Old (and New) Hollywood is an endless source of fashion inspiration--especially when it comes to jewelry and gemstones. The following are just a few classic movies featuring timeless pieces. Enjoy this feast for the eyes!
Vivien Leigh’s Cameo Brooch in Gone with the Wind (1938)
Cameo’s have a long, rich history. Dating back to the ancient Greek and Roman empires, cameos often depicted important scenes among family or even the gods. Mourning cameos depicting a lost loved one were popularized by Queen Victoria in the 19th century.
Leave it to Hollywood, however, to take the trend to the next level. In Gone with the Wind, Vivien Leigh wears an extra-large mourning brooch set in gold, depicting a figure riding birds, a rather unusual scene for a brooch at the time. The brooch belonged to the costume designer’s mother.
Katherine Hepburn’s Arrow Brooch in Sea of Grass (1947)
This beautiful, creative piece was created by Joseff of Hollywood, a prominent supplier of jewelry to the movie industry. The two-part piece worn on the heart-shaped dress with a sweetheart neckline creates the appearance of an arrow-struck heart. Was there ever a more romantic piece of jewelry?
Marilyn Monroe’s Diamond Necklace in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
In addition to sparking interest in fine jewelry designer Harry Winston (“Talk to me, Harry Winston. Tell me all about it!”), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes features an antique diamond with a fascinating history. The Moon of Baroda, a 24-carat pear-shaped yellow canary diamond was the property of the Maharajah of Baroda, India for 500 years until the 18th century, when it was worn by Empress Maria Theresa and later worn by Marie Antoinette. Eventually, the diamond was taken back to its original home where it stayed for another 200 years until Meyer Rosebnaum purchased it, and Monroe wore in the diamond-filled film.
Grace Kelly’s Faux Diamond Necklace in To Catch a Thief (1955)
The lovely Grace Kelly wore an eye-catching diamond necklace to seduce a gentleman jewelry thief played by Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief—but the diamond necklace was fake (both in the narrative of the film and in real life!). Could have fooled me!
Audrey Hepburn’s Pearl and Diamond Necklace in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
“I’m just CRAZY about Tiffany’s!” So were many other jewelry lovers after Audrey Hepburn wore a multi-strand diamond and pearl necklace and matching diamanté hair piece in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Paired with her sizzling black Givenchy number, the jewelry made a gorgeous statement and launched a chic style that’s still emulated today.
Elizabeth Taylor’s Snake Belt in Cleopatra (1963)
Another piece made by the Joseff family, Cleopatra’s snake belt was an unusual, striking piece of jewelry. Joseff’s wife, Joan Joseff measured Taylor for the belt, and by the time the belt was ready, it was 2 ½ inches too small for the actress. Taylor insisted that the initial measurement was incorrect, but others wondered if the actress’s weight had fluctuated. Either way, the piece truly memorable.
Julia Robert’s Diamond and Ruby Necklace in Pretty Woman (1990)
Custom-made by French jeweler Fred Joaillier, this iconic necklace features 23 pear-cut rubies set in diamond-encrusted hearts. The piece is first introduced in the humorous scene when Richard Gene snaps necklace box closed as Julia Roberts reaches for the sparkly item. Of course, the real stunner of the scene was Roberts herself.
Antique, vintage, and heirloom jewelry is undeniably special. Some antique pieces inspire joy simply because they have a rich history or belonged to a loved one. Other pieces may still be fashionable and are a staple in your wardrobe. Either way, it’s important to store and a care for your antique jewelry properly, so each special piece will last for generations to come. Although most jewelry care is common sense (don’t store your valuables right by the bathroom sink!), it never hurts to review proper care and cleaning tips.
How to Store and Take Care of Antique Jewelry
At the very least, antique jewelry should be stored in a cotton-lined box in a moderate temperature (an un-air-conditioned storage unit probably isn’t your best bet.) To avoid scratches, no jewelry piece should be in contact with another.
The following are a few tools you can take to protect your jewelry and extend time between cleanings.
Anti-tarnish paper tabs. These tabs are designed to protect sterling silver, nickel, copper, bronze, base metals, brass, tin, and gold. They will last up to six months in a regular container and up to one year in a sealed, air-tight environment.
Anti-corrosion, anti-tarnish zip-lock bags. An affordable long-term jewelry storage solution, these zip-lock bags are designed to protect sterling silver, gold, copper, bronze, tin, brass, magnesium, and ferrous metals (iron and steel) from tarnish and corrosion. These bags are non-toxic and will not leave deposits on stored items.
Avoid spraying hairspray or perfume over jewelry. Apply these and any other body products prior to putting on your jewelry. Also, remove your jewelry before bathing, swimming, exercising, gardening, and doing housework—or any activity where you may exert yourself or be exposed to water or chemicals.
Antique jewelry should never be cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaner (jewelry bath). Although these cleaners are quite effective, the pulsation action may damage antique enamel or worsen a loose setting. Vibrations may also ruin delicate filigree work. Additionally, steer clear of store-bought dip solutions. These often contain harsh chemicals that can weaken enamel and otherwise damage an antique piece. Various metals and gemstones may require different methods and solutions for safe cleaning. For a breakdown of how to clean a particular kind of metal or stone, please consult the antique jewelry cleaning guidelines outlined by Past Era.
Be mindful of the settings on your jewelry. If you notice that a stone is loose, place the piece in a ziplock back and take it to your jeweler for repair. If possible, find a jeweler who specializing in antiques.
Are you a fan of treasure but not keen on going hunting for it yourself? Do you love ancient coins but don’t believe they should be hidden away only to be viewed once in a blue moon? Jewelry made from ancient coins presents a way to indulge your love for history, treasure, and the exotic—and the best part is that you can select pieces from several independent vendors who do the jewelry making for you. The following are just a few online retailers specializing in ancient coin jewelry.
