Here is an example of a typical vintage cigar or cheroot holder, circa late 19th or early 20th century. This specimen is either made from amber or an early plastic like Bakelite or Galalith. The original, fitted case significantly enhances the investment desirability of the piece.
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. It compels us to look fondly backward to a time in our life when things were simpler or better. Sometimes we can even be nostalgic for a time and place that we never experienced personally, like the cultural golden ages of pre-World War I Vienna or 1920s Paris. And few antiques are able to elicit nostalgia for bygone times, both experienced and imagined, like vintage cigarette holders. These luxury trappings were invariably at the fingertips of the wealthy, powerful and famous throughout the 20th century, allowing them to unapologetically smoke a cigarette and look great doing it.
A cigarette holder is a small, hollow, tubular device used as an intermediary between the smoker and his (or her) cigarette. Often made from the most precious materials available, vintage cigarette holders were objets d'art par excellence for the fashionable smoker. They embodied the highest principals of functional luxury for the liberated woman or urbane man during the first half of the 20th century.
The discerning gentleman who preferred to relax with the occasional cigar was not forgotten, however. Cigar holders, just as luxurious as their cigarette holder brethren, were also widely used from the late 19th century until the middle of the 20th century. In fact, this tobacco paraphernalia was almost a requirement in gentlemen's clubs, billiard rooms and studies - anyplace men of refinement might gather to enjoy a leisurely cigar.
These personal tobacco accessories, the cigar holder and the cigarette holder, served two main purposes. First, they prevented nicotine staining of the fingers or gloves. If the cigarette holder contained a filter, a fairly common occurrence before the advent of filtered cigarettes, it would also help minimize any staining of the teeth. Second, a cigarette holder kept second hand smoke out of its users face. This was particularly helpful in social situations, like formal dinners, high society parties or the opera.
Cigarette smoking and, by extension, the use of cigarette holders, was a quintessentially 20th century affair. At the beginning of the century, in 1900, it is estimated that only 4% or 5% of tobacco users were cigarette smokers. All the others smoked cigars, pipes or used snuff. But that statistic changed rapidly during the first decades of the new century.
Vintage Cigar & Cheroot Holders For Sale
The First World War, from 1914 to 1918, drove widespread adoption of cigarettes by men in the armed services all over the globe. Most belligerent countries during these conflicts, including Great Britain, Germany and the U.S., handed out cigarettes as part of their troops' weekly ration packages. The Second World War merely reinforced this trend, firmly establishing cigarettes as the preeminent tobacco product. These two global conflicts, perhaps more than anything else, helped popularize and normalize smoking during the 20th century.
While pipe, cigar and cigarette smoking were originally considered a distinctly masculine pastime, women's desire for liberation in the modern era led to their increased interest in smoking. Although regarded as unseemly and unladylike at the beginning of the 20th century, smoking also held an allure of illicitness via its association with jazz music, prohibition era drinking, underground gambling and even promiscuity. Indeed, it was the iconic female "flappers" of the rebellious 1920s who finally changed societal perceptions, legitimizing cigarette usage among women. Naturally, with increased smoking among women came the use of elegant and chic cigarette holders.
Smoking's popularity reached its zenith in the middle of the 20th century, from the 1940s to the 1960s. During this period, almost everyone from the humblest housewife to the most powerful politician indulged in a relaxing cigarette occasionally. And the eye-catching, portable and ever stylish cigarette holder was omnipresent.
Old Hollywood starlets, in particular, have given us countless iconic images showing bejeweled cigarette holders languorously hanging from their lips. Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Rita Hayworth were just a few of the acclaimed celebrities from Old Hollywood to smoke cigarettes, usually with a magnificent cigarette holder.
Gold Vintage Cigarette Holders For Sale
Some other famous smokers of the era were 007 creator Ian Fleming, musician Nat King Cole and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Even rebellious royalty luxuriated in smoking during this period. Great Britain's Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, was, scandalously, a smoker from her teenage years. But she often burnished her defiance through the glamorous use of high end cigarette holders.
