Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Decor: the Ornament Tree

My original inspiration, from one of Martha Stewart Living's early books: Handmade Christmas
I am not a handy person, nor am I particularly good at arts and crafts. Having said that, during the holidays I do pull out my glue gun for one particular type of decoration and one only: the lovely ornament tree.

As the name suggests, the ornament tree is a tree-shaped decoration comprised externally of glass ornaments, typically glass balls. In order for these trees to look truly special and timeless, I have found through experience that at least a third of the ornaments used should be vintage due to the gorgeous luster and patina that old ornaments have developed after years of mouldering away in attics. Because one of the easiest and most reliable places to find vintage ornaments is on eBay; I thought these holiday decorations would make a fitting topic for a December blog.

I first learned about the ornament tree in Martha Stewart Living's 1995 book, Handmade Christmas. The magazine's version, pictured above,was accompanied by the instruction to find an 18" styrofoam cone and 250 vintage glass balls between 1/2 and 1" in diameter. Those, plus a glue gun and an antique urn would result in a beautiful and timeless Christmas decoration.

One of a pair of ornament trees I made for my sister. They look so pretty in candlelight!

Above, you have my first effort. I kept the colors in the aqua, silver and gold family because I gave a pair of these trees to my sister, who has hand painted wallpaper in her dining room in these muted tones. This year, she put the trees on her living room mantle and went sans urns, which as you can see looks nice as well.

Now, from my earlier comment, you probably have gathered that I do not use purely vintage balls. This is because they are more expensive than new ones, and when you're using 250 balls or so, that price difference is really noticeable. What I recommend instead is creating a stockpile of old and new ornaments and stuffing them away until inspiration strikes.

New Ball Ornaments
Obviously, it's much cheaper to buy glass balls after the holidays when stores have them on sale, so be on the lookout. That said, I have found that the cheapest, most reliable source for contemporary glass balls to be florist supply websites, which sell them in large boxes. Designed to be attached to wreaths, the balls are on a stem, which is perfect for this use because the stem can be poked into the styrofoam form ( you need to use glue as well, which we will get to in a minute). Be sure you have a set of pliers on hand to cut the extra wire, as you won't need the full length of it.

Glass ball ornaments, designed for wreaths., are perfect for ornament trees.
 I really like Kelco, which has so many colors and sizes and also sells their balls in varying quantities, for those of you with limited storage space (or a reluctant obsession). Jamali Garden is a bit pricier, but the site is very user friendly and has a variety of colors (the store, located in the plant district in NYC, is fun to visit too).

Vintage Ball Ornaments

As mentioned, vintage ball ornaments are readily available on eBay. Note that the prices can really vary, with the "Buy It Now" options typically being more money than they are worth. Shiny Brite was a very common mid-century brand and works very well for this project. (Searching for Shiny Brite glass ball ornaments also narrows your results to a more managable quantity.)

Here's an example of a typical eBay auction lot that would work nicely:

A nice sized lot of vintage glass ball ornaments on eBay.
 Note, you don't want many, if any, balls bigger than 1 1/2 inches (or the 35mm size). You will need a lot of very small, feather tree ornament sizes for the top of your tree and to fill in gaps, so stock up those.

Other Supplies

A more modern, red-themed ornament tree, topped with a vintage indented Shiny Brite ornament purchased on eBay.

In the interest of variety, you might wish to purchase vintage ornaments in other shapes. I find these trees look really nice with a tree topper, and love to use an indented ornament for that, such as the one pictured below. Other supplies you'll need include tree forms in either styrofoam (which I have used), bottle brush or tinsel (which I haven't but want to try). Of course, this ornament concept works well in wreath form too, and I see no reason why one couldn't do small balls or a topiary form. Blues and silvers would be gorgeous for Hanukkah. If you use the styrofoam, you are better off spray painting your forms with either a silver or gold so that the gaps in the balls don't reveal such a bright white. A floral supply shop will have both the forms and the paint.

You also need suitable containers, either old or new. Err on the side of too small a container rather than too large, for if the container is too small, you can always whittle down the styrofoam, and it will make for a tighter fit. I recommend that you design your tree in container you'd like to use, so you stop gluing at the appropriate level. .
Gardeners like Bunny Williams
may not need to go far to find suitable containers for ornament trees. Urns are particularly well suited.

Don't forget your glue gun. It is vital that you use a strong glue that bonds at high temperature. The high temperature glue is tricky because it can cause very thin glass to shatter, so it's a bit of a balancing act. I still prefer it because the lower temperature glues don't form a strong enough bond, and your ornaments will loosen and fall off your trees too easily...which leads me to the final thing you'll need. Save those styrofoam pellets, they make the perfect "nest" for your trees during the off season! You'll want to carefully place your tree or wreath in a garbage bag first, though, so you don't lose any loose balls in the pellet miasma, never to be found again.

