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A Modern Gilded Age

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This week, we’re celebrating the opulence of the Gilded Age, which ran from the 1870s to the 1910s. Like last week’s Art Deco post, we’re inspired by a museum exhibition, “Gilded New York”, currently on display at the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY). Many of our most beautiful antique jewels were made at this time, and we’ve pulled together our favorites into The Gilded Age collection.

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Luxurious and elegant, Gilded Age jewelry is encrusted with diamonds. Brooches and pendants set with Old Mine and rose cut stones were set in silver to provide maximum glitter in the candlelit ballrooms of 5th Avenue mansions. Creamy pearls set off the lustrous silks and satins of the Parisian couture gowns worn by Vanderbilts and Astors. “Gilded New York” focuses on these families, illustrating how their consuming need for status and power led to New York becoming an international center of commerce, art, and culture.

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At the end of the 19th century, New York had arrived as an international city, on par with Paris and London. The exhibition is a lavish collection of 100 objects, shown within a gallery decorated to resemble a 19th century drawing room. Highlights include portraits, colorful accessories, and elaborate gowns by famed Parisian couturier, the British born Charles Frederick Worth. This is the inaugural show of the MCNY’s Tiffany & Co. Foundation Gallery, so of course, it also features incredible jewelry!

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The tycoons of the Gilded Age fancied themselves the logical heirs to the historical figures of the Old World. They embraced the traditional trappings of wealth, including elaborate architecture, furniture, and artwork. Many of these pieces are now in public collections, allowing us to peek into their rarified world. Look at the stylish portraits they commissioned, by John Singer Sargent and others, and you’ll see a revealing glimpse into how they viewed themselves and their surroundings.

The Vanderbilt mansion, seen below, now only exists in photographs, but many grand homes still stand in New York and other cities. One easily accessible example for New Yorkers is The Frick Collection at the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 70th Street, home of 19th century industrialist Henry Clay Frick. Standing in the lovingly maintained rooms, surrounded by his famed collection of paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts, it only takes a little bit of imagination to feel as if you’ve stepped back into the Gilded Age.

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