Medieval Rings

les Enluminures


It is virtually impossible to do justice to the evolution of jewelry from the Baroque period (c. 1700) to Modern times in a short synopsis, but these are a few highlights. Many of the functional aspects of finger-rings continued: they served for betrothal and marriage, for signing and family identification, for memorial purposes, as well as for pure ornament. However, some new types of rings emerge during this period: such as puzzle rings, gimmick rings, perfume rings, and rings that celebrated scientific achievements (e.g., watch rings) are but a few of the examples.

This time span witnesses the emergence of the “archaeological style,” of which the work of Fortunato Pio Castellani in the 1830s to 1860s is a particularly well-known example, one that fits in the Neo-Classical period. We see the flourishing of other styles related to artistic movements in painting, sculpture, and architecture. These include Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts Movement, both beginning around the 1880s, and Art Deco in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. It also covers the emergence of some of the most famous twentieth-century houses of jewelry, such as Cartier, Charmet, Boucheron, Bulgari, Tiffany’s, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Mellerio, to mention only a few. Jewelry historians responsible for exhibitions in major museums have begun to trace the historical contributions and characterize the styles of jewelry, including rings, not only of these different artistic movements, but also of these great houses.

Two other sometimes-overlapping categories of later jewelry are of significant import. The first category, “artist jewelry,” consists of jewelry by artists mostly known for their work in other media, such as Picasso, Calder, Dali, Robert Indiana, Louise Bourgeois, Yves Klein, Anish Kapoor, and many others. The second category, “studio jewelry” includes work by modern and contemporary goldsmiths. Among those practicing today of special mention are Wendy Ramshaw and others belonging to the Goldsmith’s Company in London, dedicated to continuing the craft since it received its first royal charter in 1327. Others of different national origins include the Italian Giovanni Corvaja (handled by Adrian Sassoon in London), the American Joel Arthur Rosenthal or JAR of Paris (whose international exhibition was staged at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 2013), Otto Jakob of Germany, and the newcomer Wallace Chan of China. The experienced viewer-collector, as well as the newcomer to the field, can begin to learn about modern jewelry at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with its dedicated jewelry gallery and specialized curator, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London which houses the William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, and the private collection of Alice and Louis Koch.

Alfred Schaller Model Book

Probably composed in the 1930s and hitherto unpublished, the present manuscript Model Book (Private Collection) presents jewels in the collection of the German goldsmith Alfred Schaller. On the front flyleaf Alfred Schaller wrote his name and the location of his premises in Munich (postal code 23). Another hand, apparently contemporary, added his address 13, Maximiliansplatz. The Model Book consists of 150 pages and measures approximately 150 x 185 mm. and is still bound in its colorful half-vellum binding. Its paper pages consist of watercolor drawings of brooches, necklaces, bracelets, and especially rings with pencil notations written underneath most of them. A number of drawings, particularly of brooches, correspond with jewelry that has appeared at public auction (as identified form the Model Book).

The many drawings of rings are of interest here. Most appear to be unknown. Some appear to be rings designed in the 1930s and perhaps for sale by the jeweler. Others (right hand page, top row) are cameos of Shakespeare and Socrates, and in the same row, there is a Bishop’s ring, dated 1780 (far right). A ring in the second row on the same page is annotated as “Copy Greek.” Many include an identification of the stone, the precious metal (gold or silver), and in some cases the carat. The Model Book merits further study for its content, especially for the function of its drawings which appear to be both the record of a collection of the twentieth-century goldsmith and designs for fabrication.

Dr. Sandra Hindman
CEO and President, Les Enluminures
(GIA Diploma)