Those are all the tips I have for now. Please write me and let me know your experience making these pretty holiday decorations--I will post any success stories to my blog! Merry Christmas! Happy bidding--and happy tree trimming too!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Brooch is Back, Part Two

 The Brooch is Back: Part Two

Style icon Grace Kelly with her eponymous Hermes bag... and a chic lapel pin
So, as I mentioned in my last posting, 'tis the season for jewelry auctions. Brooches comprise a big part of their selection, resulting in a wide variety of styles and price points. I've included another batch here, along with more photos of celebrities who wear them well. Blake Lively, Anne Hathaway, Emma Stone: so many young actresses are wearing brooches these days, making this type of jewelry yet another example of something so old it's new again.

Glamorous Brooches
Anne Hathaway in Vogue, 2010, with a Boucheron ruby and diamond brooch
worn as a hair ornament...
...the photo stylist was clearly channeling one of the most iconic photos of all time. Audrey was wearing a tiara here, but a black satin headband with an elegant brooch pinned atop it would work just as well and have more utility--for most of us, anyway!

Platinum, ruby and diamond brooch, circa 1935. At Doyle, New York on December 6th, estimate $5,000-7,000.

Art Deco diamond and onyx bow brooch. At Doyle, New York on December 6th, estimate $5,000-7,000.

1.5 carat diamond crescent pin, at auction in Chicago on December 4th, estimate $400-600.

Michelle Williams, courtesy of StyleBistro. Photo: Rob Loud/Getty Images North America

Art deco platinum and diamond brooch,
at Heritage Auctions in Dallas on December 5th, estimate $5,000-7,000.

Courtesy of
Emma Stone wears a small feather pin, adding sophistication and elegance to her messy updo.
Edwardian diamond and platinum bow brooch.
At Leslie Hindman on December 4th, estimate $2,000-4,000.
A platinum, emerald and diamond brooch,
at Leslie Hindman on December 4th, estimate $2,000-3,000.
Champagne taste on a beer budget?
Remember the rhinestone--as in this rhinestone Chanel camellia.
At Leslie Hindman on December 6th, estimate $100-200.

The most mouthwatering brooch I've seen in all the catalogs is this emerald and diamond brooch by Raymond Yard. Circa 1935, the brooch stars a 5.75 carat emerald surrounded by 119 European cut diamonds. My oh my.
Raymond Yard emerald, diamond and platinum brooch.
At Doyle on December 6th, estimate $40,000-60,000.

Fun Brooches

Courtesy of Dicha.
Sarah Jessica Parker looking very Carrie-like. The brooch that makes the outfit.
And then there are the brooches that you might actually take out of the safety deposit box. Note that some of the brooch descriptions do not provide the measurements. BE SURE to ask for them if you can't see the piece in person so you don't have a rude awakening.
An 18k yellow gold, emerald and diamond Fleur de Lis pin.
In Chicago on December 4th, estimate $300-500.

Chanel glass and turquoise pin,
at Heritage Auctions, Dallas,
on December 6th, estimate $200-300.

Gold, Amethyst and Tanzanite brooch.
At Doyle, New York on December 6th, estimate $500-700.
Speaking of Carrie, how charmingly wacky is this Tony Duquette 18k gold cockatoo pin?
At Doyle in New York on December 6th, estimate $800-1,200.
This last pin, by Tony Duquette, brings us to the predominant subcategory of fun brooches--the animal brooch.
Animal Brooches

Admittedly, animal brooches get a bad rap in my family because my late grandfather, ever the procrastinator, would put off buying a gift until the last minute, then run down  to the local jeweler and get my grandmother an animal pin, EVERY SINGLE YEAR. So don't go cutesy all the time, but an animal pin now and then, especially if it features a creature of which you're particularly fond, is a great gift. I've culled the impressive selection down to a few that caught my eye.
Courtesy of StyleBistro. Photo by
Blake Lively and her giant pin. Let's just say that h
aving a fly on you has never looked better.
South sea cultured pearl, diamond, ruby and gold octopus, at Heritage on December 5th, estimate $2,000-3,000.

18k gold, diamond and turquoise brooch, at Phillips de Pury in New York on December 3rd, estimate $1,200-1,600.

