Saturday, April 30, 2011

Garden of the Maltese Cross Maker

Garden of the Maltese Cross Maker

Art Nouveau sunflower cufflinks by the "Maltese Cross" maker, circa 1900.

Spring has arrived in fits and starts this year. But, after several days of warm sunshine, the garden is abloom with hyacinth and blue bells, tulips and daffodils. All of which puts me in mind of one of the more florally focused cufflink makers of the early 1900s.

In the years around 1900, an unknown jewelry maker (nicknamed the "Maltese Cross maker") created an elegant collection of cufflinks abloom with flowers and foliage. These nature-inspired cufflinks reflected the sinuous curves and tangled forms of Art Nouveau design. The sunflower cufflinks pictured above are a wonderful example of the maker's work. The striking sunflowers and flowing vines (possibly acanthus) seem to spontaneously spring from the richly sculpted gold.

Whiplash vine cufflinks, circa 1900.

Whiplash curves were a signature of Art Nouveau design. The dramatically flowing acanthus leaves and vines which entangle the tops of these cufflinks are an elegant example. Among the Victorians acanthus was a symbol of the Arts. Jewels featuring acanthus leaves were often given to someone with artistic talent or aspirations. During the Art Nouveau period acanthus leaves and vines were also appreciated for their exotic, sinuous shapes.

Laurel sprig cufflinks by the "Maltese Cross" maker, circa 1890.

A little less effusive, a little more restrained than the prior cufflinks, this pair features laurel sprigs with berries - an ancient symbol of victory and status. The more restrained design suggests these cufflinks date from the late Victorian period, perhaps around 1890.

Based on the style and design of the cufflinks, I believe the "Maltese Cross" maker was active from about 1890 to 1910.

Reverse of "Maltese Cross" maker cufflinks.

The cufflinks are beautifully crafted in 14kt gold with curved "Y" bridges attaching the tops to traditional bean backs. A small gold ball is set at the split of the "Y". This bridge and back design was also favored by Alling & Company during the same period, although there is currently no further basis for assuming a relationship between the two firms.

"Maltese Cross" maker's mark.

In addition to dramatic floral and foliate designs, the cufflinks are distinguished by a maker's mark - a stylized Teutonic or Maltese cross within a circular border. The maker's mark is found on the inside of the bean backs along with a "14K" gold purity mark. The above photo of the maker's mark is from the stickpin pictured below. Photographing the inside of the bean backs proved too difficult.

Enamel four-leaf clover stickpin.

The Maltese cross maker's jewels were not limited to cufflinks. This verdant stickpin is a lucky talisman featuring beautiful enamel work, richly detailed petals and a small pearl. Crafted in 14kt gold around 1900, the stickpin illustrates the "Maltese Cross" maker's commitment to fine design and uncompromising craftsmanship.

Additional details of these and other fine antique cufflinks,
can be found in the Antique Cufflink Gallery.


Chris said...

I read your cufflink blog post about "The Maltese Cross" maker, and tonight was looking through Dorothy Rainwater's book on American jewelry marks and noticed on page 143 a listing for H. A. Kirby, of Providence, RI. They used a Maltese cross as their mark. I have one pair of very nice cufflinks made with this mark. They are 14k with a diamond and a gryphon. I have also seen a pair of silver cufflinks with this mark.


Antique Cufflink Gallery said...

Hi Chris,

Thank you for the heads up about H.A. Kirby! That is a great find. The mark and the firm's years of operation certainly are consistent with the cufflinks and jewels bearing the Maltese maker's" mark.

The next step is to try to locate advertising, catalogs or other period docuementation for the firm.
If lucky, we may find an illustration or photo of the firm's cufflinks. If I find anything, I will post it.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful post! I have a Victorian stick pin in the form of a love knot with enameled forget-me-nots. It has a Maltese cross mark that looks exactly like the one you show on the cufflinks in your post. I could not find anything until I saw this. Will definitely check out H.A. Kirby too!

Antique Cufflink Gallery said...

That is great! Your stickpin sounds like a beautiful example of the enamel and floral jewels H.A. Kirby created.