston, Chicago, and New York were really the biggest centers for it. Of course, there were amateurs all over the country whose names we’ll never know and whose work was not signed. Anyone could take an industrial arts class and learn how to make jewelry.

Collectors Weekly: Did jewelers mostly sign their work or use hallmarks?

Karlin: Most of it isn’t signed, particularly in English jewelry. But among Boston jewelers, for example, Edward Everett Oakes’ jewelry is recognizable by its oak leaf designs. And some of it can be identified because it’s in the original box or comes with a provenance—it’s been handed down in the family, and they have the receipt and know where they bought it. A lot of pieces were published in “The Studio” magazine. I probably own 40 copies of “The Studio,” and you can look through them and find drawings for the pieces or a photograph of them with the maker.

In the United States, there were Arts and Crafts societies. The one in Boston was very active. The records of the Boston Arts and Crafts Society are available in the Boston library, so you can look them up. But a lot of pieces you can never say for sure.

Collectors Weekly: Were certain types of jewelry more favored than others?

Karlin: Definitely: Brooches, necklaces, and cloak clasps, which would be two pieces with a chain across that would hold the cloak together because that was part of the art clothing, as well as bracelets, I’d say. There were rings, but you rarely see earrings because the hairstyles of the time didn’t really call for them. There are a few tiaras around by a few designers, but they’re rare. This was not evening jewelry. It was more ordinary daytime jewelry. And you do find occasional men’s jewelry, like cufflinks.

Collectors Weekly: Were these pieces influenced by the fashions of the day?

Enamel landscape brooch by George Hunt, a second-generation British Arts & Crafts jeweler. Photo courtesy Tadema Gallery, London.

Enamel landscape brooch by George Hunt, a British Arts and Crafts jeweler.

Karlin: Yes, but it was geared to the artistic clothing fashion, which was an alternative to mainstream clothing. Victorian clothing uses very heavy materials, big bustle in the back, and they wore very heavy jewelry that went with it. They wore pairs of bracelets, with a big brooch at the neck. They might wear a chain as well. WithArts and Crafts jewelry, you would usually wear one central piece, either a brooch or a necklace. But it looked different and went better with lighter clothing.

It’s very hard to explain what Arts and Crafts jewelry looks like. If we were talking about Art Deco jewelry, you’d say it’s geometric. It has contrasting colors. It has Chinese influences. Arts and Crafts was about being handmade from humble materials. So it varies in many ways, but if you look at enough of it, you get a feeling for what it is. When I lecture I’m always surprised when people come up and say they have a piece but didn’t know what it was until they heard my talk.

Collectors Weekly: Are nature symbols a common feature of Arts and Crafts jewelry?

Karlin: Absolutely. All of the regional movements were influenced by nature. I’d say the English jewelry was more literal—a flower looked more like a flower. American Arts and Crafts jewelry was often very stylized or abstract. Sometimes you look at a piece and aren’t sure whether it’s a butterfly or a flower. You know it’s something from nature, but it’s a little unclear what. In American Arts and Crafts jewelry, you see a lot of twining leaves, and you also see that in English jewelry, which had a lot of painted enamel with nature motifs. If a piece bears a flower that’s indigenous to England as opposed to the United States, that can sometimes help you tell where it’s from.

Australian Arts and Crafts jewelry looks exactly like English, but sometimes it can be distinguished if it bears a native Australian flower or bird. One reason nature was important was because John Ruskin, an important art critic of the time, believed that all art should be based on nature, and he greatly influenced William Morris and the people that followed him.

Collectors Weekly: How did Arts and Crafts jewelry differ from Art Nouveau?

Karlin: Well, I like to call them first cousins. They happened around the same time and were both a reaction against manufactured goods, but their backgrounds are very different. The English jewelry was more about the design than anything else and the socialist part of working in factories. France had just lost the Franco-Prussian War, and they were really hurting. They’d also dropped behind Germany, the United States, and England as leaders in trade because they didn’t have the same manufacturing capabilities. So they were feeling very insecure and wanted to regain their glory and prominence in the world.