In 1961 the celebrated movie Breakfast at Tiffany's was released. This notable film featured the famous actress Audrey Hepburn portraying Holly Golightly, a young, sophisticated New York debutante who sported a trademark long cigarette holder. This character perhaps best exemplifies the apogee of mid-century cigarette culture and its indispensible companion, the cigarette holder.
However, during the 1960s and 1970s, more and more medical evidence began to point to the dangers of smoking. The resulting decline in tobacco use was slow at first, and many beautiful and functional cigarette holders were created during this time. But, inexorably, smoking gradually became associated with cancer, emphysema and other terrible diseases. By the early 1980s, cigarette use in the West was dying, and with it the need for glamorous cigarette holders. An era had ended.
Vintage cigarette holders were made from a wide range of different materials, from the unassuming to the opulent. Amber, the fossilized resin of ancient trees, was one of the most common materials used. Another substance frequently encountered is tortoiseshell which originates from the carapace of large turtle and tortoise species like the hawksbill sea turtle. Ivory, with its warm tones and creamy, off-white color was also popular. The simple, black elegance of jet, a gem quality coal, was, likewise, a favorite material for vintage cigarette holders.
Amber Vintage Cigarette Holders For Sale
All of these prized natural materials were imitated by early plastics starting in the late 19th and early 20th century. The very first of these, celluloid, was occasionally used in the production of cigarette and cigar holders, but was discontinued as soon as other plastics became available due to its flammability. Casein formaldehyde, called Galalith, was another early synthetic plastic used in vintage cigarette holders. But perhaps the best known of all the early plastics was Bakelite, the trade name for phenol formaldehyde resin.
High quality vintage cigarette holders were often accented with the precious metals - gold, silver, or platinum. This would usually take the form of one or more simple bands near the middle or the tip of the cigarette holder. Vintage cigarette or cigar holders were even created from semi-precious stones like jade, lapis or agate, although this was less common.
Vintage cigarette holders were frequently made out of a combination of several different materials. In these cases, the organic gem materials and plastics mentioned before were reserved for the stem of the piece that would be held in the mouth. This is because these materials were thermally non-conductive and would keep the user from accidentally being burnt.
While humble cigarette holders that sold for less than a dollar were manufactured in profusion, the most desirable specimens today were produced by famous makers. Renowned luxury houses, such as Cartier, Buccellati, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany & Co. and Boucheron, created some of the most sumptuous examples. But the famous Russian jewelry firm of Faberge is celebrated as perhaps the greatest maker of luxury antique cigar and cigarette holders.
A special mention is in order for Alfred Dunhill, a noted English tobacconist who founded the eponymous firm of Alfred Dunhill Ltd. While his company started as a generalist British luxury goods company, it soon developed a sterling reputation as a purveyor of fine tobacco accessories, including cigarette and cigar holders. Dunhill vintage cigarette holders were made to the highest standard, as evidenced by the fact that the company received a Royal Warrant as the tobacconist to the Prince of Wales in 1921. Alfred Dunhill Ltd. cigarette and cigar holders can often be identified at a glance by their characteristic "white dot" trademark.
High quality materials are a must when looking to invest in vintage cigarette holders. Precious metals like gold, silver and platinum, are often found on high end specimens. Other precious materials like tortoise shell, amber, ivory or jade are also usually indicative of a high quality cigarette holder.
High End Vintage Cigarette Holders For Sale
Early plastics, like Bakelite, have a neutral impact on the value of vintage cigarette holders. Instead, it is the workmanship and any accompanying materials that determine the item's desirability. A simple antique cigarette holder made entirely from Bakelite will possess limited desirability, while a sumptuously crafted Bakelite specimen accented with gold and diamonds will be quite valuable.
Condition, of course, is an attribute of primary importance when investing in vintage cigarette holders. Modest wear, usually in the form of light tooth marks, is completely acceptable on the stem of an antique cigarette holder. This indicates it was used and treasured by a former owner. But cracks, chips, significant discoloration or other noticeable damage will greatly reduce the value of a piece. In addition, a vintage cigarette or cigar holder that comes in its original case is always more desirable than one that doesn't.
