Diamond Cuts

This morning I was working on an appraisal for a very cool, lattice-work Art Deco diamond ring.  We have the most amazing selection of these pretty rings, and brides-to-be from all places peruse our website and pop into our shop to try these little beauties on their fingers.

In the 1800’s the most popular cut was the Old Mine-cut.  Then at the beginning of the 20th century it evolved into the Old European-cut.  During the 1940’s the traditional, or modern, round brilliant was born.  All three of these cuts have the same number of facets and almost the same facet arrangement.  The subtle differences are due to the size of the facets and the shape of the girdle. 

Edwardian Old Mine-cut diamond solitaire ring, circa 1910

Edwardian Old Mine-cut diamond solitaire ring, circa 1910

Old Mine-cuts have a slight cushion shape.  This is due to the available technology at the time.  When a diamond cutter brutes the girdle by hand, it is nearly impossible to make it perfectly round.  A girdle refers to the widest part of the stone.

Edwardian Old European-cut diamond solitaire ring, circa 1910

Edwardian Old European-cut diamond solitaire ring, circa 1910

Old European-cuts distinguish themselves from Old Mine’s because the technology had advanced enough to brute round girdles.  They still possess the smaller table and open culet than distinguishes older stones.  The table is the large, flat facet at the top of the diamond and the culet is the small, flat facet on the bottom.

Art Deco jade and round brilliant-cut diamond plaque ring, circa 1930

Art Deco jade and round brilliant-cut diamond plaque ring, circa 1930

Modern round brilliant-cuts tend to have larger tables and much smaller (if any) culets with nearly perfectly round girdles.

Now, you may ask, what is the point of this lesson?  The point is all of these stones are beautiful.  Some modern cuts are atrocious, as some old cuts are poorly done.  One style is not necessarily inferior to the other.  Old Mine-cuts are sometimes very chunky looking almost like small disco or soccer balls.  The benefit to this is that this diamond will sparkle from all angles, even in the dimmest light.  Many modern stones only sparkle from the face-down angle.  Modern certificates determine cut grade based solely on this angle.  Old diamond cutters had a much more liberal view (as well as more humble technology).  Old European-cuts bridge this gap and tend to be somewhat more chunky than their more contemporary counterparts so you receive the benefits of multi-angle sparkle with the full brilliance we have come to expect. 

Old stones have a softer facet arrangement.  Modern diamonds have a very sharp, almost snowflake-style pavilion.  Old stones have the sweetest, softest angles and the pavilions almost “bloom” like flowers.  I can identify an old stone instantly by looking at the pattern of light at the bottom of the stone.  I have to admit that I am not an impartial judge.  I prefer the variety in older cuts.  Modern cuts look so similar, one after the other, and one “perfect” diamond looks exactly like the next.  Older stones have more personality, and contrary to what a modern jeweler would tell you, you don’t have to sacrifice an iota of sparkle.  You just need to broaden your horizons a bit.


I went to work for an estate jeweler straight out of college.  I even graduated early and skipped my graduation – now there is devotion for you!  Now, I knew this is what I wanted to do for a living, but this does not mean I knew what I was doing.  This is a very important distinction!

My mother gave me a super-cool brooch (among many things she gave me) to lend me a little panache at my new job.  This is a story about this brooch.

The brooch is a profile of an African woman.  She belonged to my great-aunt and she was made (I believe) in the Art Deco period.  This style is referred to as “Blackamoor”.  Blackamoor pieces exist in decorative arts as well as jewelry.  Usually, the items depict northern Africans in traditional garb (headdress etc).  The jewelry is just the face or the bust.  Most frequently men are depicted and the most famous were made by the fabulous Venetian jeweler Nardi.  Nardi made exquisite brooches from ebony and used precious metals and gemstones.  Now, my little lady is not so fabulous… but she is extremely cool nonetheless, and more importantly, she is mine.

The first day I wore her, in my ignorance, I tried to scrub her clean.  Now, the brooch is over 80 years old, but as we all know, antiques need to be cleaned VERY carefully.  I took her to the sink, loaded up a toothbrush with cleaning solution (and I shudder as I write this) proceeded to scrub her front and back.  I eventually noticed the patina coming off of her cheeks.  I, in my ignorant bliss, thought this meant I had to scrub harder.  Thank goodness an older (and wiser) co-worker walked by, saw what I was doing, and slapped the brooch out of my hands.  That was the last time I cleaned a piece of jewelry with zeal instead of finesse. 

Ten years later, I still wear my lovely Nubian princess.  Today I paired her with a drop pair of copper earrings made of recycled pennies.  She looks fantastic – even with some of the patina missing from her cheeks.

