Improvement and Excellence

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is both a jewelry and personal Pam post. Pictorama readers know that I love old jewelry and these months at home have introduced me to many new sellers, primarily on Instagram, several in Britain. (For a few of those past acquisition posts you can read here and here!) However, my fondness for jewelry runs deep, all the way back to childhood, and over time I have acquired a number of pieces that have great personal significance. Not always, but frequently when I acquire a new piece, I have the symbolism tugging at the back of my mind. (My photos do not do any of these objects justice, but the best I can manage on a overcast Sunday morning.)

As it happens, the first of these medals was purchased in honor of my (February) birthday, in ’20, just weeks before the shutdown here in New York City. I was dropping something off at the jeweler and took a bit of time to paw through the trays they keep stacked in their glass counters. The jeweler I have used for years, Cluster, is down in what New Yorkers call the Diamond District, a few blocks of Midtown in the forties around Seventh Avenue. They are housed in a rabbit warren of offices and other establishments on the high floor of an anonymous office building. It is difficult for two people to be together in the tiny space allotted to customers at the front of their workshop which is walled off with glass.

Horse cameo ring, my collection. Made by Muriel Chastanet Jewelers.

Two generations of the family worked there and I most often speak to the daughter, Robyn, although her father likes to come over and inspect what I am wearing or bringing in and comment on it. He is particularly fond of a ring I wear often with antique horse cameo. It is beautifully made by a friend on the west coast (Gizelle Strohkendl, who along with her sister Charley runs the Westwood Village shop, Muriel Chastanet, in Los Angeles which can be found on IG @murielchastanet_finejewelry and I have written about them before in a post here) and her dad likes to take it and study it a bit. If I am wearing my mother and grandmother’s diamond engagement ring and wedding band (they reset the diamonds in the engagement ring years ago) he takes them and cleans them while I wait and talk to Robyn. Right now they have a string of pearls I dropped off to be restrung in March of ’20. My timing at the office has been off to retrieve them and as a result Robyn and I have chatted on the phone a few times.

My collection. Pams-Pictorama.com.

Robyn showed me the little medal which proclaims Improvement. I had never seen one of these and I fell in love with it instantly. These are school medals, 9k I think, and I believe from the first half of the 20th century. I am sure their history is quite straightforward and maybe a reader can inform me, but I have been unable to really find out much about them. And may I just say, who wouldn’t try to improve or excel with promise of such a glittering reward?

The Improvement pin is engraved with B.A.R. Jan. 1910 on the back. It has a makers mark which says, Lambert Bros NY at the bottom. One wonders who B.A.R. was and what area precisely s/he improved in so dramatically? The jeweler, Lambert Brothers, was 100 years in business from 1877-1977. According to the jewelry site, Kaleidoscope Effect:

Quality jewelry lasts, according to one of the oldest jewelry companies, Lambert Bros NYC founded in 1877 by Italians August Lambert and his brother. Later, Henry L. Lambert (1905 – 1983) headed his father and uncle’s business. Noteworthy, before joining the family company, he had studied gem cutting and jewelry design in Amsterdam and Paris.
The company’s store located at Third Ave at the corner of 58th street, sold bracelet watches, medals and a variety of fine jewelry – cigarette cases, pearl strings, rings, bracelets, cufflinks, brooches, earrings, chains and necklaces. Creating their jewelry pieces, the designers of the company used precious metals – gold, platinum, and sterling silver.

Using the name of the company I found one or two similar examples of medals, the sterling one for a firefighter was on the Worthpoint auction site and claims to possibly be haunted. (This long and interesting story can be found on their site here.) However, I did not find any similar school medals.

From the Worthpoint auction site – said to be haunted?

I have been looking for others in a casual way. Some similar items came up on IG, but if I remember correctly they were unengraved which didn’t quite suit. I asked one or two dealers to keep a weather eye for me and to give me a heads up if they found any for sale. However, I ultimately stumbled on my second one, Excellence, on eBay recently. I purchased it from a Canadian seller and vaguely assume it hails from the area originally. Unlike Improvement there is no maker’s mark on the back of this medal, just E.N. 1945. There is a tiny symbol at the bottom like an open book, but I don’t know what it means. This one is a tad more grand (Excellence being a bit more grand than Improvement perhaps?), but I especially like them together and look forward to having them on a lapel some day.

My collection. Pams-Pictorama.com.

Jewelry to me has always been worn to convey a message, either to myself or others. Usually the message is a bit less direct – my horse cameo ring is for good luck, my mother and grandmother’s rings to remind me constantly of the smart, great women in my life, an enormous bee is to celebrate industriousness and ingenuity – although Gizelle assured me that it is indeed a Queen bee! Symbols are important.

Ring from my collection. Made by Gizelle Strohkendl, Muriel Chastanet Jewelry, LA.
Music in sterling showed up on Etsy today while researching this! A further acquisition?

When I bought the first medal I was congratulating myself on my progress at work. My first year there was very difficult, the second year better but still very hard. It was halfway through the third year that I finally was feeling the swing of things and could see the early efforts I put in place paying off. It was my own little award to myself for the hard won changes I had wrought.

It is somewhat ironic that the medal that would show up next would be Excellence. As I look back on the more than 17 months and all accomplished I decided that I deserved Excellence as well.

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