Enamel and silver are the featured items in this week’s What’s It Worth? Readers ask questions about a special spoon and a beautiful small box. Each employs a different ancient technique and each has collector value as an antique.
Q. I have had my little box — it measures about 2 inches across — for a number of years. On the inside of each part is stamped the number “11.” Is this European and is it of any value? — Nancy in Othello
A. This small box was most likely used for powder or rouge, or something small and precious to the owner. Each side is enamel on metal and the front (or top) shows a pastoral scene with young lovers. The back, which is the plainer side, uses a quite special artistic method called “ guilloche.”
You can see a pattern beneath the green enamel top layer on that side. It was done by a craftsman using the guilloche technique. Guilloche is a French word referring to a style of braiding or interlaced ribbon design.
In this case, a repeating pattern is engraved on to the bare metal by a special lathe and the enamel — which is a colored glass powder that will be fired later in the process — is applied over the etched surface.
During the firing, the glass powder melts, fuses onto the base metal and, when polished, gives a translucent appearance to the underlying metal design.
Guilloche pieces are desired by collectors. The most famous examples of the technique are the fabled Fabergé Easter eggs created more than 100 years ago in Russia for the Imperial Court.
This would be fairly priced in the $125 to $175 range.
While the markings are not extensive enough for any certain determination, the metal in this box doubtless has some silver content. It was made in Europe, perhaps France or Germany, probably in the late 19th century.
Q. This is the most unusual spoon we have in a small collection. It measures about five-and-one-half inches long. There are no monograms and the only mark is “830” on the back of the bowl, where the handle attaches. What’s unusual is the design and what seems to be glass on the handle. When you hold that up to a light, it glows like a stained glass window. Can you tell us what this is and perhaps when and where in may have been made? — Paul in Kennewick
A. It is a day for French words here at What’s It Worth? In this case, the word is “ plique-a-jour,” meaning “letting in daylight.”
Plique-a-jour is another enameling technique for affixing glass to metal. Unlike guilloche, the plique-a-jour artist applies the colored glass powder into small openings in the design of the metal.
There is no backing so, when finished, light shines through the small glass areas.
The method can be considered a miniature version of stained glass and it is very challenging for the artist. Plique-a-jour can be traced back at least to the Byzantine Empire, 600 years before the Common Era.
While the word is French, it was in Russia where the process was brought to its highest level. Once again, the Fabergé firm led the way. It was also a favorite method of artists in Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
In America a few high-end jewelers and silversmiths, including Tiffany and Gorham, made plique-a-jour pieces in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Almost all pieces you would see today are old. Because the process is so technical, time consuming and just plain hard to master and the rate of failure during production is very high, it is rarely produced today.
The “830” mark identifies this spoon as having been made in one of the Scandinavian countries, perhaps Norway, and is 83 percent pure silver.
Thus, age and scarcity make plique-a-jour pieces valuable. At a nicer shop or antique show, this would be in the $150 to $250 range.