Opal

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I don’t think I have ever opined on my affection for opals. I’m not exactly sure of the evolution of my fascination, but at some point I fell hard for opals. I was discussing this passion with Kim this morning. It may be the organic and individual nature of opals that fascinates me – each one with a different fire, a unique sensibility, hard to capture.

Opals are sensitive to shifts in humidity and moisture and one jeweler of antique gems told me that she is even careful about wearing them on airplanes as the shifts in altitude could cause cracking. I believe they are somewhat soft as gem stones go.

I cut my teeth on opal collecting teeth with the purchase of two necklaces, one from Australia and the other from New Zealand (both acquired via @murielchastanet_finejewelry) which appears to be one of the world’s natural El Dorados of opals, over a long period of time as they were significant indulgences.

Opals can be (generally are) very expensive, but my strings of opals can pass for nicely strung cheerful beads – circus beads I always call them, not calling attention to themselves unless you know what you are looking at. It is the endless variation and change in each light and against different colors that fascinates me, a never ending display, different each time.

Australian opals; Pams-Pictorama.com collection

The ring I am writing about today was purchased online right before I got sick with Covid. An IG dealer (@marsh.and.meadow) had previewed the ring and I asked for a heads up when it went on sale. The notification came while I was at work one night – in the middle of a set at Dizzy’s – and I bought it with having seen only one small photo and with no idea of the price! Absolutely no regrets – I was thrilled to have gotten it and I have nothing like it, nor am I entirely sure what it is.

Slices of New Zealand opals; Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Heather (aka Marsh and Meadow, whose daughter is named Opal incidentally) identified it as a boulder opal which I would say is very likely. When I research a bit I would also say a fire opal is possible as well, hard to tell and I welcome better informed opinions if any. Heather noted the setting as pre-1900, 10k gold – the doom of the stone .5″ from the setting. For me it appears to be an opal in formation, as if someone managed to catch it in the very act of becoming an opal, an entire world captured within, trapped in my ring.

This is the listing photo by Heather Hagans – a much better job than I can do!

Because I got sick immediately following buying it, the box sat unopened for a bit before I rallied enough to open it. What a treat! (Strangely I also acquired a very old, gold bracelet from Australia at the same time which also waited through my Covid period before being revealed. What was going on in my pre-Covid brain I wonder? More to come on this but I was on a bit of a jewelry tear – all extraordinary things though and some very old, future posts all.) I felt better immediately – the healing value of jewelry.

As some things do, it became an instant favorite and I have worn it several times a week ever since. I never tire of it.

I researched today and opals are formed by the evaporation of silica rich water over millions of years according to Mr. Google. The internet also informs that boulder opals (which evidently all originate in Queensland, Australia) represent serenity of the soul and actualization, but also success and rebirth. If it is a fire opal (mined largely in Mexico) it symbolizes a joy of the heart and a passion for the elements of life, as well as good fortune and success.

If I had to chose I would lean toward feeling the former. I slip it on frequently where it perches high on my hand and encourages day dreaming about that tiny internal opal world on my finger.

Manly Pleasures?

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This is a small, but curious item that wandered into the house with some incredibly interesting antique rings I purchased from a woman in the Midwest who goes under the moniker of @Witchyvintage, aka Paula Bates.

My Felix avatar on social media.

Paula (who is always @witchyvintage in my mind’s eye and ear, as I assume I am @deitchstudio to her, my little Italian Felix toy avatar her only image of me), has an Instagram account most notable in my estimation for really extraordinary vintage early American clothing.

There is something endlessly fascinating about seeing the shoes and dresses she presents for sale – some wearable and others fragile now and better suite for study. Sunbonnets that made the trip west, jackets with leg-o-mutton sleeves, capes and undergarments; cottons, silks and muslins.

The parade of boots she sells surprise me each time she posts them. Wear is evident on them, but they look remarkably well for having made the trip from the 1890’s. (My Nike spoiled feet scream in horror at the idea of wearing them, but they could easily be fashionable today.) I don’t need to own these (luckily for her there are others who feel different and she seems to do a brisk business), but I am addicted to looking at them and considering the lives these items have lived.

For sale on the Witchyvintage online store.

I have, on occasion, purchased jewelry from her, although less frequently than the folks in Britain I have written about (some of those posts here and here) or another favorite young woman in the Midwest who I have a soft spot for, @Marsh.and.Meadow, aka Heather Hagans.

During the shutdown period of the pandemic I found myself revisiting my interest in antique jewelry. Both because of its history (somehow objects with a past remind us that we have a future), and because buying it was putting a stake in the ground for the time I would start wearing jewelry again.

Ring purchased from Paula. I happened to have this screen grab from showing her which one I wanted. Lucky me, it came with this lovely box!

That time is slowly emerging now an my lapels are festooned with a collection of early 20th century insects, and rings sometimes adorn my hands again when I go out. A gold bracelet hallmarked 1895 sits from a vendor in Australia (@madamebrocante) on my right wrist. With a recent purchase of two rings (such indulgence! – I will write more about those another time after they have been fully considered for a bit), this interesting card was tucked in with a somewhat less compelling cabinet card shown below.

