By Diana S. Zimmerman
Not a country, not a culture, nor a time has existed without its fairy lore. Called by many names, fée, fey, fata, toverfee, faery, or simply fairy, their existence to this day remains controversial. The late musician/composer, John Lennon once said, “I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, myths, and dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”
Poets have written about them; artists have painted them; and children claim to see them. Shakespeare, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Johann Heinrich Füssli, and J.M. Barrie, as well as modern-day artists such as Brian Froud and Maxine Gadd have all immortalized them in their own way. And so have the greatest jewelers of our times. Tiffany, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Lalique all have fashioned fairies.
During the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, fairies were not only fashionable, but a fashion statement. With puritanical values sweeping Europe and America, fairy art—paintings, sculpture, silverware, and jewelry—became a highly sought after form of socially respectable “pornography.” In those days, to show a lady without clothes was, of course, completely unacceptable. But if you added butterfly or bee wings along with the sheerest of fabric across her perfectly formed bosom, then nature’s elemental beings suddenly became not only acceptable, but quite en vogue.
Entire jewelry collections featured these fanciful ladies in magnificent works of gold and precious gems. Carved in onyx or shell, delicate fairy cameo pins were also very popular during the Victorian era. Psyche was a common theme, as were fairies resting on flowers or dancing in the breeze.
Today, the beauty and mystic of fairies is resonating louder than ever before. Disney is widely promoting Tinkerbell, one of the most famous fairies of our times, and not just in toys and accessories, but in 18K gold jewelry as well. Fairy conferences and conclaves such as FaeryCon™ and FaeryWorld™ have doubled and tripled in attendance over the past few years. On Amazon.com, the word “fairy” brings up over 468,300 entries, while on eBay, more than 330,100 fairy items are for sale, including a wide range of jewelry in all price ranges. Of all the modern tributes to this mythical being, perhaps none rivals Van Cleef & Arpel’s Midsummer Nights Dream collection. Exquisitely crafted, it features, among others in the line, a delicate fairy seated on a magical disc of rubies or sapphires.
During the Art Nouveau period, the Spanish company, Masriera began producing beautiful fairy jewelry. The enamel they use is specially made by secret formulas known only to the brand’s artisans. Harkening back to these early designs, Masriera today creates sumptuous Art Nouveau fairy pieces that include the addition of diamonds, sapphires, and pearls, which transforms them into an art form that would make even the most discerning Fairy proud.
The exacting art of plique-à-jour enameling is at the heart of another master of the Art Nouveau fairy—Nouveau 1910, also of Barcelona, Spain. Josep Arquer founded the company in 1910 and was heavily influenced by the cultural movement that was spreading throughout Europe at that time. Arquer’s enameling technique, where layer upon layer is meticulously applied over 18K yellow gold, is done today in much the same way as when he founded the company. Multi-colored wings are set with diamonds, pearls and other precious gems.
Shown here are but a few of the many beautiful examples of fairies crafted in fine jewelry. It is no wonder that the attraction for these mythical beings is so universal. What captures more of our childhood dreams than the delicate Fairy?
Editor’s note: Diana S. Zimmerman is a specialist on marketing and branding, with books on these subjects, as well as two biographies to her credit (Siegfried & Roy: Unique in All the World and Butterfly in a Storm). Also recognized as a leading expert on fairy lore, literature, and art, she has recently published the first two books in a trilogy of page-turning yet thought-provoking fantasy adventure stories for the young and young-at-heart—Kandide: The Secret of the Mists and Kandide: The Lady’s Revenge, available on Amazon.com, both in print and ebook format (kandide.com).