A compelling collection of vintage cigarette or cigar holders can be assembled for a surprisingly small investment. Relatively modest specimens start at just under $100, while more elaborate examples are usually just a few hundred dollars. Interestingly, even the finest pieces rarely go for more than $1,000, which allows disciplined connoisseurs to dabble in the high end cheaply. One need not smoke to admire a fine vintage cigarette holder or antique cigarette case. These luxury goods from yesteryear give both the aspiring tobacciana collector and objet d'art aficionado a window into a splendid, nostalgic past.
The delicacy of this 14 karat yellow gold, seed pearl and pink tourmaline brooch is typical of Edwardian jewelry. Notice the white gold millegrain settings around the tourmaline gems. These settings serve to emphasize the subtle pink color of the stones and are a hallmark of both Edwardian jewelry and the later Art Deco style.
In the modern age we have a certain fascination with the rich and famous. They somehow seem to inhabit a world apart from us - a world of palatial mansions, yacht outings and opulent fashion. And yet our current gilded age, as magnificent as it seems, is put to shame by one that preceded us. If history is any indication, few people knew how to throw, or attend, a high-class party like the Edwardians. And one of the ways the Downton Abbey set flaunted their substantial wealth was by wearing magnificent Edwardian jewelry.
Gossamer creations of unparalleled beauty, Edwardian jewelry is among the most prized objects on earth. Diamonds, sapphires and natural pearls drip graciously from platinum garlands, bows and ribbons. It possesses a refinement and elegance that elicits images of royalty and aristocrats. And, although only created for a short period of time, from 1900 to 1915, Edwardian jewelry still looms large in the imagination today.
The Edwardian era took its name from the reign of the British monarch King Edward VII, who ruled from 1901 to 1910. He ascended the throne on the death of his mother, Queen Victoria, who had ruled for an astonishing 64 years. Under Queen Victoria's reign, Great Britain grew into the most powerful and wealthy country on earth, with a colonial empire unrivaled in both size and prestige.
However, Victoria was a traditionalist. In fact, she was often viewed as a slave to formality and ceremony. This was partially reflected in Victorian fashions, which were invariably elaborate, heavy and sometimes suffocating. Although the Victorian period was immensely prosperous, the upper class was constrained by the staid Victorian ethos espoused by the Great Queen. Conspicuous consumption was something one simply did not do in Victorian England.
King Edward VII's ascension to the throne, however, brought a renewed sense of lightheartedness and enjoyment to high society. The new king and his wife, Alexandra, loved grand parties and were unrepentant socialites. King Edward VII led by example in this brilliant new era. He enjoyed gambling, overeating and womanizing. He even indulged in smoking both cigars and cigarettes, although not at the same time. In the Edwardian period it was perfectly acceptable to be rich and revel in it.
Although King Edward VII was the monarch of Great Britain, his lavish parties and hedonistic behavior established the spirit of the age in Continental Europe as well as America. In France, this period was known as the Belle Époque - the beautiful era. In the United States it was called the Gilded Age.
But regardless of the name used, the Edwardian era was a brilliant flourishing of culture, leisure and the arts. In many ways, the Edwardian period was the apogee of European imperialism and global dominance carried forward from the late 19th century. Great Britain and France both had extensive colonial possessions that spanned the globe, while Germany was a rapidly rising world power.
Then, just as a star burns brightest right before it is extinguished, Europe was plunged into the horrors of the First World War in 1914. The extravagant parties and opulent holidays abruptly ended. Even the luxurious frivolity of the fashion world stopped almost overnight. In the darkly prophetic words of the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey at the onset of the War, "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time."
Antique Edwardian jewelry was characterized by ribbon, bow, garland and heart motifs. However, unlike the contemporary Art Nouveau jewelry style, Edwardian jewelry didn't adhere slavishly to naturalism. It wasn't uncommon for Edwardian pieces to have geometric or linear elements, foreshadowing the future rise of Art Deco jewelry styles in the 1920s.
Edwardian Rings For Sale
The Edwardian stylistic movement, with its delicate yet dazzling appearance, was directly inspired by 18th century Rococo jewelry and the Louis XVI style. Pierced or filigree settings added a playful and airy sense that was absent from earlier Victorian jewelry. Fine Edwardian jewelry always possesses a delicacy and lightness that is not found in later Art Deco jewelry.
