Whilst attending an exhibition of Freud’s self portraits at the RA, I had a most moving meeting with a young man and his family. I have never been
a great admirer of Freud’s work, except for a few very good paintings. The self portraits were not exactly inspiring, my knee was hurting, so I
sat on a bench near the end of the show opposite one of Freud’s best.
We are fortunate indeed to have for sale on 9th December two beautiful watercolours of Myanmar/Burmese scenes by the hugely influential Y Ba Nyan.
There are two quotations from Burmese authoritative writers that state his importance to the development of art in Myanmar/Burma. Sadly, as you
will read, most of his work was bought by the British and was lost in the war, so little of his art remains. When the National museum held a commemorative
exhibition in 2017, it could only find six paintings by him.
Coming up in our 23rd September sale we have a very fine portrait of the politician Nigel Farage by David Griffiths, one of the finest portrait painters
in Britain. His portrait could not have come to us at a better time. Almost everyone has heard of Nigel Farage and his campaigns to leave the EU.
In our September sale we have a very high quality mezzotint by Henry Macbeth-Rayburn titled Lord and Lady Melbourne and Family after George Stubbs.
If anyone reading this is as confused as I am by all the different types of print, I have written a small piece about the mezzotint considerably
helped by Charles Newington, a master printer.
Grand Auctions is pleased to be selling an early example of Rolex’s iconic reference 1675 GMT-Master watch in their 1st July Fine Arts Sale. The 1675
reference was in production from 1959 until 1980, and the eye-catching blue and red bezel of the so-called ‘Pepsi’ version has become one of the
cult watches of the 20th century.
In our 1st July Fine Arts Sale we have a large portrait of a woman, 4 x 3 feet, by an American artist, Cecile de Wentworth. That in itself is not particularly
interesting, but when you read what she achieved, it is indeed interesting, especially in the current feminist bonanza. Cecile rose right to the
top of the art world at a time, late nineteenth / early twentieth century, when women painters were not taken so seriously. She should really be
a beacon of light for the female movements.
Two years ago Nick Hills, a very generous gallery owner, asked us to sell some paintings to raise money for a new school in Rwanda, a country overcoming
its terrible recent history. A remarkable woman has inspired many people to join in the project to enable the main building to be completed.
The Military Cross, sometimes referred to as the MC, was a third level military decoration implemented as a direct result of the First World War. The
MC was initially issued on 28th December 1914 to junior commission officers of the substantive rank of Captain or below and warrant officers serving
in the Army.
Pop memorabilia: The Beatles signed Café Royal napkin. Signed on 1st January 1964 by all four members of The Beatles (Paul McCartney, John Lennon,
Ringo Star and George Harrison) at the Café Royal Hotel in London. Signed in blue ballpoint pen.
Due to the continued success of our free auction valuation days, Grand Auctions are proud to announce that they will be holding another event at St
Mary’s Church in Putney on Saturday 26th January 2019 between the hours of 10am and 1pm.
The Nailsea glasshouse factory was based near Bristol and was established by John Robert Lucas in 1788 producing glass until its closure in 1873. The
factory predominantly produced glass bottles in shades of green and crown window panes in clear and pale green. Being built in close proximity
to a coal mine and having all the available materials for production nearby enabled Nailsea to become one of the most prolific glass producers
in the country.
The term ‘silver gilt’ is used to describe an item of silver completely covered in a thin layer of gold. However, as you will find, this term is often
loosely used to describe ‘parcel gilt’ silver objects. Parcel gilding in fact refers to a silver object only partially covered with gold. For some
reason, 'parcel' is actually a corruption of the word 'partial' in this context, although I am not sure exactly when this change occurred.
After the outstanding success of the Jack the Ripper postcard which Grand Auctions sold in April for £22,000, we thought we would have a quick round-up
of some of the international press coverage we received in the following weeks. Click on the screenshots for the full stories or click here for even more coverage.
We have a wonderful satirical hand coloured print for sale by that master of satire and invective, James Gillray. In the eighteenth century two giants
held sway in the field of satire, Hogarth and Gillray. Until recently Hogarth was recognized as the greater figure, but recently the position seems
to have changed to Gillray, an extraordinary caricaturist and political satirist. He brilliantly made fun of the monarchy, especially George III
and George IV and other leading political and well known figures.
In just 43 chilling words, the spectre of one of Britain’s most infamous and grisly serial killers is raised when a postcard claiming to be written
by Jack the Ripper goes under the hammer on 30th April 2018.
British rummers were initially produced during the Georgian period from around 1780 onwards. The name rummer is thought to probably derive from the
Germanic word 'roemer' meaning ‘Roman type’. Roemers were in fact traditional German wine glasses produced during the 15th and 16th centuries.
They would typically have been designed with a flared foot and decorated with prunts in the the form of blackberries, raspberries or lions' heads
applied to the stem and functioning as a grip. Roemers were not produced in Britain during this period. However, a few were known to have been
made in England towards the end of the 17th century.
In our next sale, silver specialist Robin Newcombe has found one. We have some top quality silver for sale, probably the finest quality we have ever
had. Robin has been consigning silver items for some time, all of which will be offered on 26th February.
Our 11th December Fine Arts Sale had some interesting and varied lots, but a few stood out from the crowd with buyers making strong bids to secure
them. A rare and unusual owl perfume bottle went well over estimate; a scrapbook containing hand-drawn and coloured images of the Crimea attracted
worldwide interest; and three amber bead necklaces proved the continuing demand for the butterscotch resin.
There are five notable hallmarks struck on British silver, gold and platinum pieces to commemorate important, historical events in British history.
