Victorian Virtuosity

“Simple” is not the word to describe Victorian jewelry. Elaborate gem-studded pieces were de rigueur for the high-fashion Victorian woman, and portraits from the time show female subjects draped in multi-strand necklaces, bracelets, pins, rings, and hair jewelry.

Fashioned by lesser hands, many of the elaborate jeweled pieces had a clunky or overblown feel, but those designed by the masters were marvels of jewelry art. One such master was Carlo Giuliano.

Giuliano, a Neapolitan, came to England with his wife and two sons around 1860. Details on his sponsorship are sketchy: For many years it was thought that he had been guided to London by Robert Phillips, an English goldsmith and jeweler, but the prevailing belief now is that he arrived as a result of the overtures of the Castellani family of Rome. The Castellanis were renowned jewelers and goldsmiths, with bases in Italy, France, and England, and experts now believe that Giuliano moved to London to manage their branch in Soho.

Giuliano soon set up his own workshop, quickly making a name for himself as he began to develop working relationships with many of the important London jewelry retailers. “It’s quite an interesting period,” says Michael Bell of S. J. Phillips Ltd., a London antique shop founded in 1869 that specializes in European silver and antique and estate jewelry. “A lot of these jewelers worked for different people. They were very versatile. I think they were a bit like musicians—they traveled around, and where they were required, they worked. If someone wanted a particular type of thing done, then they got a workman in to do it.” Giuliano is known to have worked with such jewelers as Robert Phillips, Harry Emanuel, Hunt and Roskell, and C.F. Hancock of Bond Street.

By 1874, Giuliano had gained enough momentum to open a retail shop under the name of his two sons, Carlo and Arthur Giuliano. Carlo Joseph and Arthur Alphonse also were talented jewelry designers—Arthur was particularly renowned for his artistic gifts, including musical composition—and they continued the business after the death of their father in 1895.

Giuliano’s will was unusual. Although he left a considerable estate for his family, he also stipulated that each of his devoted customers be allowed to choose an item from his stock worth up to £50 ($76). In addition, he left 17 of his grenaille—Giuliano’s term for granulation—pieces to the English government.

The will also instructed the director of the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) to select £200 ($305) worth of Giuliano’s enamel jewelry. The museum displayed the pieces—around 26 in all—in a glass case until 1899, when they were stolen in a smash-and-grab robbery. The items were never recovered, and some sources believe they were melted down for their gold content. In 1900, Carlo Joseph and Arthur gave the museum seven pieces of their father’s work to help fill the void, and the museum purchased another necklace for £250 ($382).

Presents from the past. Jewelry designs of the 1800s were infused with the past, and many designers—particularly Fortunato Pio Castellani, who was also an amateur archaeologist—were inspired by ancient jewelry. Castellani imitated the designs of Roman jewelry he observed being excavated from tombs in the early 1800s, and his family owned a large collection of antique jewelry pieces to which they could refer.

The period’s so-called “archeological” jewelry style features complicated designs with exacting detail. Pieces incorporate dangling amphorae shapes, intricate detailing, and—in a major jewelry design development—granulation. Fortunato Castellani’s son Alessandro shared his father’s passion for ancient jewels, and after studying the granulated gold designs of the ancient Etruscans, he was driven to discover their techniques. He studied and experimented for years and even transported a group of Italian craftsmen still working in the old style from their remote village workshops to work with him in Rome. His efforts paid off, and Castellani jewelry became renowned for its exquisite, exacting use of granulation.

Through his association with Castellani, Giuliano also used granulation in his designs, but his work was usually distinguishable from Castellani’s—although not always. “Sometimes you find a piece that you can’t tell,” says Bell. “Usually you can tell Castellani and Giuliano apart—but sometimes, just to make fools of us all, they both made things in the style of the other, and you’ll see a piece that ought to be Castellani that’s made by Carlo, and the other way around.” Thank goodness for hallmarks!