Diamonds and colored gemstones were often mounted in millegrain settings during the Edwardian period. Millegrain is a goldsmithing technique where the bezel around the perimeter of a stone is minutely beaded or ridged, giving the piece a rich, glittering look. It also wasn't unusual for bezels in Edwardian jewelry to use a different, contrasting metal from the rest of a piece. Yellow gold bezels emphasized the richness of colored stones while white gold or platinum bezels accentuated the dazzling whiteness of diamonds.
The discovery of massive diamond deposits in South Africa in the 1870s led to increased availability of these coveted gemstones during the late 19th and early 20th century. Diamonds, formerly rare and reserved for the aristocracy, were quickly embraced by mainstream jewelers. As a result, diamonds were one of the preeminent gems of the period, often adorning Edwardian jewelry in profusion.
Most diamonds found in Edwardian jewelry are either old mine cut or old European cut diamonds. These older diamond cuts were hand-fashioned by highly skilled old world craftsmen in order to maximize the fire of these stones under low light conditions. Fire, otherwise known as dispersion, is when a diamond breaks light up into the spectral colors of the rainbow before returning it to the viewer's eyes. These old cut diamonds possess a warmth, charm and charisma that complements Edwardian jewelry beautifully.
High End Edwardian Jewelry For Sale
Another diamond cut often found in Edwardian jewelry is the rose cut. It is a flat-bottomed, faceted dome - sometimes irregular - that rises to a single point. The rose cut is actually a very old diamond cut, first originating in Europe in the middle of the 16th century. By the Edwardian period at the beginning of the 20th century, rose cut diamonds were usually used in less expensive pieces of jewelry. Edwardian jewelry was the last style of jewelry to feature the widespread use of rose cut diamonds.
Because of the extensive use of diamonds in Edwardian jewelry, white metals - primarily white gold and platinum - were de rigueur in these pieces. Platinum, in particular, became a hallmark of high quality Edwardian jewelry. Platinum has an extremely high melting point and can take a great deal of expertise to properly work. So although the rare white metal was known decades before the Edwardian period, the early 20th century was the first time platinum was commonly used in jewelry production.
Platinum was uniquely suited for use in Edwardian jewelry. Unlike silver, platinum's mesmerizing gray-white color doesn't tarnish over time. In addition, platinum is incredibly strong compared to sterling silver or even karat gold.
As a result, jewelers were able to create profoundly complex yet magnificently diaphanous scrollwork, filigree and millegrain effects in platinum that would have been impossible in traditional silver-topped gold. As an added bonus, the new metal's great strength allowed platinum Edwardian jewelry to be surprisingly light for its size. This was a reversal from earlier Victorian jewelry made from silver-topped gold, which was invariably bulky and heavy.
Platinum Edwardian Jewelry For Sale
Another gem often mounted in Edwardian jewelry is pearls. The really interesting thing about good quality pearl jewelry from the Edwardian period - circa 1900 to 1915 - is that it exclusively employed natural pearls. This is because the cultured pearl industry, pioneered by the enterprising Kokichi Mikimoto, didn't produce commercially viable harvests of round pearls until the late 1910s.
Natural saltwater pearls could only be harvested by highly trained oyster divers who would descend to the sea floor in search of wild mollusks. These divers would descend to depths of up to 100 feet without any breathing apparatus, risking not only drowning but also the dreaded bends. It is estimated that every ton of oysters collected would yield only a few high quality pearls.
It is incredibly significant that Edwardian jewelry was the last style of jewelry, historically speaking, to rely solely on natural pearls. Natural saltwater pearls have been prized for thousands of years for their luster, iridescence and otherworldly, almost ethereal appearance. Natural saltwater pearls were so rare that matched necklaces were only within the reach of the very wealthiest members of society. In fact, the renowned French jeweler Jacques Cartier reputedly traded a mere two necklaces of natural pearls for his flagship Fifth Avenue New York store location in 1916.
