Revival Jewels

In Retro - The Glamorous 40's

RVJOComment

"Retro" jewellery as we know today, was a term coined by Francois Curiel, head of the jewellery department at Christie's New York in the 1970's to distinguish jewellery produced in the late 1930's to 1950's from contemporary jewellery. As the world felt the ravages and changes brought about by World War II, jewellery designers in Europe and America responded by creating jewellery that was bolder, brighter and more exuberant. To complement the austerity of wartime fashions and to assuage the sombre mood felt during the war, jewellery designs became more curvilinear and featured motifs that were feminine and lighthearted; a striking difference from the Art Deco style.

Late 1930's fashion. Women wore long sleek suits with feminine adornments such as bows and ribbons.
Image source: http://www.missmoss.co.za/2010/08/05/1930s-fashion/

1940's utility fashion during the war. Hemlines were shortened for ease of movement; due in part to the rationing of fabric.
Image source: http://glamourdaze.com/2009/08/1940s-fashion-womens-dress-code.html

Hollywood star, Joan Crawford in the 1940's. Coordinating skirt and jacket suits, large shoulders, and cinched waists were the order of the day.
Image source: http://www.instyle.co.uk/fashion/trends/1940s-fashion-a-decade-in-style-icons

 

Platinum was scarce and gold became the metal of choice. Materials for new jewellery were hard to come by and many people sent their old jewellery to be refashioned. Jewellers came up with ingenious ways to create a "bigger look for less" and commonly used highly polished low karat gold alloys, in yellow, rose and green; setting them with large colourful gemstones such as amethysts, aquamarines, citrines and topazes. As designers looked both to the past and future for inspiration, bow and ribbon brooches made a huge resurgence, albeit in sculptural and larger forms. Sunburst and floral motifs of the Victorian era were boldly reinvented, often applied to large clip-on earrings. Modern tank treads and assembly lines were translated into chunky bracelets that were ahead of their time. Whimsical charm bracelets, as well as cocktail rings in bombe and boule style were all the rage. Gold was manipulated in a multitude of ways; tubogas, woven, braided and coiled. The convertible jewellery trend - necklaces, bracelets and double clips remained highly popular well into the 1960's.

 

From L - R: An 18K Yellow Gold and Diamond "Moineau" Clip Brooch, by Rene Boivin, 1945 (Available at www.revivaljewels.com); A Retro Yellow Gold Necklace, by Fred, circa 1940's (Available at www.revivaljewels.com); Retro Amethyst and Gold Earrings; A Retro Diamond and Pink Gold Bow Brooch, by Tiffany & Co., 1940's (www.revivaljewels.com); An 18K Retro Yellow Gold "Tank Track" Bracelet, circa 1940's (www.revivaljewels.com)

 

Cartier, with Jean Toussaint at its helm, started moving away from Art Deco and began creating figurative work in the late 1930's. Always at the forefront of fashion, she was one of the first to bring yellow gold back in fashion. Toussaint felt that jewellery needed to be based on joy, and created a series of whimsical birds that Cartier became known for. Flamingoes and parrots were her favourite. In 1940, the house introduced a caged bird, a symbol of resistance against the Nazi occupation. Days after the liberation of Paris, a version with a bird poised for flight, with the cage door open, appeared in Cartier's windows. While touring in Africa, Toussaint came across panther and was inspired to create the first "Panthere" brooch for the Duchess of Windsor.

From L to R: The Duchess of Windsor wears her Flamingo Brooch, by Cartier; Bird in a Cage Brooch, by Cartier; A Gem Set and Diamond Brooch, by Cartier, 1940's; An 18K Gold Clip and Bangle-Bracelet Combination, Cartier, Paris, circa 1940; An Aquamarine, Diamond and Rose Gold Bracelet, by Cartier, 1940's; A Gold Panther Brooch, 1940's; A Gem Set Bird Brooch, by Cartier

 

Van Cleef & Arpels invented the mystery setting in 1933, and went on to introduce the iconic Ludo Hexagone - an articulated ribbon of small hexagones, in 1935. The design was mostly applied to bracelets and watches, and matching double clips and earrings. An incredible success, it was produced until the 1950's. Equally emblematic Van Cleef & Arpels pieces included the Pivoine Clip - a double clip in the mystery setting, the revolutionary Zip Necklace - first commissioned by the Duchess of Windsor as a tribute to the newly invented zipper; the Passe-Partout Necklace, and the Ballerina and Fairy collection of clips. The Hawaii Collections, a series of small clips and rings, with the patriotic colours of red, blue and white proved to be popular during and after the war.