Sailing ship pendant (a ubiqitous motif in Arts & Crafts Jewelry) by the Artificer's Guild. Silver and opals. Note the festoon style chain. Photo courtesy Tadema Gallery, London.

The sailing ship was a ubiquitous motif in Arts and Crafts jewelry. This silver pendant with opals was made by the Artificer’s Guild. Note the festoon-style chain.

So the government supported this new design, which we call Art Nouveau today, and not just in jewelry but in all kinds of goods. But it was always aimed at the luxury trade—that’s one of the differences. It was never for the masses. It was never meant to be inexpensive. So it’s made out of much more luxurious materials. It was more expensive, and a lot of it was also by an artistic circle that had money—famous actresses and the mistresses of rich men. Sarah Bernhardt is in that category.

Unlike the English, the French were trained as fine jewelers before they started working in the Art Nouveau style. So the jewelry is much better crafted. There’s no question about it.

Arts and Crafts was kind of solid and pretty but straightforward. Art Nouveau was all about fantasy. Symbolist painting and art influenced the jewelers. There was a whole movement of delving into the unknown throughout Europe at the time. Freud was developing his theories of the unconscious mind. They were holding séances. It was the turn of the century. All kinds of wacky stuff was going on, and the French artists seemed to be influenced by that.

Although the movements look very different, they came from the same place in some ways, and they were aware of each other’s work. Lalique came and exhibited in England. The English studied enameling in France. So sometimes the pieces are so close that you can’t tell the difference. You’d be hard-pressed to say this is Arts and Crafts or this is Art Nouveau.

Collectors Weekly: Did Arts and Crafts evolve into Art Deco?

Karlin: No. Art Deco was really its own thing, and it happened for its own reasons. But there’s a transition period when you can see that some of the designs are more geometrical and abstract. And those are the ones that succeeded in Art Deco.

Collectors Weekly: Was enameling prominent in Arts and Crafts?

Karlin: Yes, particularly in the English pieces. There would be an enamel plaque right in the center and maybe stones around it for accent—the stones are more prominent in American pieces, although they did enameling too, and just as well. Sometimes enamel was just used to decorate the edges, but very often it was the main feature. And that’s a big difference between Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau. Arts and Crafts jewelry was mainly Limoges enamel, which looks like a little painting. Art Nouveau is plique-a-jour enamel, which is like a little stained glass window. You can see through it.

There were one or two English Arts and Crafts jewelers who used plique-a-jour, but there’s a significant difference between the two movements. Enamel was extremely important for the Arts and Crafts movement. In fact you could even go buy a little enameled plaque and set it into a little metal box you made yourself.

So sometimes the enamel may look better than the object itself, or you could set it into a frame that you made for a pendant. You’ll often see that an enameled piece looks very good, but the metalwork around it is very simple. It’s just like twisted wire wrapped around it, and that’s probably because an amateur made it, and somebody else did the enameling.

Collectors Weekly: What kind of gemstones were American jewelers using?

Karlin: They used a lot of semi-precious stones, but you’ll find diamonds and sapphires and emeralds in some of the pieces. Also, a lot of alternative materials were used. In England and the United States, they liked Baroque pearls and misshapen pearls, not the beautiful round ones of mainstream jewelry. They could be gray. In this country, they liked Mississippi River pearls. In Europe, Scottish pearls were popular.

Arts & Crafts "Galleon" brooch by unknown artist. This was a popular motif in Arts & Crafts jewelry and decorative arts. Photo courtesy Tadema Gallery, London.

A “Galleon” brooch by an unknown artist.

In American jewelry you find materials like abalone, coral, and sometimes glass. The Forest Craft Guild used a lot of glass. You’ll find mother of pearl and a lot of turquoise in American jewelry. Neither movement used precious stones much.