Pearl Edwardian Jewelry For Sale
Other gemstones often encountered in Edwardian jewelry are sapphire, aquamarine and ruby. Turquoise, peridot and amethyst were used in somewhat less expensive pieces. In any case, delicate, softly-colored pastel gems often found top billing alongside dazzlingly bright diamonds and platinum.
Edwardian jewelry provides a wealth of opportunities for the aspiring antiques investor. Along with the contemporary jewelry style of Art Nouveau, Edwardian jewelry was the first type of jewelry to look effectively modern. Unlike Victorian or Georgian jewelry, fine Edwardian jewelry can still grace the hand or neck of a gorgeous woman without looking dated.
When buying Edwardian jewelry for investment purposes there are a few rules to follow. Large, expensive gemstones like ruby, sapphire and diamonds were frequently mounted in important pieces and are very desirable. However, it is more common to find a multitude of smaller accent stones without a single large gem in more modest pieces. Although these less elaborate examples are still quite collectible, they will always be less valuable than a similar piece set with a large precious stone.
Pearl Edwardian jewelry represents a tremendous buying opportunity due to the fact that it is perhaps the single best source of affordable natural pearls left in the market today. As always, large, round pearls with good luster and no damage will be the most desirable. Seed pearls, split pearls and baroque pearls are also commonly found in Edwardian jewelry, but are significantly less desirable than large, fully round pearls. It should be noted that natural saltwater pearls were so rare that it wasn't unusual for pearls used in antique jewelry to only be approximate matches for color, roundness and size. Allowances should be made for these natural variations.
As noted above, platinum is the premier metal for high end Edwardian jewelry. However, yellow gold was also frequently used. In addition, yellow gold topped with platinum or silver is also commonly encountered. It is recommended that the serious investor only entertain pieces made from 14 karat (58.3%) gold or better. Platinum used in jewelry, in contrast, is almost always 90% fine. All else being equal, a given example rendered in platinum will always be more desirable than a similar piece made in karat gold.
Other Edwardian Jewelry For Sale
A fine piece of Edwardian jewelry will always communicate an unmistakable delicacy and lightness that is innately appealing. Poorly made Edwardian jewelry will tend to be clunky or ponderous. The serious connoisseur will skip over these subpar examples.
Modern reproductions in the Edwardian style will often have similar shortcomings, projecting an awkward or clumsy aura. They will not only lack the subtlety and spontaneity of original pieces, but are also usually set with modern cut diamonds, which is a dead giveaway. These modern reproductions are unfit for investment purposes.
As usual, it is important to avoid buying damaged, broken, bent or otherwise compromised pieces of Edwardian jewelry if future investment performance is important. Pearls, especially, should be checked to ensure they haven't pealed, cracked or discolored. Watch out for chipped gemstones or diamonds as well. They can be almost impossible to economically replace.
It is important to note that synthetic rubies and sapphires went into commercial production just before 1900. Because of this, the Edwardian period was the first time that synthetic gemstones were widely used in jewelry. However, just because a piece of jewelry employs synthetics, it doesn't mean that it isn't desirable. Synthetic gemstones were still very expensive and difficult to produce at the time. Therefore, it isn't unusual to find them mounted in very fine settings - often as matching calibre cut stones - along with completely natural, high value gems, like diamonds and pearls.
Due to its tendency towards high intrinsic values, investment quality Edwardian jewelry can be quite expensive. Pricing for good quality, investable Edwardian jewelry generally starts at around $500 for simpler examples. Prices quickly escalate for more elaborate specimens or pieces mounted with large, valuable gemstones like diamonds, sapphires or rubies. Superlative examples can easily command sums of $10,000 or more.
The Edwardian period was an age of sophistication, elegance and grandeur. Its alluring combination of carefree leisure and tremendous wealth still inspires us today. Edwardian jewelry is a window into that past, embodying the zeitgeist and splendor of that pre-World War I golden age.
Here is a close-up of a gorgeous Montblanc 149 Meisterstruck fountain pen, with its iconic solid 18 karat gold nib engraved with "4810" - the height in meters of the famous Mont Blanc mountain in the Alps. The luxury German fountain pen maker Montblanc first introduced the 149 Meisterstruck in 1952. Widely considered one of the finest vintage fountain pens ever made, the Montblanc 149 Meisterstruck has remained in production almost unchanged to the current day.