The first of these hallmarks implemented was the Silver Jubilee mark of King George and Queen Mary struck in 1935 which depicted both the King’s
and Queen’s crowned heads combined in profile and set within an oval punch.
What an occasion for us at Staines-upon-Thames with over a thousand people turning up to have their items valued. It was wonderful to see so many people
and we had a full team of experts present to handle the numbers. Alison, Robin, Simon and I were aided by Simon Valentine, Charles Newington and
guest valuer Paul Martin of BBC Flog It! fame. The event was part of the town’s efforts to raise their profile, considering Staines competes
for custom with towns like Eton and Windsor. The weekend showed a good increase in trade for nearby shops, so the scheme showed an immediate gain.
Grand Auctions is proud to be offering for auction this eye-catching watch,
a modern version of a distinctive timepiece originally created in The Roaring Twenties when wristwatches were first becoming popular. Think Bauhaus
and Art Deco, think jazz music, think post-war North American affluence, this is a watch of its time that still packs huge appeal, even (and especially)
in today’s digital era.
Grand Auctions has been invited to host a weekend of free auction valuations at Staines-upon-Thames together with Paul Martin, the well known TV presenter
of Flog It! The Staines-upon-Thames committee has sent out a press release about this unusual weekend:
When an item of silver is engraved, lines are cut into the object’s surface thereby removing silver in the process. Although sometimes visually similar
to the chasing method, the two techniques should not be confused (see Decorating Silver: Chasing, Embossing and Repoussé blog). As well as creating general decoration, engraving is typically used to apply armorial coats of arms, family crests, the owner’s initials
There are several ways in which a silversmith can decorate a silver object once the desired article has been formed. Typically, prior to the process
of applying the decoration, the object is supported and held steady for stability with either a sandbag or filled with pitch such as a viscoelastic
The Distinguished Service cross was introduced in 1901 and was initially named the Conspicuous Service Cross before being changed in October 1914.
The cross was created to award both warrant and junior naval officers who were not eligible for the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). As well
as the award’s name being changed in 1914, the eligibility was extended to include all naval officers below the rank of lieutenant commander.
Every now and then we come across a painter whose work is very interesting and somewhat different, but at the same time familiar. We have a small collection
of paintings in our current sale (lots 258-262) from a collector of the work of George Shirlaw, a genuine character.
George started life with an incredibly traumatic experience, he witnessed his father being decapitated and his mother tortured and killed by the
Japanese after the fall of Singapore. He was saved by an airman, who took him to Australia to see out the war.
In the news recently was the story of a 26.27 carat cushion cut diamond originally purchased in a Sunday sale in the 1980s for only £10. The owner
always presumed it was paste and enjoyed wearing it for 30 years before finally discovering its true worth after visiting a jeweller’s. It sold
for the incredible hammer price of £540,000 at Sotheby’s, London on 7th June! In this blog we take a quick look back at a few other, notable car
boot sale finds.
The Royal Airforce was formed on 1st April 1918. Shortly after, on 3rd June, the Distinguished Flying Cross was created in order to recognise actively
galant and heroic actions against the enemy. The cross was originally only awarded to commissioned and warrant officers as the other ranks were
issued with the Distinguished Flying Medal. However, in 1941, the award was extended to those serving in the Fleet Air Arm serving in the RAF and,
from February 1942, to the personnel of the Dominions.
On Monday 8th May we are selling a large painting of the highest quality, The Annunciation with Saint Charles Borromeo,
attributed to the French master Nicolas Mignard (1606-1668). The painting came up for sale on April 2010 at Christie's Old Master and 19th Century
Sale in King Street estimated at £15,000 to £20,000.
We have for sale an exquisite painting by Brian Shields,
known by all as Braaq. Brian was a very talented artist when young and was nicknamed Braque by his school friends. The name stuck but he changed
it to Braaq. Mind you, it is surprising his friends had heard of Braque, good for them.
Grand Auctions has a gem for sale on 8th May - an original manuscript by Spike Milligan about Paris and Art. For some reason John Bratby asked Spike to write this piece. As ever Spike’s writing is very funny and typically ‘goon’. As
we all know, Spike was the inspiration for the Monty Python team and Miller and Cook before them, as well as countless other comedians. Spike has
titled the piece ‘Milligart’.
Grand Auctions are excited to announce the addition of a rare and unusual late 18th / early 19th century Chinese Buddha to be sold in our forthcoming auction to be held on Monday 8th May 2016 at 11am (BST). Very few similar examples of this kind exist and when rarely
auctioned, they typically appear at major auction houses, notably in both Christie’s and Sotheby’s sales. The latest example of a similarly represented
Buddha was sold at Sotheby’s in New York on 14th September 2011 for $25,000 (hammer price) against an estimate of $15,000 - $25,000.
All our staff descended on St. Mary’s Church in Putney to hold our first valuation weekend in London. We went with a little trepidation, what if no
one turned up at all? We were made very welcome by the helpful staff, who settled us into a rather interesting room, the Cromwell Room. Attached
to the church was a large and extremely good café offering a wide range of food and drink. We needn’t have worried, soon a large number of people
appeared wanting valuations and items to be sold at auction.
This weekend, 28th and 29th January 2017, we are holding two valuation days at St Mary’s Church in Putney. We will be in The Cromwell Room, St Mary’s
Church, High Street, Putney SW15 1SN. The church is just the south side of Putney Bridge. We will be there from 11.00 am – 3.00 pm on Saturday
28th, and from 12.00 noon – 3.00 pm on Sunday 29th.
