Skip to content
Tiffany & Co. Revivalist gold and ruby snake bracelet, which sold for $32,000 ($41,920 with buyer’s premium) at Toomey.

Period jewelry led by Tiffany dominated at Toomey

CHICAGO — Historic works by Tiffany & Co. topped the inaugural sale of period jewelry at Toomey & Co. on April 16.  A group of late 19th- and early 20th-century jewels by the New York firm included a spectacular coiling snake bracelet that hammered well above its estimate at $32,000 ($41,920 with buyer’s premium). Complete results are available at LiveAuctioneers.

Dated to the period 1878-1893, this gold and ruby bracelet in the Archaeological Revivalist style is similar to others shown by Tiffany at Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The firm’s 1880 sale catalog suggests wearing the jewels “either on the wrist, at the top of a glove, or on the arm above the elbow.” Sold with recent certification in its original Tiffany & Co. signed box, the piece was estimated at $6,000-$8,000.

An Arts and Crafts pendant necklace designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany for Tiffany & Co. earned $24,000 ($31,440 with buyer’s premium). The gold, cabochon opal, demantoid garnet, and plique-a-jour enamel jewel dating to circa 1908-1912 was estimated at $12,000-$18,000.

Much like René Lalique, Louis Comfort Tiffany’s successful career as a glassmaker overshadowed his genius as a goldsmith. However, at the Louisiana Purchase Expo in 1904, he displayed the first 27 pieces from an oeuvre that has come to define the Art Nouveau in North America.

In contrast to the platinum, diamonds, and natural pearls that had made ‘white’ the dominant color of his father’s era, Louis Comfort Tiffany favored the ‘hand-wrought’ style as well as the exoticism he encountered while traveling in North Africa, which led him to choose gems for their painterly effects rather than their intrinsic value. George Frederick Kunz, head of gemology at Tiffany & Co. at the time, supplied the ‘homegrown’ materials that included tourmalines from the state of Maine, North Carolina moonstones, black opals from Virgin Valley in Nevada, Mississippi freshwater pearls, and sapphires from Montana.

Pieces made in LC Tiffany’s workshop from the period of 1903 to 1907 carry the signature Louis C. Tiffany, Artist. This necklace is marked ‘Tiffany & Co.’, indicating it was made after 1907, when all jewelry production had been brought in-house.

A second Louis Comfort Tiffany piece, a pearl, platinum, and gold brooch dating to the 1910s, hammered for $13,000 ($17,030 with buyer’s premium) against an estimate of $4,000-$6,000.

Estimated at $4,000-$6,000 and sold at $4,800 ($6,290 with buyer’s premium) was an enamel and yellow gold brooch in the form of a tiger-lily orchid that is signed by the little-recorded maker John Mason. Dating to circa 1890, it is contemporary with the hyper-realistic orchid brooches that were displayed by Tiffany & Co. at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle. They were made — often by electroforming the flower from life — under the aegis of artistic director George Paulding Farnham.

At the time, the subject matter was very topical. Orchid brooches paralleled a contemporary fashion for orchid cultivation, dubbed orchidomania, which began in the UK and had spread to the US by the end of the 19th century.