Contemporary life can be a very cold, impersonal place. All too often the modern world reduces us to a few key data points: a social security number, a credit card number, an email address. And our addiction to technology exacerbates the situation, creating gulfs between us rather than bringing us together. It is all too commonplace for co-workers to communicate via faceless email rather than in person. Instead of calling that friend and hearing another human voice we are likely to send a terse, indifferent text.
But communication was not always so colorless. Before texts and emails became a standard in interpersonal relationships, people used to hand write letters, cards and even documents. And universally, to a man, they used the classic, timeless fountain pen to do this writing.
In the mid 20th century, a high quality fountain pen was the tangible, visible mark of a person of prominence. A fountain pen displayed your personality for all to see, which, depending on the model chosen, could exude sophistication, social status or confidence.
Affordable Vintage Fountain Pens For Sale
The heyday of vintage fountain pens was from the 1920s through the 1970s. During this era, pen designers manufactured creations that dripped with the glittering zeitgeist of the prevailing age. Fountain pens of the 1920s glimmered with angular metal and geometric designs, reflecting that era's optimism and daring. Those from the 1930s combined bold designs with rich colors to express the affluence and solidity so craved during the dark years of the Great Depression. Vintage fountain pens of the 1940s, 50s and 60s possessed a streamlined sleekness that echoed the predominant aerospace milieu of the time.
A variety of companies produced high quality fountain pens during the mid 20th century. US producers like Parker, Wahl/Eversharp, Sheaffer, and Waterman dominated the global pen industry during this time. Pelikan and Montblanc are two notable German pen companies that were also active. Waterman and Montblanc, in particular, are widely regarded as having created some of the finest (and consequently most expensive) vintage fountain pens known. The preceding list of vintage fountain pen manufacturers is not exhaustive. Many other pen companies existed and some of them made very interesting and desirable fountain pens.
Waterman Vintage Fountain Pens For Sale
Vintage fountain pens come in a wide range of materials. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were a time of tremendous innovation in the new field of plastics and this was reflected in the pens of that time. Hard rubber, Celluloid, Bakelite and Lucite were all used extensively in antique fountain pens. The metal trim and caps of vintage pens could be stainless steel, or plated, filled or even solid silver or gold. Although uncommon and more expensive, some vintage fountain pen bodies are composed entirely of karat gold.
The nib, or metal tip, of a fountain pen is considered by most pen experts to be the most important part of the entire pen. Most fine vintage nibs were made from solid 14 or 18 karat gold, although they can also be found in 10 karat gold, palladium and gold-plated steel. Gold was the preferred material for fountain pen nibs because it allows them to be flexible. This is a highly desirable characteristic that allows the writer's script to flow both effortlessly and artistically from the hand.
Parker Vintage Fountain Pens For Sale
Steel nibs were only used on cheaper pens. All nibs, regardless of material, were generally plated with iridium or another of the platinum group metals to improve wear characteristics. Vintage nibs came in broad, medium, fine and other specialty tips in order to accommodate almost every conceivable writing style.
As with other antiques, condition is paramount when buying an older fountain pen. A pen that is not in working condition will always be worth much less than one that can write. A possible exception to this rule is new-old-stock (NOS) fountain pens. These are pens that have sat in their original box for decades and have never been "inked" before - that is they haven't been used even once.
NOS pens are quite desirable, even though there is no guarantee they will work directly out of the box if filled with ink. In most cases NOS pens only require minor restoration in order to work beautifully, even though they might have lain unused for well over half a century!
Sheaffer Vintage Fountain Pens For Sale
Most vintage fountain pens that you encounter will be used rather than NOS, which is perfectly acceptable. However, one has to make certain that any pen under consideration not only works, but also isn't too worn. Brassing is a common wear phenomenon where the gold plating over a pen's metal trim or cap is worn through revealing the brass underneath - hence the name.