The Defence Medal was issued by the United Kingdom in May 1945 and is the most common of the Second World War series of medals. It was awarded to a
large number of civilians of the British Commonwealth who formed part of the recognised defence units such as the Home Guard and Civil Defence
and the non-operational military who were subjected to air attack or closely threatened during three years of service running up to the 8th May
1945. The medal was issued unnamed and produced in cupro-nickel with exception to the Canadian issue version which was struck in silver.
No doubt many of you will have read about or seen the American Abstract Expressionists’ exhibition at the Royal Academy. Together with Dominic Kemp,
our excellent auctioneer, I went to see the RA show.
I happened to be in London the other day before attending a members’ forum at the MCC, when I called into The Whitford Fine Art Gallery, which always
seems to have interesting exhibitions. I was absolutely blown away by the current exhibition of abstract expressionist works by the British artist
Avray Wilson. Avray was the original renaissance man, scientist, artist, writer and intellectual, but above all at best he could paint superbly.
The gallery gave me a short piece about Avray, which I have copied below. If you want a free visual feast, go along to Whitford Fine Art in Duke
Street, St. James’s. Above is the painting Conjugation.
We are delighted to report that Grand Auctions set a new auction record for prints by HRH Prince Charles in our September sale. The two most popular
subjects were Balmoral (pictured above) and Sandringham (pictured below), both of which made £1,800 hammer.
It is a lucky coincidence that we are selling one of Charles Newington’s major paintings at the same time there is a major exhibition of the paintings
of Wifredo Lam at the Tate Gallery. Unfortunately the exhibition is at Tate Modern, a building I greatly dislike. Lam, together with Roberto Matta,
has been one of the inspirations for Charles’s work throughout his life. Lam was born in Sagua La Grande, Cuba with a Chinese father and a mother
of Spanish/African heritage, an interesting mix. He was given money by his home town to attend art school in Madrid. Unknown to many in his later
life, Lam studied in detail the work of the Old Masters and developed a career as a portrait painter.
Among the notable paintings in the Rwanda Sale is one by Andrew Vicari, which had previously been put up for sale by Christie’s in Dubai in 2006 at
an estimated value of $25,000 to $35,000. In 2006 Vicari appeared in the Sunday Times Rich List with a fortune of £92 million, which made him the
world’s richest living painter.
Two very interesting, large engravings are coming up for sale on Monday 11th July with local and national interest. One of them depicts Henry VIII
embarking from Dover to sail to France to meet the King of France for his famous Tudor PR stunt of the Field of Cloth of Gold, which is the subject
for the second engraving.
With great timing, the Redfern Gallery will be holding a major exhibition of David Tindle’s work on 7th June in Cork Street to coincide with the opening
of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. If you want to buy some interesting Tindles, now is the time to bid at our auction before prices are affected
by all the forthcoming publicity.
The Victory Medal also known as the Allied Victory Medal was issued as a result of an International agreement reached at the Inter Allied Peace Conference.
Although each Allied nation issued their own bronze victory medal, they all bore a similar design with equivalent wording and an identical rainbow
coloured ribbon. In this blog we will take a look at the medal and its history in a little more detail.
Grand Auctions is sponsoring an unusual exhibition at Flavours by Kumar restaurant in Ramsgate. People have heard me often praising the standard of
food at this restaurant and of course, take my words with a pinch of salt. But this year it is official, Flavours by Kumar is the best Indian restaurant
in the UK. Recently Anil Kumar was presented with the Tiffin Cup in the House of Commons by Keith Vaz after a competition for Indian restaurants
from all over Britain. Well done Anil. His prices are also amazingly reasonable for the quality of food.
Nearly 6.5 million British War Medals were produced in silver with approximately 110,000 produced in bronze. They were produced to commemorate some
of the most horrific battles ever known, resulting in a vast number of casualties and deaths. All ranks of both men and women who served with the
British and Imperial forces, whether as part of a unit in a theatre of war or those employed in hospitals were awarded with the British War Medal.
The Mercantile Marine War medal was awarded by the Board of Trade to all Mercantile Marine ranks who had undertaken one or more voyages through either
a war zone or a considered danger zone. This included men who served in the coastal trade such as lightship crews, pilots and fishermen. Additionally,
it was awarded to all those who had served for more than six months at sea between 4th August 1914 and 11th November 1918.
There are three variations of these campaign medals which were awarded to both officers and men of the British and Imperial forces who saw service
in any theatre of war during World War One between 1914 and 1915. These medals were never awarded singularly and were generally presented to those
who were awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal.
It could be obvious to assume that miniature silver items such as candlesticks, teapots and plates were samples produced for travelling salesmen or
alternatively practice examples made by silversmith apprentices. Although some miniature objects were produced for travelling salesmen by, for
example, the ceramic manufacturers Moorcroft and Doulton, in the context of silver this is simply not the case. Miniature silver objects were generally
made for those who collect novelty silver items or manufactured as toys to be integrated into extravagant dolls houses.
Coming up for sale at our 7th December auction are two intriguing items of Roman jewellery - an armlet and a two finger ring. Rings were exceedingly
popular with Roman women and were a sign of their status and wealth, just like today. In the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, rings were so popular they
were often worn on all 8 fingers and on both thumbs! Unlike today though, the rings were usually worn in front of the knuckle, and were therefore
a lot smaller.
The simple answer is yes, probably. But to understand why requires more of an explanation. The key point to consider is, could you describe your items
from memory in enough detail to have them accurately replaced? Do you know their precise measurements, materials and embellishments? If no, then
a valuation is strongly recommended.
Diamond mining company Alrosa have found a 102.85 carat diamond in their Jubilee kimberlite pipe in Siberia, Russia. One of the largest diamond mines
in the world, it has estimated reserves of more than 170 million carats, and has a solid reputation for large diamond finds.
