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Friday, April 30, 2010

Today's Word: BRUSH POT

A brush pot is exactly what you might think it would be. A pot (well, actually a cylindrical, unlidded container) for holding Chinese and Japanese artists' and calligraphers' pens and brushes. Most often they are of made of either pottery, or bamboo. Dating to around the 16th century, they are still being made for use today.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Today's Word: JUDAICA

Judaica is the term that categorizes all items related to Judaism. The obvious items would be those used in religious ceremonies, such as Hanukkah Menorahs, prayerbooks, Hebrew or Yiddish engraved items (such as spice boxes) and printed ephemera ... basically anything relating specifically to Jewish life and rituals. Often the term is misused when describing items related to to everyday life in Israel, such as national symbols, militaria collectibles, or Israeli advertising memorabilia. These are known as Israeliana.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Today's Word: LAMPWORK

The term "lampwork" comes from the process of making small objects from glass rods and canes, using a small torch, or "at-the-lamp." While this technique dates to the 1st century, it became a popular art form in Murano, Italy in the 14th century. Lampwork is the process used in the production of glass figurines, trinkets, Christmas tree ornaments, and beads. In the mid 19th century France, lampwork was applied in the production of paperweights.

Today's Word: DELFT

Delft (Delftware) is the blue and white pottery made in and around Delft, as well as the tin-glazed pottery made throughout the Netherlands, from the early 16th to the 18th century. While the Dutch had long been admirers of imported Chinese blue and white porcelain, they only began producing Chinese patterns in the early 17th century, when imports to Europe were suspended due to the death of Chinese Emperor Wanli. From the mid-17th century, Dutch potters began signing their work with monograms and factory marks.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Today's Word: CRYSTOLEUM

The crystoleum (chromo-photograph) was basically an albumen photograph placed face down on a concave glass and the paper backing removed, leaving only the emulsion stuck to the glass, which was then made transparent by using a wax or oil, and when only the outlines were visible, the once-photo was partially hand painted. Another curved glass was placed behind the first glass (and the partially painted picture), and larger parts of the painting were then filled in on the second glass. This double-glass painting created an almost 3-D image. Crystoleum-making was popular in England from the second half of the 19th century till World War I, and while many were produced, only a few survive.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Today's Word: FERRONIERE

A ferronière is a band worn across the forehead, often set with a single center stone. Why is it called a "ferronière"? Well, it seems that a 15th century painting (attributed to Leonardo da Vinci) of an unknown woman (who is wearing a jeweled band on her head) was eventually named "La Belle Ferronière" in the 17th century, and that's how the headband got its name.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Today's Word: FOB

There is some confusion as to what a fob actually is. Some are convinced that it's the chain that attaches to a pocket watch on one end and a to man's waistcoat on the other. Others will tell you it's the waistcoat pocket itself. And yet others will argue that a fob is the small (and often useful) ornament attached to the watch chain. Actually, it can be all three: chain, pocket, and ornament. The word originated in the mid-17th century, probably a derivative of the word Fuppe, a German dialect word for "pocket."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Today's Word: ESCUTCHEON

This strange-sounding word has many common applications that we are all familiar with, but perhaps never knew the name for: For one, an escutcheon is the shield shape where a heraldic coats of arms is often displayed. It is also the term used for the metal plate (not necessarily shield-shaped) around a keyhole on a door, a piece of furniture, or a box. Yet another escutcheon is the metal plate on a ship, inscribed with the vessel's name. A more familiar escutcheon may be the decorative plate around the faucet of your bathtub.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


A highly flammable plastic-like substance, Celluloid was invented in the mid-19th century, and used as an ivory substitute in making everything from picture frames and fans to toiletry items and jewelry. Ivory colored celluloid with striated lines, is known as "French Ivory." Celluloid is still used today to make items like ping-pong balls and guitar picks. You can test celluloid by rubbing it. It should give off a distinctive camphor odor (like mothballs).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Sassanid jewelry was made during the last dynasty of the native rulers (the Sassanidae) of ancient Persia - from 224-642 AD - during the Sassanid era, and for two centuries thereafter. One of the more popular types of jewelry of the period was the intaglio seal, etched with animals, monsters, and birds, and set into swivel rings.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Believed by the Indians to bring good luck, elephant hair was a popular material used as inlays in rings and bracelets in the 1800s. In England of the latter part of the Victorian era, these rings became a popular jewelry item for men.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Today's Word: FINIAL

Finials in architecture are ornamental elements that decorate the top or corner of a structure. While originally used purely for ornamental purposes, such as at the tops of bedposts and chairs, or on flagpoles, smaller finials are also used to serve practical purposes, such as the decorative screws that hold lampshades on lamps, or as ends of curtain rods which keep curtains from sliding off.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Today's Word: INGOT

An ingot is usually a pure metal (most often gold, silver or steel) that is cast into a shape that would make it easy for future processing. Ingots are manufactured by pouring a molten liquid into a mold and then freezing it. The freezing maintains the physical properties of the material. The most common shape is a rectangular bar, which has been used as a theme in jewelry - mainly charms. Pictured here is a miniature "ingot" set in ring with a diamond surround.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Today's Word: ORMOLU

