Published: August 13, 2002
Aromatic Adornments, Amulets and Objets D’art at the Annette Green Museum
By Albina de Meio
NEW YORK CITY – The Annette Green Museum at The Fragrance Foundation is currently presenting its fifth exhibition, “: Aromatic Adornments, Amulets & Objets d’art.” Rarely viewed treasures from the collections of exhibition sponsors Estée Lauder and Tiffany & Co. will share the spotlight with exquisite historic aromatic adornments and a unique, remarkably inventive, yet seldom-examined jewelry genre expressly created for holding precious scents.
The public has long regarded fragrance as a sensuous luxury and fashion accessory. Today the roles of fragrance are becoming increasingly influenced by the holistic appreciation of scent for its importance in enhancing feelings of well being. History is not only repeating itself but is the inspiration for the exhibition.
In previous centuries, when both sanitation and personal hygiene were in short supply, perfumes served vital purposes, combating and camouflaging the malodorous air and deodorizing the skin. Whether in paste or liquid form, these precious and volatile scents required containers, not merely for storage and safekeeping, but for keeping them close at hand.
Hence, the origin of aromatic jewelry, such as pomanders and portable jeweled flacons (which appeared in the West in the Eleventh Century), smelling boxes (Sixteenth Century), vinaigrettes (Eighteenth Century), and glacés (Twentieth Century). These historic containers took innumerable shapes — apples, hearts, books and musical instruments among them, and were typically designed to be carried on the body in the form of necklaces, earrings, brooches, pendants, rings and even buttons, hatpins and fans.
Beyond adornments, the early examples, in particular, were regarded as amulets that were believed to have the power to thwart misfortune and keep pestilence and malodors at bay. For centuries, these jewelry containers, like the perfumes contained inside them, were enjoyed by only a privileged few. From the Eleventh Century into the Nineteenth Century, jewelers, metalworkers and glass artisans created a range of scent containers for the personal use of an exclusive clientele. Monarchs, clergy and nobility were the only ones who could afford either the perfume or its container. From early humble, utilitarian vessels, these aromatic jewels evolved into creations of ornate gold and silver and later molded and faceted glass, porcelain, steel, brass, leather, horn and shell. Many were encrusted with gems, and engraved or enameled with intricate or fanciful motifs. The tiniest of these rdf_Descriptions, pomanders held in the palm of the hand or dangled from a chatelaine at the waist, acquired the status of protective amulets or charms, providing the wearer with a sense of personal protection and empowerment. They were credited, even when empty, with the power to ward off evil.
As taste in scents evolved from heavy musk to pungent vinegar waters and sweet floral essences, so did the jeweled vessels that contained them. The earliest pomanders appeared in Germany, Italy and France in the Eleventh Century. Gold and silver flacons were produced throughout Europe following the introduction of Hungary Water, the first alcohol-based perfume, in 1370.
Reaching a height of popularity in the Sixteenth Century, liquid fragrances came to be carried in a new kind of flacon, made of clear crystal. The novelty of viewing the perfume within these transparent containers helped spur the growth of the glass perfume bottle industry in Venice, Bohemia, Silesia, France and England.
The aristocratic trends were reversed in the Eighteenth Century when these vessels began to be produced in large numbers for an enthusiastic general public who, after all, shared the same olfactory needs as kings and royal retainers. Aromatic jewels took a giant leap ahead in the Nineteenth Century. It was then that these vessels became a commercial venture — sold in greater volume, at considerably lower prices, and with better distribution and availability than ever before. Not only was flacon production stepped up, but vinaigrettes, containing tiny sponges soaked in pungent vinegar and ammonia-water, were manufactured en masse, in metal, glass, horn, shell, wood and other materials.
With the explosion of commercial perfumery in the early 1900s, the volume of production rose to meet a steadily growing market. Aromatic containers took a new direction as celebrated designers, such as René Lalique, were commissioned to create stylish flacons for Coty, D’Orsay and a host of other fragrance houses. Since the 1950s, pendant flacons and portable solid-perfume compacts have evolved into affordably priced, often whimsical, novelty rdf_Descriptions. Available at fragrance counters, they echo the forms and functions of their historical forebears. At the same time, art jewelers are inventing unique and precious fragrance containers for those who take an avant-garde approach to personal adornment.