From L to R: A Gold and Ruby Ludo-Hexagone Bracelet, by Van Cleef & Arpels and The Pivoine Clip; Spirit of Beauty Fairy Clip in Platinum Set with Rubies, Emeralds and Diamonds, circa 1944; The Passe-Partout Necklace in Sapphire, Ruby and Gold, which can be detached to be worn as bracelet, belt and clips; A Ruby, Sapphire and Diamond "Hawaii" Brooch, by Van Cleef & Arpels, 1940's; A Cadenas Watch, by Van Cleef & Arpels, 1935Ballerina Clip, by Van Cleef & Arpels, 1943A Drawing and Gold Zip Necklace, by Van Cleef & Arpels. The necklace is detachable into a bracelet, 1951.

 

Hollywood glamour was at its peak and actors and actresses were setting the trends and fashion for the masses, instead of European royalty as before. Jewels from American jewellers such as Paul Flato, Trabert & Hoeffer - Mauboussin, Verdura and Tiffany & Co. were worn by celebrities both on and off screen. To escape the war, many European jewellers had emigrated to America, setting up their businesses amidst the booming economy. The import of European jewellery making techniques helped American jewellers take their creations to a higher level.

From L to R: Joan Benett, wearing her collection of Flato clips; Doris Day, in a striped t-shirt, blazer over shoulders, wearing chunky necklace and a brooch,  Merle Oberon, wearing a necklace resembling the Passe-Partout by Van Cleef & Arpels; Joan Crawford, making a statement with a floral dress, wearing a large pendant and chunky bracelet; A Pink Topaz Flora and Fauna Motif Clip Brooch, Verdura; A Diamond and Platinum Double Clip Brooch, by Trabert & Hoeffer - Mauboussin, circa 1940; A Citrine and Gold Necklace, by Fulco di Verdura; A Suite of Jewellery, by Tiffany & Co., 1940's

 

Once the war had ended, jewellery reverted to a more understated and traditional look. Platinum was widely available again and the marketing work by De Beers and Harry Winston saw an increased demand for diamond and platinum jewellery. Jewellers continued developing their pre-war designs, and 1950's jewellery featured more spirals, textures and flourishes. By the swinging 60's, Retro jewels went entirely out of style. Today, Retro jewellery is still very much loved and collectible as they represent a unique and exceptionally creative period in history; and their versatility and timelessness lend an interesting twist to contemporary dress. 

 

Marianne Ostier and Ostier, Inc. - Rare and Collectible

RVJOComment

Between the late 1930s to 1960s, Ostier, Inc. competed amongst the greatest jewellery houses in Manhattan and produced some of the finest examples of fashionable mid-century jewellery that have become classic references for today's designs. The firm was founded by a husband and wife team - design virtuoso, Marianne Ostier (1902-1976) and Oliver Ostier, a third-generation court jeweller from Austria. 

The artist-turned-jeweller received her education at the Vienna Academy of Arts and Crafts. A painter and sculptor, she began to work in the field of jewellery after marrying her husband, Otto Oesterreicher. Following the Nazi annexation of Austria, Marianne and Oliver moved to the United States and started a firm under their new name, Ostier. Marianne displayed an extraordinary talent for jewellery design, and her creations, known for their organic textures and intricate random mountings, bore the influence of her artistic training. 

For her work, Marianne Ostier has been presented with many prestigious diamond design awards. She was the first life-time member elected to the Diamonds-International Academy, as well as the winner of the Diamond U.S.A Award for three consecutive years, and also received the Diamond International Award for design excellence. She represented the United States at the Art in Precious Jewellery Exhibition at the Finch College Museum of Art in 1966, which featured the work of the foremost designers of ten countries and included Georges Braques and Salvador Dali. The famed skin pin, pincushion clip, abstract and free-form jewellery have all been attributed to her. 

