Saturday, 27 April 2013

Vermeil Figurals

Vermeil Figurals

If there were only one or two firms producing vermeil flowers and bows, there were many more producing vermeil figural brooches. After the deprivations and trials of the war years, fashions turned towards the colourful and amusing, and the main product of this trend was the figural brooch. Although the Art Deco years saw the production of figurals, it was not on the scale or with the unusual humour of that of the 1940s. Almost every costume jewelry firm produced its own line of figurals, and the variety was staggering. Animals; people; the sun and moon; mechanical moving flowers and clowns; hands, shoes, and feet; silhouettes; dancing people and dancing horses, the list goes on.. but cannot even begin to give an impression of the range of designs produced.

The desire for fun and quirky jewels caused a stampede in the jewelry- design world, as designers worked flat out to create the unusual and eye-catching. Designs were produced and copied and copied again. The turn-around of original to copy was happening at an amazing rate and the forerunners in design had a hard time keeping ahead of those determined to duplicate their work. So much time and effort was being expended in protecting designs and keeping ahead of the forgers that in the early 1950s history was made by Trifari, who successfully brought action against Corocraft in defending one of their more popular models.

The value of a figural brooch lies only part in its design, although there are some figural forms that are more popular than others, such as turtles, flowers, and insects. If a figural has a good maker's name on it, such as Chanel, Schiaparelli, or Marcel Boucher, then the value will increase; other figurals' values tend to be determined by their level of rarity. Near the maker's name one should also see the "STERLING" stamp.

Working with silver rather than base metals allowed a far greater level of definition to be produced, and some of these pieces contain amazing detail, not only in the overall design but also in the method of construction. However, silver as a colour of jewelry tended to be less popular than gold, hence the development of vermeil (a French word describing sterling silver that has a gold-plated finish), which combined the best features of both metals.


Vermeil is simply gilded silver, but there is a lot more to colouring the metal from which a piece is made than simply plating it. Leaving aside the special requirements of preparation for a restoration project, gilding pieces during the process of manufacture requires many steps, including cleaning, polishing, and plating with other metals first to ensure successful gilding.

The actual process used to deposit gold onto the substrate is known as "electroplating", in which the piece is immersed in a bath containing gold and an electric current is passed through the piece and the bath to leave either a "flash"(thin coating) of gold or a heavier thicknesses of gold, depending on the duration of the electroplating process.

Rolled gold, by contrast, is achieved by fusing a sheet of gold to a sheet of base metal and then rolling the two together thinly to produce a sheet of gilded metal.

Writer – Steven Miners

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