Whether exquisite or amusing, these remain first and foremost functional gadgets designed to protect their volatile contents behind a jeweled façade. Even more telling than their apparently seamless exteriors — where the hinge, cap and lid are often disguised — are their exquisitely engineered, mechanically ingenious interiors that safeguard the fragrances confined within. From a design point of view, it is the inner-outer structure of these aromatic jewels that distinguishes them from other forms of ornamentation. From the wearer’s more personal perspective, these interior spaces satisfy a basic human urge not just to sniff a scent or smooth it onto the skin, but to keep a reserve close at hand — for the sake of comfort, protection or enticement, to transform an intimate environment or recall a beloved memory.
“” presents the evolution of metal, crystal, ivory and wood and gem-laden jewels devised as perfume vessels, beginning in the Seventeenth Century and continuing into the contemporary era.
Visitors to the exhibit will not only have the opportunity of seeing the historical impact of fragrance on art and design, but will also observe the objects’ personalized functions and intricate mechanical designs — often albeit on a minuscule scale. Some of the intricate rdf_Descriptions to be showcased are no larger than a thimble or a thumb.
Among the early intricate examples on view is a silver and gilt pomander that opens into six sections, each containing a different aromatic substance, labeled in German: marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary, citrus, thyme and ginger. Thought to be of German origin, circa 1600, this piece is on loan from the Cooper-Hewett, National Design Museum. Another of the early scents is a pomander in the shape of a well-bitten apple core, with a gold cap and base produced in Europe, circa 1750.
Tiffany & Co.
Taking the role of the arbiter of New World good taste, Tiffany & Co. began offering ladies fine perfumes in its debut catalog of 1845. Perfume bottles, vinaigrettes and chatelaines were also part of its inventory. Then at midcentury, as the United States economy entered its boom years, Tiffany & Co. initiated annual buying trips to Paris. Its timing was perfect: aristocrats fleeing the 1848 revolt against Louis Philippe were unloading their diamonds on the market, and Tiffany & Co. had the good fortune and ready cash to buy them at discount prices. In 1850, Tiffany opened a branch on the Rue Richelieu, and in the decades that followed the retailer became renown for its jewelry designs.
In the late Nineteenth Century, Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the founder, connected his family business with both the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements. More artisan than shopkeeper, he developed a unique type of iridescent glass (inspired by excavated ancient Roman glass) named “Favrile” (referring to the Latin word “faber,” for craftsmanlike).
As seen in the “Tulip” and “Laurel Leaf” Art Nouveau flacons and the Archaeological Revival-style “Patera” bottle, Favrile glass is known for its surface luminosity and freely shaped forms.
He also revived and promoted a number of antique jewelry-making techniques, such as guilloche enameling. Also seen in “Laurel Leaf” is a technique that involves transparent enameling that reveals a metal pattern engraved beneath. In most cases, the cutting technique was executed on an engine-turning lathe that produced a variety of patterns.
Another Tiffany & Co. specialty was electrotyping. This is the electronic equivalent of casting — a process in which silver is electroplated into a mold (made from an old object or a new prototype) until the desired thickness was achieved. Once removed, the ornamental element could be soldered onto the body of a silver object. As for entire objects, they were nearly finished when they came out of the molds, since electrotyping was capable of great detail. With electrotyping, Tiffany & Co. was able to produce numerous Japanesque-style silver rdf_Descriptions, such as the hand-hammered “Gourd Perfume Bottle and Chatelaine.” In addition, many Tiffany & Co. design drawings dating from the 1870s display details such as jagged-edged leaves, vertical fern leaves and spiral stems that could only have been reproduced in quantity with the use of electrotyping.
In the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century, the Tiffany & Co. repertoire expanded to include a wide array of traditional and exotic artistic styles. Classical Revival and restrained Louis XVI styles are evident in perfume bottle-vinaigrette combinations such as the slender-necked “Amphora” and the “Louis XVI” container, with its stylized leaf decoration. Orientalism can be seen in the vase-shaped silver and gold chatelaine with perfume bottle called “Nettie,” with its Islamic-influenced leaf and floral pattern. Arts and Crafts style and the newly emerging Art Nouveau are blended in designs such as the “Wildflowers” perfume bottle, made of lapis lazuli (excellent for perfumes, with its thick, noncorrosive walls). Full-fledged Art Nouveau is represented by the lead crystal “Lizard” and “Snake” perfume bottles, each encrusted with gold, diamonds, garnets and rubies.
