We all have our guilty pleasures.
You know, those things that give you tingly goose bumps. They're fun, playful, but sometimes addictive. Why? Because they give you an instant jolt of pure happiness. For some, it's The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Beanie Babies, Baby Ruth bars, or just making babies generally. All good!
But for others, their pleasures are more insidious: like Boogers (Ugh! Just be thankful if you've never seen some loser pick one out and eat it) or even worse: prescription painkillers and other drugs (see below). But for me, my guiltiest pleasure isn't any of those. Well, a booger sounds like a burger...and I am kinda hungry...but NO! My guiltiest pleasure is Guilloche Enameled Sterling, like this magnificent jewelry box:
|FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION|
In the last quarter of the 19th Century, Carl Fabergé perfected guilloche enamel by marrying guilloché engraving with enameling on sterling silver and gold. This successful integration of precious metal and glass appeared soon after Michael Perchin became head-goldmaster for Fabergé in 1886.
|A Fabergé Miniature Guilloche Enameled Egg Pendant circa 1910|
Under his direction, guilloché engraving became increasingly complex. Basketweave, stacked blocks and other interlocking grid patterns were produced by rotating the piece and then engraving again. Translucent enamel in over 140 hues was then masterfully fired en plain (covering a large surface area) and en ronde boss (over a curved surface) in up to six layers to create a depth of color, sheen, and brilliance that to this day remains unrivaled.
|A Fabergé Guilloche Enameled Cigarette Case circa 1908|
After firing the enamels, each piece was polished by hand using a wooden wheel covered with chamois leather. These techniques were difficult and time-consuming but the Fabergé workshops incorporated guilloché enameling into a myriad of luxury items, including boxes, vanity sets, watches, magnifying glasses and even several of the famous Imperial Easter Eggs.
The technique was soon adopted by other great jewelry houses of the time, including Cartier, Boucheron, Tiffany & Co. and the world's finest silversmiths primarily in Edwardian England. These included the likes of Adie Bros., Mappin & Webb, Asprey and others. They created guilloche clocks, watch cases, cigarette cases, cigar cutters, picture frames, cane heads, parasol handles, vanity cases, combs, mirrors, lorgnettes, pens, and matching button sets. The "Golden Age" of the guilloché enamel treasures was from 1890 to 1935. And since most are sterling, each is marked with the year as well as the silversmith and the location where it was created.
Guilloché enameled sterling silver represented the height of luxury during the Belle Epoque and Edwardian eras. Think Downton Abbey: The Countess and Viscountess of Grantham and certainly The Dowager Countess of Grantham (played by Maggie Smith) would certainly have owned several guilloche enamel pieces, from full vanity sets to brooches (pronounced "BRO chiz" and not to be confused with the Dutch word "broodjes," which is just a sandwish on a roll. Guilloche items were created only for Royalty and the upper classes-no one else could afford them. Duh. They denoted class, style, and money. Lots of money and you can see why!
World War I and the Russian Revolution brought down the curtain on the Belle Époque and its grand lifestyle. Life after 1920 had a completely different character and sense of style. Guilloché enameled items were seen as inappropriately luxurious, elitist and anachronistic. Throughout history, however, canny collectors have recognized the aesthetic excellence of these marvels and cherished them as lasting reminders of luxuries from a bygone era.
As I referenced earlier, I love guilloche because it gives you a "natural high" and immense pleasure--even if you just have one or two pieces around as accessories. In fact, studies are underway to establish that fine guillloche is a highly effective way to get high without using dangerous street drugs (side note: I just made that up). And I think that's relevant because I often think that the questions I get on this blog are written by people who are clearly high on something. I worry that some may be experimenting with LSD or Oxycontin (also commonly called "Hillbilly Heroin."). Just remember what Nancy Reagan said: "JUST SAY NO TO DRUGS BUT SAY 'YES PLEASE!' TO GUILLOCHE!" (I made that up too). Regrettably her reference to guilloche was never printed thanks to "The Big Drug Company Lobby" and the "media."
And another thing...I admit that I'm no doctor (well I do have a doctorate but that would be pompous to bring up here). So please consult your physician or some expensive Malibu dry-out clinic if you are abusing drugs but can't afford guilloche. Sadly, depending on which pills you're popping, you might need a LOT OF GUILLOCHE to kick the habit. But at least with guilloche, you have some beautiful accessories after you've gotten sober. All you have after rehab is a craving for coffee, cigarettes and your next fix. That was mean and I take it back-it was just locker-room talk. I apologize. ;)
Now, before I get into how to correctly pronunciation guilloche (the item) versus guilloché (the process), it's common knowledge that I don't speak a lick of French. OK, I admit have been known to understand "un peu." This is especially true when some hoidy-toidy couple comes into the Gallery and whispers to each other (in French so as not to offend me) that my pants are "a bit" too tight. And then start giggling with delight. It's the giggling that really gets me. Haven't the French heard of Skinny Jeans??? Mon Dieu!!! ("pronounced "MOAN doo!"). I think it's quell tragique (pronounced "KELL trash eek!") how the French have never understood high fashion. Or haute couture (pronounced "OAT coot chur") for that matter.
Just for the record, I also don't speak Spanish either (well, "un poco," pronounced "OOON po ko") or German (well, "ein bisschen"); pronounced "AMbition" only you pronounce the 'am' like "AYN" as in Ayn Rand and if you don't know who she I don't have the time to explain it to you right now. "Lo siento bebe."
Admission: I've never read any of Ayn's books (nor do I care too since reality TV is so much more interesting--have you seen the new show "Strut"???? If not, you're very lucky and make sure not to watch it under any cuimcumstances).
Anyhow, the first step in creating guilloche objet d'arts is designing a hopelessly complex pattern of interweaving lines that can make you both dizzy and nauseous if your stare at it too long.
