Book Reviews

THE ART OF FRENCH JEWELRY

The Belle Epoque of French Jewellery 1850-1910, by Dr. Michael Koch et al. 340 pages. 258 color, 60 black/white illustrations. 1991. $105. (JCK Data Center EZ-001.) To order call (310) 343-9204.

Without a doubt, the goldsmith’s art reached its zenith in France during the second half of the 19th century. This was the period when romantic historicism led to the revolutionary and enduring Art Nouveau style. It was a time when technique, design, patronage and style converged to produce jewelry that would captivate audiences for a hundred years.

Packed with its 258 large color plates, this exquisite coffee-table book has two sections: a series of essays on the styles, artisans and importance of the period’s jewelry and a catalog of an exhibition at the Bayerisches National Museum that inspired research and resurgence of interest in Art Nouveau jewelry.

The eight essays document the history and significance of the period in academic depth. The catalog portion of the book displays color photographs of some of the most beautiful jewelry ever made, along with biographies of the period’s important goldsmiths and their hallmarks.

The jewelry represents the work of such luminaries as Alphonse and Georges Fouquet, Cartier, L. Gautrait, Frederic Boucheron, the Vever family, Louis Aucoc – the teacher of Ren Lalique – and Lalique himself, considered by many to be the ultimate master of Art Nouveau jewelry.

Refreshingly, there are countless lesser-known works of these artists as well as many previously unpublished works from museums and private collections around the world. The photos show excellent examples of such goldsmithing techniques as chasing, repouss, fabrication, casting, enameling, stone setting and granulation, each taken to its highest level of achievement.

In summary, this book is top-shelf all the way. For those who make, collect, deal, study or just admire fine period jewelry, The Belle Epoch of French Jewellery is a rare gem. – Alan Revere, Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts, San Francisco, Cal.; JCK book judge.

EVOLUTION IN EATING

The Rituals of Dinner, by Margaret Visser. 432 pages. 1992. $12.50. (JCK Data Center DN-005.) To order call (201) 387-0600.

In this totally fascinating book, Margaret Visser traces the rituals of dinner from their origins through their evolutions, eccentricities and meanings.

Table manners are as old as society itself. One way to understand them is to recognize they are a system of civilized taboos that came into operation in a situation fraught with dangers. They are designed to reduce tension and protect people from one another.

Visser roams throughout the historic and the modern worlds, stopping wherever she sees food being served to see how it’s done. She serves the reader a banquet of table customs from far-flung cultures.

The customs didn’t develop overnight. The fork, for example, took eight centuries to become a utensil employed universally in the West.

If you want to know the two types of cannibal society, why table manners are rituals, why feasts are given, why food is a preserver of racial identity, how a hamburger relates to a three-part meal where all references to companionship have been deleted – plus the origin of a thousand other table manners, rules and beliefs – read The Rituals of Dinner.

It’s wonderful food for thought! – Doris Nixon, Director of Educational Services, National Bridal Service; JCK book judge.

CLOCK REPAIRS

The Clock Repairer’s Handbook, by Laurie Penman. 176 pages. 301 black/white drawings. 1992 edition of 1985 original. $39.95. (JCK Data Center GI-025.) To order call (802) 457-1911.

This good book is a virtual reprint, even though the fine print mentions, “New Enlarged Edition.” It differs from the original in only a few paragraphs that have made room for some short new comment. The contents, illustrations, page numbers and two minor original errors have not been changed a bit.

When first published, it won excellent notices. Those who would like to read an original review might look into the March 1987 issue of Horological Times. The reviewer was the late Otto Benish, a discriminating expert clockmaker, who liked the book enough to declare: “This book should be included in every clock repairer’s library.”

Benish lauded Penman’s comments on lubrication, use of cleaners and a trouble-shooting chart. He questioned the use of carbon tetrachloride to clean platform escapements, yet he thought there was enough positive information to make the above quote his opening statement.

For those who have a copy, there’s no need to purchase this new printing. For those who don’t own a copy, the modest price, good illustrations and text make it a worthwhile addition. – Henry B. Fried, horological editor; JCK book judge.

BIRMINGHAM SILVER HISTORY

The Silversmiths of Birmingham and Their Marks: 1750-1980, edited by Kenneth Crisp Jones. 410 pages. 43 color, 300 black/white photos. 1981. $85. (JCK Data Center JJ-049.) To order call (800) 321-5068.

Behold a complete history of silverware manufacture in Birmingham, England, a major city in the annals of silverware.

