Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Enamel Row: The World of Enamel Bangles

Sandra and Erwin Pearl holding Van Gogh bracelets from their collection.
Enamel Row: The World of Enamel Bangles
By Alison Minton

You’ve undoubtedly noticed them on the sun-kissed arms of the world’s most glamorous women, circling their slender wrists, just above perfectly manicured hands, shiny and sleek, sometimes alone, sometimes in softly clanking stacks, but always a statement piece. I’m referring to enamel bangle bracelets — the colorful, often storied accessory of choice for effortlessly chic society and celebrity swans like Jackie Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, and Doris Day.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wearing one of her white Schlumberger “Jackie Bracelets."
My love of enamel bangles started when I was in high school, while visiting a friend in Vienna one summer. I wanted to take home a souvenir that was unique to Vienna, and knowing I loved jewelry my friend and hostess suggested an enamel bangle bracelet from a local jeweler named Michaela Frey.

So, off we went to Michaela Frey where I chose a very thin black bangle decorated with gold leaves and small pink roses. Although I have not been back to Vienna, I have never forgotten the name Michaela Frey (it is also painted inside my bracelet). And I still occasionally wear it to this day.
My Michaela Frey bracelet which started this journey down “enamel row."
About a year ago, I was flipping through a magazine and saw an advertisement for a store by the name of FreyWille picturing colorful enamel bangles. I knew there had to be a connection. The bangles in the ad looked less folksy and a little more elegant, but with the name Frey and a location in Vienna I figured they had gone global.

The FreyWille ad which piqued my interest.
Sure enough, a couple of months ago I was walking down Madison Avenue and when I spotted a FreyWille store at 727 Madison. I didn’t have time to go inside, but paused for a moment, nose pressed to the glass, admiring the beautiful bracelets in the window. I promised I’d return to investigate and later learned that their current collection featured fired enamel bangles inspired by master painters like Monet, Schiele, Hundertwasser, Mucha, and Klimt.

When I finally did return to visit the store, I was told that, indeed, the Frey in question was the same Frey who had made my bracelet all those years ago. Michaela Frey founded the company in 1951 in Vienna. In the 1970s, she hired an accountant named Dr. Friedrich Wille, who later became her business partner and the head of the company. Hence, FreyWille.

The current artistic collection is made in both a costume version for $1,600 and an 18K gold and diamond version for $6,000. There are also matching scarves and other pieces of jewelry to complement the bracelets.
FreyWille bangles inspired by the masters (left to right): Mucha, Hundertwasser, Klimt, Monet, and Schiele.
Heading home down Madison Avenue, my head filled with pleasant memories of my trip to Vienna, I passed another window display of enamel bracelets, these decorated with Van Gogh paintings. I rushed inside the Erwin Pearl store at 697 Madison as I had to know if I’d just inadvertently discovered a trend. The welcoming and very patient staff explained that Mr. Pearl had created the bracelets at the request of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

They also mentioned that Mr. Pearl lives in New York and visits the store often. I had to meet him as I relish a good backstory, especially when it comes to accessories. A couple of weeks later I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Pearl and his lovely wife, Sandra, who is the President of the company. Mr. Pearl is a fascinating man and something of an icon in the jewelry business.
A close-up of the collection.
Born in Vienna, he came by himself to the United States as a teenager. His life story is the American Dream: he got a job as a diamond cutter, worked in fine jewelry (even designing Betty White’s engagement ring from Allen Ludden),eventually switching to costume, and now has twenty stores in the United States, including the store on Madison and one in Grand Central Terminal, where the story of the enamel bracelets takes shape.

