Book Reviews


Cheap Thrills in the Tool Shop: Inexpensive Equipment Options and Bench Tricks for Goldsmiths, by Charles Lewton-Brain. 1994. 80 pages. 8 illustrations. $24.95. (JCK Data Center HB-005) To order call (207) 767-6059.

Once in a while a master takes time to record the tricks amassed during a lifetime, although among jewelers this is very rare. Perhaps they are too busy. In any case, jewelers are notoriously secretive about how they do what they do and they are fearful of passing on their hard-earned secrets. After 25 years as a goldsmith and educator, I am convinced that vast quantities of tricks and techniques have been buried with the goldsmiths who used them.

But here comes Charles Lewton-Brain, a recognized master craftsman, opening his private notebook of tricks in order to save his colleagues, present and future, countless hours at the bench. Actually, Charles has made a career of researching, developing and sharing practical information for jewelers. And over the past few years he has spent those long winter nights in Calgary writing down what he knows about shortcuts, tools and special techniques. The result is this collection of nearly 500 tips and tricks, any one of which is worth the price of the book.

Organizing his storehouse of knowledge by tool and procedure, Lewton-Brain presents the avid jewelry worker with some real gems of information. Some are classical, yet heretofore unrecorded, tips such as recycling old files into scrapers, burnishers and punches. Some are his own, like using a small spray bottle of water to quench charcoal blocks after soldering, in order to extend their life.

Some tips are credited to other sources, like Doug Zaruba’s use of stretchy latex pulled over a small or awkward piece of metal to hold it in place while hammering. And some are just suggestions to try yourself, like mounting the carbide “flint” wheel from a disposable lighter onto a screw-top mandrel, as a freebie bur.

This unique book offers some great information, like using separating discs to score metal, making polishing laps out of cardboard and filing the very tip of your chuck key into the mini-screwdriver you can never seem to find when you need one. But my favorite is mounting a baby-food jar lid beneath a hole in your catch pan, then using various jars to catch and separate your filings.

With an emphasis on content rather than appearance, the simple, low-tech presentation of the book is hardly a problem for the brainful of information within – Alan Revere, Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts, San Francisco, Cal.; JCK Book Judge.


Collectable Clocks: Reference and Price Guide, by Alan and Rita Shenton. 1994, 3rd expanded edition. 480 pages. 84 color, 700 black/white illustrations. $69.50. (JCK Data Center JJ-057) To order call (800) 252-5231.

The clocks pictured, described and priced with English pound values in this book are mainly in the low to medium range in the area of collectors’ interest.

The 473 clocks shown in more than 700 views cover a wide range of types that normally do not turn up in the pages of Sotheby or Christie’s catalogs. However, the beginning collector would find strong appeal in many of them, such as those with automata, torsion pendulums of the 400-day variety, electrical mystery clocks, time recorders, articulated bell ringers, statue clocks of the Art Deco-Nouveau periods, gravity-powered, French tic-tac escapemented and night projection types.

A very attractive tall clock of Viennese origin of the 1899 period with fired enamel porcelain columns and painted scenes with similarly finished case brought 12,000 in 1983. It is the highest priced of any in the book.

There are chapters on marble clocks, bracket and shelf clocks, wall and anniversary clocks of many types. Each is expertly described with advice to a prospective buyer. Among the great variety of timepieces are some late 19th and early 20th century electrical clocks. The free-swinging mystery clocks by Guilmet are shown in a few models and valued at 2,200. One described as “incredibly ornate” was rated at 3,000.

Travel clocks and animated alarm and “Viennese” regulators of the mid 19th century with German movements are included, as are electrical clocks of the beginning of this century.

In all, this book is unusual in that, for the main part, it lists and pictures clocks which are particularly appealing to the new collector or those with more modest horological budgets. It is highly recommended because it pictures and describes so many appealing clocks not covered in other books or catalogs for collectors. For its size and wealth of information and priced at only $67 it should be considered a best buy. – Henry B. Fried, horological editor; JCK Book Judge.


First Impressions Introduction to Art: Carl Faberge, by Geza von Habsburg. 1994. 92 pages, 36 color, 17 black/white illustrations. $19.95. (JCK Data Center AA-046) To order call (212) 206-7715.

At first glance, one quickly responds, the world does not need another book on Faberge. Yet this inexpensive, high-quality book differs since it is published specifically to acquaint young readers with art.

The publisher already has released a series of other biographies of the world’s greatest artists – but this involves completely different media (metal and jewels). Because of its young-reader orientation, the book is easy to read. Usually there is only one photo per page, focusing on objects youngsters find appealing such as animals, flowers and people. Other photos depict families, factories and scenes.

This is a very thorough and detailed book, tracing Faberge’s earliest roots and ending when his work was disposed of after the Russian revolution. Technical explanations are informative and understandable. They describe all relevant aspects like the families, factories, materials, publicity, economic times and how he assembled his workers. It is fascinating to see how he often would use the most expensive materials in combination with inexpensive ones like copper, steel, pottery, wood, glass and even brick or stone.

