Monthly Archives: April 2012

Rene Lalique and Calouste Gulbenkian

They were friends for 50 years.

Perhaps that’s why Gulbenkian (right) obtained diplomatic immunity and became the Iranian ambassador to Pétain’s Vichy government in 1939. On October 30, 1939, 79-year-old René Lalique rushed to his factory in Wingen, Alcase. The glass-making fires were out. He tried to save his priceless glass molds, but the German soldiers told him, “No one goes in here.” Devastated, Lalique went back to Paris.

The molds were saved, perhaps with the anonymous help of the Iranian ambassador?

Calouste Gulbenkian was born in Üsküdar, a municipality of Constantinople, which is now Istanbul. His trading companies gave the West access to Middle East oil, and he became a one of the world’s most famous art collectors and philanthropists. Lalique gave him 80 pieces, including hair combs.

The Lalique Collection housed in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, Portugal, is a testament to life-long friendship. In addition to the Anemones, the museum also has

Two lovers kiss. c. 1902. Ivory.

Various insects rest on leaves. Ivory, enamel, and horn, c. 1902.

Bees polinate a marigold. Enamel and Horn. c. 1902

Diadem of ivory peonies, enamel stems, and an amethyst. c. 1902

Black-eyed Susan diadem. Horn, enamel, and moonstones. c. 1902

Ballerinas with pine-cone borders. Ivory, gold, and enamel. c. 1898.

Three Breton Women. Ivory, horn, and enamel. c. 1902.

And an orchid. Ivory and horn. c. 1902


For more scholarly research, please see these books in our Resource Library.

The Jewels of Lalique

Rene Lalique at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

Rene Lalique: Exceptional Jewellery, 1890-1912

Jen Cruse: The Art of Chinese Ivory Comb Carving

By Jen Cruse:

When trade links with China were re-established in the 18th century, the earliest and largest markets were in the West. Chinese teas and silks were the prime commodities of trade with Europe and America and an increasing demand for items such as porcelains, ivories (from African elephant tusks) and fans developed over time.

Primarily centred in Canton, ivory working reached an exceptional degree of expertise between 1790 and about 1850. At first, private buyers from the West – ships’ captains, trading merchants, diplomats and the like – sought small speciality items to take home as personal gifts for family and friends; ivory combs in the European style were highly favoured.

So enthusiastically were the gifts received that demand grew and it was not long before a burgeoning industry developed and the Cantonese workshops (hongs) were making ivory combs in large quantities for export to Europe and the USA. This was a new departure for the craftsmen as Chinese women did not wear combs such as these, their traditional hair accessories being quite different in format and design.

The majority of the combs were elaborately carved and finished, the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the ivory designers and combmakers being second to none. On carved, fretted or pierced backgrounds, flowers, birds and small animals formed the principal themes, with the mythical dragon a predominant feature (pictures 1 & 2). The combs were not set with jewels or gemstones but relied on the texture and sincerity of the ivory itself for enduring appeal.

Generally the combs carried no marks; however, occasionally the signature of the artist-craftsman was placed within the carving, as seen on the flower comb Fig 2a. The combs were not set with jewels or gemstones but relied on the texture and sincerity of the ivory itself for enduring appeal.


For more scholarly research, please see

The Comb: Its History and Development

as well as the ACCCI website.


From the English, we know that different fittings can make an extraordinary piece of jewelry into a practical object. Consider multiple functions for a set of diamond brooches.

I have always felt you can take a brooch to a jeweler and ask him or her to make a barrette fitting in addition to the pinback. This simple act increases your choice of ornaments 100-fold.

Movie stars have made fashion history doing this.

Here are some brooches I would wear in my hair.

J.E. Caldwell was an American jeweler from Philadelphia. He was known for his Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces and made this platinum-mesh and diamond bow c. 1920.

Boucheron made this feather out of gold, rubies, and diamonds in 1940.

A member of the elite jewelers of Taxco, Antonio Pineda made this brooch c. 1955.