Similarly, they preferred silver over gold because it was the beauty of the piece that was important, not the intrinsic value of its materials. In fact, many of the English pieces are not even sterling silver. There’s such a low content of silver, you could call them white metal. There was an Arts and Crafts jewelry auction in England years ago, and they described all the pieces as white metal. So it was a statement, and it also made them more affordable. I think gold and precious stones were used in the Boston area because the clientele could afford it.

Although you’d see more silver than anything else, they also used brass in the United States. They really didn’t care what the material was worth. When these jewelers started out, they couldn’t afford the more expensive materials, never mind their clientele. Gold was unaffordable. Besides, it was used in mainstream jewelry, and they wanted to be different.

Collectors Weekly: Were these jewelers making metalwork as well?

Karlin: Many were. They worked a lot in copper, which is a very important material for Arts and Crafts objects, though you don’t see much of it in the jewelry. They liked to leave hammer marks on the metal so that you could see the object was handmade. You see that sometimes on the jewelry, but not as much because a lot of it was made from a lightly polished sheet of metal. But in the British objects, you often see the hammer marks because the English were looking back to earlier times.

So were the Americans, but their times didn’t go back as far. They were looking back to Colonial times and the beautiful bowls made by Paul Revere, which were polished and smooth as opposed to textured with hammer marks. So we see the Colonial Revival in American metalwork.

Collectors Weekly: Were guilds and workshops common in the U.S. Arts and Crafts movement?

Karlin: More so in Europe because their guilds tradition there dates back to medieval times, and that’s what they were emulating. There were guilds where a group of artists worked together and then sold their jewelry or metalwork. The guilds would have a shop or a gallery that would represent them—it allowed them to make a living because they shared the costs. There were also a couple of schools—The Vittoria Street School and the Birmingham School, both in Birmingham, England—that were created by the jewelry industry to train people to design jewelry for manufacturers. But a lot of those students ended up becoming Arts and Crafts jewelers and opening their own workshops.

And then there were classes. There were wealthy patrons who wanted to help people who needed a way to make a living. Students at the Keswick School could learn enough to actually make a living. So there were lots of different ways to learn how to make jewelry, or you could apprentice to one of the important jewelers.

The Guild of Handicraft was probably the most famous in England. Another important one was the Artificers’ Guild. In addition to the Keswick, another important school was in Newlyn, a fishing village. In the winter, the fishermen had nothing to do, and they needed to make a living. So a wealthy woman created the Newlyn School, and they learned how to make metalwork and jewelry.

Those pieces were not signed, but very often they can be identified as Newlyn because they’ll have a fish or a sea serpent—some kind of sea motif—and they’re often done in copper and repoussé copper, which is hammered out from the back so that the design is raised. I have a wonderful enamel fish pendant with a very simple wirework frame. But at the bottom there’s a little mother of pearl shell hanging off. It’s clearly a Newlyn even though it’s not signed.

In this country, there were a few guilds like the Forest Craft Guild, but I’d say there were more like Arts and Crafts societies. There were also art schools where you could learn.

Collectors Weekly: How did the guilds and societies promote themselves?

Karlin: There were Arts and Crafts exhibitions, both in the United States and in England, for guilds as well as individuals. There were programs for these shows and art magazines, so we have records, and that’s how the names have been handed down. Some people are still around, like John Paul Miller, a very important American jeweler who is in his 90s. I read in an interview in which he remembered Mildred Watkins from when he was in school. She was a very important American Arts and Crafts jeweler. So there are still people who knew the original people and their work.

In the last 25 years there’s been great interest in Arts and Crafts jewelry, and there are people writing theses now and going back and finding new information. I wrote a book primarily on European Arts and Crafts, but Rosalie Berberian, who’s probably the foremost expert on American Arts and Crafts jewelry, is working on a book right now—hopefully that will bring out a lot of additional information. Most of the important American pieces passed through her hands when she was a dealer.

Collectors Weekly: When did people start collecting Arts and Crafts jewelry?

Silver and moonstone Arts & Crafts necklace. Swag style, maker unknown. Photo courtesy of Tadema Gallery, London.

