Despite my several years (and still ongoing) research of the 1930s ‘mystery jewelry maker’, I am super-picky about the examples that I actually purchase. A big part of the reason is financial but it’s also a matter of personal style preference: I’ve always had an affinity for their enameled pieces and so those have been my focus. It’s also based on what looks best on me and with the type of clothes I wear. So the vast majority of my “collecting” has been photographical rather than physical!
That said, there has been one particular necklace that I’ve sought ever since first seeing a photograph of it about three years ago. It’s the one I dubbed their “Egyptian revival” because of the motifs which remind me of lotus flowers. Those photos were archived – prior eBay sales from years previously – but I really really wanted to find one to add to my collection. Alas… no luck. I was beginning to think no others would ever come up for sale, but nevertheless I kept doggedly checking all the usual suspects, errr, online venues.
Well, perseverance does pay off because lo and behold, eventually my almost-daily search finally bore fruit. A brand-new (and we are talking “opened just the day before”-new!) shop on Etsy had among its 15 initial offerings one of my elusive quarry…and the enamel was still in excellent condition, no small feat for an 80-year-old necklace. Not only that but it was in a MJM colorway (black and white) that I didn’t yet own. I think I set a world’s record for Fastest Hit Of The Buy Button. I didn’t exactly do an end-zone celebration – it’s never a good idea to ‘spike’ a mouse, after all – but it was close!
Now, keep in mind that I had never seen one of these necklaces in person (only in photographs) and none of my collection has this particular chain. I had the dimensions, of course: 16″ long end-to-end, and the lotus motifs usually being cited as 3/4″. None of the photographs had shown the reverse side of any of them.
When the necklace arrived, I was honestly surprised at the delicacy of scale; it really is an extremely dainty piece! Which is great because larger scale or heavy jewelry is absolutely not my thing. It is noticeably lighter than any of my other MJM necklaces: it weighs only 20 grams (about 3/4 of an ounce) which is literally half the weight of my triple-chain/chevron fringe MJM necklaces which are not remotely heavy by any means.
The lotus flower motifs are in fact more detailed that I’d realized. Although one of the archived sales had claimed they are moveable, they aren’t – which is a good thing. However, they are not soldered on; they are simply secured very very tightly around the chain.
The biggest surprise was the thickness of the brass used for the motifs, because I’d been expecting them to be the same as the other MJM decorative elements (chevrons, bows, etc) on the other necklaces I have. They used a thinner sheet of brass for these than I’d expected. The back is slightly concave rather than being flat, and is completely plain.
The chain is surprisingly delicate and it too has a plain reverse. The rectangular links are 1/4″ long x 1/8″ wide. The clasp is original.
My one challenge with this necklace is, unfortunately, the dreaded verdigris – the typical bugaboo of vintage brass/metal costume jewelry. My other MJM pieces are almost completely enameled, so “verdi” isn’t a problem on any of those. However, a loupe exam showed that it had gotten a fair hold on this one, given all the tiny nooks and crannies on and between those chain links. It wasn’t horrible but it was there, and as we know, verdigris can and does spread to any nearby pieces as well as on the item itself, and slowly corrodes whatever metal it ‘grows’ on. You can see some (greenish) spots of verdi on the lotus-reverse photo above, in fact.
The usual treatment for verdigris removal is with something acidic: vinegar, lemon juice, or ketchup all have their proponents. A soak (or layer, in the case of ketchup) for 20-30 minutes followed by a thorough soft-brushing, warm-water rinse, and total drying is the recommended procedure. All-metal jewelry is easy, but I do have a qualm or two about how any of those solutions may affect the enamel.
Although vintage jewelry of all types is often described as “enamel”, there’s an important distinction between “enamel” (colored glass applied to metal and then fired; i.e., vitreous enamel) and “enamel paint.” Fine jewelry with enameling – techniques such as guilloche, champleve, plique-a-jour, and taille d’epargne – uses vitreous enamel; higher-end vintage costume jewelry manufacturers such as Boucher, Trifari, etc often did as well (modern costume jewelry uses a resin compound to mimic enamel.) However, anything else is simply a lacquer paint applied by hand.
Normally, one would avoid applying anything acidic to any sort of enamel (vitreous or paint) which poses a problem when verdigris needs to be removed. I will be using one end of the chain as a “canary in the coal mine” for a vinegar soak this weekend to see if the enamel the link connectors remains intact (if it comes off, at least it won’t be in a visible spot) before proceeding. In the interim, this lovely necklace is in quarantine from my other Mystery Jewelry Maker pieces because an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure!
If you have any information about this jewelry or photographs of examples that do not yet appear in this blog series, I would be delighted to include them in a future post! Please use the Contact Form on the About the Chatsworth Lady page.