Born in the tenements of NYC’s Lower East Side to immigrant parents, he took the name Seaman because he could see the Seaman’s Savings Bank from his apartment window. From the 1930’s to the 1950’s, Mr. Schepps’s pioneering designs attracted customers such as the Duchess of Windsor and Franklin Roosevelt. He designed this set of opal and diamond butterfly pins, which could easily be worn as two side barrettes, c. 1960.

David Webb made this posy of violets in the 1980’s. The violets are sapphires with emerald centers on jade leaves with diamond stems.

Van Cleef & Arpels made this Christmas rose out of angel-skin coral and diamonds in 2000.

Finally, a hair comb by Georg Jensen himself.


For more scholarly research, please examine these books, which can be found in our Resource Library

Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels

Van Cleef & Arpels: Tiara made for Princess Fwazia Pahlavi of Iran, 1939

Van Cleef and Arpels

Hemba Combs of the Congo

The Luba Empire was a pre-colonial Central African state, which was founded by King Kongolo Maniema, c. 1585. The Hemba people were incorporated because they started to migrate into Luba territory at the beginning of the Empire. In addition to being artistically influenced by the Luba, the Hemba endured kidnappings by Arab raiders for the the transatlantic slave trade.

The Luba government lasted until 1885, when King Leopold II of Belgium acquired the land as his personal property. Henry Morton Stanley (“Dr. Livingston, I presume.”) discovered of a river network connecting East and West Africa.

Under the direction of King Leopold II, Stanley used his map to bring Belgian soldiers to African Chiefs. False treaties tricked them into signing over their power and land to the King, who then proclaimed the Congo Free State, the first European colony owned by only one man. First, Leopold wanted ivory. Joseph Conrad documented the brutality of this slave labor, as well as explored what allows man to commit undiluted evil, in “Heart of Darkness.”

In 1898, the Goodyear factory in Akron, Ohio, made the first inflatable bicycle tire. In 1903, they started making car tires for Henry Ford. No one had more rubber than Leopold, for vines overflowing with sap grew wild in the Congo’s rain forest.

Forty years after the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address (1863), Belgian conscripts took women hostage; raped and starved them; and made their husbands meet immense quotas for collecting rubber to secure their release, so the Goodyear factory in Ohio could pay Leopold immense sums of money.

Nsala, of the district of Wala, looking at the severed hand and foot of his five-year-old daughter, a victim of the Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company (A.B.I.R.) militia.

Leopold’s treatment of slaves and prisoners was so brutal, rebellions, journalism, and a letter from George Washington Williams forced him to give up private ownership of the colony.

In 1908, the land was renamed the Belgian Congo. By 1920, two-thirds of the population had died. In 1960, the people gained independence and live in what is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo

From the African collection of The Creative Museum, a Hemba artist made this comb before 1960. It shows a man, either prisoner or slave, being held naked, with his hands tied behind his back and whip marks on his chest. It is an artifact of Leopold’s heart of darkness, his crimes against humanity.

In the 1970’s, the Hemba artists were able to express their strongly held beliefs in ancestor worship and fertility, traditional themes of African comb making.

And in this final, beautiful example, a couple embraces — at last.


For more scholarly research, please see The Creative Museum’s exhibit on African combs.

Gold and Turquoise French Hair Comb

On first glance, this comb knocks me out. But upon further examination, it’s confusing. The hinged decoration with dangles on a tortoiseshell comb takes its inspiration from the Victorian Algerian style. However the turquoise cabochons and black enamel lines create a stark geometric pattern that mimics Art Deco. The ideas don’t make sense.

However, 33 turquoise cabochons on 18K gold are surrounded by black enamel. Thirteen pear-shaped turquoise cabochons form the dangles. The comb was imported into France — I’m going to guess from China because of the tightly wired, stiff, slinky-like dangles. The jeweler dates it c. 1900. I might put 10 years more on it, and it is on sale for $8500. It has a Fellini-esque absurdity to it, and I still love it. The condition is immaculate.

Japanese Kushi Themes

In the Edo and Meiji eras, kushi became canvasses, on which artists could paint or carve cultural and religious symbols. Early Edo kushi had only one simple idea on a large comb-canvas. Late Edo kushi were still bigger than Meiji pieces, but both eras produced square and half-moon shapes.