Spotlight On: French Jet

One of the overwhelming aspects of the Victorian period was that of mourning, and the many accoutrements that came with its strict code. While death was prevalent at this time, the fashion for mourning clothing rose to prominence after the death of Prince Albert in 1861 plunged the whole of England into mourning.

Jet is fossilized driftwood, and was especially popular  in mourning jewelry in England due to the large deposits of jet in Whitby, located in Yorkshire. After Prince Albert’s death, jewelers began to utilize new production methods and substitute materials to imitate the look of jet and keep up with demand.


Mid Victorian French jet maltese cross, circa 1870

“French jet” is one of the most effective uses of substitute materials. It is shiny black molded glass, usually mounted in gold or gilded metal, and often faceted like a gemstone. Unlike other substitutes such as gutta percha and bog oak, French jet has a glossy appearance similar to genuine jet. It is also not as fragile as Whitby jet, and was therefore able to be used in more elaborate and delicate pieces. Between the glossy finish, twinkling faceted edges, and intricate design, French jet pieces are shimmering, wearable pieces that are equally appealing to a modern eye. They look equally at home with a white button-down shirt as they down with a little black dress.

How to Wear: Dress Clips

Dress clips are a little time capsule of the Art Deco period. Especially popular in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, they were (and still are!) a great way to accentuate a neckline. With a little imagination, they can spice up practically any ensemble. Celebrities such as Charlize Theron and Olivia Palermo have even been spotted wearing them on the red carpet.

Dress clips are usually a pair of decorative elements, with a flat, hinged back so that they can literally be clipped onto your dress. Our favorite ones are considered "clip pins" and come with a frame that they can snap into, allowing them to also be worn as a brooch. This was an idea invented by Cartier, of course, and they are also pretty rare. And...we just happen to have a pair of Art Deco diamond ones right now!

Art Deco diamond dress clips

So, how are you supposed to wear these things? Here are a few ideas to try:

  • clip them as they were originally intended: to the neckline of your dress. They are particularly effective on sweetheart and square necklines
  • clip them to the collar points of a blouse or jacket
  • attach them to a scarf, or use them to clip your scarf to your clothing
  • add a little sparkle to a belt or waistline
  • clip onto a ribbon or chain for an instant choker or necklace
  • you can even clip one or both of them to a hairband for a modern approach to hair accessories
  • create a more casual look by attaching them asymmetrically

Check out our "How to Wear: Dress Clips" Pinterest board to see some real-life examples!

Be inspired by Downton

Fashionable people often take inspiration from pop culture, and Downton Abbey is providing ample spark for sartorialists and fashionistas alike.  Downton Abbey transports the viewer to an elegant world of wealth and privilege.

Our favorite residents of the eponymous country house are living in a time of rapid changes.  As Downton Abbey transitions from the Edwardian Era into the roaring 20’s, the clothes will focus less on fabric and more on silhouette.  The corset will give way to the slim low waisted flapper dress suited for the new jazz age. 

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A circa 1910 pendant, compared to a circa 1920 pendant

Jewelry will be equally affected by the shift in style.  Lacey Edwardian pieces will give way to the bold geometry of art deco jewelry heavily influenced by the innovations taking place in transportation.  Art deco motifs featured elements that epitomize speed; the arrow, car, panther, and airplanes.

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An example of Art Deco geometry and bold color combination, using coral and hematite

The modern shopper can see the appeal of these timeless pieces.  Art deco jewelry is easily mixed with modern clothes.  For example, a chic pair of Past Era’s art deco long drop earrings paired with a little black dress creates the perfect au current look.  Keep watching the Crawleys and come visit us to find the perfect look.

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Art Deco diamond and pearl drop earrings

Georg Jensen's Art Nouveau Elegance

As the newest member of the Past Era team, I want to introduce myself.  My name is Daniel, and I’ve been a passionate collector of antiques for most of my adult life.  My love of collecting began when I was a young boy.  It all started with Star Wars figures.  I quickly realized that if one was good, a dozen had to be better.  As my age and finances improved so did my toys.  As my collection grew, diverse periods, decorative arts and materials captured my attention. Finally, I discovered the beauty of silver both in objects and jewelry.  One of my greatest treasures is a simple bowl from the master silversmith, Georg Jensen.  

In 1904, Georg Jensen founded his workshop.  From its genesis, the Jensen foundry created silver pieces that were both masterfully crafted and superlative in their artistic expression.  Jensen’s reputation grew rapidly to international acclaim.  Jensen’s personal style embodied the Art Nouveau.  Art Nouveau became popular at the beginning of the 20th century and takes its inspiration from organic natural forms.  Jensen’s jewelry is dynamic and undulating; a seamless fusion of elegance and quality.

