Art nouveau, Arts and crafts
Price range: £4,850
For sale is this unusual and beautiful gold and opal arts and crafts necklace dating to c. 1910. The design consists of a geometric wirework frame and chain, augmented with gold flowerheads. The triangular main drop set with a central outstanding crystal opal surrounded by four smaller opals. Images show the opal photographed against dark grey and white to illustrate its colours against different backgrounds – as crystal opal it is not naturally backed. The main opal is translucent and has a wonderful play of blue green colours on black, and flashes of red also on white. The colours of the opal are portrayed as realistically as possible – they are vibrant in real life, and the central opal has been informally assessed to be of exceptional quality.
The necklace is unmarked but the design is so similar to Rathbone designs published in his book of 1910 “Simple Jewellery, A Practical Handbook…For Craftsmen, Designer , Students and Teachers” that I am confident in attributing the design to Rathbone. See image of one design from this book, Fig 91, page 248. Rathbone publicised his designs for other’s to make so determining the maker of this piece is not so easy, but most likely this necklace was made in Rathbone’s workshop. This would have been an exceptionally expensive and special commission given the weight of gold and quality of opals used. I am not sure anyone using his book would have appreciated the word “simple” in the title – this piece is both delicate and complicated.
The condition of the pendant is very good and presents excellently. The central opal is in excellent condition. The smaller opals are similarly in excellent condition with one small chip visible to one under magnification only. The lower opal is redder but not as vibrant as the others and may be a replacement. The settings of the smaller opals have been worked on at some point, presumably to secure the opals. There are tiny areas of what is probably lead solder to three chain links, barely visible. The chain has been extended sensitively, leaving the original chain and clasp intact.
Richard Llewllyn Benson Rathbone was a relation of other well known Arts and Crafts figures including the distinguished metalworker, W.A.S Benson, and Harold Rathbone who ran Del Robbia Pottery.
Rathbone set up his own workshop and taught in the metalworking class at Liverpool University from 1898 to 1903. He later moved to London where he served as the director of the Art School of the Sir John Cass Technical Institute. As well as producing his own designs, He also made metal fittings for other designers including C.F.A. Voysey, A.H. Mackmurdo and Heywood Sumner.
Rathbone sold many of his designs to Faulkner Bronze Company that were eventually to become Jesson Birkett & Co. They continued to make some of his earlier designs between 1902 and 1910.
Maker: Probably Richard Llewllyn Rathbone
Designer: Richard Llewllyn Rathbone (attributed with confidence)
Date : c 1910
Material: Gold (high carat, not tested), opals
Condition: Very good – see text.
Size: Length c. 47 cm (40 cm without extension), drop 5.75 cm incl top opal, width across shoulders 4.5 cm
Weight: 23 grams, 0.8 oz