After the death of Oliver in 1969, Marianne Ostier felt the increased burden of running the business and chose to close the company. "With the passing of my husband, I have had to devote more and more of my efforts to administrative duties. These demands of my time can no longer be met without artistic compromise which to me is unacceptable." The entire inventory of the firm was auctioned by the Park-Bernet Galleries in 1969.

A Platinum and Diamond Tiara, designed by Marianne Ostier for Oesterreicher, Wien


Depicting the Albanian royal crest of the 'Ram of Skanderberg' atop a graduated floral vine, set with old European and single-cut diamonds weighing approximately 28.05 carats, accented by baguette diamonds weighing approximately 4.80 carats; circa 1938. With signed and fitted royal presentation box.
Sold for $225,000 USD (estimate $30,000 - 50,000) at Sotheby's NY April 19th, 2016.

Platinum and Diamond "Galaxy Brooch", by Marianne Ostier, circa 1955


The swirled, celestial design centering one round diamond weighing 5.26 carats, accented by additional round diamonds weighing approximately 35.00 carats, with marker's mark, circa 1955. With signed box.
Sold for $250,000 (estimate $45,000 - 55,000) at Sotheby's NY April 19th, 2016.

A Pair of Diamond and Cultured Pearl Earclips with Interchangeable Centers, by Marianne Ostier, circa 1950 


The angular openwork stars set with 90 baguette, whistle-cut, square-cut and triangular-cut diamonds weighing approximately 8.00 carats, centering clusters of round diamonds and cultured pearls measuring 7.2 to 6.0 mm., or a pair of diamond clusters set with 38 round diamonds weighing approximately 5.35 carats, mounted in platinum, signed MO for Marianne Ostier.
 

A Pair of Diamond Earclips, by Marianne Ostier (Available at www.revivaljewels.com)


Designed as stylised flowers accented by 157 circular-cut pave diamonds and mounted in platinum, circa 1960.

 

An 18K Gold, Platinum, Emerald and Diamond "Voodoo" Necklace, by Marianne Ostier

 

Designed as a textured chased fringe highlighted by seventeen cabochon emeralds and diamond-melee-set branches, approx. total diamond wt. 6.22 cts., lg. 15 1/4 in., signed Marianne Ostier.

 

A Pearl and Diamond "Torsade" Bracelet, by Marianne Ostier, circa 1955

 

Centering an elegant platinum and 18K white gold domed clasp featuring six parallel rows of circular-cut and straight baguette-cut diamonds within flared diamond borders (approximately 8 carats total weight), strung with 11 strands of 3-4mm black cultured pearls, hallmarked for Marianne Ostier, measuring 8 1/2 inches flat, twisting down to 7 1/2 inches on the wrist, recently restrung, American, circa 1955. The domed center segment hinges up and down to attach and release the domed center segment on one side.

 

Signature of Marianne Ostier (M. Ostier) stamped on a bracelet. Sometimes, they are also marked MO.

Mogok - The Valley of Rubies

RVJOComment

"Long before the Buddha walked the earth, the northern part of Burma was said to be inhabited only by wild animals and birds of prey. One day the biggest and oldest eagle in creation flew over a valley. On a hillside shone an enormous morsel of fresh meat, bright red in color. The eagle attempted to pick it up, but its claws could not penetrate the blood-red substance. Try as he may, he could not grasp it. After many attempts, at last he understood. It was not a piece of meat, but a sacred and peerless stone, made from the fire and blood of the earth itself. The stone was the first ruby on earth and the valley was Mogok".

Burma has long been associated with the most desirable rubies in the world. Within Burma (Myanmar), the most famed region is the Mogok Valley, or Mogok Stone Tract, in the Pyin Oo Lwin district, north-east of Mandalay: a small area of a dozen square miles, of which only a portion is gem-bearing. Meanwhile, there are a few more small deposits to the North of Mogok, such as Namya, that produce rubies with similar characteristics. Although it is uncertain when mining first began, accounts indicate that rubies have been sourced in the Mogok area for well over a thousand years. 

