What is more exciting to most women than a gift of jewelry? And- contrary to those upscale ads for diamonds- uniqueness is often more valued than price.
A micromosaic stickpin to compliment a business suit, a vintage hand set pin hand set Eisenberg Ice to adorn a black dress, or a piece of sentimental jewelry from the Victorian era, even though more modestly priced may show more thought than a modern piece.
Contrast the selections in a typical jewelry store with those offered by antique dealers. A jewelry shop offers more in the way of precious stones in all sizes and varieties, but the workmanship on a piece of Victorian jewelry can't be duplicated today. Some of the most beautiful and expensive Victorian jewelry is in the Etruscan style that uses a granulation technique to produce minute gold beads soldered onto the body of a piece. Fortunato Castellani is one of the craftsmen associated with this revival style, which has never been duplicated; any piece signed by him- even though they rarely contained precious stones- is priced in the stratosphere. Even the 19th century costume jewelry was set in intricately appointed gold fill or rolled gold.
Cameos of shell (mostly from Italy) hardstone or coral have remained universally popular for hundreds of years. There is a huge variety of styles and prices available in most antique malls and shops, everywhere from 1920s pins set in gold fill for around $30.00 up to beautifully mounted Victorian necklace and earring sets selling for thousands. Cameos of scenes, rather than the traditional female profile, are particularly interesting. Persian turquoise, garnets, carnelian, and coral appear in many of the Victorian pieces; lockets enclosing pictures or locks of hair are great gift choices for a sentimental lady. For the slightly near-sighted woman who declines to wear glasses, consider giving her a lorgnette or folding glasses on a gold chain- attractive, yet practical.
Art Deco period jewelry from the 20s and 30s included strings of amber beads and lots of pieces featuring marcasites, chrysoprase (a jade colored stone) and onyx. Long, dangling rectangular earrings complemented shorter hair styles and are still popular today. Costume jewelry became fashionable in this period, and the 'diamond' dress clips of rhinestones produced in this period look equally chic with today's clothes.
And, if you're in the 'money is no object' category, you might consider a diamond bracelet, often enhanced with emeralds, another favorite Deco stone.
Even the "hippie" jewelry from the 1960s is coming back in style, as are bell bottom pants. Some of the best known designers created ethnic pieces that are now very collectable. And, of course, nearly any piece of costume jewelry signed by names such as Carnegie, Haskell, Hobe, Coro, Bogoff, Weiss or a dozen others guarantees good workmanship and design.
Buying a gift of antique or vintage jewelry often takes more time than dropping into your neighborhood jewelers, but you'll find a fascinating array of jewelry out there. Many antique dealers are jewelry specialists and carry a small selection. The hunt for that special piece is sometimes part of the fun, and along the way, you may learn more about the period in history when the piece was first created. Who knows? It may start you on a whole new collection -Barbara Williams Sackett