Houston-based designer Shelley Marks Weathers and her company Pontiel Jewelry have earned a place in sustainable jewelry history by repurposing rare and exquisite antique and vintage glass pieces in original, luxurious 21st century designs. These are striking as they echo bygone glamour and historical motifs, and they are mainly set in gleaming sterling silver and vermeil. (Weathers can create 18-karat or higher gold pieces for bespoke clients.) Pontiel jewels include antique iridescent Egyptian Revival scarab beetle pendants, aquamarine glass plaques of Art Deco-era female silhouettes; gracefully etched sunrays, flowers and other enchanting life forms. Sourcing her rare materials in the U.S. and across Europe, Weathers sells her jewels on her Instagram, @pontieljewelry, on the Pontiel website, and in the Houston luxury department store, Kuhl-Linscombe.
While all Pontiel jewels gleam with refined glass elements that were made in the four decades before World War II broke out, each one contains rare or one-of-a-kind elements. Consequently, there’s an intriguing historical aura, texture and presence of the past embodied in these adornments. As Weathers explains, “I’m passionate about the intricacies and motifs in each piece of etched, molded or pierced glass that I find. The unique characteristics, tones and colors of each piece are what make them intriguing, rare and collectible.”
For example, pierced, etched and molded glass plaque designs were mass manufactured in the years preceding World War II in diverse colors and sculptural shapes, such as pyramids, lozenges, octagons, squares or circles. These variously embodied such highly detailed motifs as female figures, long-legged wading birds, floral bouquets, luscious fruits, abstract Cubist designs or radiant sunrays. Weathers also collects and uses camphor glass in some of her jewelry designs. Frosted-looking, semi-opaque and similar in appearance to carved rock crystal, camphor glass pieces were made during the Art Deco era (circa 1908 -1935). Its distinctive misty effect was created by treating clear colorless, blue or pink glass with vaporized hydrofluoric acid.
All Pontiel pieces are handmade in Houston by three master artisans. Asked to name some of her favorite creations, Weathers immediately replies, “The Tamara Bracelet. Set in sterling silver, the aqua colored glass panels in this are from Paris. The back-to-back female nude bathing figures are reminiscent of the works of the great 20th century artists Carl Werner and Tamara de Lempicka.” Then there is the Astrid Bracelet, set in sterling silver. “The glass in this piece is a quintessential example of the cubist aesthetic in design,” Weathers says. “It is a uniquely angular and geometric piece influenced by Cubist painting and sculpture.” The rarest piece in her collection is a frosted glass pendant with intricately molded birds and leaves. Delicate and spectacular, it’s an Art Deco-era piece from France, in the style of René Lalique.” [Writer’s Note: in a 2003 auction, a 20-inch long, circa 1930 René Lalique necklace, featuring twenty-eight carved and frosted, colorless glass songbirds, each perched atop a rectangular-shaped clear glass link, sold for $28,680 at Christie’s.]
As it happens, “My absolute favorite piece is a perfect example of Art Deco geometry, mixed with flowers and straight lines,” Weathers says. “Upside down, it looks like an Art Deco skyscraper. “It’s so fantastic. I’m hoping to make a mold out of it and reproduce it in the near future.” An art historian by training, Weathers notes, “These pieces are more than just glass. They’re decorative objects with historical and cultural importance. They are symbolic artifacts of a slower time, when craftsmanship was highly considered, and reflective of motifs in art and design that were contemporaneous to the pieces.” Many of the glass elements that animate Pontiel Jewelry came from the multi-generational, family-run glass studios that shut down because of World War II. As Weathers notes, “The techniques that were used before the War remain obscure and un-replicated. One of my goals is to design and produce my own glass pieces using these traditional techniques.”
Weathers sets her etched, pierced and molded glass into sterling silver, vermeil and gold jewelry. “Most factories that had been producing glass for use in jewelry and other accessories in the former Czechoslovakia, France and Germany were either converted to produce materials for the war effort or shut down by their owners,” she notes. This time of chaos, along with Europe’s prolonged post-war recovery, put an end to mass production of etched, pierced or molded glass elements for jewelry.