An Oriental miniature dated 1582, representing the Valley of Serpents, guarded by snakes. Eagles carry in their beaks pieces of meat in which gems are embedded, illustrating an Indian legend that appears in the tale of Sinbad the Sailor in the Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Illustration courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

Source: http://www.lotusgemology.com/index.php/library/articles/286-pigeon-s-blood-a-pilgrimage-to-mogok-valley-of-rubies

The earliest surviving records of mining activity began in 1597, when the King of Burma took over the mines. Burmese rubies, especially the ones from Mogok, have since sustained the longest renown. 

Mogok-type rubies typically possess a red body colour and red UV-fluorescence. In addition, they may contain tiny amounts of light scattering rutile silk and a swirl-like growth pattern. It is this combination of features which give these rubies their characteristic appearance.

  Rutile silk in a Burmese ruby. Photo: R.W Hughes. 

Rutile silk in a Burmese ruby. Photo: R.W Hughes. 

  Silk and fluorescence - a winning combination. Photo: Wimon Manorotkul

Silk and fluorescence - a winning combination. Photo: Wimon Manorotkul

The ruby can command the highest prices of any coloured gemstone. Per carat prices of top-quality rubies have been rising, and broken numerous auction results. When appraising rubies, four factors come into play - Colour, Clarity, Cut, Size and Weight. 

Colour is of utmost importance in determining a ruby's value. A saturated, pure, vibrant red to slightly purplish red colour is always desired. Orangey or purplish hues would rank lower on the quality scale. With certain stones that have a lighter pinkish hue, the stone would be called a pink sapphire instead. "Pigeon's Blood" is a term conferred on stones that display the finest examples of colour (slightly purplish to pinkish red, with a soft, glowing red fluorescence). 

A natural, untreated ruby will almost always have some form of inclusion. Overtly conspicuous inclusions that lower a ruby's transparency, brightness or durability will always have a detrimental effect on its value. Intersecting rutile silk can sometimes cause asterism, a star effect on the surface of the ruby when it is cut into a cabochon, lending a unique beauty and increased value to the stone, when the star is of perfect symmetry, with good length (reaching the edge of the gem) and a sharp visible lines for each star.

Rubies are commonly fashioned into ovals and cushions, as these are most suitable to its natural crystal shape. Other shapes such as round, triangular, emerald-cut, pear and marquise rubies can also be found, though these would be hard to come by in larger sizes and higher qualities. The appearance of red to purplish red in one crystal direction and orangey red in the other is called Pleochroism and would be one of the considerations made during the cutting process. The cutter would always try to minimise the orangey colour by orienting the table facet to achieve a more even reddish purplish tone, but rarely at the expense of stone weight loss. 

Fine rubies larger than one carat are very rare, and the price per carat increases exponentially for large size stones. Due to the higher density of rubies, a 1 carat ruby will always look smaller than a 1 carat diamond.

 

 

A Superb Ruby and Diamond Ring, by Etcetera (Price realised USD 3,3457,042) - Sold by Christie's 29th May 2012, Hong Kong (Source: www.christies.com)

Designed as a flowerhead, centering on an oval-shaped ruby weighing approximately 6.04 carats, within a cushion-shaped diamond petal surround, mounted in 18K white gold, ring size 6

With maker's mark for Etcetera 
Accompanied by report no. 59356 dated 3 May 2011 from the SSEF Swiss Gemmological Institute stating that the 6.04 carat ruby is of Burma (Myanmar) origin, with no indications of heating; also accompanied by an appendix stating that the ruby possesses extraordinary characteristics and merits special mention and appreciation. The ruby exhibits a well-saturated colour combined with an outstanding purity. The few inclusions found by microscopic inspection represent the hallmarks of the classical ruby mines in the Mogok valley in Burma (Myanmar). Its vivid and saturated red colour, poetically referred to "pigeon's blood", is due to a combination of well-balanced trace elements in the stone. A natural ruby from Burma of this quality represents a great rarity and the described gemstone with its combination of outstanding characteristics is a very exceptional treasure