This silver and moonstone Arts and Crafts necklace is in the swag style.

Karlin: I don’t know for sure, but my book “Jewelry and Metalwork in the Arts and Crafts Tradition” was published in 1993. People were already interested then, but it wasn’t as well known. People came out of the woodwork when my book came out. I think in Europe they were already looking at it in a much more serious way. Here it was a select group of people. So I’d say interest started here in the late ’80s. I’m not sure about Europe.

Unfortunately, the more it gets known, the more the prices go up. To get an idea of the sorts of pieces European collectors covet, look at the Tadema Gallery website, tadema.com, or the site for Ian Van Den Bosch, www.vandenbosch.co.uk. The English jewelry on those sites will surely be selling for high prices.

In this country, pieces by prominent names like Josephine Hartwell Shaw, Edward Everett Oakes, and Frank Gardner Hale come up at auction and go for a lot of money. Skinner Auctioneers is really known for selling these pieces because so many of the artists were based in New England. At one time a piece by one of these artists might have fetched a couple thousand dollars. Now they can go for $15,000 or $20,000.

Collectors Weekly: Who are some of the other most sought-after designers?

Karlin: In addition to Shaw, Oakes, and Hale in the U.S., in Europe it would be John Paul Cooper, the Gaskins, the Dawsons, Sybil Dunlop, and Liberty pieces designed by Archibald Knox. Another important English designer was Henry Wilson, who was actually the teacher of John Paul Cooper.

Collectors Weekly: Do Arts and Crafts jewelry collectors tend to specialize in a certain region or country?

Karlin: Yes, very often. But there were different names in different countries for the movement. In Scotland and Ireland, we refer to it as Arts and Crafts. But in Germany and Austria, it was the Jugendstil, which meant young style. In Scandinavia they called it Skønvirke, and in Italy they called it Stile Liberty after Liberty & Co.

All of these differently named movements were happening within five years of each other. But the English and the French influenced what happened in the rest of Europe. In Germany, you see elements of both English Arts and Crafts and French Art Nouveau, sometimes married into one piece. And Art Nouveau was also in Belgium. That was the other important country.

Collectors Weekly: Did Belgium have Arts and Crafts?

Karlin: No. They were really pretty much Art Nouveau. In fact, Art Nouveau started in Belgium in architecture. Everybody thinks it was France, but it wasn’t. As I said, there was Arts and Crafts in Australia and New Zealand as well. And probably there were movements in other countries that I haven’t found out about yet. There also was some sort of Arts and Crafts jewelry produced in Canada, but I haven’t been able to find much information on it.

In Europe, there were different influences in each country. The basic premise might have been the search for a new style, but the local political and economic situation affected what their jewelry ultimately looked like. Even in the United States there were differences regionally. Out West we had the American Indian as an influence. Back East we had Colonial America. The regional differences are easy to identify because we’re such a big country. You see that especially in the metalwork. California metalwork looked very different from New England metalwork. That’s what so hard about this movement; it’s so all over the place that it’s sometimes difficult to recognize.

Collectors Weekly: What are some of the most rare items that you’ve come across?

Karlin: There are two that are now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. One is by John Paul Cooper. It’s a cloak clasp, a big piece with a lot of stones. That piece has been in every book. It’s like the quintessential English Arts and Crafts piece, and the MFA received that as a gift a couple of years ago. It’s on their website.

Waist ornament by Nelson and Edith Dawson. Photo courtesy Tadema Gallery, London.

A waist ornament by Nelson and Edith Dawson.

A couple of years ago the MFA also purchased a piece by the Guild of Handicraft designed by Ashbee. I never would have guessed it was by Ashbee because it’s plique-a-jour enamel. It’s a peacock, and it was part of a hair ornament that was made into a brooch. It looks so French, but somebody in England must have commissioned it. So I’d say those are two of the most important pieces.

