When it comes to antique jewelry, in real terms USA is a very young country, and does not have the long history of most of Europe. And many parts of Europe do not have the ancientness of many parts of the East. When America was first colonized, making fine pieces of 'antique' jewelry was not a priority. As we have seen from some of my earlier blogs on antique jewelry, whereas Europe considers antique pieces, as those over a hundred years old; Americans until very recently have always considered antique pieces of jewelry as those that were only fifty years old.
But as time went buy, we can read quotes from different publications, which shows the start of the development of the USA's antique jewelry market: 'After calling himself a 'jack of all trades'. In 1879 an anonymous antique jeweler defined the vintage jewelry industry in nineteenth-century America: '........it is not uncommon to find men that are skilled in many disciplines and trades. The antique jewelry business combines half a dozen or more different branches, each of which in European countries is practiced as a distinct and separate industry. Here America however, the practical antique jeweler is supposed to be a watchmaker, an engraver, a mender of rings, bracelets, necklaces etc. a good salesman, and not infrequently a designer of fine jewelry pieces. There is something in the atmosphere of America that breeds enterprise!'
The production of fine American antique jewelry, and the esteem for precious jewelry grew with the economic development of this nation, and Antique Jewelry houses multiplied and prospered as Americans made their fortunes. Shortly after the Civil War it was a surprise to many of the 'antique' jewelers to find a growing preference among their clients for high quality gem stones, in uniquely designed settings of gold, and later of platinum, very rarely was silver used in antique jewelry pieces any more. Wealthy Americans were now willing and able to pay for the best pieces of jewelry, and their standards were high. A respect for fine necklaces, rings, pendants, bracelets and earrings, where workmanship, materials and design all converged, and existed in the USA in the flush of post war prosperity. These 'new' goods at this time period, are the antique jewelry pieces of present time.
America was a country that was big and wide open. There was steady employment for the antique jeweler's and watchmaker's skills. As we have said before Antique jewelry was a time when pieces were hand made, you had craftsmen who put time and trouble into making the old antique pieces of jewelry; compared to most modern jewelry which is massed produced on the conveyer belt, looks the same, and does not have the individuality or the character of the antique pieces. By the end of the nineteenth century here in the US, craftsmen whose families had traditionally worked under the patronage of European royalty began to choose to emigrate to America; which ensured the success of the then developing antique jewelry industry.
In contemporary America there is a great demand for signed pieces. But many of the many antique jewelry firms at this time here in America did not sign their pieces. In retrospect those that did proved the most prominent in early trade gazettes and journals, and in contemporary times are fetching premium prices, But for the novice antique jewelry collector, my advice is educate yourself, because there are many fine pieces of antique jewelry, which is a beautifully made hand crafted piece that does not have a signature. Look closely at the construction of the piece of jewelry, check the back, and the areas which are not seen; they should be as finely finished as the places you do see. As a journalist friend once said to me: 'Signed pieces of antique jewelry are fine for those people who do not trust their own judgment.'
At Beverley R Antique Jewelry we have a selection of some very fine pieces of American antique jewelry some of which are picture, ready for purchase along with a history lesson about the piece.
1) American 18kt. Yellow Gold & Sapphire ring c1890
2) American Platinum & Diamond Bracelet by Oscar Heyman c1930
3) American Platinum, Emerald & Diamond Bracelet by Tiffany & Co. c1920
4) American Platinum & Natural Colored Pearl Ring by Peacock Art Deco