Rapaport Magazine
Legacy

A Jewelry History

By Phyllis Schiller


Victorian tortoise hair comb, circa 1860, decorated with high-karat gold and diamonds in fleur-de-lis pattern.
Like other famed estates that were built by America’s self-made industrialists — Hearst’s San Simeon in California, Rockefeller’s Kykuit in New York State and Vanderbilt’s Biltmore, located in North Carolina — the Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens in Akron, Ohio, is an impressive testament to how the wealthy of the day lived. Once home to F.A. Seiberling, the co-founder of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, and his wife Gertrude, and now a historic landmark open to the public, the Tudor Revival mansion has 65 rooms and extensive grounds. What it didn’t have was any of the personal jewels owned by F.A. and Gertrude, the pieces having been dispersed throughout the family. But thanks to a new exhibit, which opened in April, “Finer Things: Jewelry & Accessories from the 1880s-1930s,” a fascinating glimpse of the beautiful things that the couple and others of their strata in society would have owned is now on view.

PLAYING DETECTIVE

The array of jewelry on display showcases Victorian, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. To make sure the exhibit would accurately represent the type of gems the Seiberlings would have owned, exhibit curator Elyse Zorn Karlin, co-director of the Association for the Study of Jewelry & Related Arts (ASJRA) and publisher/executive editor of Adornment magazine, was able to “extrapolate from looking at photographs of the couple, receipts from where they shopped and the time period in which they lived to choose the type of jewelry they might have worn.” Karlin was able to immerse herself in material that revealed Gertrude’s interests and gave her a more detailed look at the family, the house and the descendents.

“I looked at the time period and what would have been stylish and what the couple could have afforded,” Karlin continues. “They traveled to Europe and to New York, so they were worldly, yet they lived in Akron, so she wouldn’t have chosen the same level of sophisticated clothing and jewels a wealthy woman in New York might have worn. And I looked at photographs of her family to see what her mother might have worn.” In addition to the jewelry, Gertrude’s hats, gloves, handbags, gowns and wedding dress are on display throughout the house. The items provide yet another clue for choosing the jewelry since, as Karlin notes, “Fashion is intimately related to jewelry and it helps to give a more complete picture of the time.”

Gertrude was married in 1895, at the end of the Victorian period. And coming from a wealthy family, reasons Karlin, she would undoubtedly have inherited pieces from both her mother and grandmother. There are also pictures of Gertrude wearing “what looks like a distinctive art jewelry pendant,” says Karlin. “I think she was well aware of the Arts and Crafts movement because she was an artist herself. And we know she bought from Horace Potter, who was an Arts and Crafts jeweler in Cleveland, Ohio.” Another clue to Gertrude’s tastes was a Louis Comfort Tiffany candlestick, further indication “she was artistically inclined,” which would be reflected in what she wore as well as how she furnished her home.

Choosing the type of pieces F.A. Seiberling might have worn was easier. “He wore a pocket watch, so we have watches and chains. I’m sure he wore cufflinks and studs, because they were going to fancy events.” Men’s jewelry in the exhibit also includes a 1920s men’s alligator desk set that features a mirror and a jewelry box.

Approximately 140 pieces of jewelry will be displayed in the music room, in cases, organized chronologically by design period. Some of the jewelry in the exhibit is on loan from supporters of the museum and several pieces were borrowed from Seiberling descendants. “One is a presentation watch that F.A.’s employees gave him — it’s in this beautiful box with a certificate,” points out Karlin. “Another striking piece loaned by a family member is a locket given to F.A. as a Christmas gift in 1918 that contained a lock of Lincoln’s hair. It was purchased from the J. E. B. Stuart collection of Lincolniana.”

ON DISPLAY

While there are wonderful unsigned pieces, the exhibit also includes some of each period’s well-known designer names. “We have a pair of Fabergé earrings, which are really beautiful. They are pink enamel with diamond roundels, circa 1900 to 1905,” says Karlin. A Victorian lava cameo of a cherub has an intriguing provenance. “It comes from the estate of Diana Dors, a British actress, who described herself as ‘the only sex symbol England has produced since Lady Godiva.’” Other Victorian jewelry includes traditional micromosaics and jet jewelry, as well as a Victorian gold-and-diamond decorated hair comb, shown right. There is also jewelry Gertrude might have worn with her wedding gown: a late Victorian star pendant with diamonds and a pearl in the middle, and a ring to match. 

Along with the diamond and platinum Edwardian jewelry is a classic pearl “dog collar” necklace, circa 1900, with a floral basket in the plaque. Included in a case of men’s and women’s watches from different time periods is an Edwardian platinum watch with diamonds on the chain by Udall and Ballou.

Representing the Arts and Crafts jewelry are a Guild of Handicrafts gold necklace and an Elizabeth Bonté horn pendant, a brooch by English jeweler Sibyl Dunlop, a plique-à-jour enameled cross by Mildred Watkins, who worked in Cleveland, and a ring and brooch by Frances Koehler, an important Arts and Crafts jeweler in Chicago. Also included are pieces by Boston jewelers Edward Everett Oakes and Frank Gardiner Hale.

Art Nouveau attractions, explains Karlin, include a “fabulous necklace and tiara set worked in plique-à-jour enamel with a peridot in the middle by Marcus & Company, circa 1910, and a gorgeous French Art Nouveau pendant watch, detailed with Limoges enameling with a diamond inset in gold.” Other examples are pieces from American Art Nouveau Newark jewelers like Unger Brothers and Richard Krementz, as well as, for the first time in public, floral jewelry by Gustav Manz. The latter, says Karlin, are an homage to Gertrude’s “serious” gardening skills and the magnificent grounds of the estate. The violet blossom brooch is mixed pink and yellow gold with diamonds; the chrysanthemum pendant is “chased” gold with dematoid garnets and amethysts and a crystal intaglio of a woman’s head, circa 1920.

“The minute you see the house, you understand what F.A. and Gertrude Seiberling’s lifestyle was,” concludes Karlin, “and the jewelry enhances your glimpse into the way they might have lived.”

 Finer Things: Jewelry & Accessories from the 1880s-1930s, at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Akron, Ohio, will run through October 7, 2012.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - May 2012. To subscribe click here.

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