There’s also a beautiful tiara by Henry Wilson that is pretty famous (it has a place to put feathers in at the top) and another by Fred Partridge that made of horn and looks like a Lalique. It’s horn with moonstones and very Art Nouveau, but Wilson was an English Arts and Crafts jeweler. But these tiaras are rare, and there couldn’t have been more than a handful of them made because they just didn’t fit with Arts and Crafts jewelry. Liberty & Co. owns it now.

There’s another piece by the Gaskins. It was a large gold necklace with an enamel rose in the middle, and it had diamonds set into it. It was very unusual. I think Tadema might own it now. That’s a very unusual piece. I’m sure it was a commission. They would have never made something like that on their own.

Collectors Weekly: Since a lot of Arts and Crafts jewelry was handmade, are one-of-a-kind pieces common?

Karlin: Yes. For example, the Gaskins made a lot of similar-looking necklaces, but no two are exactly alike. They just had their own style. I have a necklace by James Cromar Watt, a Scottish Arts and Crafts jeweler, that I bought from Christie’s in New York because I recognized it from an almost identical pendant that Sotheby’s in England had sold. These pieces weren’t signed, but they were able to attribute it. They may have done things that are quite similar, but I think by and large they were one-of-a-kind pieces except for when they became manufactured by Liberty & Co. and Murrle Bennett. Then they did multiples, for sure.

Collectors Weekly: What advice do you have for someone new to collecting Arts and Crafts jewelry?

Karlin: I would advise them to look at a lot of it before they start buying, read books about it, go to exhibits and shows. There’s also a lot of information on dealer’s websites and elsewhere online. There’s a great website called Chicago Silver that features a lot of the Chicago artists.

"Kingfisher Necklace" by John Paul Cooper. Photo courtesy Tadema Gallery, London.

The “Kingfisher Necklace” by John Paul Cooper.

Another resource is the website for the Archibald Knox Society on the Isle of Man, which is where Knox was from. He was the designer for a lot of Liberty & Co.’s jewelry. I just did a story on Arts and Crafts jewelry for their last journal, but they’ve got other articles about jewelry. It’s a very nice site and has a lot of information about Knox, which is useful if you want to collect Liberty jewelry. Liberty basically had two lines of metalwork. One was silver and one was pewter, so you can further subdivide your collecting habits by one line or the other.

I’d also say if you want to start collecting something, you need to understand what’s out there first and ask questions. Talk to the dealers who specialize in it. But turn it over so you see what it looks like, how it’s made on the back, because that’s essential, especially in Arts and Crafts jewelry. It was very simply done except for the really top artists.

Another thing about American Arts and Crafts jewelry that you don’t see in the English kind is acid-etched jewelry. In fact, the pieces that are most affordable today are often acid-etched. That means they took acid and etched away some of the metal to create a raised design. It’s very recognizable, but you never see that in English jewelry.

One thing that’s found in both movements is the paperclip chain. It looks like little lengths of paperclips. It wasn’t called the paperclip chain then; it’s the name we’ve given it today. But it’s very common in necklaces. The pendant will be the important part, but some of the chains are very beautifully worked. So the handmade chain is another feature of Arts and Crafts jewelry.

Collectors Weekly: Can new collectors get involved with the Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts?

Karlin: Yes. This is our fourth year. I knew Yvonne Markowitz, who’s my co-director in the association—she’s the curator of jewelry at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston—from the American Society of Jewelry Historians, of which I was president for several years. We felt there wasn’t enough push in education in jewelry history, especially at the college level. Only a handful of schools offer even one course in jewelry history. Membership in the Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts is open to the public, and you can come to our conferences and get our magazine, “Adornment.” Our members also get a weekly newsletter.

One thing we do that no other similar association does is to look at jewelry in context with the decorative arts, the costumes, and the social movements of the period because jewelry doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s influenced by everything else that’s going on. And so we’ve focused on one of those aspects at every conference.