The pattern chosen is then etched into the sterling silver (or gold or sometimes brass or brass plated base metal) that then looks like this:
So far so good but JPU (just plain ugly). But wait! THEN the magic is created by melting translucent colored enamels over the etchings and each layer of enamel (and there could be as many as six to create subtle color variations) has to be fired separately and be completely free of imperfections to allow a clear view of the engraving beneath them as you can see here:
The effect is mesmerizing, glittering and the pattern changes as you rotate the piece or the light catches it at different angles. The colors electrify, smolder, and morph in the most mind-blowing ways! This is why you don't need that stinkin' LSD or other drugs when you have guilloche!? WARNING: Unlike drugs, DO NOT INGEST, SHOOT UP OR TRY TO SNORT GUILLOCHE ENAMEL! If this happens, immediately call your cemetery, book a plot, buy yourself a lttle black dress or simple black suit for your service, and then call 911. Oh, and make out your will- PRONTO!
Side Question: I just wonder why people abuse drugs anyhow when there are so many other things you can abuse. I think the reason is that when you're at a club or party and you're on LSD or painkillers, no one can tell except that you look robotic, walk wobbly, have dilated pupils and start screaming in terror when you see your face melting in the powder room mirror. It starts like this:
But then again, if you're partying on guilloche enameling, then you have to carry the box or other object around with you all night. And if you shove it in your front pocket you look like some random perv who is inappropriately excited and needs to be stepped on like a cockroach. Or just given the heave-ho. GET A ROOM people!
NO there are NO MORE PICS OF THIS. This is NOT that kind of site! Try MATCH.com or OKCupid.com. OKStupid would make more sense but that's another post and I'm getting hungry because I'm suddenly craving an In-N-Out Burger with extra pickles. Mmmmm.
Anyhow, once the enamel layers are baked, it needs to be carefully polished and buffed to smooth out any irregularities so that the surface is perfect, glossy and flawless. And if you think that's easy, give it a shot sometime. I've tried with every polisher known to man (OK, this man) and after hours of laborious work, I'm left with a lumpy mess that would best be described as garbage. Not at all like a Carl Fabergé piece.
Side Note Revelation: I wonder if Carl Fabergé is related to the great star of TV and Commercials, Shelley Fabares (pronounced "FAB RAY")--remember her from The Donna Reed Show? Probably not. But I bet that when the Russian Fabergés emigrated to the U.S. (probably to escape a pogrom or something), they surely passed through Ellis Island where names were commonly simplified by the barely literate U.S. Immigration Department lackeys who checked them in. THIS IS A PROVEN FACT! Don't believe me??? If the Ellis Island people hadn't changed my family name when my grandparents came through there in 1907, I'd be Buzz Zychlinski (pronounced..uh..Zick..chhlins [like you're coughing up flem] skee") and you'd be reading The Zychlinski on Antiques! So if the Ellis Island staff could simplify Zychlinki into Kaplan, then Fabergé could easily have been changed to Fabares. I rest my case.
But wait! I have more evidence: the guy who played Shelley Fabares' dad on the show was CARL Betz! Hmmmm. CARL Betz and CARL Fabergé?! A coincidence? I don't think so. Unfortunately, my calls to his publicist weren't returned most likely because he's dead. But in any event, I still love Shelley ("nee Fabergé?) Fabares:
I mean (no I'm not dropping the subject) who could forget her No. 1 Chart Toppers like Johnny Angel. Uh, let me rephrase that-"Who could forget her one-hit-wonder song (that never even made it to No. 1 but who cares?), Johnny Angel. Here it is -- listen carefully-I think you'll detect just the slightest Russian accent? You be the judge:
My point is (and yes, I think I did have one about five paragraphs ago) is that if a skilled silversmith made your guilloche, it would look like this:
Or maybe even like this magnificent trinket box completely made in sterling and guillloche enamel:
But as with everything that's really fun, there come some caveats (bleh) to wary of:
1. What we're talking about here is Guilloche ENAMEL. It's copied and sold everywhere for dirt but most of those are faux (pronounced "Pho" as in Fee, Fi, Fo) because there's no enamel on them! They're just a cheap and cloudy cellulose over fake engraving that looks good in pictures but is completely worthless.
2. Guilloche enamel pieces that are first quality (that is, with no flaws, nicks, repairs, etc.) are very rare and can run you from $500 to $250,000. So they're not for Seniors on a fixed income. OMG! I'll just realized I'll BE a Senior--I'd prefer to say a"Señor"-- in less than 25 years...scary!).
3. Most pieces offered are poorly enameled, nicked, uneven, discolored or just plain damaged junk--and guilloche enamel when damaged, can never be restored perfectly (even by C. Mariani and we're the best at repairing/restoring/and conserving anything!). We're also humble.
4. Authentic first quality guilloche enamel should be on .925 English Sterling or .800 French or German silver.
5. 99% of real guilloche enamel pieces were created in very limited numbers from about 1880 until about the 1940's, so they're hard to find. And when you find one, it's often in a form that makes no sense whatsoever, My favorite example of this is "hair tidies." Take a look at this one--can you tell me what possible purpose it would serve?
The answer is how the hell would I know? For the answer, send $5 to Buzz K....oh what the heck...hair tidies were used during the 19th and Early 20th centuries by women to store their hair that would fall out while combing or brushing. They'd stuff the hair in the tidy and then use it later to make a hair bun, "ratting," hair extensions or merkins. And isn't that a lovely factoid that you can delight your friends with? Now where did I leave my Oxy? Ha! :)
PSA of the DAY: THE BUZZ ON ANTIQUES DOES NOT CONDONE THE USE OF DRUGS, MERKINS OR ANYTHING ELSE IN PARTICULAR.