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

Jen Cruse: Mongolian Hair Ornaments From Our Community

Written by Jen Cruse, featuring the collections of Gina Hellweger and The Creative Museum.

Mongol women traditionally wore their thick black hair tied in long plaits falling forward onto their shoulders, placing slightly curved silver combs flat on the top of the head. On festive and celebratory occasions, however, distinctive and colourful costumes were offset by an elaborate headdress constructed over a metal frame and decorated with numerous silver ornaments, temple pendants, combs and hairpins, all richly enhanced by the liberal use of red coral, turquoise and amber sets and coloured enamelling. For the Mongolians, coral symbolized blood, fire and light; turquoise, water, sky and air; amber, the earth.

The two silver hairpins illustrated are decorated with coral beads and coloured enamel. These hairpins were once part of the lavish and complex head ornamentation worn by Mongolian women when dressed in traditional costume; late 19th or early 20th century. Length 4¾ ins/12.1cm.

To my fellow author, and noted collector of tribal arts, Gina Hellweger, thank you for contributing this Mongolian parure. Here we can see how they expressed blood, fire, light, water, air, and sky in all its intense beauty. Gina’s parure is made from silver, decorated with enamel, turquoise, and coral.

She was also kind enough to contribute these two sets of Mongolian hair ornaments, made of the same materials.

Mongolians also symbolized their world with jade, pearls, and black agate. From the vaults of the Creative Museum comes this magnificent, rare barrette. A brass medallion full of pearls surrounds a stone of black agate.

The museum has also contributed this silver hairpin, which is decorated with jade beads and carved flowers. Some traces of the enamel still remain.

These two silver slide bars are intricately carved with happiness motifs.

It is an honor for me to bring our community together, so we can all be inspired to learn more about the Mongolian decorative arts.


For more scholarly research, please see the Creative Museum’s exhibition on Chinese and Japanese hair ornaments, as well as these books, which have been added to our Resource Library.

Mongol Jewelry: Jewelry Collected by the First and Second Danish Central Asian Expeditions
The Art of Silver Jewellery: From the Minorities of China

The Comb: Its History and Development

Mimi Favre: Lanai Hair Ornament

Mimi Favre, a modern jeweler, had to enter a piece for the Philadelphia International Flower Show‘s exhibiton, “Hawaii, Islands of Aloha.”

This is what she sketched:

She detailed her artistic process on her blog.

And here is her final piece:

I love it. She also has a shop. :-)

Sotheby’s Bling: Brooch Hair Combs

Jewelry by any other fitting shines as sweet.

A woman can buy almost any brooch or pendant and pin it on a bun, hat, or headband. We don’t have to follow jewelers. We have to follow our imaginations and order fittings. For example, here is how you could attach a pendant to a black velvet headband:

This modern pendant is made of translucent icy jadeite with diamonds set in white gold. Sotheby’s estimates its value at $10,000. It depicts the Guan Yin, who is revered by East Asian Buddhists. In Sanskrit, she is known as the bodhisattva, or enlightened existence. She is associated with compassion and mercy and was named after Empress Shen Wuhua of the Chen Dynasty (557-589), whose Buddhist-nun name was Guan Yin.

For a night, I would substitute this pendant for the diamond star on the black velvet headband and be honored to wear it.

Here are some other items I would buy:

The yellow-sectioned bakelite ornament is sewn into the black straw hat. Whoever put this Cartier diamond-and-onyx, chain-link brooch on top has an eye. The pear-shaped diamond at the bottom of the brooch is 3.46 carats, D in color, and internally flawless. c. 1915. Price estimate: $190,000.

This 18K-gold leaf brooch / hair ornament is a modern, signed piece by Tsai An Ho. The lady bugs have tourmaline cabachons with moonstone and tsavorite-garnet eyes. Price estimate: $9000.

This Art Deco ornament was made by the House of Mauboussin in Paris, c. 1930. Price estimate: $33,000. The company was awarded the Grand Prix at the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in the 1920’s for its dedication to the Art Deco movement. Mauboussin organized a diamond exhibition in 1931, and this piece probably comes from that. It can be separated into two side clips for the hair because the company made multiple fittings. Mixing small baguettes and round diamonds of different sizes, the jeweler created depth and perfect balance.

If we went to the opera in our Mauboussin, which purse would we bring? I would choose this one. Van Cleef & Arpels made it in 1923 out of seed pearls, and ornamented it with diamonds and large pear-shaped pearls. The interior is white leather. I must gush. This is the most beautiful purse I have ever seen. Price estimate: $300,000.


It’s very difficult to do scholarly research when your tongue is hanging out, and you are trying to breathe while thinking, “I want everything NOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWW!” However, these books have been added to our Resource Library for your torment, oh — information. :-)

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