Depending on a vintage fountain pen's rarity and desirability some very minimal brassing may be acceptable in an investment grade piece, but the less brassing the better. It is also paramount to search for examples with few or no nicks, scratches or dents, a requirement that can be challenging, especially with pens that have metal caps. Avoid any pen with a broken clip or cracked barrel or cap; they cannot be considered investment grade under any circumstances.
Wahl/Eversharp Vintage Fountain Pens For Sale
One of the great advantages vintage fountain pen collectors enjoy is reasonable pricing. Elegantly crafted specimens from the golden age of the fountain pen vary in price from about $50 for lightly used, common models to over $1,000 for the rarest and most desirable types. But a wide variety of enticing, investment grade examples can be purchased for only $100 to $250. This makes vintage fountain pens one of the sleeper hits of the antique world.
In fact, vintage fountain pen prices have already risen dramatically over the last 20 years. It used to be possible to pick up good specimens at flea markets, second-hand shops and antique stores for $5 or $10 a pen. While those days of ridiculously underpriced bargains are over, I still believe these overlooked tangible assets possess substantial future investment potential.
High-End Vintage Fountain Pens For Sale
Vintage fountain pens allow both words and ideas to flow with a smoothness unmatched by today's keyboards or touch-screens. In addition to potentially being an appreciating asset, a fine vintage fountain pen grants its user an echo of its glamorous past, allowing you to sign your name with a flourish and look stunningly good while doing it.
This 18 karat yellow gold, diamond and moonstone pendant is a stunning example of Modernist jewelry. The combination of textured metal with an interesting, but low value moonstone provides maximum visual impact and is typical of Modernist work. This pendant was made in Europe, probably in the 1960s or 1970s, but possibly as late as the 1980s.
It can be argued rather convincingly that contemporary art as a movement has failed miserably. Whether it takes the form of Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism or Post Minimalism, contemporary art is often unattractive, if not downright ugly. These aesthetic shortcomings, combined with the movement's intellectual inaccessibility, make contemporary art both an elitist's dream and a practical failure.
However, in one of those little ironies of life, the principles of contemporary art which fail so miserably when applied to large works like paintings and sculptures succeed rather brilliantly when applied to miniature works like jewelry. Modernist jewelry is one of the very few places that the ideas of contemporary art found fertile ground, blooming into an effusion of exquisite, unrivaled beauty.
Modernist jewelry stands alone as an island of elegance in a sea of humdrum contemporary art. To say it embodies many of our modern concepts of beauty, while true, doesn't really do Modernist jewelry justice. Glittering precious metals gracefully fuse with countless different varieties of bewitching gemstones into a glittering mass of avant-garde style.
Brutalist & Modernist Rings For Sale
One piece of Modernist jewelry may have sensuously organic forms seamlessly melt into heavily textured yellow gold while another hand-wrought specimen may have gracefully sweeping lines simultaneously vie with outrageously angular spikes for visual dominance. Modernist jewelry happily abandons all convention; the results are often breathtaking.
The Modernist movement in jewelry had its origins in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s. At that time, Victorian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco had all been popular jewelry styles within the past 50 years. However, some cutting-edge artists found these established traditions unreasonably constricting. In the end, they repudiated Victorian style as being needlessly ornamental, Art Nouveau as too rigidly naturalistic and Art Deco as excessively uncompromising and austere.
Instead, Modernist jewelers envisioned themselves as peers to the great painters and sculptors of the age like Salvador Dali, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, among others. As a result, the radically new form of jewelry known as Modernism was born.
Brutalist & Modernist Earrings For Sale
Throwing convention to the wind, bold founding artists Sam Kramer and Art Smith fearlessly experimented with the new, unbounded Modernist ethos in their Greenwich Village studios. Andrew Grima, another famous Modernist jeweler, created such alluring, innovative work that he was appointed Crown Jeweller to the British Royal Family in 1970.
Once Modernism gained mainstream popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, even illustrious luxury houses like Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels and Boucheron produced compelling, high quality Modernist pieces. With its broad appeal, bold look and eclectic styling, Modernist jewelry is still widely hand crafted by fine artists all over the world today.