From the Okazaki collection come these two Edo kushi: The first is painted red lacquer with white cranes. The crane symbolized freedom and was a balance to Minogame, the old tortoise who symbolized longevity and stability. Both symbols are important at weddings.

The second is an square-shaped ivory kushi with mother-of-pearl decorations including a pear, leaves, and a butterfly.

From the Miriam Slater Collection comes this tortoiseshell Edo kushi with a relief sculpture of three carp…

…and this late Edo set depicting the gifts of the seven gods of fortune: health, longevity, happiness, victory in war, knowledge, art, and wealth.

In the Meiji Era, artists sunk jewels into their tortoiseshell kushi, such as these amethyst leaves and flower from the Belva Green collection.

The Creative Museum just acquired this set with painted dragonflies on a lake, bordered with flowering trees. A set like this would very likely been seen in France, as the dragonfly is one of the landmark themes of Art Nouveau.


For more scholarly research, please examine The Creative Museum’s exhibition Chine et Japon: A Fleur de Tete and Okazaki Collection: Combs and Ornamental Hairpins (Japanese Edition)

You are also welcome to examine these books:

Okazaki Collection: Combs and Ornamental Hairpins (Japanese Edition)

Japanese Kimono Hair Comb – The Museum Collection (Japanese Edition)

The Comb: Its History and Development

Japanese Tama Kanzashi Themes

Japanese women’s hairstyles became works of art during the Edo period (1603-1868). Lush ornamentation with kushi- and kogai-stick sets, accompanied by kanzashi followed. Only rulers, samurai clans, and other aristocratic families had mon, or crests to indicate their status. In the Meiji period (1868-1912), common families were allowed to obtain mon.

Tama is a type of kanzashi, which usually has a red or green ball. However, Meiji families also substituted their crests, or artists carved familiar cultural themes. Ivory and tortoiseshell kanzashi sticks could be as intricate as the featured decoration. Metal sticks could be used as weapons.

From the Okazaki Collection comes this group of brass kanzashi. They feature objects, which express Japanese culture: a lantern, water buckets, an instrument, carp, and a bird looking at a cherry blossom.

The Creative Museum has just obtained this magnificent Meiji ivory tama kanzashi with a family crest. The flower has a stone, and the stick is painted. It comes in the original box.

The ivory kanzashi of the the crescent moon with coral buds and the bird with two beads on a painted stick belong to Miriam Slater. The geisha in the center is mine.

From tama, we can travel back in time and imagine what life must have been like in Meiji Japan: the animals and flowers they loved, what people ate, their technology, and the music they played. It must have been a wonderful world.


For more scholarly research, please examine The Creative Museum’s exhibition Chine et Japon: A Fleur de Tete and Okazaki Collection: Combs and Ornamental Hairpins (Japanese Edition)

Morrocan Taj, or Crown

This magnificent Moroccan wedding tiara is made up of three parts: two sides that meet in the middle and a piece that attaches on top. Made c. 1800, its openworked pyramid shape is richly decorated with emeralds and gemstones. It is inscribed “ربما هو على الله ورسوله” or Might is for God and His Messenger.

Sotheby’s estimates its worth at 15,000 GBP. I’ll be interested to know how much higher the final sale price will be.


For more scholarly research, please see these books, which have been added to our Resource Library.

Living in Morocco: Design from Casablanca to Marrakesh

Costumes berberes du Maroc. Decors traditionnels/Berber Costumes of Morocco.

Costumes Of Morocco

Miriam Slater and The Creative Museum: Two Japanese Combs

Two of our authors have recently bought beautiful Japanese combs.

Miriam Slater bought this late Edo lacquer comb with a geometric petal-like background underneath painted chrysanthemums, dahlias, peonies, and hearts, all done in gold maki-e.

The Creative Museum added this ivory Taisho piece to their collection. It was made c. 1920, has a French shape for the European market, but is decorated with a classic Japanese theme: insects feeding from flowers. The gold maki-e paint has tinctures of red pigment.


For more scholarly research, please examine

Okazaki Collection: Combs and Ornamental Hairpins