Also accompanied by report no. 11050003 dated 5 May 2011 from the Gübelin Gemmological Laboratory stating that the 6.04 carat ruby is of Burma (Myanmar) origin, with no indications of heating and this colour variety may also be called "pigeon's blood red" in the trade; also accompanied by an appendix and note stating that Burma has long been recognized as the locality associated with the most desirable rubies in the world. Within Burma (now Myanmar), the most famed region is the Mogok Valley, or Mogok Stone Tract, in the Katha district, North East of Mandalay. These Mogok-type rubies typically possess a red body colour and red UV-fluorescence. In addition, they may contain tiny amounts of light-scattering rutile silk and a swirl-like growth pattern. It is this combination of features which gives these rubies their characteristic appearance. The natural ruby of 6.04 carats described in the above mentioned Gübelin Gem Lab Report possesses a richly saturated and homogenous colour, combined with a high degree of transparency. In addition, this gemstone has been spared of thermal treatment. Such a combination of characteristics is rare in natural Burmese rubies of this size

Six reports dated 8 November 2011 from the Gemological Institute of America stating that the six cushion-shaped diamonds weighing from 1.24 to 0.91 carats range from D to F colour, VVS2 to SI2 clarity

A Ruby and Diamond Ring (Price realised 245,000 USD) - Sold by Christie's 10th December 2015, New York (Source: www.christies.com)

Set with an oval-cut ruby, weighing approximately 4.76 carats, flanked on either side by a triangular-shaped diamond, ring size 5 1/2, mounted in platinum. Accompanied by report no. CS 71242 dated 29 October 2015 from the AGL American Gemological Laboratories stating that it is the opinion of the Laboratory that the origin of the ruby, weighing 4.76 carats, is Burma (Myanmar), with no heat enhancement

A Ruby and Diamond Ring (Price realised USD 127,564) - Sold by Christie's, 18th May 2016, Geneva. (Source: www.christies.com)

Set with an oval-cut ruby, weighing approximately 2.08 carats, between baguette-cut diamond shoulders, within a circular-cut diamond surround, ring size 6 ¾, mounted in platinum
Accompanied by report no. 80426 dated 4 June 2015 from the SSEF Swiss Gemmological Institute
stating that the origin of the ruby is Burma (Myanmar), with no indications of heating, and that the colour may also be called 'pigeon blood red'.

A Belle Epoque Style Burmese Ruby and Diamond Ring (Available at www.revivaljewels.com)

Centering upon an oval-cut ruby of circa 2.57 carats within a surround of millegrain set circular-cut diamonds and baguette-cut rubies, mounted in platinum, size 54 (14).

With report no. 16050134 dated 24/05/2016 from the Gübelin Gemlab, stating that the ruby is from Burma (Myanmar) origin and that no indication of heating has been detected.

 

Sources:

Information Face Sheet on Mogok Ruby, Gubelin
https://www.gia.edu/ruby-quality-factor
http://www.lotusgemology.com/index.php/library/articles/286-pigeon-s-blood-a-pilgrimage-to-mogok-valley-of-rubies
www.christies.com


 

 

Five Wonderful Reasons To Start A Fine Vintage Jewellery Collection

Yanni TanComment

1.    They Are Highly Wearable

While there are many different styles of vintage jewellery spanning more than an entire century, most creations by the great designers or maisons simply do not age. Even if you do not fancy decidedly antique-looking jewels such as cameos, or jewels that have acquired a patina due to age, there is still a wide range of vintage styles and choices. In fact, you will find that modern jewellery produced today still continue to reference designs created decades ago. Not only does a well chosen piece of vintage jewellery boost your style factor, you can be assured of not running into someone else wearing an identical piece!

From L - R : Scarlett Johanssen's Art Deco engagement ring would most certainly stand out in a sea of diamond solitairesCarey Mulligan wearing a showstopping pair of 19th century diamond ear pendants by Fred Leighton ; Margot Robbie wears the iconic Zipper necklace by Van Cleef & Arpels with aplomb;  Miroslava Duma accessorises a casual ensemble with cameo necklace and ringJennifer Connelly juxtaposes a contemporary cocktail dress by Balenciaga with an elaborate vintage necklace; Brooches can be worn in the most unexpected ways, shown here, pinned onto the shoulders and collar of a wool coatOlivia Palermo does casual luxe look with the help of whimsical brooches.

