Jewelery Gods of the early century

A friend recently gave me a book on " Hollywood Jewelry". In
this book are those wonderful pieces made by Van Cleef and
Arpels, Cartier, Flato etc, from the early twentieth century,
made in platinum with handfulls of precious stones- nah-
bucketfulls. Anyhow, I’m looking at all this superb
craftsmanship with my tongue hanging out in admiration of the
skill these jewelers had, and ask myself what it really takes to
produce this caliber of work not counting the money part of it.
Could someone enlighten my crushed ego and tell me some general
info. on say how many jewelers it took to produce one of those
diamond and platinum 1 inch wide bracelets from the twenties. Is
there one person doing only clasps and mechanisms and another
doing only setting etc.? I’m lookin for a way to feel better
about my very small steps in this field-some sort of reality
check from believing that there was this one guy sitting at his
bench with 1/10 the tools that I have producing those above said
pieces in an afternoon.

            Thanks for any reply,  Peter Slone

Peter, I saw an interview with the owner of Cartier once. The
interviewer asked her how long it took to make one of the famous
Cartier diamond leopard pins. Her answer has always stuck in my
mind. she said it takes a master jeweler one full year to make
one pin. enough said? Frank

Dear Peter, believe it or not, a lot of those 1" wide platinum,
diamond encrusted bracelets and the like were made by individual
craftsmen - and some are still being trained in that tradition to
this day.

(I hate this next part, it makes me feel so old…) When I was
apprenticed in the early fifties, I was fortunate to be
apprenticed to an English jeweller in the old Hardy Brothers
workshops. This might not mean much today, but Hardy Brothers
were the vice-regal jewellers in Australia and while I was there,
were appointed jewellers and silversmiths to the Royals.

Hardy Brothers brought a number of very talented jewellers and
engravers from England to Australia just after WW2. Each one of
these craftsmen could make anything from a diamond ring to a
tiara on their own, unaided by anyone but a diamond setter and
the final polisher.

Proud men, but wonderfully generous in sharing their skills if
the apprentice showed respect and a keen willingness to learn.
The jeweller who trained me was proud of the fact that he’d
learnt from a master who had worked for Cartiers. They insisted
on their title of Master of apprentice and took the
responsibility of training the neophyte very seriously. There
were a number of occasions when I was summarily reminded that I
wasn’t taking it seriously enough!

Looking back on it, I realise that it could be seen as
uncompromising in many ways, but the level of training justified
the wholehearted dedication that those master jewellers demanded.
I still love making fine jewellery, although it’s a while since I
made a diamond tiara. Now that I’m teaching as well as making, I
realise how much more I have to offer my students as a result of
those “old world” apprenticeship and journeyman years. The
satisfaction of showing and guiding my students how to make a
properly jointed bracelet, without compromising or diminishing
the most avant-guarde modernity of their own creative designing,
is wonderful. Time and time again, the knowledge of an old but
sound technique stimulates them to even greater heights of design
solution creativity.

Young jewellers’ enthusiasm for sound technique and skill is
heartening. Being a jeweller is a wonderful and important thing.
I like to make them aware of at least two things which are a
constant background to their skills:

The first is that in a world of mass production there is a great
hunger for the unique, hand-crafted item. Just imagine, I remind
them, if your car or your stove or even your toaster was made
with the same care and attention we give to making a piece of
jewellery, .

The second is to have respect for what they do. Perhaps
jewellery is the only individually designed, handmade thing that
many of us can still afford to buy.

What genuinely saddens me is the contemporary Gadarine rush to
mass production for the dubious benefits of a “global economy”.
The consequent diminution and loss of so many skills, whose only
fault is that they were time-consuming, is tragic. However, hope
lies in forums like Orchid where generous sharing seems to be a
point of honour.

Today the Internet, tomorrow - perhaps - the Matter Transmitter.
All we need now is for some brilliant scientist to create a
network of matter transmitter portals a-la-“Star Trek” and we’ll
all be able to flit back and forth for a bit of good
old-fashioned, hands-on, show-how! Feel good about your “small
steps”, Peter, that’s how we all get to where we’re going in this

Kind regards, Rex from Oz

Hi Rex, Tiaras are hot now you should give it another go. Rex
says:" I still love making fine jewellery, although it’s a while
since I made a diamond tiara. " Tell us more. I want to hear more
stories like these. Wish I had been there too. Stories are our
way of participating.


Rex, That post (the whole thing - not just the part I put here)
was one of the most inspirational pieces of writing to
crafters/artists I’ve heard in quite some time. Anytime you want
to give us all a pep talk, be my guest. I will cherish it
always. I printed it out and hung it in my shop for those times
when I’m feeling frustrated and wondering why I do this. - Oh,
and I want one of those toasters!

Mark Williams
Oregon, USA

Hi Rex, Many people complain about the cost, but, dental
restorations like the jewelry you describe are custom made and
fit only the person it was made for.


Skip Meister
Orchid Jewelry Listserve Member
N.R.A. Endowment &
Certified Instructor
in all disciplines
Certified Illinois D.N.R.
Hunter Ed, Instructor
ICQ 37319071
"No man’s life, liberty or fortune is safe…while our legislature is in session."
Benjamin Franklin

Dear Frank,

Ray Grobe the Master Jeweler I worked under apprenticed in the
30’s. The shop he worked in was called Kirchner & Renick ( I
think that’s the right spelling).This is the current company
(Kirchners) that manufactures Janell Russells Mother & Child
Jewelry. He said that there were jewelers, polishers, hub & die
cutters, tool makers and piercers in their shop. Each person had
a specialty and they made a great deal of fine jewelry for JB
Hudson Jewelers at the time.

TR the Teacher & student

Hi Calgang, and to all the Orchidists who responded to my
nostalgia-trip, thank you for your response. Like you, I’ve
decided, I’m a slow learner too. Here I am, forty five years down
the track, and I’m STILL learning. It’s funny, the more you know,
the more you realise you don’t know, and how one lifetime is
definitely not enough!

But at least I’m learning a lot more from my virtual friends on
Orchid - knowledge that I would otherwise never have had the
opportunity to discover. Thanks again, Rex