In my blog, Enamelling Silver: Cloisonné, I discussed the silver enamelling technique know as cloisonné,
which involves soldering silver or gold wire to the surface of a silver object to form patterns acting as the skeleton of the design, which is
then filled with enamel and fired.
The process of decorating silver objects with colourful enamels has existed in England since the 12th century. However, the origins of enamelling metalwork
items can be traced further back to the early Byzantine Empire mainly being found on religious objects and articles of jewellery.
Grand Auctions is delighted to offer for sale the studio of Charles Newington, one of Britain’s most original artists. Charles is best known in the
Folkestone area for his White Horse on the Hill, a much loved local landmark and now the logo for Shepway District Council.
In the tropical climate of Folkestone, Grand Auctions is offering for sale three exotic bronze beasts. The intrepid Robin Newcombe says, “We have a
baby elephant, a crocodile and a turtle. They are big, the crocodile is 2.2 metres in length! The quality of workmanship is terrific. Now is the
time to make your garden exciting and set up a tropical paradise!"
Quartz is the second most abundant mineral in the Earth’s crust after feldspar and occurs in two main types: crystalline and polycrystalline. Crystalline
quartz forms as relatively large crystals mostly visible to the unaided eye, whereas polycrystalline quartz exists as masses of tiny crystals or
In a previous blog, Early British Glass Scent Bottles, I mentioned that the last notable
milestone in the manufacture of British glass scent bottles during the 19th century was the introduction of cameo glass. Due to the wide range
of beautiful cameo glassware produced during the 19th century and leading well into the 20th century, I thought it would be interesting to take
a moment to expand upon this.
Amber is an organic material composed of fossilised tree resin. The resin is produced by trees as a defence against disease and insect attack. Whilst
most gem ambers are between 15 million and 40 million years old, some ambers have been found to be as old as 300 million years.
The technique of decorating silver with the black metallic compound known as Niello can be traced as far back as both the ancient Egyptian and Roman
times. However, the majority of examples found tend to originate from Russia with the majority being produced during the 19th through to the early
20th century. Some of the finest examples were produced in the Velikiy Ustyug region of Russia and typically incorporate depictions of towns, landscapes,
architectural scenes or florally inspired designs. The town of Tula in Russia is especially renowned for its niello work which accounts for the
reason why it is sometimes alternatively referred to as ‘Tula’ silver.
Featuring in Grand Auctions’ 8th June sale will be an exceptional diamond brooch with an estimated total diamond weight of 11.39 carats. It is set with a large cushion cut diamond to the centre which weighs 5.90 cts.
The size and high colour grade of this diamond is what makes the brooch so special and a great deal of interest is expected on the day.
The word ‘bosun’ (Bo’sun / Boson) is derived from ’boatswain’. The boatswain was the individual onboard a ship in charge of anchors, cables and rigging
amongst other duties. They would either be integrated as a warrant officer onboard a warship or a petty officer onboard a merchant vessel. Originally,
the bosun whistle was utilised to pass commands on to the crew onboard the ship. With its distinctive high pitched sound, the message could be
heard throughout the ship over noise of crew activities or during a time when experiencing poor weather conditions. To this day, the bosun whistle
is used by the Navy in traditional bugle calls for announcing events and ceremonies and they are also used as standard by military navies from
around the world.
Although not technically a complication, the tourbillon is certainly worthy of inclusion under the genre. It is a movement which places the escapement
and the balance wheel of a watch inside a rotating cage. The word tourbillon refers to the vortex created by whirlwinds or whirlpools, an image
evoked by the movement of the rotating cage. Such a design is intended to negate the effects of gravity when the timepiece (and therefore the escapement)
remains too long in the vertical position. In this article we take a brief look at the history and design of the tourbillon.
Silver tea caddy spoons are used for taking dry, loose tea from a tea caddy and were designed to fit inside one of the tea caddy’s compartments. Silver
caddy spoons can be found dating as far back as the 1770’s. Towards the end of the 18th century, production steadily increased and by the early
1800’s their popularity was thriving.
The dual time zone allows the wearer of a watch to see at a glance the time in another part of the world. Generally, both displays are powered by the
same movement, but there are still variants within the genré, a few of which I will explore here.
Although visiting tickets later known as calling cards or business cards were popular in Great Britain during the 18th century, it wasn’t until circa
1835 that silver card cases were designed to hold them. The popularity of these silver card cases kept growing and it wasn’t until the mid 1860’s
that their appeal began to wain. However, production still continued well into the 20th century.
This complication provides an indication of various aspects of the calendar, for example the date, the month and the year. Calendar watches can be
very simple or incredibly complicated depending on just how much information they provide and how often they need manual adjustment to retain accuracy.
Some of the most expensive watches in the world feature calendar complications and can sell at auction for many £millions. In this article we look
at the different types of calendar complication.
Stirrup cups first appeared in Great Britain during the 1760’s. However, little is known about their specific origin. The most plausible explanation for their purpose was for making toasts prior to departure of a hunt whilst seated on horseback with both feet in stirrups. Before the arrival of stirrup cups, dram cups and tot cups were generally used in Britain in similar contexts.
In this article, part of a series about watches, we take a look at the repeater complication. A repeater is a watch that is able to chime the time on demand at the press of a button. Dating back to the 17th century, in an age before artificial illumination was widespread, this function could be extremely useful. Now, it is valued more as an example of fine horology expertise and collected by enthusiasts.
Candelabra are large candlesticks designed for the dinner table with additional branches for holding extra lights. Early silver examples can be traced back to the mid 17th century. However, the vast majority of surviving examples originate from the late 18th and 19th century.
