Saturday, April 19, 2008

Charles Keller's Frosty Cufflinks

Featured this week are several of the frosty cufflinks created by Charles Keller & Co. during the early 1900s. Above is a nice example with the radiating spiral motif popular during the Art Deco period. These cufflinks are crafted with platinum tops and 14kt gold backs. The platinum tops are beautifully engine-turned with swirling radiant spirals. The radiant centers are accented with black enamel and surrounded by flowing leaf-and-vine borders. Crafted in 14kt gold and platinum, circa 1920.

The cufflinks were created by Charles Keller & Company. Founded in 1885, Charles Keller manufactured gold and platinum cufflinks, lockets and other jewels in workshops based in Newark, New Jersey. During the early decades of the last century, the firm specialized in creating elegant cufflinks with intricately engraved platinum or white gold surfaces. Charles Keller remained in business until the early 1930s.

The cross bars are stamped with the precious metal mark for platinum, "PLAT". To the right of the platinum mark is the maker's mark of Charles Keller & Company, an elongated "C" followed by the letter "K". In side the "C" is a karat mark, "14", for the purity of the gold.

Every so often the Charles Keller mark is misidentified as the mark of another fine cufflink maker, Carrington & Company. The Carrington mark also has a "14" surrounded by a "C" . However, in the Carrington mark the "C" is squarish and angular, not elongated and rounded like the Keller mark. As always, care should be taken when reading and interpreting makers' marks.

Here is a second pair of beautifully engraved Charles Keller cufflinks. The platinum tops are engine turned with a stippled pattern of concentric circles. This gives the cufflinks a frosty, shimmering appearance. The stylized flower (or star) motifs were created by leaving areas of the brightly polished platinum unstippled. The border is a classic egg-and-dart pattern recalling the Beaux-Arts style of the late 1800s. Crafted in platinum and 14kt gold, circa 1920.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cufflinks ... Chicago Style?

Gold and Platinum Cufflinks by the "L-maker."

Every so often you will come across an elegant pair of gold and platinum cufflinks marked on the reverse with a small script "L". The cufflinks are usually rectangular in shape with beveled corners, much like an emerald-cut diamond. The tops are embellished with intricately engine-turned centers surrounded by foliate and geometric borders. I have nicknamed the unknown maker of these cufflinks the "L-maker". Here are a few examples.

Beautifully engine-turned 14kt yellow gold cufflinks with intricate acanthus leaf borders. These cufflinks are a nice example of the rich gold work characteristic of gentleman's jewelry in the early decades of the last century. Crafted by the "L-maker", circa 1920.

This pair beautifully displays the cool geometry of Art Deco design. Engraved and dimpled trapezoid borders surround chequered platinum centers. Crafted by the "L-maker" in 14kt gold and platinum, circa 1930.

The reverse of these cufflinks are stamped with precious metal marks and the maker's mark - a small script "L" in a lozenge (diamond shape). Hence the name "L-maker."

The mark is similar to the maker's mark of Lebolt & Co., a retail jeweler founded in Chicago in 1899. Inspired by the fashion for hand crafted silver in the early 1900s, Myer Lebolt, founder of the firm, opened a workshop to create custom silver pieces for his retail stores in Chicago and New York. Eventually the workshop included goldsmiths and platinumsmiths who created jewelry in addition to the firm's sterling flatware and holloware. It is possible these elegant cufflinks were created in the Lebolt workshop during the 1920s.

At this time, an attribution of these cufflinks to Lebolt & Co. is only a working hypothesis. The similarity of the marks is suggestive, but not conclusive. It is wise to confirm the identification of an unknown maker's mark with other sources such as old catalogs, original sales receipts and period advertisements. Family recollections and company names on jewelry boxes can also be helpful, but are sometimes less reliable. The mystery of the "L-maker" may be closer to a solution, but further research remains to be done.

If you would like to read more about Lebolt & Co. and the Chicago silversmiths, there is a wonderful book, Chicago Metalsmiths, by Sharon Darling. Although the book is out of print, it is worth a trip to the library or a secondhand book shop to find a copy.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Creature Comforts

Unger Bros. Possum Cufflinks, circa 1900.

The jewelry and taste makers of the decades around 1900 (the Late Victorian and Art Nouveau periods) were extremely fond of jewels featuring animals and insects. It is fair to say they were a little critter crazy.

Among cufflinks of this period you find a diverse menagerie of exotic and mythical creatures. From traditional links sporting foxes and hounds to the fantastic hybrid creations of the Art Nouveau jewelers. In between dwell lions, possums, dragons and griffins.

Art Nouveau lion cufflinks by Larter & Sons

Here I feature a wonderful pair of gold cufflinks from about 1900. The cufflinks feature regal lions prowling through a jungle of swirling vines. The cufflinks beautifully illustrate the sinuous, flowing curves and asymmetry of Art Nouveau design. It is reasonable to wonder if a pair of cufflinks like these inspired C.S. Lewis when he wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe several decades later. There is something magical about the Art Nouveau designs.

Crafted in 14kt gold, these cufflinks nicely evince the artistry and craftmanship often found in antique cufflinks. The links were created by Larter & Sons, a firm founded in 1865 and still making jewelry today. In several earlier posts I discussed the distinctive gold and enamel cufflinks created by Larter & Sons during the 1920s.

Larter & Sons gold and black enamel cufflinks.

Larter Gold and Enamel Cufflinks, circa 1920

If you enjoy elegant cufflinks from the past,
please visit our Antique Cufflink Gallery.