Collectors Weekly: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Karlin: It’s really important for people to realize that the Arts and Crafts movement was bigger than just England and the United States, and that Arts and Crafts jewelers laid the foundation for the studio jewelers working today. Even though the Arts and Crafts style may be over, today’s studio jewelers have a direct relationship to it. It didn’t just disappear. It evolved into a new form of handmade jewelry.

Collectors Weekly: Thank you, Elyse, for speaking with us today about Arts and Crafts jewelry.

(All images in this article courtesy the Tadema Gallery, London)

16 comments so far

  1. cherrylippedroses Says:

    …this was superb…loved every inch of the verbage and every moment it took to read…thanks so much…

  2. jewelry adorer Says:

    Excellent piece! Thank you for running such an in-depth article on this fascinating subject. Ms. Karlin did a wonderful job of explaining the various movements in design and how the jewelry varied from country to country. The photography also added a great deal. I’m truly inspired to learn more.(And to collect more!)

  3. Clemmer Montague Says:

    terrific article and good history to remind us of where this all started.

  4. joan marks Says:

    excellent, informative article! I learned a lot and will certainly follow up all the suggestions. Although I have been a modest collector for many
    years it was a pleasure to learn more about the works in historical context. Manythanks!

  5. Laura Euler Says:

    Great article! Elyse really knows her stuff!

    Except for one thing: silver is described as “white metal” by English auction houses because it is not legal to sell something as silver in the UK unless it’s been assayed. So if it’s not hallmarked, it’s sold as “white metal.”

  6. Carolyn Sunday Says:

    Hi Elyse, hope you remember me from the ASJRA Jewelry Conference. Your article is terrific and your love of the subject really shines through. The photographs are simply stunning! Thank you! Carolyn

  7. Julie Hogeland Says:

    Amazing article, Elyse! This article really pulled together the diverse origins and styles of different nations and regions. This was an excellent synthesis and explanation of quality differentials, as well. Thanks! Julie

  8. Carolyn Henry Says:

    Wonderful article. I love the historical context! Well done. Carolyn

  9. Linda's Vintage Jewelry & Collectibles Says:

    Very well written article covering just one diversity of Jewelry. I am familiar with the American Society of Jewelry Historians & it is a very worthy organization, it was nice to see them represented here.
    The photography was also very well done!
    Very good aritcle.
    Thanks You,
    Linda Wisler

  10. shug Says:

    This was a great article and very inomative. Thank you for the information and great pictures to illustrated the art.


  11. Amy Says:

    This is very informative, thank you. I’ve long been a casual admirer of the Arts and Crafts movement, particularly the architecture, woodcut prints and jewelry.

    My mom gave me a pair of drop style earrings that could be vintage Arts & Crafts, but I’m not sure since you say earrings are rather rare. They are silver, cartouche shaped with onyx oval cabochons at the top, and a cut out floral pattern below the cabochon. They are about 1.25 inches long and 0.25 inch wide. They are stamped with a number on the back, either 925 or 929. Is it possible that they are authentic? If so, I would like to get them appraised at some point. Thank you.

  12. Kathy Edmunds Says:

    Is there a publication for turquoise jewelry collectors?

    Thank you for what you do and what you give back to others.

    Kathy Edmunds

  13. vetraio50 Says:

    Great article! I adore the waist ornament by Nelson and Edith Dawson.

  14. Alison Hutt Says:

    Great article, thank you. One small niggle: Sibyl Dunlop’s first name is spelled SIBYL, not SYBIL.

  15. Debborah Pollard Says:

    I have, and treasure, one small piece by Hunt. Sybil Dunlop is my favorite artist. Had a chance to own a necklace by her but my pockets weren’t quite deep enough. Someday…

  16. Jon Braganza Says:

    Terrific article though there are some technical inaccuracies, white metal is used to describe any object without a hallmark from an assay office, this does not mean inferior silver simply the law, similarly yellow metal ..Unassayed gold.
    Lastly one can hardly talk about deco and arts and craft jewellery without mentioning Wilsons most prominent student and protege’ H.G Murphy.

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