In this new series of articles about watches, we take a look at various watch ‘complications’, or features of a watch above and beyond the standard time-telling function. Complications can be relatively simple, such as adding date functionality, or extremely complex, such as displaying equation of time, the discrepancy between apparent and mean solar time. In this first article we take a look at the chronograph complication.
In September Petra Diamonds Limited reported the recovery of an exceptional 232.08 ct white diamond at the Cullinan mine in South Africa. The stone is a D colour Type II diamond of exceptional size and clarity. This month the diamond was sold to Diacore, the diamond manufacturer, for $15,219,219 or $65,577 per carat.
Japanese jubako boxes are stackable, tiered food containers which are usually modelled in either square or cylindrical form. Jubako containers on average consist of three to five layers and are made of either lacquered wood or porcelain.
High Pressure High Temperature, or HPHT, describes a form of treatment that can be applied to diamonds in order to improve their colour. In this article we take a brief look at the process and explain what differentiates them from the real thing.
Recently the artist Charles Newington was filmed in the TV programme 'Coast' as the painter William Daniell. The scene in the TV production remembered the remarkable and often perilous work of William Daniell on his epic travels around the coast of Britain 1814-1825.
I find in life certain accepted terms and words can be very grating on one’s system. In art speak I loathe the expression ‘cutting edge of art’. What on earth does that actually mean? Is it critic speak for complete rubbish that needs an explanation, or is it a term that is easy to use because critics are too lazy to think of what they precisely mean?
Despite having similar names, chrysoberyl is a completely different mineral to beryl, the group of gemstones to which emerald and aquamarine belong. Chrysoberyl is a very hard stone and is rated 8.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness sitting just below ruby and sapphire. In this article we will explore some of its other characteristics as well as have a look at the rare and valuable variety of chrysoberyl known as alexandrite.
The word Kakiemon is derived from the name of the Japanese potter Sakaida Kizaemon (1615 - 1653 AD) who invented this style of porcelain. Prior to the work of Kizaemon, the Japanese porcelain industry was considered to be in its infancy having only produced both blue and white wares and celadon porcelain wares.
Petra diamonds, who own the famous Cullinan mine in South Africa, have announced that they have found a 122.5 carat blue diamond there. 109 years ago the mine produced the largest piece of gem quality diamond ever discovered, the Cullinan stone. To read more about this discovery, read our blog The Cullinan II Diamond.
A flawless blue diamond weighing 13.22 carats sold at Christie's auctioneers on Wednesday 14th May for a record breaking £14 million. Jean-Marc Lunel, senior international specialist of Christie's jewellery department described the stone as, 'absolutely perfect, absolutely pure externally and internally. It is almost a dream'.
In the year 1667 during the reign of the Kangxi Emporor (1662 - 1722) an edict was enforced issuing a ban on reign marking non-Imperial porcelain wares. As a result, the majority of pieces from this period were typically marked with two concentric circles to the base without the expected reign mark.
In an earlier blog I discussed the origins, function and importance of the Japanese sword guard know as the tsuba. Although tsubas are considered one of the most important parts of the Japanese sword, there are other parts which are still worthy of mentioning in greater detail. The menuki is one of these.
Cultured pearls is the term used to refer to pearls that are formed as a result of a shell’s response to some form of tissue implant. This article will look at how this is done and how the end product can be differentiated from naturally formed pearls.
During the 19th century, the company James Macintyre & Co. based in Burslem, Staffordshire were a large and influential company manufacturing a wide range of commercial pottery and porcelain. In 1893, the company decided as part of their expansion efforts that they wanted to develop a new and exciting range of ornamental art pottery wares. After a series of short appointments, in 1897 they employed William Moorcroft as their designer. Within a year of working for Macintyre, William Moorcroft became completely in charge of the design and production aspect of the art pottery.
Ruby and sapphire both belong to the mineral family corundum. Corundum was first synthesised back in 1837 by the French chemist Marc Gaudin, but it was Auguste Verneuil, in the late 19th century, who perfected the process. He invented the flame fusion process, the first commercially successful method of producing synthetic rubies and, later, synthetic sapphires.
The vast majority of Irish silver originates from Dublin. The earliest examples date as far back as 1637 when a King Charles I charter was devised for both silver and gold warranting all pieces to be marked with a crowned harp together with the maker's mark.
A star ruby or sapphire is a beautiful thing, but a natural, untreated one is a very rare thing. In this blog I will take a brief look at what these stones are, how they are formed and what to look out for.
Snuff was first introduced to China by the Europeans in the mid 16th century probably not long after tobacco was first imported. However, snuff bottles can be only traced back as far as the 17th century during the reign of the Qing dynasty emperor Shunzhi (1643 - 61 AD).
The Atmos clock is a mechanical clock invented by Jean-Léon Reutter in 1928, and then perfected and manufactured by the Swiss clock and watch manufacturer, Jaeger-LeCoultre. Uniquely, it is powered by minute changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure, meaning that it can operate without the need for regular winding.
The birth of the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644 AD) brought a new Imperial rule warranting requirements for the use of monochrome ceramics. This not only resulted in the resurgence of many previously popular colours but also the creation of a much wider variety of new and striking colours.
Tourmaline is a semi precious gemstone that occurs in any colour and in a greater range than other common gemstones. It has a number of strange and quirky characteristics that this article will briefly explore, some of which can help to readily identify it.
Sang-de-boeuf is a French expression used to describe a particular type of red glaze applied to Chinese ceramic wares. The term sang-de-boeuf translates as 'ox blood' and is known to the Chinese as 'lang yao hong'. Although this colour was first achieved during the Ming dynasty, it wasn't until the Kangxi (1662 - 1722) and later Qianlong (1736 - 1795) Emperor’s reign period that the colouring technique was truly mastered.