A representative from the MTA asked Mr. Pearl to design a collection of jewelry to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Grand Central Terminal and he created, among other pieces, a sky blue enamel bangle bracelet depicting the ceiling of Grand Central with its astronomical constellations.
Erwin Pearl enamel bracelet commemorating the 100th anniversary of Grand Central Terminal.
Someone from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam saw the collection and in 2012 asked Mr. Pearl to design a collection from their archive of Van Gogh masterpieces. The collaboration with the Museum is ongoing and will include scarves, handbags and small leather goods as well as enamel jewelry. Because the jewelry replicates the paintings exactly — right down to the visible brushstrokes — the colors of the enamel have to precisely match the colors in the original paintings. Everything is endorsed by the Museum and only 1500 of each bracelet will be produced, so they are collectible works of art. Not to mention, very affordable with prices ranging from $235-$395.
Sandra and Erwin Pearl holding the Irises scarf that will debut this Fall as part of their continuing Van Gogh collection.
For the first part of the collection Mr. Pearl chose five of Van Gogh’s paintings from hundreds in the archive:Irises, Sunflowers, Almond Blossom, Wheat Field, and Smoking Skull. There is also a collage bracelet that includes all of the paintings above, plus a Van Gogh self-portrait. Each bracelet comes with a certificate of authenticity, a card with a picture of Van Gogh with a history of his life, and a card with a picture of the painting depicted on the bracelet, all of which makes for a lovely gift.
Erwin Pearl bracelet with collage of Van Gogh paintings.
Inside each Erwin Pearl bracelet from the Van Gogh collection is a stamp of endorsement.
And, as Mr. Pearl explained to me, it is very important to him that each piece he creates for the collection have provenance, the same way that every piece of artwork in his own collection does. Indeed, the Getty Museum in LA saw the collection, recognized its importance, and asked to carry it there as well. I asked Mr. Pearl which of the Van Gogh bracelets is his favorite and he half jokingly said that was like asking someone which child they like best. But, he did admit that he is quite fond of the vibrant Irises bracelet (he loves color).
Erwin Pearl Van Gogh bracelets: Irises on top and Sunflowers on the bottom.
I had only to walk a few steps after leaving Erwin Pearl, before I passed another bastion of enamel bangles, Hermes at 691 Madison. I am quite familiar with Hermes enamel bangles. Attend any ladies’ luncheon in Manhattan, polo match in the Hamptons, or cocktail party in tony Bedford and you will spot them. Like the Hermes scarves, the bangles are ubiquitous in New York society, but unlike the scarves, whose patterns they share, they are much easier to navigate.

My late father, who was both generous and stylish and wore Hermes ties, bought me my first beautiful Hermes scarf and scarf clip from a trip he took to Europe when I was in college. I still can’t figure out how to wear it except for just draping it around my neck and looking very prim and proper, which does not suit my personality. I’ve heard rumors there is a scarf tying class, but I have yet to attend or even locate it. But the bangles are a different story. Worn alone, or between two leather bracelets, as I sometimes do, they are effortless and always stylish. And, for $475-$825, also affordable.
A selection of enamel bangles from Hermes, from the Alison Minton personal collection.
I was fascinated with the stories I had heard at FreyWille and Erwin Pearl (and starting to get a little obsessed with enamel), so I wanted to learn more about enamel bangles and see what other styles are out there. I knew that Scully & Scully at 504 Park Avenue sold enamel boxes and a quick email to the head of their jewelry department confirmed they also sell the bracelets. Turns out they have an extensive and wonderful collection with all sorts of whimsical designs ranging from fierce Bengal tigers to sweet strawberries to patriotic American flags. The bracelets are made by a British company called Halcyon Days. The same artists who design the enamel boxes also design the bracelets.
A selection of Halcyon Days enamel bangles at Scully & Scully.
Halcyon Days started working with enamel in 1970 after a private commission by the late Queen Mother. They now are only one of a few companies to hold all three Royal Warrants: the late Queen Mother, Her Majesty the Queen and their Royal Highnesses The Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales. So revered in enamel work is Halcyon Days that Cartier even commissioned them in 1976 to create an enamel box from President Ford to give to Queen Elizabeth as a gift during her official visit to the United States.
Clearly, the enamel box was well received.
Like an O. Henry story, the Queen arrived with a Halcyon Days enamel box for President Ford. Like the Halcyon boxes the enamel bangles are sold at the finest stores worldwide, including Scully & Scully and Harrods, and with prices ranging from $120-$650 a bracelet, are quite reasonable.
Patriotic bangles by Halcyon Days at Scully & Scully.
Halcyon Days Bengal Tiger bracelet at Scully & Scully.
Next, I contacted Tiffany & Co. at 727 Fifth Avenue hoping to learn a little more about their legendary Schlumberger collection. I knew that Jackie Kennedy had purchased a white enamel Schlumberger bracelet from the New York store, but I did not know the bracelets are affectionately known as the “Jackie Bracelets” or that they are exclusive to Tiffany.

Jean Schlumberger began designing jewelry in Paris and was discovered by Elsa Schiaparelli, who hired him to design costume jewelry and buttons for her collections. After service in WWII Schlumberger moved to New York and opened a small salon with a childhood friend, also a button designer. Schlumberger started selling his jewelry creations from the salon and became a favorite of women like Babe Paley.