It is likewise interesting to observe that because Faberge was so supported by the ruling, monied classes, he fell victim when their empires collapsed. Also of interest is that the pieces which were sold so cheaply in the depression 1930s have become invaluable investments today.

This book is like Faberge’s work – first class in all respects. It offers a small treasure to the young reader in hopes of making him or her aware of art besides that produced by painters and sculptors. – Mark Baldridge, Longwood College, Midlothian, Va.; JCK Book Judge.


Humboldt’s Travels in Siberia (1837-1842) – The Gemstones, by Gustav Rose, Translated by John Sinkankas. 1994. 80 pages. 11 black/white illustrations. $25.00. (JCK Data Center MR-010)

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was probably the most prominent scientist of his time and certainly well versed in what we would today call PR. He traveled widely and wrote about it. Moderately versed in all fields of nature (one could be in those days when people were less knowledgeable and one brain could encompass all aspects of nature), he was invited by Czar Nicholas I to look over some Russian resources and tell him what he found.

That he did, accompanied by a German geologist, Gustav Rose, and microbiologist Christien G. Ehrenberg. They crossed much of Russia to near the Mongolian border, an area now proving to be a rich mineral source for the new Russia.

Gustav Rose wrote an account of the trip, during much of which they also saw non-gem localities, in two octavo-size publications. From them Sinkankas has extracted and translated the gem-pertinent sections.

Following a long passage on amber, Sinkankas brings us to St. Petersburg where they saw fine specimens in the School of Mines. It is interesting to note that mention of “smoky topazes” gives tradition to this usage, a name still alive and well in Bangkok. He mentions also the Academy of Science collection, in which gem minerals were apparently not significant.

There also were private collections with familiar names – Cancrin, Kaemmerer and a Stroganov. They saw the Shah diamond and the Orlov in the imperial treasury. From St. Petersburg they went to Moscow, saying that the really scientific part of the trip commenced there.

My review could continue, but better you should read it yourself. Even if you don’t think it’s your kettle of fish, buy it and read it. Try it! You’ll like it! – Frederick H. Pough, Ph. D., Reno, Nev.; JCK Book Judge.


The Art and Craft of Jewelry, by Janet Fitch. 1994. 144 pages. 175 color illustrations. $17.95. (JCK Data Center IX-003)

This inexpensive, high-quality, how-to-book is loaded with creative ideas for a large variety of materials and techniques to make all types of jewelry. While many of the double-page, color photographs are beautiful, they are not for lovers of expensive gold and silver jewelry. Instead, they would appeal to a younger, fashion-conscious audience that is open-minded to art and what jewelry can be.

Even if you don’t like the end product, you can gain insight into a multitude of other directions. The book is loaded with ideas with which to make jewelry with materials ranging from copper wire to peach pits, from buttons to paper mache.

Six pages gloss over 40,000 years of jewelry history; two pages are devoted to design sources; two pages detail potential tools; and the rest cover materials and how to use them. When reading, it becomes obvious that the author has never attempted some of the techniques described, such as how to cut stained glass or cast metal.

The book introduction compares man’s original intentions to decorate himself with items from his immediate environment with what is promoted by the commercial jewelry world today. Our values and tastes have changed dramatically. The book goes on to document what our jewelry should look like based on the original intent, while today’s commercial jewelry documents the other extreme. Somewhere in the middle is a happy compromise, but it is always good to see both sides.

While I don’t particularly like most of the jewelry portrayed in this book, commercial jewelry can be equally insulting. At least, this jewelry returns to its roots, and sufficiently whets viewers’ appetitites and challenges them to create appealing and satisfying jewelry.

All things considered, this is a cheap investment for amateurs interested in pursuing new (or old) directions. It’s sure to spark interest, motivations and knowledge. – Mark Baldridge, Longwood College, Midlothian, Va.; JCK Book Judge.

ALL FOR $6.95

The Jewelry Engravers Manual, by Allen R. Hardy and John J. Bowman. 1994 reproduction of 1976 edition. 160 pages. 89 black/white illustrations. $6.95. (JCK Data Center BD-049)

Engraving predates nearly all other art forms and is so simple that it can be accomplished with as little as one tool. Someone on a limited budget can get started for less than the cost of lunch. For the price of a glass of wine, you can toss in this book.

Despite the passage of time and the development of technology, engraving hasn’t changed in centuries. Yes, there is machine engraving, but that is a completely different animal. One also can go high-tech and use power-assisted tools, but the techniques are still the same as using a simple wood and steel push-graver.

All of the basic techniques and a lot more are included in this classic text, originally published in 1954 by Allen R. Hardy and John J. Bowman, both of the Bowman Technical School. The book definitely has survived the test of time. It is just as useful today as the day it was written, a feat that not many technical books can boast.

The book serves well as a classroom text, as a guide for individual study or a reference for seasoned pros. Chapters are thoughtfully organized in a logical sequence, starting with tool preparation and then script, ribbon, Roman, block, old-English lettering and monograms, etc.

