Reproduction or Homage?
inMarch 7, 2013 - 2:00pm
The Blog recently featured a fine article on the importance of originality in design, entitled A few Thoughts about Jewelry Design: Copying vs. Transforming, by Marcia Southwick of B Bold Jewelry for Boomer Girls on Ruby Lane. It brought up some points that are often debated by staff. As you are aware, with a few exceptions, reproduction items are not allowed on Ruby Lane.
As someone that has been in the jewelry business for over 40 years, I have seen a lot of jewelry items. Most designs I have seen have drawn on the past, inspired by prior trends and the work of great designers of the past. I started in the jewelry business in 1971, when the counter-culture had contributed to a renewed interest in Art Nouveau designs. Many of the classic design elements had resurfaced, the profiles of beautiful women with flowing hair, reminiscent of some of the Unger Brothers items from the turn of the 20th century. However, the items were clearly new designs, an homage to the original designers and artists.
The resurgence in the popularity of Art Deco designs soon followed. Again, design elements from the original Art Deco Era were seen, but with a slightly new twist.
Over the decades, however, some of these newer styles have been confused with the originals. Manufacturer’s marks disappear due to normal wear, or perhaps they were never present. The item surfaces at an estate sale or in a shop’s showcase and is purchased as an original Art Nouveau piece or Art Deco classic, and ends up getting resold again, with the incorrect identification. Even the most knowledgeable dealers have been known to make errors on some of these pieces, so we will provide a few hints on spotting the real thing;
Ruby Lane assigns dating of 1890 to 1918 for items described as being from the Art Nouveau Era. While mechanized production methods were in use, there was also a great deal of hand finishing on the items. Many designs were fashioned by taking a sheet of metal and forcing it into a pattern die under tons of pressure. This created a crisp, clean look that modern casting methods may imitate, but cannot duplicate easily. Recent innovations, such as casting into a metal die do give a more original look to the front of the piece, but the back of the item will still show signs that it was cast. While not definitive, any sign that a piece was cast should send up some cautionary flags.
Many designs were made in Sterling Silver, which was normally marked Sterling, at least in the United States. A mark of ‘925’ is another possible indicator of later production. Needless to say, a stamp indicating that the country of origin is China, on a classic western design from the turn of the century, is a clear indication of contemporary manufacture.
Look for an original manufacturer’s mark. Many of the companies that made the original designs were proud of their work and clearly marked it. While fake marks are rare, they are not unknown, and pieces have been seen with Unger Brothers marks that mimic, but do not match, the original marks. If a manufacturer’s name is present and legible, do a bit of research. Was this manufacturer actually in business at the time you feel the piece may have been produced?
White Gold was not patented until 1915, with U.S. use dating slightly later, and it is rarely seen before the 1920s.
Ruby Lane assigns dating from 1920-1940 for items using the term Art Deco. Well made jewelry from this time will often show signs of hand workmanship, with the inside of many rings of the time finished as well as the outside of modern pieces.
Baguette diamonds were well matched and normally were high-quality stones. Recent innovations in production techniques allow rows of mismatched baguettes to be cast in place, These stones will often be chipped or damaged due to the process.
White metals, both white gold and platinum, were favored for high end pieces.
Some pieces featured Marcasite. This iron sulfide has a metallic, steely color, and many of the original pieces from the era were individually set, with prongs. Less expensive modern pieces will feature Marcasite that is glued in place.
Be familiar with the stones popular at the time of original manufacture. Tanzanite, Tsavorite Garnet, and fracture-filled Rubies are recent arrivals on the jewelry scene. Wonderfully matched round cultured pearls were only available at the very end of the Art Nouveau Era, and the presence of them in an early 20th century piece should make you take another look at the item. Modern round brilliant cut diamonds would rarely be seen in a piece from the Art Nouveau Era, and newer cutting styles such as Princess Cuts and Radiant Cuts are clearly indicative of newer manufacture. Many newer styles that mimic the look of Art Deco pieces may feature these newer cuts. The Calibre Cuts used on many items in the 1920s and 1930s are rarely seen today.
Please remember that anyone with the proper skill and dedication can recreate items that duplicate treasures of the past, with or without the intent to deceive. However, the costs of handwork that duplicates the originals also creates a very high price tag. Look at all aspects of a piece when trying to verify that an item is truly original.
We realize that pieces that show some style elements of the past may be truly wonderful and original creations, and you will find such pieces offered on Ruby Lane. However, we do not allow modern reproductions. Reproductions are attempts to make new copies of collectible items, most often with the intent to deceive. The following items are allowed, unless being portrayed as originals: replica pieces made by the same company that produced the original item and clearly marked by them in a way that denotes them as the newer edition; or museum replicas not made to be deceptive in that they are permanently marked as institutional copies. Items that are line for line copies of earlier pieces, or pieces that appear to be made with the intent of imitating the original item with no pretense of original design are considered by Ruby Lane to be prohibited reproductions.