What’s old is new again
Powder compacts fell out of favour post-1950s with the advent of makeup products. For decades prior, though, they were a de rigueur accessory carried by every well-dressed woman of style. Made in the 1930s and designed as a grand piano, the black enamel model seen on page 1 was once owned by Montreal pianist Ellen Ballon, who made her New York debut in the early 1900s at the age of 12. Yet, you don’t need to be a child prodigy to enjoy using it today. The figural novelty repurposes nicely as a nifty paperweight, or remove the powder puff and powder screen and use the empty compartment to store your favourite flavour of Chiclets-type chewing gum, vitamins, or OTC pain meds. If you’re in the audience at a piano recital or jazz fest, it’ll be okay for Diana Krall or Chantal Kreviazuk to covet its dark enamel beauty, as the diamond-set ‘EB’ monogram catches the eye. The piece is unsigned, but the bonus feature is the fitted brown suede pouch stamped Black Starr & Frost-Gorham Inc., New York.
Pocket watch fobs could make a great keychain ornament. Fox and dog motifs were often incised on carnelian bases, such as the Victorian ‘Tally Ho’ design from the 1880s. It’s easy to find the house keys at the bottom of those capacious handbags that weigh us down, especially returning home after hunting for a bargain or two.
A graceful lorgnette can be retrofitted with replacement optical lenses, either suited for powerful magnification”¨or prescription. The Great Gatsby’s Daisy Buchanan might have lolled on a button-tufted chaise lounge, gesturing languidly with her lorgnette, her other hand occupied with a refreshing bourbon-splashed mint julep. F. Scott Fitzgerald described his original “golden girl” with the “silvery voice,” so the yellow gold daisy chased motif is perfect for today’s movie fan who identifies with her as a heroine.
Instead of heavy, odour-masking lavender oil, a favourite light floral bouquet or woodsy or citrusy scented perfume can saturate the interior cotton swatch beneath the perforated grille in a vinaigrette pendant brooch, gently wafting about one’s person. Something from Dior or perhaps Shalimar from Guerlain. The advent of modern hygiene—deodorant and copious amounts of readily available hot water—does, of course, render the original invention moot; the delicate sensitivities and sensibilities of the gentry no longer have to be protected from the aromas of the unwashed hordes. This fine example of a chased 14-karat gold bow brooch suspending a locket of cut-cornered rock crystal front and back probably didn’t start life together, but it’s been a successful long-term marriage. Dating to the Victorian era, the Queen herself had an affinity for things Caledonian and would have approved of the motif, a Scottish thistle and English oak leaves.
A potential gift doesn’t have to be more than 100 years old to look the part. An unmounted shell cameo plaque carved with a scene depicting Botticelli’s famous portrait of ‘Primavera’ captures the antique style and mood, though it was carved in the 1970s. The design has fine detail in the folds of the draped clothing, hair and tracery in the leafy forest background, plus beautiful depictions of three Graces, muses, warriors, the winged goddess, Psyche, and a cherubic Eros, with his tiny bow and arrow. It measures nearly 2.5 by 3.5 in., and could perch upon a miniature easel on a fireplace mantlepiece. In the region around Naples, Italy, there’s still a sizable industry of artisans carving out fine-quality cameos in classic designs, such as the one seen to the right signed by Nino Ammendola.
Craft store staff and picture framers will share ideas for displaying items that might be more fun and interesting to hang on your walls, rather than body. Framed shadow boxes from Michaels or Ikea are made even more useful with those practical jeweller’s double pins.
If you keep your giftware selection general, anything and everything can fit the novelty category. It’s a useful philosophy to practice, since the non-pigeon-hole category expands infinitely. Not everything has to live up to its official designation. Change it up and charge it up. Add it to your gift-giving wish list. That list is infinitely changeable.
Ron Dupuis is a gemmologist and graduate jeweller with 32 years’ experience in the international auction market. He is president and CEO of Toronto-based Dupuis Fine Jewellery Auctioneers and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.