August has arrived—the final lap (or two) of the summer. And with it comes the month's birthstone, Sardonyx. Sometimes popularly called "Agate," sardonyx is created with alternating irregular bands of two stones: "sard" and "onyx." It is most commonly found with bands of white and red (or brown) and sometimes the stone is artificially colored to enhance or change the coloration of the banding. Sardonyx has always been popular in Scottish jewelry which itself (thanks to Queen Victoria) became popular throughout the rest of Victorian Britain and the Commonwealth. Ancient Egyptians, and, later, Romans, believed that sardonyx bestowed a protective quality upon its wearers. Medieval English midwives used sardonyx to help relieve labor pains. New Age adherents tell us that the stone...
From the windswept—and ethereally beautiful—West Coast of Ireland lies the region of Connemara, which the Irish writer Oscar Wilde noted for its "savage beauty." Then name "Connemara" is derived from the Irish for "Inlets for the Sea." It is also the home of Connemara Marble—perhaps the rarest marble in the world. It is mostly green in color (naturally), and sometimes includes streaks of brown or grey and flecks of black. Connemara marble is formed when limestone is heated, under pressure. Some veins are 600 million years old. Although ancient objects (like 4000 year old ax heads) were made of the stone, it was not commercially quarried until 1822. Though Saint Patrick's Day was yesterday, I wanted to squeeze-in this precious...
Reminiscent of Native American jewelry, this brooch and earrings suite is actually English from the Forties. Polished blue marble cabochons are fixed into late Art Deco settings. Click on the photo above to learn more about them. Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com). We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com). Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248
The icy chill is here—and with it the final month of 2019. Welcome, December, and your birthstone, the turquoise. Turquoise has been mined for over 5,000 years—in Persia, the Sinai Peninsula, Mexico and the American Southwest. Egyptians buried their dead with carved turquoise talismans carefully inserted within the deceased's body wraps. The Book of Exodus refers to the High Priest's turquoise encrusted breastplate. And, in the New World, archeologists have found ancient turquoise artifacts of the Zuni, Pueblo, Aztec and Mayans. To this day, Native Americans from the American Southwest use turquoise in their exquisite silver jewelry. Worldwide, turquoise has long been believed to be a holy or lucky stone. The cufflinks shown here are not turquoise, but enameled with turquoise (and white) colored...
The windswept island of Iona, off the Western coast of Scotland, has a long (and sometimes mysterious) reputation as a place of remoteness, solitude and tranquility. Saint Columba founded a religious community here after arriving from Ireland in 563. From here, Christian missionaries moved further into Scotland. The island is the home of Iona Abbey, still a locus of monasticism and spiritual retreat. And Iona is considered (by many) one of those places that just feels holy—imbued with an intangible sense of spiritual energy. The Scottish agate brooch, shown above, was made on the island of Iona. A red and white striped agate cabochon is mounted within a scrolling botanical setting of sterling silver. Please click on the photo above to...
While Arts & Crafts artisans did appreciate beautiful materials, fine and expensive supplies were never a prerequisite. Part of the Arts & Crafts philosophy was to let handsomely unadorned materials shine in their own simple ways. Wood grains, hammered metals and functional joinery often became the most important embellishments of otherwise simple pieces. The glazed ceramic cabochon, shown here, is just such an example. Though set into a sterling silver mount, most of this brooch's appeal lies in the lovely and mysterious glazing upon the cabochon—which is, of course, the handwork of a talented craftsman. It was made around 1910 and would look wonderful on the heavy winter lapel of a man or woman's winter coat. Please click on the photo...
Welcome, December, and your birthstone, the Turquoise. The sublime blue-green stone has been mined and used decoratively for thousands of years although the modern(ish) name “Turquoise” dates back only to the 1600’s—from the French word “Turques” (after the “Turks” who first brought the stone to Europe from Persia). Some of the oldest turquoise mining occurred in Persia […]
American sculptor James Earle Frasier (1876-1953) was known for his handsome sculpture—including Native American themes and wild animals of the West. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago as well as the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He was hired to re-design the Nickel, part of an on-going effort to "beautify" American currency. Despite objections from coin-operated vending machine owners (who thought the coin was too easy to imitate with "slugs"), Frasier's "Indian Head" or "Buffalo Nickel" was minted starting in 1913. Alas, the design proved difficult to "strike" crisply—and the bas relief design was prone to excessive wear from circulation. In 1938, after the 25 year circulation requirement was met, the coin was replaced by the Jefferson nickel. The cufflinks...