Lapis Lazuli Pin/Pendant, designed by Georg Jensen in 1908

Past Era is pleased to display a collection of Jensen’s jewelry work in our store.  Although period in age, the pieces we will have on display are modern in style and totally suited for pairing with current fashions.  Please stop by October 5th - 13thto preview our trunk show. 

Link Love: Casual Edwardian Fashion

I just saw an article written in the Daily Mail a few days ago. It is fascinating for a history buff like myself: it is full of images of Edwardian women of all classes, as seen on the streets of London and Paris. They were all taken by Edward Linley Sambourne and published by the Kensington and Chelsea Libraries. Click here to read the full article.

I have always found that old photographs are one of the most insightful ways to look at history. Unlike paintings and decorative objects, photographs are ale to give you an honest, contextual glance into a very specific moment. For instance, in the photograph below, I am most intrigued by the movement of the clothing. As an art historian, I am most used to seeing people, clothing and jewelry in static situations. I can just imagine these pretty ladies chatting as they hitch up their skirts to avoid tripping. Are they discussing something important? Are they discussing what they had for lunch? Or maybe the new handsome gentleman that has moved in next door?!

A group of women walking down the Champs-Élysées, taken by Edward Linley Sambourne

Mother's Day Party May 12, 2012

It’s almost that time…our fabulous party to honor all Mothers.  This year it is on May 12, 2012 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., at 3433 West Alabama.  We will be serving Champagne and Chocolates (from the Chocolate Bar) and featuring all of Marion’s beautiful jewelry. Come early and get the perfect gift for your mother. 


Speaking of Mothers, I want to tell you about mine.  Her name was Nitsy Rebstock.  I hear her voice in my head every day.  I hear her words coming out of my mouth every day.  Recently I told one of my co-workers, “I am going to knock you naked and hide your clothes”.  That is a “Nitsy-ism”, along with “Little kids, little problems, Big Kids, Big Problems”.  I can hear Mom saying this a thousand times.  

What I remember most about my mom and jewelry was that when she turned 60, she “gifted” each of her three daughters and two daughter-in-laws with a piece of her jewelry every Christmas until she died at 82.  She had so much jewelry and she said it was because she never turned down anything Dad purchased for her, even if it wasn’t her favorite.  Therefore, he always bought her lots of jewelry. (LADIES, this is a good hint). I loved her red beans, fried shrimp and meat balls and spaghetti.  I loved our card games and bets each week on the pro football games.  I loved all the tales she used to tell me about growing up on a plantation….

I just loved my mother. 

Downton Abbey - Part Two

The following blog is the conclusion of our Downton Abbey blog from one  of our favorite friends of Past Era.  

These  pieces from her heyday during Victoria’s reign is a prize in Lady Violet’s jewel collection and the Grantham girls should all be nice to their gran in hopes of inheriting. 

Early Victorian Coral and Diamond Girandole Pin/PendantVictorian Openwork Earrings with Pearl DropsNicholas II 14K Rose Gold and Demantoid Garnet Pin/Pendant

Although this piece is of much later vintage, it is just the thing for Mr. Bates to buy for his Annie for their 25th anniversary to celebrate their success in the luxury hotel business. 

Art Deco Openwork Diamond Plaque Pin

As I watched the scene where Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, expresses her concern that Lady Mary and Matthew and his fiancée not meet on the train to Downton,  “I do so hate Greek drama, all the action happens off stage.”  And I realize DowntonAbbeyis the Greek drama of jewelry. Most of the action takes place in the country, which as far as jewels are concerned is definitely off stage. Along with disease and various other social inequities one of the tragedies of the period was the rule of etiquette that decreed diamonds were not worn in the country; therefore, the real jewellery action is in London during the social season. We saw the Crawley’s return from the London season and we heard discussions of the balls but the tiaras and stomachers, the earrings with stones the size of small birds’ eggs were left behind safely tucked in their velvet boxes in the family’s vault in the Bank of London.  The following items from PAST ERA inventory are some of the things that we would have seen had Mr. Fellowes allowed us to attend a ball or two. 

Edwardian Circular Openwork Diamond Pendant with Scalloped Edges

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14K White Gold Edwardian aqua negligee necklace

Edwardian Pearl and Synthetic Ruby Target Ring

Although Marion Glober and her staff are most discreet and horrified by those dealers not so scrupulous who spin a good story to enhance the desirability of their merchandise, she will never convince me that at least some of these fabulous items did not come from the sale of the Crawley estate. Perhaps Lady Sybil sold off a few pieces to finance a political uprising.

  Anyway I shall continue to hope for better jewellery viewing —-yes I am the same woman who is sort of frustrated that John Singer Sargent did not use a really good close up camera. Luddite that I am, I even considered buying a giant screen television in hopes of a better view but decided to save my money for another PAST ERA purchase that I could savor at really close range.