The material is so well organized and illustrated that readers should feel that a competent historian has given them a complete tour of the city. The large pages make the many photographs particularly effective.

The book is divided into sections: “The History of Birmingham Silversmiths,” “The Organization of Management and Labor,” “Major Birmingham Silversmiths,” “Bullion Dealers and Companies of the 20th Century,” “The Maker’s Marks” and a glossary including decorative terms and techniques. The glossary is clearly illustrated with line drawings.

The book will appeal to silver-lovers of all types, including appraisers and collectors. It combines an authoritative account of the growth of Birmingham and its silver trade and gives readers the valuable means to identify the makers.

It brings us right up to present-day Birmingham, complete with a photograph and history of John Price, current president of Arthur Price, the largest manufacturer of silverware in England.

This important book will be a valuable contribution to the history of silverware. I highly recommend it. – Robert M. Johnston, R.M. Johnston & Associates, Baltimore, Md.; JCK book judge.

WRIST WATCH GUIDE

Modern Wrist Watch Price Guide: Retail Prices, Book 1, by Sherry and Roy Ehrhardt, Joe DeMesy. 116 pages. 1992. $25 plus $4 shipping. (JCK Data Center CF-039.) To order call (816) 761-0080.

The 2,000+ watches pictured and appraised in this identification and price guide represent the top-priced watches of 12 high-grade makers. In alphabetical order these are: Audemars-Piguet, Blancpain, Breitling, Cartier, Chopard, Concord, Gerald Genta, International, Patek Philippe, Piaget, Rolex and Vacheron & Constantin.

Each watch is presented with its name, features, code number and estimated value. The details of each watch are presented in a full page of author’s notes and comments. Included are some words of advice to collectors, among which is a statement that this book is the first to provide factory retail prices, which have appreciated 1125% in the past 20 years.

Other headlines include “Modern Watch Trading,” “Pawn Shops,” “Retail Jewelry Stores” and “Coin Shops and Shows.”

The end pages are lists of pocket and wrist watch production dates by serial numbers of well-known makers, American and European. Eight pages are devoted to an “Index to Vintage American and European Wrist Watch Price Guide Books 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and an ’87 update.”

Finally, a table of watch sizes, lignes, millimeters and inches is included. – Henry B. Fried, JCK Horological Editor; JCK book judge.

JEWELRY: PHOTOS, PRICES

The Paris Salons 1895-1914, by Alistair Duncan. Vol. I – The Designers A-K. 1994. 3000 black/white, 8 color illustrations. $89.50. (JCK Data Center JJ-054.) Vol II – The Designers L-Z. 1994. 300 pages. 2500 black/white, 2 color illustrations. $89.50. (JCK Data Center JJ-055.) To order call (800) 252-5231.

In the 20-year period that saw the end of the 19th century and the start of the Great War, European culture, manufacture, education, mores and economics underwent profound changes. Some were of liberation while others sewed seeds of unrest that would bear bitter fruit much later, but all observers agree that these two decades are pivotal in our understanding of modern life.

One lens that provides compelling focus on this turbulent, exciting time is the world of jewelry design, in which dominance moved to France. A systematic presentation of avant-garde work at four salons each year provided a structure by which the highly fashionable people of the day could chart their fortunes. And it provides for the jewelry historian and estate jeweler a unique opportunity to track the development of specific designers and jewelry houses as they sought to capture the imaginations of their very select audience.

Alistair Duncan, a consultant for Christie’s auction house in New York, has devoted years to the ambitious task of collecting the over 5,000 photographs presented here. He includes at the end of Volume II a list of more than 550 individual designers and manufacturing houses of the period with brief biographies. Scholars, collectors and dealers working in this time period will be tremendously aided by Duncan’s efforts. To spend an evening with these impressive books is to enlarge one’s understanding of the work, the times, and the trends of this important period.

The photographs are of very mixed quality, many being retrieved from poorly printed catalogs of the original salon showings. Far from a criticism, it is to the credit of the author and publisher that the images were captured as well as they are. We can only imagine that were it not for books like these, the documentation would have disappeared within the next generation.

At a cost of $180 for the two-volume set, these are not the books for a beginner. But for the serious appraiser or dealer in estate jewelry of this period, these are the resource books to own. It is difficult to imagine another work supplying more information, more images or a more comprehensive listing than this. Bravo. – Tim McCreight, Maine College of Arts, Portland; JCK Book Judge.