On this day in 1854, Irish wit, playwright, bon vivant—and hero—Oscar Wilde was born. He is best known for his brilliant (and successful) late-Victorian “society” plays which include The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Windemere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, and An Ideal Husband—plays which are still performed worldwide to this day. He wrote The Picture […]
Malachite has been used by artists and craftsmen for millennia—fashioned into jewelry (like the pin, above), carved into decorative objects, even ground-up and added to paints. It is found in the Russian Urals, Africa, Australia, Mexico and the U.S. Southwest. Archeologists have found evidence of the stone being mined in Israel over 3000 years ago. […]
One day ago, in 1878, José Doroteo Arango Arámbula was born in the small village of San Juan del Rio, Mexico. He is best known by his nickname, Pancho Villa, and was a key figure in the Mexican Revolution which began in 1910. Pancho Villa and his fighters supported Francisco Madero, an advocate of democracy […]
Shields serve a purpose: to protect its bearer from harm be it arrows, lances or clubs. Functional, utilitarian shields should be strong and light, making them portable and effective. The less embellishment they have, the more practical they become. With decorative dress shields, however, the goal is to impress—with wealth, style or military might. Dress […]
Until recently, England’s Queen Victoria had been the longest-reigning monarch in British history. Some of England’s greatest achievements (and changes) have occurred under a woman’s crown. Each of the “Big Three” (Elizabeth, Victoria and Elizabeth II) enjoyed long reigns and it’s fascinating to contemplate how much the world (and their country) changed during the course […]
I’m always hunting for cufflinks at LEO Design; they are the perfect “Handsome Gift.” But, as much as I enjoy hunting-down cufflinks, I don’t want to ignore the women. On my recent buying trip to England, I bought a dozen brooches—mostly Victorian and Edwardian pieces—which I hope will please the ladies (or the men who […]
Welcome, May, and your birthstone: the Emerald! There are only four precious gemstones—and emeralds are one of them, making them highly valuable. And because emeralds are so susceptible to flaws, a perfect emerald is extremely rare. For this reason, emeralds traditionally are graded with the naked eye (not high magnification) which creates a little extra tolerance for the beautiful green gem. Like other gemstones, color is paramount; great emeralds have a deep, bright color. But clarity is also very important—more so than with most other stones. Emeralds are a variety of Beryl and its green color is due to chromium "impurities" within the stone. They were mined in Egypt as early as 1500 BC. They've also been found in the New...
Top o’ the morning and a Happy St. Paddy’s Day to all! Though made in England in the 1920’s, this oval brooch is crafted of Irish Connemara marble from the windy Western coast of The Emerald Isle. Its sterling silver setting—edged with a sharp, rope border—adds a crisp finish to the more-unfettered, creamy randomness of […]
Straddling the Arts & Crafts and Mid-Century Modern aesthetics, falls this handsome brooch and earring suite, made in England in the 1940's. Blue marble cabochons are framed with bold silver settings. The result: jewelry that is both soft and striking. Click on the photo above to learn more about them. LEO Design's Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed. While we contemplate our next shop location, please visit our on-line store which continues to operate (www.LEOdesignNYC.com). Follow us on Instagram: "leodesignhandsomegifts" Follow us on Facebook: "LEO Design - Handsome Gifts"
I've bought and sold many Scottish agate brooches (and pendants and cufflinks) over the years. Usually, the compelling feature of any piece is the color, pattern and movement in the stone. In the piece shown above, however, the stone is actually faceted with a complex web of triangles. Not only does the beauty of the stone shine-through, but the light dances off of the face of the stone as it refracts off the various facets. This adds an additional dimension to a handsome piece of jewelry. Click on the photo to learn more about this piece—and see our full collection of jewelry while you're in the on-line store. More Handsome Jewelry tomorrow. LEO Design's Greenwich Village store is now...
Connemara is a village in beautiful, windswept Western Ireland. Oscar Wilde called Connemara "a savage beauty." Under the scrub brush, Connemara Marble is quarried. It was formed undersea some 600 million years ago and is amongst the rarest of marbles, due to its limited supply. Creamy swirls of the green and white stone have decorated the the mantlepieces of the wealthiest Irish aristocracy as well as the floor of Galway Cathedral and the walls of the Senate Chamber in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The pin above, hallmarked Dublin, 1966, is set in sterling silver and will take one back to the rugged coast. To learn more about this pin, please click on the photo above. More Handsome Jewelry tomorrow. LEO...
Throughout the summer and autumn, I've been traveling a lot, collecting "Handsome Gifts" for my customers' Holiday giving pleasure. Finding jewelry, it seems, requires a bit of kismet. I seem to stumble across nice pieces of jewelry while in the pursuit of something quite different. The piece above is no different. While perusing a case of silver flatware, I saw this lone brooch huddled in a corner. I didn't buy the silverware—but I did come away with the brooch! It was made in Victorian England and is hallmarked Chester, 1887. Though Prince Albert—Queen Victoria's beloved husband—had been dead for over 25 years, the Queen (and, thus, the Empire) was still in-mourning. While women (including the Queen) did want to wear...