Florals and colors. “Around 15 years ago, I bought a butterfly—it had no stones, just an enameled butterfly—signed Carlo Giuliano the father. And I found it to be something that really got me into it,” says Joseph Murawski, owner of Joden World Resources, a fine jewelry retailer/wholesaler in Grove City, Pa. “Giuliano did some things that almost no one else did. He was the epitome of the best.”

As archeological jewelry styles began to lose fashion, and tastes turned more toward Renaissance-inspired designs, Giuliano excelled. In contrast to Castellani’s historically faithful style, Giuliano had a looser approach to jewelry design. Rather than produce exact copies of designs that had come before, he preferred to create adaptations—to adjust his antique-inspired pieces to suit current tastes and individual customers.

“He was very famous for his Holbeinesque enamel jewelry,” says Murawski. A neglected Renaissance technique that Giuliano revived to great popularity, enameling is a delicate and specialized procedure that allows for infinite varieties of color and texture, but it requires exceptional skill in execution. One of the main characteristics of the “Holbeinesque” (referring to Renaissance artist Hans Holbein) look is a border of stylized floral motifs colored in bright enamel, surrounding a large center stone. Giuliano’s work in this style is remarkably delicate and feminine: Using gold as a base, he combined tiny sections of enamel with diamonds, pearls, and a variety of colored stones such as moonstone, amethyst, topaz, ruby, garnet, and zircon.

“Giuliano used stones that not everyone else did, and combinations of stones that were unusual,” says Bell. “He used zircons quite a lot when they weren’t used a lot in jewelry at that time.” With the exception of diamonds, Giuliano preferred cabochon-cut gems for his work, and he also favored polished stones such as carnelian or lapis.

The quality of his jewelry was exceptional—in fact, the backs of his pieces are often as exquisitely worked as the fronts—and Giuliano’s reputation for excellence was widespread. His customers included successful merchants, royalty (including King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra), and even artists. The Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones commissioned a brooch of his own design in 1885. The brooch—consisting of a bird set in small stones of coral and turquoise and resting on a bed of green-enameled olive branches—remains to this day in the possession of Burne-Jones’s descendants.

Toward the end of the 1800s, Giuliano’s jewelry was widely imitated, albeit with results not nearly to his exacting standards.

Passing the torch. After his death in 1895, Giuliano’s sons Carlo Joseph and Arthur continued to create exceptional pieces in the Giuliano fashion. Pasquale Novissimo, a talented Italian-born goldsmith and enameller who had been part of the Giuliano staff since 1874, also stayed on. “The quality of work was as good under the sons as with the father,” says Bell, who sees many Giuliano pieces come through S. J. Phillips. “In my opinion, I’ve not seen a piece that couldn’t have been made by either father or sons. There’s always the exception that proves the rule, but I haven’t seen it.”

Novissimo died in 1914, and that year turned out to be the last for Giuliano’s. While Carlo Joseph’s date of death is unknown, Arthur took his own life on the last day of August 1914. His motive remains a mystery, but the difficulties in maintaining the business after the outbreak of World War I, combined with a turbulent domestic situation—Arthur had recently separated from his wife of 20 years and taken up residence with another woman—may have had an effect. The business closed not long after, and its remaining stock was sold at auction the following year.

A collection of Giuliano pieces is on display in the Joden World Resources retail shop in Grove City, a small town in Pennsylvania near the Ohio border. “We use it for kind of an unusual purpose,” says Murawski. “We took the concept of having a museum case, as we call it, in which the most featured pieces in the case are Giuliano. We felt that if we offered something that unusual, a very highly sophisticated customer would drive to come and see us—and it has proven to be true.”

The presentation case has resulted in some Giuliano sales, but its main purpose is attraction. “We have this little phrase: ‘You can go to a museum and look … or you can come to us and touch,’ ” says Murawski.

“Generally, [Giuliano’s work] has always been sought after—it’s always been at a slight premium, a little more expensive than other people’s pieces,” says Bell. S. J. Phillips does a substantial trade in Giuliano and currently has between 12 and 20 pieces in stock. The shop is always on the lookout for more, though, because, according to Bell, “We sell it as soon as we get it.”