Ormolu, from the French for "ground" or "beaten" gold, is a gold leaf used in gilding another metal. It is also the term used for metal itself (usually bronze) that has been gilded. The technique for producing ormolu are basically the same as that of silver-gilt, or vermeil (see earlier post). Ormolu (though the word came into use in 1830), has been around since antiquity.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Today's word: ROLLED GOLD

Rolled Gold is another term for "Gold Filled," and they are one and the same. Basically it's a layer (or several layers) of real gold covering a brass base. Often, if testing a piece of rolled gold jewelry, it may turn up as real gold, because the outer gold layer is gold. To get to the bottom of it, you have to actually "get to the bottom of it" by filing down the outer layer and testing the base metal with acid (brass will turn green, gold won't), but this should only be done on an inconspicuous part of the jewel, so that it isn't marred.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


A religious sect led by Mother Ann Lee, the Shakers came to America from England in 1774. Influenced by their ascetic religious beliefs, Shakers created functional, furniture and useful objects which were distinguished by their unadorned simplicity, innovative joinery, and high quality.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Today's Word: BELLE EPOQUE

The turn of the 20th century (the Edwardian era) saw style and elegance as one of its most important values. Platinum became the metal of choice, it's sturdiness enabling the creation of lace-like pierced pieces previously impossible to make. Jewelry was light and lacy, always striving to reflect finesse and femininity, and almost always incorporated diamonds and other gemstones. Sautoirs, consisting of long strands of pearls with tassels, a favorite of Queen Alexandra, became the rage. Beauty was everything. Therefore, it's not surprising that this period came to be known as the "Belle Epoque" (the Beautiful Epoch), which lasted until the eve of World War I.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Today's word: DAMASCENE

Dating to the middle ages, and the trademark of Toledo, Spain, for centuries, and still produced there today, Damascening involves the inlay of 18-24K gold into non-precious blackened metal to create scenes and decorative patterns - usually birds and flowers - and landscapes in Japanese Damascene.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Today's Word: MILLEGRAIN

In Millegrain (French: "thousand grain") decoration, little ridges are raised in the metal to form a "beaded" frame around settings of stones, or as decorative borders. First used in the 19th century, millegrain "settings" became popular in white gold and platinum jewelry of the art deco era.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Today's Word: SPELTER

SPELTER is a zinc alloy used in the manufacture of figures. It is a cheap alternative to bronze, but almost impossible to repair if broken. Used since the mid 19th century, it was a very popular in the manufacture of miniature figures, which were then cold painted (like Vienna bronzes), as well as items like candlesticks, and larger statues, which were often "bronzed" over the alloy's dark gray patina to look more impressive (and sometimes to deceive). If scratched, a bright silver color will be revealed under the dark patina.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Today's Word: IZNIK

Iznik is a tin-glazed pottery, brightly decorated in turquoise, green, blue, and red, originally made in Anatolia, and dates as far back as the 16th century. Prized by sultans of the Ottoman Empire, Iznik tiles were used to decorate the walls of old imperial and religious structures. Iznik is still being made in Turkey.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Today's word: BOOK CHAIN

Book Chain necklaces and bracelets were so called because the links looked somewhat like books. Although they took on many shapes, some rounded, some square and geometrical, the basic design was like that of books folded over connecting links. They were made in gold, pinchbeck, gold filled and silver, and often elaborately engraved. First appearing during the Victorian era, they remained popular throughout the Edwardian period. There have been many revivals throughout the decades thereafter.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Today's Word: HAMSA

Arabic for "five," a HAMSA is a five-fingered, hand-shaped amulet popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa. In Arabic culture, the Hamsa also represents the hand of Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. While its roots are in Islam, the Hamsa has also taken on significance in Judaism. The five fingers of the Hamsa represent the five books of the Torah, and the number 5 also relates to the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, "heh," which is the abbreviation of "Hashem" - one of God's names. Often engraved with prayers to protect the user from harm, the Hamsa is worn as jewelry, or is hung on the wall, to protect against the evil eye.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Have you ever wondered how they made those old porcelain figures with the lacy dresses? Well, in the mid 1800s, the first lace porcelain figures were being produced by Volkstedt, a soft-paste porcelain factory in Thuringia, Germany. These figures later became known as "Dresden Lace." So, how were they made? Real fabric lace was dipped into the porcelain and then fired in the kiln, where the fabric disintegrated, and what was left was the porcelain, which was now a delicate, brittle "lace." Since it was so fragile, it is very rare to find a figure with the lace porcelain entirely intact.

Friday, April 2, 2010


First appearing in mid-19th century Victorian England, GATE BRACELETS were designed to resemble the gates that surrounded estates and castles of the English countryside. Even the heart-shaped, working padlock imitated the locks on the estate gates. It was customary for a girl to give her beau the key to her padlock - a gesture conveying that he owned the key to her heart.