According to Weathers, her favorite jewelry designers include Lalique, Buccellati, Elsa Peretti and Anabela Chan, along with Shaun Leane, Ted Muehling and Lalaounis. As she tells it, “I’ve always been creatively pre-occupied with color, light and transparency. I studied painting and art history at Occidental College in Los Angeles, where my fascination with the transparency of paint evolved into a serious interest in glass as a jewelry material.”
After graduating from Occidental, Weathers worked in various museums and galleries in Los Angeles and London. “Back in the 1990s,” she relates, “I bought a fabulous pair of Art Deco glass earrings at Merola, a London boutique, and that got me hooked on vintage and antique glass as a jewelry material.” Around the same time that she bought those Art Deco earrings, Weathers began designing luxury hair accessories adorned with glass elements and Swarovski crystals for her brand, Shelley Marks Accessories. “My pieces sold around the world at Harrod’s in London, various Neiman Marcus stores across the U.S. and also at Barneys in New York and Beverly Hills, CA.,” she recalls. Hair accessories by Weathers were also often featured editorially in U.S. and international editions of Vogue and Elle.
After decades of amassing vintage glass elements from around the world, Weathers formed Pontiel in 2019 as a creative avenue to glorify the glass in her collection. As Philip Jelley, Senior Vice-President and Senior Specialist in Sotheby’s New York Valuations Department observes, “Collectors after all are custodians of art and culture for future generations.” Weathers agrees, adding, “I’m a collector who is also a designer who gives new life to these extraordinary vintage or antique glass elements.” Explaining the meaning of her brand’s name, she continues, “A pontiel is an iron rod used in glass-making for rotating the glass while it is soft. Because I am so intrigued by and respectful of glass artisans, I named my jewelry brand Pontiel.”
Like all connoisseurs, Weathers is a dedicated sleuth who never reveals her sources. “Let’s just say I have a network of suppliers around the world,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve been collecting for decades and at the moment I have over 500 pieces. The whole thing about people in the vintage glass world,” she relates, “is that they are really secretive and protective of their sources. After making a zillion phone calls,” Weathers recollects, “I eventually found a woman that had been collecting vintage glass for 60 years. The magnitude of great things she has in her collection is astounding.”
Some of the most impressive pieces that Weathers owns and occasionally sets into bespoke or retail jewels include iridescent scarab beetles that radiate vibrant colors that change according to the ambient light. As Weathers explains, “The word iridescent comes from Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow. Examples of naturally iridescent materials include peacock feathers, opals, blue Morpho butterflies, oil slicks and soap bubbles.” Although Weathers has set some iridescent scarabs into earrings and pendants, she’s guarding some of the scarabs for herself, as she suspects they may have been made around the turn of the 20th century by the great New York-based jeweler Louis Comfort Tiffany. “These pieces look remarkably similar to Tiffany’s Favrile iridescent glass,” Weathers notes. “I treasure them.”
[Writer’s note: Favrile glass is a type of iridescent art glass created by Louis Comfort Tiffany. After patenting this process in 1894, he first produced Favrile for manufacture in 1896 in the “Tiffany Furnace” factory in Corona, Queen, across the river from New York City.]
“The magic of the vintage and antique glass that I use in my designs lies in the obscure but masterly artisanal techniques involved in making these things,” Weathers ventures. Applied arts experts like Jelley puts the work of Weathers in another light. “What Pontiel brings to the table,” he says, “is curating images and materials that have been lost in the firmament and bringing them new relevance.”
“Glass is an amazing material, “ Weathers says. “Since antiquity, glass has been made to embody every color in the rainbow plus gold, silver and copper, yet glass can allow light to pass through it and create dramatic effects,” Weathers concludes. “This makes it an ideal material for jewelry of rare beauty. I hope to expand my collection, indefinitely!”