Emerald is the green variety of the mineral beryl. It is coloured green by tiny amounts of chromium and sometimes vanadium. Aquamarine is another example of the mineral beryl except that it is blue. Other varieties include heliodor (yellow), morganite (pink), bixbite (red) and goshenite (colourless).
Wucai porcelain wares are referred to as 'five coloured' wares. The significance of using five colours is most likely related to numeric symbolism in China. The combination of colours usually consists of red, green and yellow enamels painted over washes of underglaze cobalt blue against a white porcelain ground. This ornamental technique was created and developed during the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1642 AD) gaining interest from the Chinese emperors who commissioned a wide variety of wucai decorated objects. The finest examples are generally considered to be from the reign of the emperor Wanli (1572 - 1620 AD).
Chocolate first appeared in Britain during the 1650s. Being marketed as an expensive, luxury product this triggered silversmiths to design and produce a series of utensils to both aid the drinking of chocolate and emphasize the consumers status. The main object used was the chocolate pot. The majority of chocolate pots were produced around the late 17th century to the early 18th century. As opposed to coffee pots with only one lid, chocolate pots are distinguished by the inclusion of a secondary lid attached to the main lid.
Glass paperweights are avidly collected worldwide. The earliest and most sought after examples were produced during the 1840s by the three leading French companies Baccarat, St. Louis and Clichy. Out of these, Clichy paperweights tend to be considered by many to be the finest and hence are often the most expensive. The best Clichy paperweights were manufactured circa 1846 – 1852. However, Clichy paperweights are not only difficult to source but can prove to be difficult to identify due to never being dated and only signed with the letter 'C' being subtly integrated within the pattern.
One of the most important parts of a Japanese sword is undoubtedly the tsuba. The principal function of the tsuba was to protect the hand by preventing the opponent's sword from sliding down past the blade. It was also key in acting as the central point of gravity and balance.
It was towards the end of the 16th century that they became used as portable containers for medicine. Inro are usually constructed with a wooden core and then lacquered. The production process was very precise as the tiered and interlocking compartments forming the inro had to be absolutely airtight meaning that the thickness of each lacquer coating had to be taken in to great consideration. Sometimes a single coat would take as much as one month to dry!
Tanzanite is the blue to violet transparent variety of the mineral zoisite and is named after the locality in which it was first discovered – Tanzania. Zoisite can also be found in pinks, yellows, greens and browns with many of these other colours turning blue to violet when heated to 300°C – 400°C. In fact heat treatment is now so wide spread that Tanzanite is assumed to be heated and this has little impact on price.
Recently a small painting by John Constable was given a major feature on BBC’s morning news programme. The vendor’s father had bought the painting as part of a job lot from a Canterbury auction house for £30. We have been offered at least three ‘Constables’, a ‘Mondrian’ and a ‘Rembrandt’ in the short time we have been in operation. Fakes abound where artists make good money, which is understandable, but rather sad. The three ‘Constables’ offered to me were patently fakes, but how does one tell whether it is a fake or not. If you know an artist’s work well, the brushwork and composition of the painting will be the biggest clue. When the TV cameras showed a close up of the Constable, it was relatively easy to tell the painting might well be by Constable, the subject, brushwork and composition all suggested it could be genuine.
Following on from our last blog about emerald treatments, in this piece I will be having a brief look at synthetic emeralds. There are two main methods of producing man made emeralds which are explained below. I have also looked at how these synthetic gemstones can be detected.
Doucai decorated porcelain involves a combination of two techniques. Firstly underglaze cobalt blue outlines are painted to the body of a piece and then secondly, once fired, various overglaze coloured enamels are applied within the borders of the underglaze blue outline.
A large proportion of emeralds on the market today have been subjected to some kind of treatment process in order to improve their colour or clarity or both. The most common of these treatments is ‘oiling’. This involves filling the cracks in emerald with oil, a process which is carried out under vacuum. The oil is designed to disguise the cracks and to improve the way the stone looks. Whilst most producers of emerald consider this treatment to be normal practice, the oil does tend to dry out over time, leaving behind rather obvious looking pale fractures. Detecting the oil can be difficult. A microscope will often be needed to study any cracks for gaps that the oil has missed. Sometimes flashes of different coloured light will give away the difference in refraction of the oil and the actual emerald.
Silver deposit glass was a decorative technique primarily used in the late 19th/early 20th century. The manufacturing process involved silver being applied to a glass body which would then be fired and buffed to create a course surface. The next process involved electrolysis whereby the object would be immersed in a plating solution with a low electrical current passing through it for several hours. Finally the object would be polished to achieve a shiny finish. Examples like the ones illustrated would have sections of the silver pierced and then finely engraved with further detail.
As the weather men finally promise a raise in temperatures for the UK, spare a thought for those miners working at the Ekati Diamond Mine in Canada's Northwest territories. The mine is situated 120 miles south of the Arctic circle in an area covered by tundra, lakes, rivers and marshes. It is a humid subarctic continental climate with cool summers and no dry season. The average temperature typically varies from -31°C to 18°C but is rarely below -38°C or above 23°C.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, farmers, and especially their young children, would periodically find rough, alluvial diamonds. Washed up in river beds, these early diamond finds were rarely recognised for what they actually were and the gems often remained in the homestead to be used as playthings!