Cabinet card also included.

It is a bit larger than an average business card. Nothing is printed or written on the back. I can’t really imagine what purpose such a card might have served. And there is the obvious question of how is a woman’s hand reaching for a bird’s nest among flowers a manly pleasure? Am I missing some obvious or subtle Victorian symbolism? I love it, but it is a little hard to figure the guy who wanted to use this card.

As far as I can gather it is indeed a man’s calling card, although obviously lacking in a printed name – did they perhaps write their name on the back? Evidently, men’s cards were longer and thinner than women’s of the day, designed to fit better in a vest pocket. I especially liked the detail that if a caller left a card personally the right corner was generally folded down in as a way of denoting that the effort was made. A corner might be folded to indicate that he was there to see the entire family, and the litany of rules for unmarried women was intricate.

Kim and I both fell hard for this little item and we would like to find a way to get it and a few other of these tiny items up on our (very crowded) wall where we can admire them daily. Thank you Paula! A very nice bonus!

Contained

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have a long-standing passion for acquiring those things which might contain others. By this I mean I find it hard to pass up cabinets and boxes. This means I find great comfort in wandering the aisles of a certain kind of home goods store fantasizing about organizing my life (and never taking the time to do it), however it is antique versions that are like catnip to me.

In the past I have written about a large, Krak-R-Jak tin on my home office desk which contains cards awaiting their eventual destination (that oddly popular post can be found here), one that contained Nestle nibbles which moved to my mom’s house (post found here) and finally, on another occasion, I wrote about an antique display case which I purchased locally as part of a vintage haul which I wrote about here in 2019.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection, taken shortly after acquisition in December of ’19.

I recently had to control myself over a Instagram post for a nifty little wood and glass display cabinet, forcing myself to look around the apartment and focus on where exactly I thought such a thing might fit. The joy of the thing that holds other things is that it holds the enticement of greater organization as a bonus. Not only this nifty object, but it will improve your life. (Now you get a real glimpse of how my mind works.)

Of course, not all boxes and containers are created equal and some really do serve said function and others sort of sputter and fail in the attempt. The failures really could produce several posts of their own. I went through a period of thinking that tins (not tin boxes which have worked well actually) were a good storage idea. Turns out they are not – always a bit hard to open they lack the easy access that turns out to be one of the hallmarks of happy and frequently used storage. They tend to look nice scattered around however.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Does it go without saying that one of the reasons storage appeals is because I own so much stuff? And live in a small space?

Recently without really focusing on it I have begun to acquire antique boxes for my jewelry. I own several jewelry boxes (including one wooden one that was my grandmother’s which my mom found and had refinished for me many years ago) and many of my rings and smaller pins live in a nice, but rather common faux leather travel box I would date from the forties I picked up somewhere in a bulk box buy I don’t quite fully remember. I have my sister’s jewelry boxes although I don’t use them regularly and instead store things in them. They do not quite work for me.

Corbin Cat Trays which hold my jewelry! Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Rings, necklaces and earrings that came in boxes tend to stay in their boxes, although there are a few exceptions for pieces worn very frequently. (I refer here mostly to the “before time” when I wore and regularly rotated through my rings during the work week. My ring and jewelry wearing has not yet nearly reached pre-pandemic levels. I don’t think I have worn a bracelet in more than two years. My gold bangles languish. The healed broken ring finger still rebels against my wedding band.)

For all of this I have to admit that my most frequently worn jewelry lives in a series of dishes and piles in an unholy mess on my dresser which needs to periodically be set right.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

A few months back an amethyst ring (birthstone birthday gift to myself) I bought on Instagram came in a lovely antique box – not its original one but an ancient purple one that it nestles in nicely. I like the way it snaps open with the click of a tiny mother-of-pearl button.

Family engagement ring trying out this vintage box this morning. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Recently, @therubyfoxes (aka Mia) was running an IG sale and I purchased this nice ring box above (I had just missed a group sale of several while I tried to figure out where exactly to find said sale – sometimes I think I am of less than average intelligence about such things!) and a lovely little travel case. I will need to decide which ring in the box and which items will find a home in the case. (Not only did Mia have to send a video instruction on opening said box, but further instruction once it arrived. The good news is that once I get the hang of things I do tend to remember them. I clearly did not inherit the mind of my maternal grandfather the engineer.)

Gabriella Kiss ring on top and two favorites from Muriel Chastanet, a favorite jeweler in Los Angeles, below. Insects flew in yesterday with the boxes!

And because it is nice to buy things to put in the boxes, I also purchased a coterie of insect pins from her which I really love and I can’t wait to decorate myself in the crawling and flying fellows for spring and summer. Some earlier purchases of butterflies and a celluloid dragonfly have been very popular on my lapels this spring already. (The butterflies, purchased from @wassail_antiques were evidently made by British POW’s during WWI and posts about those pins and the dragonfly can be found here and here.) Maybe the new case will be all insects.

Will more boxes lead to greater organization? Hard to say. I’m afraid that my track record implies otherwise, but it can’t hurt to try.

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.