Bejewelled Flora and Fauna for Spring

by Reema Farooqui

A La Vieille Russie at The Philadelphia Show

At world renowned antiques, jewellery and art dealer, A La Vieille Russie (ALVR) you don’t just find beautiful jewellery and antiques, you also find riveting stories and immaculate provenance. What’s more, ALVR is recognized as the foremost authority in the world on the works of goldsmith and master jeweller Carl Fabergé. In fact, they are responsible for introducing Fabergé’s works to North American jewellery and art lovers.

A La Vieille Russie was established in Kyiv in 1851. A family enterprise, today their gallery on Fifth Avenue, New York City, is managed by the fourth and fifth generation of the family – brothers Paul and Peter L. Schaffer, and Paul’s son, Dr. Mark Schaffer. The precious works of art and exceptional jewellery pieces, including one-of-a-kind jewellery pieces from the 18th century all the way through the 1970s, makes ALVR’s collection not only rare but also much coveted by art and jewellery aficionados from all over the world.

This year ALVR returns to The Philadelphia Show, after a hiatus of four years. The Philadelphia Show is an annual event which showcases exceptional works of art, jewellery and design, presented by leading American art and antique dealers. “The show has always been a high level show with top dealers and specialists in their respective fields. The quality of the works presented by the dealers is a real draw,” Peter Schaffer observed about the show.  

A La Vieille Russie’s presentation at The Philadelphia Show will be centered around the wonders of nature and the advent of spring. Their curation will feature fine jewellery by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany and Co. as well as vintage pieces by acclaimed jewellery Maisons including Cartier as well as Van Cleef & Arpels. ALVR’s exhibit will also feature a section dedicated exclusively to the works of Fabergé, including some pieces by Carl Fabergé himself.

In my conversation with Peter Schaffer, we discussed ALVR’s curation for The Philadelphia Show, the provenance and symbolism of the Oak Leaf tiara, one of the headline pieces of their curation and why ALVR turned to nature for inspiration for their selection of jewellery pieces for The Philadelphia Show.

The theme for your presentation is nature inspired. What made ALVR choose this theme? Why is the symbolism of this theme important for ALVR in the context of The Philadelphia Show?

The timing of the show coinciding with being in Spring was the start of our inspiration for our presentation. We have so many collectors that love flora and fauna in jewelry and decorative pieces that when we started to pull together works we realized we had a theme in place already.

For example we are showing a gorgeous brooch featuring an old-mine cut diamond serpent with ruby eyes encircling two baroque pearls, a Fabergé silver stamp moistener in the form of an elephant, and a pair of Fabergé silver candelabra candlesticks that depict trees with their branches growing upward set on a bowenite base.

As we shed all our heavy layers of coats, scarves, and hats the opportunity to be more expressive with wearing jewelry arises. A brooch with bright colored stones, like our Bombe Peridot Brooch by Jean Schlumberger, becomes the focal point of a spring outfit, so we decided to show only our most standout pieces for this presentation.

We’re seeing that the trend of the brooch continues and may in fact not be a trend and is here to stay. So we are bringing quite a good selection of brooches including an antique pansy brooch (ca. 1920) made with Montana sapphires – these stones were considered the finest precious gemstones ever found in the United States. The other trend we are seeing is collectors buyings pieces made with old-mine stones…Demantoids, Colombian Emeralds, Burmese Rubies, Montana Sapphires. The older material, stones that are no longer mined, is the only way to get the high-quality, vibrancy, depth of color, and clarity. This is what is important to people and we find the jewelry with big old stones are the most sought after.

What are the essential elements that you consider when selecting vintage and antique jewellery pieces for a curation like this? 

There is no difference between what we have chosen for this show versus what we have chosen in the past. If something really strikes in the soloflex then that is the first indicator we might have to acquire a piece. We are always attracted to the rare and unusual. It is less important to us if a piece is made by a famous house. For us, it’s all about craftsmanship, quality, and unqiueness. That is where the ALVR motto comes from “Where the unusual is usual.”

The emerald and natural pearl oak leaf antique tiara is stunning. Would you be able to comment on its provenance and/or on the symbolism of oak leaves and acorns set with emeralds and pearls? 

This piece dates from the early to mid 19th century. It was the Romantic era when many artists and designers turned to the natural world for inspiration. Oak leaves and acorns were popular design motifs that were seen throughout all of art. There was a desire to capture the natural world at this time as the industrial revolution was beginning to take over and forever change society.

In the 70’s this tiara was purchased from us by a father for his daughter’s wedding day. A few decades later we had the opportunity to purchase it back from the family.

How often does it happen that a piece sold several decades ago comes back to ALVR?

Many times – this is one of our strengths. We recently repurchased an Egyptian Revival necklace that we sold in 1969.

Vintage Bird Cage Earrings ALVR
Bird Cage Earrings, ALVR

The Circa 1950s BirdCage earrings are beautiful. What drew ALVR to this piece?

We have a taste for the whimsical and animals definitely fit into that, and when we saw the birdcage earrings it checked several boxes for us — they are playful and fun to wear. Pieces that make us smile, we know they will make our clients smile too.

A few examples include the two ducks embracing in the form of a ring by Van Cleef and Arpels, a diamond and pearl jellyfish brooch, and a demantoid brooch that when worn on a lapel looks like he’s climbing on you.

The Philadelphia Show will take place at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from April 28th to April 30th, 2023.

Featured Image: Emerald, Diamond and Pearl Oak Leaf Tiara, A La Vieille Russie (ALVR)

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