 

2.   They Are Pieces of Art

Most modern jewellery are mass-produced by machines in factories, and lack the exquisite handcraftsmanship displayed by older pieces. In the past, only the wealthy could afford fine jewellery, and therefore, small quantities were produced, meticulously and one at a time, by small ateliers of master craftsmen.

What takes today’s machines and modern craftsmen to churn out in days, probably took traditional artisans weeks or even months to create. Even so, there are many intricate and painstaking ancient metalworking techniques that simply can’t be reproduced by machinery. The differences in detail, appearance of volume, and personality between vintage and modern works are stark should you take time to examine them. Even modern high jewellery reproductions of old designs by some of the most renowned maisons in the world do not match the quality of the originals. 

Some antique and vintage pieces that have commanded the highest prices at auction. From L - R: An Onyx and Diamond Panther Bracelet, by Cartier. From the collection of the Duchess of Windsor ($7 million); A Magnificent and Rare Emerald and Diamond Tiara, formerly in the collection of Princess Katherina Henckel Von Donnersmarck, circa 1900 ($12 million); the Devant de Corsage Brooch, by Cartier, 1912 (over $20 million); a Belle Epoque Diamond and Emerald 'Eglantine' Necklace, by Cartier, 1906, belonging to Mrs Lily Safra ($1.168 million); the Hutton-Mdivani Jadeite Necklace ($27.44 million)La Peregrina – A Natural Pearl, Diamond, Ruby and Cultured Pearl Necklace, by Cartier, circa 1500, from the collection of Elizabeth Taylor ($11,842,500).

 

3.   They Feature Rare Old Stones

If you are a gemstone aficionado, you’d appreciate the fact that most of the gems used in luxury vintage jewellery come from old mines that have since been exhausted, and boast conflict-free origins. Some of these mines also produced the finest stones the world has ever seen, such as the Golconda diamonds of India, and the Mogok rubies of Burma.

The older the stones, the blockier and less highly faceted they are, because the more the gemstone cutters had to use rudimentary tools and their experience and sense of beauty to bring out the best of the stones. This means no two old stones are alike.

 

4.   They Make Great Conversation Topics

Fine estate jewellery that managed to survive the decades (or even the century) and have passed through different owners are certainly some of the best examples of the designs of their day. Fancy wearing a piece of jewellery with a secret message spelt out in gemstones, or a piece of iron jewellery, inscribed with the words 'Gold gab ich für Eisen' (I gave gold for iron). In fact, the greatest designers who ever lived also came from much earlier periods, such as the pioneers of today’s international jewellery maisons; René Lalique at the turn of the 20th century; Suzanne Belperron, Jean Schlumberger, Mario Buccellati and Fulco di Verdura in the mid-1900s. There’s no doubt that a well-made and signed jewellery piece will make an interesting dinner table conversation topic – be it their style, designer or provenance.

High on the wish list of every jewellery collector are a pair of these hammered 'manchette' gold cuff bracelets by Van Cleef & Arpels. Made famous by Jackie O and produced in limited numbers in the 70s, these bracelets have made record prices each time they were offered at auction, particularly the pair owned by Jackie O, which set a record of $128,500 at Sotheby's in 2011. A list of the auction records can be found here.

Considered one of the leading female designers of the modern age, Suzanne Belperron pieces are collected by those in the know. Her designs, once avant garde, remains relevant in today's fashion and does very well in the secondary market, often realising prices that soar 2 - 3 times above the estimate. This particular diamond bombe ring, created in 1956, achieved a result of $137,738 at Sotheby's Magnificent Jewels and Nobel Jewels in May 2015, almost 6 times above its high estimate!

 

Some of the pieces available for sale right now at Revival Jewels. 

