In this post, I’d just like to discuss this rolled gold phoenix locket from my personal collection and breakdown how we can evaluate it.
There are several clues which help:
The first prominent clue is the fact that it has a maker’s mark from S & B Lederer & Co. This was a company founded in Providence, Rhode Island in 1878. They later operated from Fifth Avenue in New York City. They produced gold plated and silver jewelry of good quality. They used a variety of signatures including S.B.& L, sometimes with an inverted triangle and sometimes with a star. They eased operations circa 1931 so we know this piece is from before 1931 and after 1878.
The style of the phoenix motif (created with repoussé and chasing, probably using a machine stamp) itself is very ‘Art Nouveau’. The phoenix and mythical creatures in general were popular motifs in the Art Nouveau era. However, it is the more the recurrent whiplash motif which genuinely place it as in the style of Art Nouveau. So we know that it is at least after the date of 1890, when Art Nouveau first came about and it is likely to be from before 1920, when Art Nouveau styles ceased to be the height of fashion (and we know it is not a replica because of the marker’s mark).
There are other clues to look at. The barrel clasp on the necklace is indicative of a piece from before the 1940s, as after that date necklaces were made with the circular clasp we are familiar with.
Another clue is the rose hue of the gold. Rose gold was very popular in the Victorian era. The gold actually tests as 9k rolled gold or gold fill. This places it after the date of 1844 when rolled gold was first introduced to the USA (I will discuss rolled gold more in a future post). The fact that it is 9k rolled gold suggests that it from the Victorian era as 9k was very common in mid-priced jewelry like this. But the biggest clue is that it has no hallmark for the gold purity. This places it from before 1906 as purity marks were required in the USA after that date, even for gold fill.
Some other clues to look at are the relatively large link size on the belcher or cable chain. It was likely that although the links of this necklace were machine made, they might well have been assembled by hand. As mechanization improved, chains became finer and had smaller links. The length of the chain (it is 17 inches long, by 1920 longer chains were in fashion) also suggest it is from the late-Victorian era, as does the relatively large size of the pendant itself.
The glass paste gems are in imitation of diamonds and diamonds were very popular in the late Victorian era. In addition, they appear to be foiled and possibly Swarovski Crystals, which place them after 1892. They are cut, rather than molded, which make them higher quality and also indicate that they might be Swarovski Crystals.
So, all in all, we can say that this Art Nouveau 9k rolled gold American locket and belcher chain with glass paste gems is most likely from between the years of 1892 and 1906. As they were slightly later in adopting Art Nouveau style in the USA, it is likely to be towards the later end of these dates.
ps This beautiful locket is currently for sale here.