Behind the Scenes
Research and Serendipity
The Identification of an Emerald Pendant-Brooch by Court Jeweller Heinrich Rose of Schwerin
by Lea Felicitas Döding
Hidden Stories and Historical Detective Work
s art historians specialized in antique jewellery, our procedure often resembles detective work. Antique pieces more often than not lack identifying hallmarks and maker's marks – and even if they don't, there remains the question of authenticity. Furthermore, components can be married, pieces can have been altered or even faked. Overall, an inquisitive look at the piece itself must be the starting point from which we can begin to deduce those things that interest us, and that separate the art historian's work from the gemologist's: when and where was a piece made, who made it, who wore it, for what purpose and for what occasion?
Not too long ago, I had a particularly fine piece on my desk, waiting to have its story coaxed from out of its high quality materials and elegant composition. It was a pendant-brooch featuring two large Colombian emeralds, mounted in gold bezels within a delicate frame of diamond-set and platinum-topped gold. The only hallmark it bore was the typical '585' fineness mark, which indicates a German origin from the late 1880s onwards. The pendant's appearance was concordant with both the German origin and time frame.
The first impression the piece gave me was that of being a jewel for evening wear, made during the first decade of the twentieth century. While the use of very fine gemstones in platinum marked it as a so-called Juwelenschmuck for the evening, its general composition loudly announced Belle Époque – the period between the late 19th century and the outbreak of WWI in 1914. The V-shape this piece showcases is loosely based upon the sevigné pendants of the 18th century, a highly popular reference during the Belle Époque. The use of knife wires – wires that look razor-thin from above, and mounted on which diamonds almost appear to float – had been in fashion since the 1870s and remained so well into the 1910s. Under a loupe, the diamond cuts, millegraining and platinum-on-gold technique also confirmed that the piece was authentic to the Belle Époque.
Now I was to put a more specific date on the piece. Certain things had already told me it likely did not date prior to 1900. Firstly, there were the materials: the use of platinum and round old European cuts even for the smaller diamonds, whereas 1890s pieces often still feature cushion-shaped old mine cuts, especially for the smaller stones.
Secondly, the distinct Art Nouveau influence to the topmost swirls told me the piece was likely to date later than 1900. Originally being somewhat subversive in nature, Art Nouveau shapes first appeared in plain, occasionally gem-set silver and gold jewellery during the very late 1890s, and only became popular in expensive platinum and diamond evening jewels a few years into the 20th century. For if one invested a small fortune in a jewel, it was supposed to remain wearable for a few years at the very least – and during the initial years of Art Nouveau, it was not yet a safe investment. When the style remained popular during the first few years of the 1900s, this confirmed to jewellers and buyers that it was reasonable to expend large sums on evening jewels with an Art Nouveau influence.
Thirdly, a lot of attention had been lavished upon the diamond-set pendant bail, while the brooch mounting was removable: this suggested to me that the pendant function of this dual-use pendant-brooch was thought to be just as significant as its brooch function. This was interesting insofar as pendants that were not lockets were much more popular during the 1900s than the 1890s – while dual-use pendant-brooches had been around during the 1890s, the brooch function was considered much more important. Thus, on its own, the refined bail was not quite telling enough – but in concordance with the other clues such as the materials, gemstone cuts, craftsmanship and design, it offered another little hint that subtly confirmed my feeling about the date.
Therefore, my assessment was that the piece had been created in Germany around 1905, and conceived for evening wear: this was what the piece itself could tell me, and this was how we offered it. The beauty and history of the jewel won its next owner over in a matter of minutes – it was sold the very afternoon we listed it. Little did I know that some months later, I was to stumble across even more information.
A Serendipitous Find
In my opinion, the intricacies of coaxing all sorts of information from antique jewels cannot be learnt from the study of modern books alone – to me, the most valuable sources are trade periodicals and old jewellery catalogues, which allow me to dig even deeper. Such sources allow us to trace trends, tendencies and innovations first-hand: not only by period, nor by decade, but sometimes even by year. Together with the countless pieces that pass through our hands at Hofer Antikschmuck, the close study of catalogues and periodicals has helped me tremendously to refine my knowledge.
Therefore, to aid our understanding of jewellery, we often add rare old catalogues and periodicals to our in-house library. Among them, one of my favourite sources is the Deutsche Goldschmiede-Zeitung (DGZ), the German goldsmith's magazine, which is richly illustrated and supplied with articles on jewellery fashion. One day, I was browsing the pages of the 1910 volume when I came across a black-and-white photograph of a piece that seemed very familiar... It was a pendant by Heinrich Rose, court jeweller in Schwerin.
The photographs in this issue of the DGZ were supposed to be representative of the works of makers of various larger German cities, and Rose likely sent in photographs of two of his most significant recent works.1
The emerald jewel I had listed some months ago was now already with its new owner, but luckily, we kept detailed photos. Excited, I opened them. And indeed – the piece pictured in the DGZ was not merely of the same design, but identical! The lower portion of the upper emerald's golden bezel showed a slight irregularity that is present in the photo, too: such is the beauty of handcrafted pieces.
Now, what mildly irritated me at first was the date: 1910. We can safely assume that at the time of publication, the emerald pendant was fairly recent. Why that irritated me? The thicker Art Nouveau-leaning curves at the top are stylistically more indicative of a date closer to 1905; by 1910, the most modern German pieces were even more delicate and abstract, filling their outlines with a multitude of the finest lace-like platinum wires. However, being made by a court jeweller, it made sense: for one thing, jewels created in the vicinity of the European courts have always been slightly more conservative. But even more importantly, the prestigious value of the emeralds demanded a design that was fashionable yet not too avant-garde.
Heinrich Rose: Jeweller and Purveyor to the Court
Through a serendipitous find, I had been able to connect the emerald jewel to a maker – but so far, I knew little about him except his name, and that he had been a manufacturing jeweller based in Schwerin. A little more research brought up yet more interesting details.
Heinrich Rose's appointment as court jeweller is verifiable from at least 1897, the year Frederick Francis IV, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and regent of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, inherited the throne. Rose remained in this position until at least 1916, but possibly 1918 (when the court was dissolved). Interestingly, he was not only jeweller to the court of Mecklenburg-Schwerin – in 1906, Grand Duke Frederick Francis IV even gave him permission to simultaneously bear the title of purveyor to the Dutch court, as granted by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. This connection may have arisen through Duke Henry of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, whom Queen Wilhelmina married in 1901, and who thus became Prince consort of the Netherlands.
Unfortunately, we know little about the items Rose supplied Queen Wilhelmina with, and whether jewels were among them. However, when Property from the Estate of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands was auctioned by Sotheby's Amsterdam in 2011, a silver beaker and silver tray by Heinrich Rose were among the lots, likely once purchased by and inherited from Queen Wilhelmina.²
Even though, or perhaps precisely because the history books do not yet have much to say about Heinrich Rose, who once supplied two European courts, it is nice to connect at least one actual jewel to the two known photographs of his work – after more than a century.
1Deutsche Goldschmiede-Zeitung, 13 (1910), p. 83 [Online accessible at Google Books, accessed November 2023].
2Property from the Estate of Queen Juliana, Sotheby’s Amsterdam, 14–17 March 2011, Lot 769 & 1481. [https:/legacy.gscdn.nl/archives/images/AM1100-SALE.pdf , accessed November 2023]
Lea Felicitas Döding
As an art historian, I am primarily interested in the material culture of jewellery. Who would have worn a piece, when and why? What was the cultural significance of certain gemstones and jewellery designs? These are the questions I attempt to solve for the Hofer Magazine, and which often lead me into the depths of jewellery history.