Enigmatic Celebrity Jeweller, Paul Flato

RVJOComment

From L-R: A Portrait of Paul Flato, circa 1937; A Pair of Highly Articulated Emerald Bead, Diamond and Platinum Clip Brooches, circa 1936; The famous "Hand of God" Brooch belonging to Joan Bennett that was inspired by astrology and fortune tellers; The Feather Necklace, in Platinum and Diamond worn by Paulette Goddard and Lily Pons. 

 

Paul Flato was a celebrated jeweller in New York who rivalled the most established names in European jewellery from the 1920s to 1940s. Flato's creativity as a jeweller was unparalleled in his time and his unique combination of whimsy, style and proportion, and masterful renderings of a wide array of themes left behind a legacy of stunning "conversation pieces, which were sometimes wicked, always sophisticated and invariably smart". Navigating high society with flamboyant ease and charm, he built a strong following with his marketing savvy. Sought after by socialites, aristocrats and Hollywood stars, his sudden downfall following an arrest and imprisonment for fraud came as a shock.  A colourful personality, Flato has always been a source of interest to many, and his work remains highly collectible and valuable today. 

He was born in 1900 to a wealthy Texan family of German descent from the town of Shiner. From an early age, Flato was exposed to life in high society, and the finest things that money could buy. When he was 8 years old, a clandestine encounter with nomadic gypsies would spark off his lifelong interest with jewellery. Flato was fascinated by the jewellery that belonged to his mother and the female visitors who came to their house. He would examine the construction of the pieces, and how they were worn by women. After completing high school, Flato enrolled in the University of Texas as a pre-med student, and joined the Student Army Training Corps in 1918 (although he never went to war). Realising that a medical career was not for him, Flato decided to move to New York City in 1920 to seek a different future. Enrolling in business school at Columbia, Flato joined a fraternity and began socialising with the scions of New York's elite. 

Dropping out of Columbia a year later, and having been cut off from his family, Flato became an apprentice with Edmund Frisch, a Swiss jeweller and watch dealer, for a humble allowance of $15 a week. After several years of apprenticeship, Flato started his own business creating graduation gifts and engagement rings for his friends from Columbia. Success came easily and he became known as a specialist on Oriental pearls and was frequently featured in many publications. A million dollars worth of sales was achieved in a few short years. He had the help of a designer team, with him at the helm offering inspiration, ideas and setting themes. This team was made up of Adolphe Klety, George Headley and the Duke du Fulco Verdura. 

Despite his booming business, Flato often had problems with his cash-flow. He lived lavishly, beyond his means; while his wealthy clientele was tardy with their payments. Hollywood soon beckoned, leading to the opening of a second store in Los Angeles in the late 30s. Paul Flato jewels were worn by the brightest stars in Hollywood both on and off screen - Katherine Hepburn, Jean Harlow, Marlene Dietrich, Ginger Rogers, Merle Oberon, Joan Bennett, Vivien Leigh, Rita Hayworth, Greta Garbo and Lily Pons were some of the celebrities who wore his pieces. In 1941, an armed robbery caused the company to suffer severe losses and in the same year the bombing of Pearl Harbour slowed business down further, forcing it to be closed down. 

In 1943, a $60,000 diamond brooch that had been consigned to Flato went missing. The police were called in to investigate the loss. Worried jewellers who had consigned pieces with Flato turned up to collect their pieces, only to find that he had pawned many of them, using the cash to temporary stay afloat. Charged with suspicion of theft, Flato was forced to file for bankruptcy. He was sentenced to jail at the end of 1943. A year later, the diamond mysteriously turned up. According to the the tailor who had returned the diamond, he had been to Flato's office to collect a bill, and Flato had handed him the diamond saying it was a present to his wife. The tailor's wife, not knowing the value of the stone, had left it pinned to her dress in a closet for a whole year. The couple only discovered it was the missing diamond when she had taken the brooch to a jeweller to have it reset. Although the diamond was returned, Flato still had to remain in prison. 