It is full of projects and exercises which add new skills and check progress along the way. The current Dover republication is identical to the very successful original. As probably the best value for under seven dollars in any craft, there is no excuse for not owning a copy and brushing up on your skills. – Alan Revere, Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts, San Francisco; JCK Book Judge.


Plastic Jewelry, by Lyngerda Kelley and Nancy Schiffer. 1994. 159 pages. 214 color photos, $14.95. (JCK Data Center CN-059)

This small paperback is loaded with full-color photos printed on high-quality paper, depicting scores of plastic jewelry. It contains a brief five-page overview of the evolution of plastic jewelry, defining types and techniques.

Initially, plastic was an attempt to duplicate more costly materials, but today many artists use it because of its unique characteristics, not because of its low price. Historically, that price drastically influenced its popularity, spurred on by wars and hard times. Queen Victoria inadvertantly assisted by permitting only black jewelry to be worn in her presence between 1861 and 1877 as she mourned her husband. Jet became the first beneficiary, but black plastic jewelry soon followed, again because of its low cost.

Seven more pages highlight sources, mechanical information and facts of interest. Until the 1920s, a plastic dough was made from natural horn (usually buffalo) ground up, heated and pressed into molds. Another concoction was Bois Durci, a mixture of sawdust, blood, egg albumin or gelatin dried, compressed and heated to form decorative objects. Other plastic materials were found in nature like gutta percha discovered by Malay natives.

A six-page price guide may assist some readers if they have pieces which are similar.

All things considered, the book is like plastic – limited, not first class, imitative, non-dimensional and inexpensive. But it still provides a little variety to one’s library, and would be of special interest to people who like plastic jewelry. – Mark Baldridge, Longwood College, Midlothian, Va.: JCK Book Judge.


Watches, Complete Price Guide No. 15, 1995, by Cooksey Shugart and Richard E. Gilbert. 1995. 1104 pages. 6000 illustrations $21.95. (JCK Data Center NW-005)

The latest edition tops last year’s by 54 pages. Some show advertising, contributing in their own way to information. Text pages, though thinner, are of glossy stock, providing more distinct photos of watches, yet maintaining a manageable thickness.

Comparing the contents with last year’s edition, we find extensive re-editing, new features and much revision of current values.

Among the new material is an upgrading of the many marks found in gold-filled watch cases. The full page of solid gold marks remains the same as last year’s.

In pages devoted to “Market Report 1994,” the authors state that pocket watch activity continued strong and that highly-jeweled railroad watchers showed an increase in value. American keywinders also appreciated, due to diminishing availability. Foreign watches and older verge watches also rose in price.

Patek Philippe, Assmann, Lange and other high-grade, complicated watches brought 30% to 50% above previous estimates. Wrist watches showed some rise over previous years.

The Swatch was soft in 1994; “collectors’ habits have changed.” The authors predict that 1995 prices should do well and advise the buyer to be bolder in bidding for better quality and scarce items, as these are finding ready buyers.

General information has been expanded, including a useful listing of word pronounciations; i.e., “Lelocle, lokel” and “repousse, reh-poo-say.”

Another page compares European terminology with U.S.A. derivitives.

This new edition, costing about two cents a page, is chock-full of carefully compiled and edited current information. – Henry B. Fried, JCK horological editor; JCK Book Judge.


Understanding Jewellery, by David Bennett and Daniela Mascetti. 1994 update from 1989 original. 385 pages. 836 color illustrations. $79.50. (JCK Data Center JJ-056)

A title as vast as Understanding Jewellery commands exceptionally high standards in scholarship, illustration and production. The challenge of coaxing a clear narrative from the political, economic and cultural history of the last two centuries is a task that would daunt all but the hardiest authors. It is a tribute to Bennett and Mascetti that they have accomplished their task so well.

The authors describe hundreds of pieces of jewelry by examining the relationship of fashion to times of social, political and economic transition. They draw associations between trends in the fine arts and the jewels being worn in the salons and fancy balls of the day. In this regard, any reader will be enriched as well as entertained by the wealth of information.

The authors bring many years of training and hands-on investigation to their enterprise. Both have worked at Sotheby’s auction house for more than a decade, and in that context have been brought into daily contact with some of what we might call “the jewels of the rich and famous.” Sotheby’s photo department deserves praise for its ability to capture the sumptuous colors of gems, enamels and metals.

A value range is presented in pounds sterling that any interested reader can easily interpret.

It is no coincidence that Understanding Jewellery is published by the Antique Collectors’ Club. This organization, which this year will celebrate its 30th anniversary, is devoted to enlarging the pleasure of antique collecting. Having recognized a need for improved documentation, historical research and pricing standards, the Club is engaged in an ambitious publishing program.

This volume, like others I’ve seen, sets that series on an elevated path. The production qualities are first rate: from design to reproduction to binding, these expensive books justify every dollar for the collector, the jewelry appraiser or the jewelry estate dealer. Understanding Jewellery is a collectable in its own right. – Tim McCreight, Maine College of Arts, Portland; JCK Book Judge.

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