Lost Galleon El Cazador Shipwreck
For over 20 years, Lost Galleon has specialized in rare, high-grade pieces from Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. Authentic coins are custom framed and crafted into a variety of pieces—from money clips to rings to necklaces. You can also shop by country of origin or shipwrecks (like Spanish shipwrecks). The cool thing about Lost Galleon is that the company actually dives for the coins themselves!
Ancient Creations Portrait of Christ Pendant (Byzantine)
Ancient Creations sources rare coins from auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christies, but all custom designs and mounting are done in-house. Ancient Creations’ jewelry features coins from ancient Greek, Roman, Spanish, Portuguese, Persian, European/Medieval, Asian, and Byzantine collections. The site also provides a detailed historical account of the development and usage of coins across ancient nation-states. History buffs, don’t miss Ancient Creations’ glossary of terms!
Erez Ancient Coin Jewelry Silver Drachma Bracelet (Greek)
Erez Ancient Coin Jewelry sources coins for jewelry mostly from Israel and the Middle East. Each product description includes brief historical context for the coin featured in the jewelry piece. If you have your own coin that you’d like set in a piece of jewelry, Erez welcomes custom orders. All pieces and designs are handmade in the United States.
Ferbers Unique Fine Jewelry “A Perfect Sixpence” (England, 1916)
Among Ferbers’ collection of luxury pieces, the vendor features jewelry made from ancient and vintage coins. The family-owned jewelry store is a member of Jewelers of America and has the highest rating for creditworthiness granted to any jewelry store in its trade area by the Jeweler’s Board of Trade. In addition to ancient coin jewelry, they also create pieces with ancient Roman glass and pieces of meteorite.
Ancient Resource Ephesus Bezel
Specializing in ancient artifacts from Greece, Rome, and Egypt, Ancient Resource works with museums, universities, institutions, auction houses, galleries, and collectors in 40 different countries across the globe to procure its impressive collection of ancient goods—including jewelry featuring ancient coins. Each piece is all authenticated and legally acquired.
Photos: Lost Galleon, Ancient Creations, Erez Ancient Coin Jewelry, Ferbers Unique Fine Jewelry, Ancient Resource
The ladies of Downton Abbey surely have the best jewelry on television!
Antique jewelry draws us in for many reasons. Often, there’s an interesting story accompanying an older piece (and it’s not very difficult to imagine a fascinating back story, either!). Moreover, some antique jewelry may be of better value and quality than similar jewelry made or reproduced in the current retail market. And then there are those of us who simply like the look of older pieces (especially after a few episodes of Downton Abbey). From wherever your love of antique jewelry comes, with the right resources, you can start your own special collection.
Shopping for and collecting antique jewelry can be more complicated than it may initially seem. Peter Shemonksy, an appraiser for Antiques Roadshow recommends jewelry collection amateurs begin with “a passion for learning, an inquisitive mind, knowing how to ask the right questions, a good visual memory, patience, and some money.” If you’ve got that thirst for knowledge, the first step is to consult the best resources.
Know Your Stuff
Shemonsky recommends familiarizing yourself with Understanding Jewelry by David Bennett and Danielle Mascetti and Warman’s Jewelry: Identification and Price Guide by Christie Romero. Full of beautiful illustrations, both books will help you learn about important style eras and jewelry designers. Warman’s Jewelry includes a price guide, which likely will not perfectly match current market prices, but it may give you a general pricing guideline. After learning about trends in jewelry, you may find that there’s a particular time period you’d like to focus on in your jewelry collection.
The next thing to look for is a professional-quality 10x triplet magnifying loupe. This small tool that fits in your pocket will help you see detail like you’ve never seen it before. A magnifying loupe can help you decipher tiny engraved text and possibly even distinguish a counterfeit from the real thing.
Triplet Magnifying Loupe
Once you’re ready to put your knowledge to use, get some hands-on experience with actual jewelry. Shemonsky recommends “getting friendly with one of the jewelry specialists and inquir[ing] about the pieces you are interested in, even if you may not be at the point where you’re ready to buy.” Both jewelry specialists and antique vendors are seeking to build relationships with possible clients, he explains. If anyone doesn’t seem interested in answering your questions (within reason, of course!), move on to a vendor who’s eager to talk about their offerings. Local jewelers, especially those who specialize in antiques or estate items, are another good resource. If you do find a piece that you’d like to purchase, Shemonsky advises to always ask this question: “Is it authentic and is it in original condition?”
Inspect Pieces Carefully
Before buying, handle a piece yourself and closely inspect the back (magnifying glass in hand!). Is there a jeweler’s signature? A stamp indicating the karat of metal? Pay special attention to the craftsmanship or any repair work. Does the quality of work on the back match the quality of that on the front? Shemonsky explains that there are several lower-quality reproductions of antiques on the market, so be wary: “it is easy to copy style, but copying craftsmanship is very expensive and not cost-effective in today’s market. So think with your eyes and compare with your brain.”
Antique Pearl Bracelet, Dated 1862, Natural Saltwater Pearl
Stay True to the Reason You Started the Collection
In any artistic realm (music, visual art, fashion, jewelry), there is an endless amount of pieces in the world coupled with all of the information about those pieces. It’s enough to overwhelm anyone. Collecting antique jewelry will remain a fun hobby, however, if you keep your original goals in mind. Along the way, a vendor may attempt to persuade you to purchase something that simply doesn’t suit your aesthetic, or a blog may put down your favorite era of jewelry—but just remember that this is your collection, and your taste reigns supreme.
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Photos: Downton Abbey, Perfect Jewels via Flickr, Amazon, Justin Celticfinds via Flickr