Upon his release, Flato started a business with his daughter, creating costume jewelled vanity cases and pens. However, he was caught in 1952 for paying a fortune teller with jewels that were on loan once again, and this time he escaped to Central America, where he was caught. Eventually he served prison time both in Mexico and then again in the United States. Moving back to Mexico after his 5 year incarceration in the United States, Flato finally started afresh, opening a jewellery store in the Zona Rosa district of Mexico City, where he continued creating jewellery late into his 80s. At 90 years of age, Flato was reunited with his family in Texas, till his death in 1999. 

 

Standard Oil heiress, Millicent Rogers wearing a large heart brooch that she collaborated on with Paul Flato and which later became art of the "whimsies" jewels marketed under the Flato brand. The Millicent Rogers heart: A Ruby, Sapphire, Colored Diamond and Enamel brooch, by Paul Flato was auctioned at the Christies New York Magnificent Jewels sale on April 14.
Estimate $350,000 - $500,000. Realised $425,000

 

Verdura for Flato "Aquamarine and Ruby Belt Necklace", circa 1935.
Originally created for Mrs Cole Porter.
 
Verdura and Flato shared a similar aesthetics and because his designs were so well received, they were marketed as Verdura for Flato. In 1939, Verdura left to set up his own boutique. This necklace was offered by SIegelson's at the 2011 Basel World for $1.75 million.

 

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A Retro Diamond and Gold Feather Brooch, by Fulco Di Verdura for Paul Flato.
Designed as twin sculpted gold plumes, enhanced by single-cut diamond trim, tied with an old European and single-cut diamond ribbon, mounted in platinum and gold, circa 1935. 
One of the pieces offered in the Doris Duke Collection of Important Jewellery at Christie's, 2nd June 2004 for an estimate of $8000 - $10000. Price realised $23,900.

 


   Flato was especially attracted to hand imagery, which was a frequent theme in his pieces.
A Gold, Platinum, Citrine, Ruby, Diamond and Sapphire Clip-Brooch, by Paul Flato
The polished gold hand with five drop-shaped cabochon ruby fingernails holding an emerald-cut citrine weighing approximately 100.00 carats, the lace cuff set with round and single-cut diamonds weighing approximately .50 carat, accented by 15 calibré-cut sapphires; circa 1940. 

 

Gold, Diamond, Ruby and Enamel Sign Language Clip Brooches, circa 1938
Paul Flato had hearing problems and wore a hearing aid. He created a line of clip brooches called "Deaf and Dumb" as part of his "Say it in Jewels" series. Each sign represented a letter of the alphabet, so that the wearer would be able to piece together her name or monogram. 

 

Left: A Pair of Gold, Ruby, Diamond and Sapphire Shoe Brooches, circa 1938. Created for Ginger Rogers.
Centre: A Pair of Gold and Ruby Feet Brooches. Currently available at www.revivaljewels.com
Right: A typical display of the irreverent humour that can be found in many of Flato's pieces. An ink and gouache design for a brooch created for Marlene Dietrich. The actress suffered a broken leg on the set of filming The Lady Is Willing and was presented with a broken leg brooch when filming was completed. 

 

"Say-it-in-jewels" was an immensely successful line of jewellery that could be personalised with messages and monograms. 
A Gold 'I Love You' Bracelet, by Paul Flato, circa 1940

 

A Gold and Citrine Bangle Bracelet, by Paul Flato, circa 1940. Worn by Katharine Hepburn in the film Holiday. Part of the Important Jewels Sale at Sotheby's on the 2nd February, 2011 for an estimate of $7500 to $10,000. Price realised $36,250.

 

A Trip of Diamond and Sapphire Brooches, circa 1938. Configurable into a bracelet.

A Sugarloaf Cabochon Sapphire, Carved Emerald and Diamond Brooch, by Paul Flato, circa 1937

 

 

 

Sources: 

Paul Flato - Jeweller to the Stars, by Elizabeth Irvine Bray
http://university.langantiques.com/index.php/Flato
http://www.jewelsdujour.com/2013/08/doris-duke-her-magnificent-jewels/
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/luxury/jewellery/67984/jewellery-sales-paul-flato-heart-brooch.html
http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/lot.135.lotnum.html/2011/important-jewels-n08716
https://www.pinterest.com/stylehousedc/paul-flato-the-divine-desinger/