The Modernist style is incredibly broad and flexible, but is generally characterized by a dizzying variety of textures, shapes and colors. One piece may show nothing but sharp angles and straight lines while another may be exclusively composed of rounded, highly organic shapes. In any case, abstraction and asymmetry are the norm for Modernist jewelry, with the interest flowing from the juxtaposition of disparate forms, colors and finishes.
Brutalist & Modernist Necklaces & Pendants For Sale
Little thought is given to the intrinsic value of items incorporated into a design. Instead, elements are chosen based on the visual effect they will have within the overall composition of the piece. It is not unusual to find a piece of Modernist jewelry with a simple amber cabochon next to fine diamonds or with humble mother of pearl nestled within impressively heavy 18 karat gold. In fact, even nontraditional materials like wood and fabric are occasionally incorporated into these unique works of art.
Modernist jewelry often displays chunky, heavy forms with large expanses of gold or silver. The use of mixed metals is also a hallmark of Modernism, with platinum, gold, silver and copper freely and commonly intermingled. Obscure or unusual gemstones are frequently used in the pursuit of experimental, avant-garde color combinations. Unconventionally shaped gemstones like trillion, cabochon or custom cut stones are sometimes found in Modernist pieces. Occasionally stones are even carved or left as rough crystals for greater effect.
Brutalist & Modernist Bracelets For Sale
One offshoot of Modernism is known as Brutalism. The term Brutalism originally applied to a type of roughly finished, monolithic architecture originating in the mid 20th century, but has since been applied to jewelry as well. This radical style of jewelry is typified by massive, jagged and highly abstract designs that are at once intriguing and perhaps slightly disquieting. In a sense Brutalism is the more uncompromising, extreme little brother of Modernism.
When buying Modernist or Brutalist jewelry, the single most important element is the overall stylistic impact of the piece. A well designed example will captivate and dazzle the observer with compellingly tactile surfaces, explosions of contrasting colors and provocative shapes. The hallmark of Modernism is uniqueness; most exceptional pieces of Modernist jewelry are one-of-a-kind creations. Look for pieces that feel solid, substantial and heavy. Signed pieces will always command a premium over similar but unsigned examples.
Brutalist & Modernist Brooches For Sale
As mentioned before, Modernist and Brutalist jewelry commonly uses a wide range of materials, including some that do not possess much intrinsic value. However, this doesn't mean that poor quality or shoddy materials are acceptable. To the contrary, quality is still vitally important.
For example, if wood is incorporated into the design it should be an immaculately finished, exotic hardwood like ebony, rosewood or walnut. If gold is used, it should be 14 karat (58.3%) gold or better. Likewise, any precious or semi-precious stones employed should be considered good quality within their respective variety. And while not strictly necessary, only considering examples with at least one intrinsically valuable element - either precious metals or gems - will help ensure good investment returns.
Modernism as a stylistic movement is a bit of a Rorschach test. On the one hand, this means that a wide variety of interesting and varied looks fall within its boundaries. However, it also means that some pieces of jewelry are peddled as Modernist when they don't actually conform to any of the style's characteristics.
Men's Brutalist & Modernist Jewelry For Sale
Some mass produced jewelry from the 1960s through the present has attempted to imitate the Modernist look. But these cheap pieces lack any notable presence and only vaguely resemble true Modernist work. Avoiding these flimsy and mundane pseudo-Modernist specimens is paramount in order to achieve acceptable future investment performance. In any case, jewelry that is boring, clumsy or poorly executed should be rejected outright, regardless of whether it was mass produced or not.
Modernist jewelry is a garden of earthly delights for the savvy investor. Because it is not as well known as some of the other, older jewelry movements like Art Deco or Edwardian, prices are often still surprisingly affordable. This effect is enhanced by the fact that some materials used in the movement have modest intrinsic value. Simple, but still desirable investment grade examples of Modernist jewelry start at around $400 each. However, truly breathtaking specimens that incorporate large, expensive gemstones or extensive amounts of heavy, high karat gold can easily exceed several thousand dollars. Pieces by well known artists are also, predictably, rather expensive.
For decades Modernist artists have striven to create a style of jewelry that is both cutting edge and completely new. Luckily for both investors and collectors alike, they not only succeeded, but did so magnificently.