When you listen to Katherine Purcell co-managing director of Wartski’s London, you are immediately transported to the time in which she is talking about whether it be the Georgian Era or the Art Nouveau movement in France. Whether at an Antique fair or inside the shop at 60 St. James Street in London, you are surrounded by museum quality jewels, some of the most magical are the sentimental pieces that the company has acquired. When love, passion, lust, desire and/or devotion rule the jewels, there is an instant emotional connection that draws a devotee of the past into the depth and legends behind this type of jewelry. Due to show at Masterpiece in London from June 30 through July 6, 2022, Purcell takes us on a sentimental journey of some of the pieces you can view at the show or through the shop and its online services.
“Love and romance are the most universally understood emotions and therefore have stood the test of time in jewelry and objects,” Purcell explains. Although the symbolism evolved over time, the desire for a token of affection or romance is still quite strong and is equally significant to the receiver as it demonstrates that he or she is loved.” Purcell adds, “Whether it as simple as gold circulate representing continuous love or something more complex such as a carved cameo which is based on a famous painting, there will always be room for sentimental jewelry.”
The pieces are often poetic, some more overt and others are more covert and concealed to be shared only by the giver and recipient.
Purcell sites certain pieces which cross different time periods and which celebrate love in different designs and incarnations. Here we are privy to a few that will be seen at Masterpiece:
Stickpins are often small but can be dimensional and detailed and as meaningful as a larger piece as in this cameo stickpin ‘Cupid in Chains’ by Benedetto Pistrucci, London, c.1820. It is mounted in yellow gold and carved in pink-colored sardonyx, the figure of a cupid seated on a rock, his ankle in chains, his arms and hands raised to his face, wiping away tears. Purcell describes this as “cupid being punished for how shooting his bow and arrows a bit too mischievously.”
Wartski offers some of the provenance for this piece: “The basis for this image can be traced back to Classical antiquity. A marble carving of a young boy chained by the waste to a plinth (dating to the 2nd century AD although likely based on an earlier Greek composition) forms part of the collection of the Uffizi in Florence. It had previously resided in the Villa Medici in Rome until 1625.
While the composition differs, the symbolism of the image is clearly the same. The scene is likely an allegory to the God Cupid, depicted without his wings and in chains, being punished by the goddess Nemesis for the mischief he has created with his bow and arrow. The same composition was also carved by Giovanni Pichler and Antonio Santarelli (see No.: 39.22.49 of the Milton Weil Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). It suggests all three gem engravers were referring to a shared source.”
Cupids with a bow and arrow are traditionally symbols of love. Arrows alone, such as an arrow brooch are always associated with cupid and love when it comes to the meaning of these jewels. One of the rings that Purcell notes is an American-made ring, circa 1930 with the arrow as the shank piercing a calibre cut ruby set heart, mounted in platinum. “This is a very special ring in that it has even more significance as rubies signify passion.” The ring is Signed: J.E.C & Co. which was the Philadelphia house of Caldwell.
Purcell goes back in time to another theme that was extremely popular in Victorian times: The Language of Flowers in which many of the botanicals had meanings associated with love, affection, devotion and friendship and appeared in jewels that were given when feelings could not be expressed in words the way that they are today. “When we talk about red roses or rosebuds, they are always associated with Venus the Goddess of love. This brooch, circa 1880 features two rose buds and would definitely have been worn to represent two people who were in love. Once again it is not just the motif but the materials as well,” says Purcell. “ Diamonds represent indestructible love and the rubies, passion. The fact that the roses are beginning to emerge might have meant love that was just beginning to blossom.” It is mounted in silver and yellow gold with French eagle’s head mark for 18K gold.
Purcell wrote a book Falize: A Dynasty of Jewelers (Thames & Hudson, 1999) and is an expert on the house and the jewels it produced. She reports that Lucien Falize, son of the founder Alexis imbued different aspects of love into his designs and in his different styles and techniques. He worked in enamel and gold and in his penchant for Medieval script he featured brooches with words like Forever, and others with the word Recuerdo (remember) and a forget-me-notswith diamonds and pearls set into the enameled gold.
Purcell describes another brooch in this style, which spells out Recuerdo (remember)., “the initial letter enameled in translucent blue in a separate cartouche against a paler blue foliate ground the remainder of the word in translucent red enamel against an opaque cream ground, simulating illuminated script on vellum, edged with rose diamonds.Lucien Falize. Paris, c.1880.”
Then there is this remarkable suite, comprised of a paneled bracelet, brooch and buckle, mounted in gold and decorated with luminous translucent enamels over metallic foils, against an opaque sage green background, “This is a rare example of a demi-parure by Falize to have survived. The sophistication of the cloisonné like enameling is circa 1900.” She continues, “The birds decorating each panel of the bracelet consist of lovebirds known in French as ‘inséparables’, and cranes which according to legend mate for life, demonstrating that this jewel is intended as a token of love. The reverse of the bracelet is decorated with ivy leaves
Which denotes the tenacity of love while the blue enameled ribbon stylized as a true lover’s knot is symbolic of marriage, a convention still adhered to in ‘something borrowed, something blue’. The Falize monogram is itself emblematic of love, the diamond for eternal passion while the pearl symbolizes Venus, both being born from the sea and the shell. The buckle and brooch are similarly decorated, the reverse of the brooch bearing the Falize monogram for the third generation of the firm, Falize Frères, against a foiled turquoise enameled background, the reverse of the buckle decorated with scrolled Celtic motifs against an opaque enameled turquoise background.”
This suite captures the beauty of many symbols of sentimental jewelry and is one that is awe-inspiring in that is in excellent condition, survived as a suite and tells a story about the how we remain together and mate for life when we choose to believe in “the tenacity of love” and how that leads to marriage and a bond unbroken.
The last piece in Purcell’s preview of what we can find at Masterpiece is not a jewel but a small object that just couldn’t be left out of this theme. It is a desk seal by Ernesto Pierret
Rome, circa.1880, modeled as a harp in silver, the strings in rose-colored gold, the neck decorated with chased gold oak leaves, acorns and beading, the sound box embellished with pierced and chased fretwork and banding, the pinnacle topped with a carved carnelian bust of Psyche, denoted by the two silver butterfly wings on her back. The base is mounted with carnelian sardonyx engraved with a miniature of the harp surrounded by the motto ‘Je Responds A Pui Me Touche’ (I respond to who touches me).Signed: PIERRET
Not only is this a glorious piece with an intimate saying. The meanings involved date back to antiquity but says Purcell, “ The tale of Eros and Psyche first appeared in late antiquity in The Golden Ass or Metamorphoses by Lucius Apuleius. Psyche’s story became an allegory of the soul’s turbulent journey through life. Psyche is the Greek word for ‘soul’ or ‘spirit.’ The butterfly is an attribute of both the heroine Psyche (the mortal made immortal) and the soul. It was thought that the spirit escaped the body at the point of death through the mouth in the form of a butterfly. The harp represents harmony and creativity, the opposite of a weapon, which is used for bloodshed or violence. The god of love Eros is often depicted holding a musical instrument as a symbol of virtuous love”
No matter what form love or romance comes in—a ring or a desk seal—it will always stand the test of time.