Two green garnet, gold and diamond salamanders, circa 1910. At Rago in New Jersey on December 4th, estimate $1,200-1,800.
A horse of course! For all the equestrians out there. 14k gold and diamond horse pin. At Leslie Hindman on December 4th, estimate $300-500.
I adore this South Sea cultured pearl, platinum and diamond snail. At Heritage in Dallas on December 5th, estimate $2,000-3,000.

I've been fascinated by crystal intaglio brooches ever since I was little. This fantastic fox is at Michaan's in California on December 5th, estimate $700-1,000.
Georgian jewelry is very rare. This sweet diamond and ruby swallow carrying a love letter hits all the right notes. At Heritage on December 5th, estimate $2,000-3,000.
Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany gold, ruby and diamond Ibex brooch. At Leslie Hindman on December 4th, estimate $2,000-4,000.


 I close with a few more shots of the young and beautiful wearing brooches. Be daring! Try one! Happy bidding, everyone--and Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Brooch is Back

Photo: Elle Magazine, courtesy of

This year, I've started noticing brooches. That's right, those things my third grade teacher, and probably yours, always wore on her label. Only they're not just for matrons anymore. My renewed interest might have started with the interesting way Gwyneth Paltrow wore a brooch on Oscar night earlier this year.

Gwyneth Paltrow wears a brooch on her hip Oscar night, 2011
 And then I happened to see this month's Elle. Chanel's Fall 2011 show featured low, loose chignons, dressed up by a bejeweled pin. Doesn't it look great? And for once, this is a hairstyle I know I can do-- especially the messy part! (To wear a brooch in your hair, either stitch the pin to a comb/barrette, or pin it through a secure elastic/ bobby pin.)

Brooches come up for auction routinely, and never in greater numbers than they do in early December, when all the pre-holiday jewelry sales are in full swing. In fact, I found so many fantastic brooches, that I am dividing my finds into two postings.

For the Gardener...

Princess Kate wore a maple leaf brooch on her recent visit to Canada--the same pin, in fact, that Queen Elizabeth wore as a princess in 1951. Flower/ leaf pins are among my favorites for their timeless appeal.

18 k yellow Tiffany yellow gold and diamond brooch,
At Leslie Hindman on December 4th, estimate $1,500-2,500.

An 18k yellow gold and ruby brooch. In Chicago on December 4th, estimate $500-700.

Note that while weight is often listed, the measurement is not. Feel free to email the auction house and request the measurements, as photos can be deceiving.

Vintage Cartier leaf brooch.
At Leland Little in North Carolina on December 3rd, estimate $1,000-3,000.
I think Hillary looks so pretty here. I love the gold flower!
Vintage Tiffany 18k gold and ruby brooch.
At Heritage Auctions in Dallas on December 5th, estimate $3,000-5,000.

This convertible brooch lets you leave the gold at home for when you want a more monochromatic look.
At Heritage Auctions on December 5th, estimate $3,500-4,500.

Miriam Haskell costume jewelry is now a hot collecting category--so if you have some at home, take good care of it!
Pair of faux floral brooches,
at Leslie Hindman on December 6th, estimate  $100-200.

If course, you don't have just flowers in your garden...

A snail is much more welcome on your lapel than in your garden--especially when it's as pretty as this one.
South sea pearl, diamond and white gold brooch,
at Heritage on December 5th, estimate $2,000-3,000.

Ryker Art Nouveau garnet, diamond and enamel dragonfly brooch,
at Michaan's on December 5th, estimate $900-1,200.

14k gold, diamond and pearl butterfly brooch,
at auction in Chicago on December 4th, estimate $600-800.

Art Nouveau pearl, diamond, ruby and enamel butterfly.
At auction in California on December 5th, estimate $1,600-2,500.
 For the Modernist...

On Sunday, I watched The Good Wife.  Diane Lockhart, the co-head of a law firm played by Christine Baranski, wore a stunning pin that proved a welcome embellishment on her otherwise severe suit. No stills yet, but here she is on the left, wearing another striking pin.

The pin's abstract design reminded me a bit of the one below--perfect the mid-century modernists out there who are busily adding the Formica cabinets back to their ranch houses. This pin really reminds me of the ceiling and chandelier in the opera house at Lincoln Center.

Swiss Modernist 18k gold and diamond brooch. At auction on Novermber 20th in Madison, New Jersey, estimate $400-600.

Michell Obama used a modern starburst brooch to add a focal point to her drapey neckline.

Ooh, opals! A pair of cabochon opal pins, at Kamelot auction in Philadelphia on November 19th, estimate $400-600.

I close with a pin that's a little bit modern, a little bit floral and more than a little bit stylish. More to come on Friday. Happy bidding everyone!

1960 18k gold and diamond pin. At auction in Dallas on December 5th, estimate $2,000-3,000.