Eclectic Victoriana is also present in Tiffany & Co. aromatic jewelry, most notably in the extravagant crystal “Heart” bottle attached to a diamond ring. Design influences for the bottle come from French cabinetmaking, in particular marquetry of the mid-Eighteenth Century, where scrolling wave-like curves, acanthus leaf borders and floral cornucopias were featured ornamentation. The rock crystal “heart” flacon is suspended via diamond and platinum-set gold chains from a diamond ring. The gold cap, chased with flowers, butterflies and ribbons, is further adorned with a basket of flowers, each one made of rubies, and the top of the cap is mounted with a 1.28-carat diamond.
Another highlight is an iridescent Tiffany Favrile glass perfume bottle with a button-release cap whose top has a collet-set diamond and whose neck is decorated with a rosettes floral motif, displaying a gemstone in the center of each bud. Inspiration for the oblong-shaped bottle with deep, vertical folds and hues of purple, blue and yellow, may have come from William Morris’s “Tulip and Lily” carpet design of 1875.
In 1946, just as the GIs were settling back home and starting the Baby Boom, Estée Lauder and her husband Joseph of Queens, N.Y., began a small cosmetics company, offering rdf_Descriptions like Cleansing Oil and All Purpose Cream. In this postwar era, when American women were eager for glamour and pampering as never before, business thrived. But when it came to fragrances, in those early days American women regarded them as special-occasion treats, the bottles waiting on the dressing table, to be dabbed sparingly to pulse points on Saturday nights.
Estée Lauder sought to change that. In 1953, she introduced Youth Dew, and exotic oriental perfume in bath-oil form. Her hunch was that her customers would buy a scented bath product without guilt, the way they bought cosmetics. She was right. Youth Dew became a favorite American fragrance, and an all-occasion one at that.
In 1967, the company entered solid perfume glacé manufacturing with the Youth Dew Golden Rope Compact, containing perfume oil in a solid, alcohol-free base. This novelty accessory paved the way for hundreds of seasonal glacé designs, still available in limited edition production. Beyond their gift-giving prowess and portable practicality, Estée Lauder glacés have been a major force in the democratization of aromatic jewelry. Not only do they recall the venerable pomander, with its precious solid-perfume contents, but many of these rdf_Descriptions quote from historic designs: Regency cameos, Victorian hearts, Battersea boxes, netsuke ivories. Other figurals display approachably whimsical subjects: a circus tent, a juggling seal, teddy bears, a jack-in-box and playful kittens.
Visitors to “” will also have the opportunity for a rare glimpse of trompe l’oeil box presentations. Uncommon even in their heyday (the 1920s and 1930s), these are artful arrangements of miniature perfume bottles that, when fitted into a specially designed display box, resemble bracelets, rings, earrings and necklaces. The most striking of these rdf_Descriptions is a singular strand of graduated perfume flacon “pearls,” whose iridescence comes from herring extract.
Many of the essences representative of the favorite scents from throughout the centuries, Middle Ages to the present, will tantalize the olfactory imagination of visitors in the exhibition’s unique Smelling Scenter sponsored by Drom International.
The exhibition, spanning five centuries, will feature jeweled treasures from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Estée Lauder Inc Archives, Tiffany & Co. Archives, and Drom Fragrances International, as well as from major collectors and art dealers nationwide and the Annette Green Museum’s private collection. The exhibition will also feature the work of contemporary art jewelers such as Mikala Naur, Eva Eisler, Biba Schutz and Kiwon Wang, as well as a singular neck piece from the Seattle glass artist Ginny Ruffner.
Linda Dyett, the organizing curator for “,” is the co-author of Secrets of Aromatic Jewelry with Annette Green, president of The Fragrance Foundation and the Annette Green Museum. Dorothy Globus, who organized the exhibition space for “,” formerly served as museum director at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and as curator of exhibitions at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Museum of Design. Albina De Meio is the exhibition coordinator. She is an adjunct assistant professor, School of Graduate Studies at FIT and former administrator for Exhibitions and Collections, The New-York Historical Society.
“” is sponsored by Arcade Marketing, Tiffany & Co., Estée Lauder and The Condé Nast Publications; supporters include Quest International and Bormioli Rocco.
The exhibition runs through September 27. The Annette Green Museum is at 145 East 32nd Street, 9th floor, and is open to the public through Labor Day, Monday to Thursday, 10 am to noon, and 1 to 4 pm. Entrance fee for nonmembers is $5. Museum memberships are available. Established in November 1999, the nonprofit Annette Green Museum at The Fragrance Foundation is the first and only fragrance museum in the United States. For information, 212-725-2755 or www.fragrance.org.
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