‘Cueva de los Cristales’, or, ‘Cave of Crystals’, is a giant underground cave containing some of the largest, naturally growing crystals ever found on earth. It is situated 300 metres below the surface in Naica, Chihuahua, Mexico. The crystals here are formed of selenite or gypsum and are a brilliant, clear, luminous white. The largest crystal here measures 12 metres in length, 4 metres in diameter and weighs an estimated 55 tons!
The Golden Jubilee Diamond is the world’s largest faceted diamond. Until 1985 this title had belonged to the Cullinan I, the Star of Africa, but the discovery of a 755.5 carat piece of rough at the Premier Mine in South Africa was to change this.
A while back I posted a blog, Mining for Pink Diamonds, about the discovery in 2011 of a rough pink diamond weighing 12.76 carats at the Argyle Mine in Western Australia. It was the largest pink diamond ever found in the country. Estimated to be worth millions, the diamond was named the Argyle Pink Jubilee and was to be cut and polished in Perth, before being sold in late 2012.
Continuing our countdown of the world’s largest cut diamonds, we have the Cullinan I in second place. The Cullinan I was one of nine major stones cut from an enormous piece of rough found in the Premier Mine in South Africa in 1905. It was the largest piece of gem quality rough ever discovered. For more information on the rough stone and how it was found, see our blog, The Cullinan II Diamond.
The Incomparable is the third largest cut diamond in the world. It was discovered as a piece of rough weighing an incredible 890 carats in the town of Mbuji Mayi in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in the 1980s. Incredibly, it was discovered by a young girl playing outside her uncle's house in a pile of rubble that had been discarded by a nearby diamond mine as being too bulky to be worth processing for diamonds! The little girl's uncle sold it on to some local African diamond dealers who in turn sold it to a group of Lebanese diamond buyers in Kinshasa. It was then purchased in Antwerp by De Beers and sold to Donald Zale, chairman of the board of the Zale Corporation, the Dallas-based jewellery store chain, in partnership with Marvin Samuels of the Premier Gems Corporation and Louis Glick, both prominent figures in the New York diamond industry. The finished stone was finally unveiled in November 1984 as part of Zale's 75th Diamond Anniversary.
Fifteen years ago Bob Harvey was found dead on a platform near the top of a Titan rocket with a six inch gash in the back of his head. How had he died? Some unusual events following his death have created unsolved mysteries.
Lacquer comes from the sap of the Lac tree, a type of Sumac tree which is commonly found in central and southern China. The principal constituent of the sap is urushiol, the word urushiol being derived from the Japanese word 'urushi' meaning lacquer. The lacquer is extracted in a similar way to rubber by making incisions in the bark of the tree and collecting the sap.
Vinaigrettes are small tightly lidded boxes designed for containing strong aromatic substances. They were produced from around 1780 through to the mid 19th century during which a seemingly infinite variety of designs were created. They were usually made from a range of materials such as gold, silver, enamels or glass mounted in silver. A good proportion of these were highly decorated with beautiful ornament and interesting topographical scenes which successfully disguised their real purpose which was to refresh and revive the individual.
The first official marks on Scottish silver appeared in 1457. This was due to an enactment implemented requiring a minimum of 91.66% silver content for silver objects. These silver pieces were struck with both the maker’s mark and the deacon's mark. The deacon was the chief office bearer of the craft in the town and was often a silversmith himself. In 1485 another enactment was introduced requiring the town of origin to be stated, meaning that three marks were now struck.
Early Jamaican silver is amongst the rarest of British colonial silver wares to be found. It is highly collected and often very difficult to source. These pieces were usually produced for the wealthy plantation owners who tended to live a luxurious lifestyle, often imitating the customs of the wealthy in fashionable London.
The Cullinan II is one of nine major diamonds cut from the largest piece of gem quality diamond ever discovered, the Cullinan stone. Late one afternoon in 1905, Mr Frederick Wells, superintendent of the prolific Premier Mine in South Africa, was making a routine inspection. He noticed something bright glinting in the mine wall several feet above him and so quickly climbed up to investigate. At first he thought that somebody was playing a practical joke and that he had been tricked by a large piece of glass. Tests quickly proved to the contrary. He had discovered a massive piece of rough diamond weighing some 3106 carats.
In 1697 a new high standard rate of silver was introduced known as the Britannia Standard. Britannia silver was an increase from the sterling standard rate of 92.5% to 95.84%. The reason for its introduction was actually a consequence of the English Civil War (1642 - 1651) during which massive amounts of silver had been melted down and converted into money to pay the troops.
Prior to the late 16th century, there is very little evidence to suggest that much glass was being produced in England. The earliest signs which appear are from the time when England was under Roman occupation. Other than this only a very small amount of medieval “forest” glass from The Weald area of Southern England have been discovered. All other glass found was imported predominantly from Italy.
The Spirit of De Grisogono is the fifth largest diamond in the world as well as being the world’s largest cut black diamond. Mined decades ago in Central Africa, the original rough weighed some 587 carats. It was imported into Switzerland where it was cut using the Mogul cutting technique by Swiss jeweller De Grisogono. The whole process of design and execution lasted a whole year and resulted in a finished gem weighing 312.24 carats.
Jade nephrite and jadeite are minerals with a fine crystalline structure. The crystals are felted together creating an interlocking structure which gives them a greater toughness than steel! Therefore, it is no surprise that jade was used as early as the Neolithic age as tools and weapons particularly as axes, knives or scrapers.
The dragon is one of China's most ancient symbols and has appeared in practically every facet of Chinese art. Depictions of dragons can be found on objects dating as far back as the Shang dynasty (circa 1570 - 1045 BC).
1300 was the year when London sterling silver was first marked with the leopard's head. Unfortunately there were some unscrupulous goldsmiths who developed their own leopard's head punches which they would then strike against sub standard silver objects.
