Paste Jewellery, or ‘false diamonds’ as it was sometimes known, came about due to the experiments of an Englishman, George Ravenscroft, back in the 17th century. He was frustrated by the nature of glass used in jewellery, which being so soft was easily worn down. He began experimenting with new compounds of flint, potash and lead oxide and produced ‘lead glass’, a material that was hard enough to cut and polish like a gemstone.
However, it was not Ravenscroft who gets the credit for popularity of paste jewellery, that honour lies with George Frederic Strass, a Parisian jeweller in the 18th century. Strass played with the concept of lead crystal further still until he could imitate diamonds which when mounted in silver settings could rival the genuine.
Strass’ jewellery took the form of its original counterparts with pastes set in silver or silver gilt, usually backed with tinfoil to increase sparkle and many were decorated with strips of gold or gold beading for an extra touch of glitter.
Although paste Jewellery continued to be popular up until the 1930s, it became somewhat ‘cheap and cheerful’ and lacked the beauty and finish of the 18th century examples.
Antique paste jewellery is popular in the salerooms when it is embraced for what it is; elegant, beautiful jewellery in its own right, not merely a copy of real diamonds. It is marvellous to handle, versatile and enriching to wear and a perfect expression of the period in which it was constructed.
Senior Valuer Michael Dowse
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Lea Stein was a French Paris-based artist born in 1931 who become famous for her costume jewellery fashioned out of rhodoid, a form of cellulose acetate, typically the type used to make frames for spectacles. She began her own design company in 1957 but it wasn’t until the mid-1960s that she experimented with rhodoid and in 1965 started making buttons. By the end of the 1960s she had branched out from buttons to brooches and further improved her technique, with the help of her husband, chemist Fernand Steinberger. He invented a lamination process involving very thin sheets of rhodoid that enabled her to layer to dramatic effect. This method gave wonderful texture, colour and pattern to her pieces.
The subject and designs of her pieces include most commonly animals, particularly cats and people both famous and stylised. Due to the process taken to create them, each piece is completely original, no two are the same and all her work is signed in the same way; on the pin backing “Lea Stein – Paris”. Stein’s work is
categorised as either vintage (1969-1981) or modern (1988-). The company suffered from competition abroad, closing in 1981. Stein began designing again in 1988 as well as recreating some of her vintage collection. The Art Deco look of many of her designs has repeatedly lead to them being mistakenly dated in the 1920s.
Popular vintage pieces include Fox, Rhino, Felix and Ballerina. Key modern designs include ‘Buba’ (an owl), Goupil (a fox’s head) as well as Penguin, Tortoise and the cat, Sacha. It can be incredibly difficult to tell vintage and modern pieces apart.
Senior Valuer Michael Dowse
For more information or if you have similar items, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website