A few years later Tiffany recruited him and gave him his own design studio where he was able to work with the finest materials and gems in the world. He brought back the 19th century art of paillonné enamel, layering enamel on top of 18K gold leaf, to create stunning bracelets that quickly became a fashion staple for women of society. The bracelets are still popular today and on many a jewelry wish list, even with a price tag ranging from $30,000 to $85,000.
Enamel bracelets in 18 karat yellow gold by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co. From top: yellow enamel Cones bracelet ($36,000), white enamel ($40,000), red enamel and diamonds ($30,000), blue enamel ($36,000), blue enamel Croisillon bracelet ($36,000), and green enamel Cones bracelet ($55,000). Photo credit: © Tiffany & Co.
Red paillonné enamel bracelets set in 18 karat yellow gold by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co. From top: Croisillon bracelet ($30,000); patterned with round diamonds ($85,000); cones design ($36,000). Photo credit: © Tiffany & Co.
These Tiffany & Co. bold-color enamel bracelets by Jean Schlumberger include yellow paillonné enamel with sculptural 18-karat gold accents, and black enamel with diamonds. Prices from left: $36,000, $65,000. Photo credit: Richard Pierce.
A block north at 745 Fifth, I paid a visit to my old friends at Verdura. I knew they had enamel and I knew it would be spectacular. I was not disappointed. They brought out two Chevalier bracelets in black enamel, studded with gemstones. One had colored stones and pearls and one was all diamonds with pearls. I heard the magic words “Would you like to try them on?” and reached for the bracelet with the sapphires, emeralds, diamonds and pearls.

I felt like Wonder Woman with a magic cuff around my wrist. Or perhaps like Coco Chanel or Princess Diana, who are just two of the many luminaries who have worn Verdura before me. Sadly, I had to remove the bracelet before leaving, but it was fun to try it on and admire it. The Chevalier enamel bracelets also come in white enamel. The diamond bracelet retails for $223,500 and the colored stone bracelet is $103,500.
Coco Chanel's original enamel cuff bracelets made for her by Fulco di Verdura c. 1930, using pieces of jewelry given to her by her former lovers.
Verdura Chevalier bracelet in black enamel, diamonds and pearls.
Verdura Chevalier bracelet in black enamel, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds and pearls.
My final stop in my quest to learn all I could about enamel bangles was at David Webb at 942 Madison. David Webb was the only store of all of the above where I had never been before, so it was both educational and thrilling to walk inside. Straight away the animal bangles caught my eye.

David Webb's zebra bracelet. The stripe patterns on each Zebra bracelet are unique, just like on each real life zebra.
Each one is more spectacular then the next: a green frog with little warts of gold peeking through the enamel, a regal blue horse that looks like lapis lazuli (but is really a special enamel technique), and a black and white striped zebra (each one has a unique pattern of stripes) that is the company logo. These animals are not whimsical as animals in jewelry often are. They are serious and incredibly detailed.

I was lucky enough that the expert on David Webb, Ruth Peltason, who wrote the book David Webb: The Quintessential American Jeweler, was on hand to share some history with me. She told me that all of the enamel bracelets are made on the premises and until recently every single enamel bracelet made by the company for the past forty years had been hand painted by the same woman.

The Webb enamel bracelets, including one called the Mondrian bracelet (like the paintings) and the Lex Bracelet (Mr. Webb lived on Lexington Avenue in the 1960s), an extended Greek Key design, are hand painted on 18K gold with pigment from Austria using both flat and guilloche enameling.

The zebra had to be my favorite, but Mr. Webb’s favorite was the frog, because frogs are a symbol of good luck. Elizabeth Taylor agreed, because she owned several of the frog bracelets in different colors, as well as a horse (National Velvet). Kitty Carlisle Hart and Doris Day sported David Webb enamel bracelets in their day. The heads of the studios would buy several at a time and give them as gifts to their lucky leading ladies. Today a Webb enamel animal bracelet runs in the $70,000/$75,000 range.
Blue striped horse from David Webb. To create the look of lapis lazuli on this horse bracelet 18K gold is ground into a powder and mixed with enamel.
This warty frog bracelet was Mr. Webb's favorite, because frogs signify good luck.
I have loved enamel bangle bracelets for many years, but my tour of New York’s “enamel row” was a fascinating and exciting experience, not only because I adore jewelry, but also because it is a fine art, from the design to the execution. Each bracelet, be it from FreyWille, Erwin Pearl, Hermes, Scully & Scully, Tiffany, Verdura or David Webb has a unique history and, hopefully, an exciting future on the wrist of a fashionable woman with great taste and impeccable style.

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