I buy and sell a lot of jewelry, though it’s mostly of the male variety—and mostly cufflinks. So when I found this sweet sterling silver sand dollar pendant—made by a sculptor whose work I already carried—I thought, “Why not?” It comes with a silver chain and could be worn year ’round. Of course, it will […]
For at least the last 100 years, the adjective “Handsome” has been reserved only for describing men or masculine objects. Prior to that, it was a frequently-used description for a certain type of woman, a woman of sense and substance. A “handsome woman” meant a female who was good-looking, yes, but also healthy and strong—clearly not […]
Occasionally, while hunting for cufflinks, I come across a piece of women’s jewelry which catches my eye. As long as it’s affordable, more “handsome” than “fussy” and doesn’t involve sizes, I’ll sometimes buy it. The example above, Danish Modernist from the 1960’s, has cabochons of onyx, milky quartz and moonstone set into a 925 sterling […]
Before the age of instantaneous—and ceaseless—electronic communication, a token of loving remembrance was a welcomed and cherished gesture. The little pin, pictured above, was just such a gesture. Made in England in the first part of the Twentieth Century, it might have been given to a woman by her beau—perhaps to mark “the next step” […]
We sell a lot of men’s cufflinks at LEO Design. They are the perfect “Handsome Gift” for stylish men. They’re interesting, functional, and small enough to be easily transported. Furthermore, any man who collects cufflinks will appreciate a new, different and handsome pair to add to his collection. We’re asked—occasionally—if we sell jewelry for women. […]
Wrist watches were invented as early as the Elizabethan period; history tells us that Queen Elizabeth received a wrist watch from “Her Special Subject” Robert Dudley in 1571. It took a long time for them to catch-on, however, and it was mostly women who wore them—and few at that. Men continued to wear pocket watches […]
I collect a lot of cufflinks—and continued to do so on my recent trip to England (stay tuned, photos coming!). In the course of hunting for these cufflinks, the occasional piece of women’s jewelry catches my eye. It’s usually more “handsome” than frivolous and it often has a strong sculptural dimension. I’m especially fond of […]
The birthstone for January is the garnet, shown above in a 1920’s – 30’s Bohemian gold pendant. Although garnets—which encompass a range of different chemical structures—may be found in various hues, red is the color most-associated with the gemstone. The name “garnet” may have been derived (over the centuries) from the word “pomegranate”—and, indeed, a […]
We’ve just acquired a small collection of nice tie bars and tie tacks from the 1930’s through the 1960’s. Some have stones, like the moss agate option shown in front, above. $35 – $75. They join our existing collection of necktie accessories and cufflinks, always a Handsome Gift. Please come into the shop to see […]
In the period of the Victorian English Gothic Revival—during which time the above brooch was made—architects, masons, ceramicists, and (yes) jewelers incorporated the aesthetic vocabulary of the Middle Ages into the design of their crafts. The Gothic, in my opinion, was the high-point of the architectural profession. Except, perhaps, for The Gothic Revival—which may have […]
The Scots are so proud (and rightfully!) of their stones and they use them liberally in their jewelry and decorating. Shown above, a Scottish variegated red agate brooch made during the Edwardian period. This is but one of the newly-acquired women’s brooches now in-store at LEO Design. Please come into the shop to see the […]
Though not English, I did buy this from a British collector in London. It’s a Scandinavian Art Nouveau piece, not unlike Georg Jensen, where a carnelian cabochon lies atop a bed of stylized foliage. Handsome and feminine. This is one of several women’s brooches I collected during my most recent buying trip to England. Please […]
Boy, I love the Gothic. I think that Gothic building represents the high point of the architectural craft. And Nineteenth Century Gothic Revival is right up there as well. And so, naturally, I am drawn to the Gothic Revival in the decorative arts. Shown above, a quick snap of a piece I just bought: a […]
“Time and Tide wait for no man.” Whether the phrase is Geoffrey Chaucer’s or not, it happens to be true. Also true: tonight we must turn our clocks back. The watch, pictured above, is by Ole Mathiesen, Copenhagen. It is part of the Mathiesen range of timepieces carried at LEO Design. Please visit the shop […]
On this day in 1543, nine month old Mary Stuart was crowned Queen of the Scots. She had inherited the throne at the age of six days—being the only legitimate surviving child of her father, James V of Scotland—and began a life of tumult and heartbreak. Most of her childhood was spent in France, where […]