By Alain, March 15th 2008
Yesterday, March 14th 2008, I set sail to the TEFAF (The European Fine Arts Fair) in Maastricht, The Netherlands. This antiques fair is held annually in March and is regarded as the most important one on the European continent. A few hundred dealers who are at the top level of the market exhibit their prime art items to an international audience for 10 days. Every art discipline is covered as paintings, furniture, sculptures, textiles and so on. My main interest is in silver ware and jewelry, so I restricted myself mostly to visiting the dozen dealers who specialize in those antiques with the occasional sidestep to other stands that drew me in with typical period antiques. Afterall, one can not get the right feel for period jewelry without putting it in a larger context.
Public transportation to the south of The Netherlands is pretty well organized and I had no problems arriving at my destination without aggravations. I needed to change trains a few times and found that the connection was waiting for me every time and the next train left within 5 minutes. I could have taken the car, but I threaded parking it between the many Bentleys and Aston Martins that are usually on the parking lot. I think I even heard the occasional helicopter land every now and then, but that was probably more wishful thinking. Entree fees are 55 Euro per person and I was lucky enough to get an invitation from the Chopard shop in Amsterdam.
Apart from antiques dealers, some high end jewelers also had a stand at the fair. In days gone by Harry Winston and Cartier were present every year, but they most have lost interest somehow. This year the houses of Gianmaria Buccellati, Chopard, Bulgari and Graff had stands to advertise their contemporary products to the chique and wealthy. To me their jewelry is interesting in the way of reminding me what top level gemstones and diamonds look like, to set a reference standard in my mind.
As said, the amount of good quality items from all art disciplines was overwhelming and I soon concentrated on visiting the stands of the antique jewelry stores. Most of them came from Europe and the USA. After visiting them all for a quick survey, I did a quick stop at the two bookstores with my credit card ready to be whipped out at the first ring of the bell. Alas it stayed in my pocket as the books I was looking for were not in the repertoire.
During my original assessment I saw many items that I wanted to inspect up close and I waited till the time was right to take up the time of the people on the floor. As I was trained as a jeweler as well, I know about the power of having people in an empty store; if one customer comes in, it draws in others. So I had to wait and circle a few times to find the right moment to ask my questions - trying not to be a burden as anyone with a loupe is not likely to be a customer. There were two items in particular that I just needed to hold in my hands and my wishes came through.
The first was a Fer de Berlin item at the stand of Ulf Breede from Berlin, Germany. It was a lovely black necklace that was comprised of 5 oval medallions, linked together with open worked wine leafs. The story of Berlin iron work is a very important one in the history of jewelry and it is narrated many times in various books, usually just briefly. The few books that deal with this subject in depth are at least 30 years old and hard to find. Iron jewelry is usually associated with the Prussian call from Princess Marianne von Preußen in 1813 to all Prussian women to sacrifice their gold jewelry to the state in order to finance the war against Napoleon. In return the donators were handed a cast iron
ring with the inscription "Gold gab ich fur Eisen" (gold I gave for iron). In the years after the war this iron work became a symbol of Germanic patriotism and it was very fashionable to wear iron cast jewelry. Especially the ironwork company of Geiss became known for producing this type of jewelry. The necklace presented by Ulf Breede is probably made by the Geiss company, or at least in part.
The necklace is made up from 5 laying ovals with narrative depictions of two Roman mythological stories. The larger center medallion is flanked by 4 four other medallions and the whole is linked together by wine leaf links which are most likely to come from the Geiss workshop. The center, and largest, medallion tells the story of Pluto and Proserpina while the flanking medallions are narrative depictions of the love between Amor and Psyche. Mr. Breede took the time to tell me their very interesting stories in German. He is a very good tutor.
The whole necklace was cast in sand and it is amazing how fine the finish is. They used the finest "spray" sand they could find to cast these items in. After the casting process the iron work was impregnated with line oil to give it the dark patina and to protect it from rust. Some charlatans these days try to restore rusted ironworks with lacquer, much to the dismay of Breede. These delicate and lightweight items need special skills to restore when need be. This necklace was in mint condition and did not show any signs of restoration.
At the stand of Wartski I was eager to know about two things; first the book that Geoffrey Munn wrote about Castellani and Giuliano and second a Castellani brooch which they had for sale. They also had some Guiliano pendants for sale. Munn's book was written in 1984 and he told me that there was no reprint planned for the book. Today the book sells for about 250 Euro, while the original price was 29.95 pounds Sterling.
Mr. Munn and I talked for a bit about the fabrication methods of the micromosaics by Castellani and he eventually let me examine a piece upclose. It was a quatrefoil chi-rho gold brooch set with glass and gold tesserae, aswell as filled with enamel. Under the spot lights the whole brooch glistened due to the irregular surface of the tesserae. While some micromosaics were made by placing long rods of smalti next to each other and then cutting the surface, that was obviously not the case in this brooch. The minute tesserae were placed side by side by hand and because they can not be leveled to the tenth of a millimeter, these terraced "bricks" reflect light differently; making them sparkle. One should really see this phenomenon once to fully appreciate it.
The hours flew by while I was at the show and I felt selfpitty to not have the time to visit the center of one of Europe's most pretty cities with its great restaurants and the home of the best dressed people in The Netherlands.