Sweethearts of antique jewelry

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

ANTIQUE jewelry, like many other things, is affected by fad and fashion. ``But gold 19th-century English lockets,'' says Edward Munves, president of James Robinson Inc.,``never go out of style. They are perennially popular, because people love giving them to one another.''

Because lockets are one of the mainstays of the antique-jewelry business and free of the whims of fashion, they will retain their value, Mr. Munves says, and it will probably increase with time. His present prices for lockets range from $750 for plainer, more functional 18-karat gold versions up to $35,000 and $40,000 for those that are set with amethysts and citrines or diamonds and emeralds. Some were designed with a double purpose in mind, with one side engraved for daytime exposure and the other side jeweled for evening wear.

``Although lockets of the period were also made in France and America, we feel that the heritage of fine goldsmithing in Victorian England (particularly between 1850 and 1870) was so great that we prefer to specialize in the exquisitely crafted English versions.''

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Women wear lockets, he says, as necklaces, on bracelets, or on bar pins attached to lapels or placed at necklines.

Brooches and pins have not been so impervious to fashion changes. For a period recently they were out of style. Now they are ``in'' again, helped by Nancy Reagan, the fashion press, and the fact that suits are a strong item of apparel.

Mr. Munves says the most affordable pieces of antique jewelry today are ``the smaller Victorian pieces in gold [and sometimes silver], made in England from 1840 to the end of the century. Some of these rings, earrings, and brooches range in price from $200 to $700. These offer very attractive workmanship, and one can feel that they are buying a work of art that is quite individual. Incidental rings, which were made throughout the century and which women wore on a number of fingers, are appealing in their gold work and their use of turquoise and pearls, as well as the less precious stones such as amethyst, quartz, and citrines.

``I see women becoming more aware of the artistry and the intricate workmanship that is evident in antique jewelry,'' Mr. Munves says. ``I also see a definite trend away from the flashier stone-oriented pieces. Women want something that is one-of-a-kind and pretty that they can wear safely on the street and to luncheons, theaters, and museums.''

Another area of Victorian jewelry which has recently come into vogue, and in which this store has long specialized, is jewelry of the Scottish School, which was popular in the 1850s and '60s when Queen Victoria opened Balmoral Castle.

These pieces, including intricate plaid pins, often in 15-karat gold and set with bloodstones, carnelians, and agates, sell at prices well under $1,000. The more intricate and important pieces sell for less than $2,000.

James Robinson Inc., a prestigious firm at 15 East 57th Street dealing in antique jewelry, silver, and porcelain, was established by Mr. Robinson in 1912. It was taken over by Mr. Munves's father in 1936, and he himself joined the firm in 1952.

Most antique jewelry is going up in price, Mr. Munves says, because of the diminishing supply and the increasing appreciation and demand for it.

Buying from a reputable dealer with long experience has definite advantages, he says, namely access to the dealer's knowledge of the field and the guarantee that pieces are what they are represented to be and of the value stated. An educated dealer of long and wide experience can generally guide customers with the sure taste and skill of the expert.

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