Pure silver is a very soft and malleable metal. However, by adding a small quantity of copper, it can become much harder and more durable. The combination of silver and copper was first used by the Greeks and Romans and has since become a very practical material for coinage as well as for domestic and ceremonial use.
When thinking of glass objects, one of the last places to think of is China. This is partially due to the sheer volume that has been produced elsewhere in the world, combined with the fact that the Chinese are typically renowned for their production of fine porcelain and jade, amongst other things. The truth is that glassmaking in China has never been a major industry. Prior to the introduction of Western techniques and through the influences of Jesuit missionaries during the Kangxi period (1661 - 1722 AD), glass was considered second to both porcelain and jade and only used to imitate these materials at a much lower price.
Discovered on 17th July 1986 at the De Beers Premier Mine in Gauteng Province, South Africa, the rough stone from which the Centenary diamond was cut weighed some 599 carats. That makes it the twentieth largest rough diamond ever to come out of those mines. Once finished, it would become the world's sixth largest cut diamond. Its discovery couldn’t have been timed better for De Beers who were due to celebrate 100 years of operations in 1988. At a celebratory banquet on 11th March of that year, De Beers chairman, Julian Oglivie Thompson, announced the find to a stunned audience.
Celadon is essentially a term coined by the Europeans to describe a wide range of porcellanous wares from both China and Korea which have a distinctive pale grey-green or blue-green glaze. To the Chinese it is known as 'Qingci' which simply translates as greenish porcelain.
Fine Chinese porcelain objects were produced for the Chinese royal family and court for over a thousand years before Western trade even commenced. The Chinese prized porcelain second only to jade for its hardness, pureness in colour, translucence and most of all for its resonant sound when lightly tapped. With all of these positive attributes, it is no surprise that the Chinese focused on its development, shaping, modelling and decorating objects with exquisite skill, detail and wonderful imagination. Hence the finest pieces are not simply considered as interesting curiosities but fine works of art in their own right. It was these much admired examples which would have been seen by the early merchants that inevitably led to the mass export of Chinese porcelain to places such as England, France, Holland, Sweden, India and Russia and the United States of America.
The seventh largest diamond in the world again comes from South Africa. In 1895 a rough stone shaped as an irregular octahedron and weighing 650.80 carats was unearthed in the Jagersfontein mine. The following year it was sent to Amsterdam for cutting.
Weighing 234.65 carats, the De Beers Diamond is the eighth largest diamond in the world. It is cut from a huge light yellow octahedral crystal found in the De Beers Consolidated Mines not long after they opened in Kimberley, South Africa in 1888. The original crystal measured 47.6 mm through its longest axis and was some 38.1 mm square. It weighed 428.50 old carats, the pre-1913 non metric carat weight.
Having a mark on a Chinese vase naturally enhances its appeal and can help to increase its market value. However, they can not be relied upon alone for determining the age as many Chinese objects were given earlier reign marks. What should primarily be considered when dating and valuing a Chinese ceramic object is the shape, style and quality of craftsmanship. The mark should in fact be the last determining factor as most have spurious marks which tend to act as a distraction. On the other hand when evaluating an object, it is essential to inspect the base first. Usually the quality of the mark will be reflected by the quality of the object.
After my light hearted blog selecting my five favourite paintings in the world, I received a slightly curt Twitter repsonse from the Prado Gallery in Madrid. The gist of the message was that there were many old masters worthy of consideration. I think the gallery has slightly missed the point, five from the world’s art collection hardly gives me a chance to mention their many Goyas, El Grecos and Velazquez.
The ninth largest diamond in the world is called the Red Cross Diamond. The stone is a canary yellow cushion shaped diamond from the De Beers Kimberley mines in South Africa and weighs 205.07 carats. The original rough stone was found in 1901 and is said to have weighed some 375 carats.
Never a day seems to pass without the media asking us to vote for the greatest, the best and worst of all, the most unique film, tune, footballer etc. etc.. It is always the same, the best, greatest, unique seems to have been famous in the last few years. Memories are short, and most of the voters are young.
Anyone interested in the aeroplanes of the Battle of Britain should come to Grand Auctions, where there are several paintings of the most famous planes coming up for sale. There is a large and very impressive painting of the iconic Lancaster bomber, which even had a success in the recent past. During the Test Match between England and Australia at Lords, there was a flight of a Lancaster and two Spitfires over the ground. All the crowd stood up and cheered and play stopped. Andrew Strauss, who was batting very well at the time was soon out after play resumed, he blamed the Lancaster for his loss of concentration!
We all know that the art world suffers from a great deal of hype, snobbery and acquisitive motivation. But it has always been like that. In Roman times at the end of BC heading into AD the great social divide to sort out the wealthy and successful from the rest was the humble table, hence our expression of ‘turning the tables on someone.’ The great Marcus Tullius Cicero spent the modern equivalent of millions on a superb marble table to show off his status and good taste. We would find all this faintly amusing today, tastes certainly change.
On a cold winter’s evening back in 2005, I visited Kew Gardens where a major exhibition was being held featuring a multitude of works by the internationally renowned, contemporary glass artist Dale Chihuly. Both inside and outside the glasshouses was a stunning display of organically shaped, beautifully lit glass sculptures. Wondering around admiring these magnificent sculptures really left a huge impression on me. The sheer scale of some was incredible.
Grand Auctions is offering for sale on 23rd May a textile wall panel designed by Henry Moore in the 1940s, only 65 of which were made. Moore was commissioned to design textiles by Zika Ascher, a Czech textile manufacturer, who had fled Gemany before the war. He also commissioned Sutherland, Picasso, Matisse and Derain.