Posted 5 years ago
This combination brooch/pendant features a neo-classical opal cameo of Mercury, carved in boulder opal by Wilhelm Schmidt (1845-1938).
The hand fabricated frame is 12ct gold and measures 25 x 23mm, the cameo is about 14 x 12mm. The unsigned frame is suggestive of the Arts & Crafts period, and was probably made circa 1900.
Schmidt's cameos are found in jewellery by John Brogden, Child & Child, and the Giuliano family. Although it's not documented I believe he also carved for Marcus & Co (USA), as their famous "dawn" opal pendant is typical of Schmidt's work. A major collection of his pieces are in The Geological Museum, now part of the Natural History Museum in London, and there are others in the British Museum.
One of the earliest records in the history of Australian opals are Schmidt's comments to gem collector, Abraham Booth, who owned numerous fine examples carved by the talented Schmidt. "In reply to your wish to be informed when opal cameos were first cut in Europe, I may mention the date of 1874, when I invented the new process of cutting opal cameos in such a manner as to utilise the matrix of rough opal for the ground... Mr John Brogden exhibited the first one, which I cut, amongst his other exhibits at the Paris Exhibition, 1878"
Wilhelm Schmidt's life and work was documented by the late Gertrud Seidmann in her article "Wilhelm Schmidt, The Last Neo-Classical Gem Engraver", in Apollo Magazine No. 317 in July 1988. This tells the story of a great carver who led an extraordinarily full life, practicing his craft while living in Germany, France, Britain and the USA.
I'll put a few clickable links in the comments below to some notable Schmidt pieces on-line.