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The Venerable Bead

A classic round necklace c1900

While we are on our travels (and we go on a fair few trips and excursions) there are a few things which always catch our attention.

As you might see from a quick peruse of our catalogue, there are is a sizable collection of brooches, earrings, accessories and more recently some fine arts and collectables have been introduced. Mostly though we always seem to come back to necklaces and beads. Beads of all descriptions yes –  gems like carnelian and malachite, plastic – including the odd bit of Bakelite and a lot of glass – but one of our particular penchants is for Millefiori.

This is a particular style of glass making which creates a plethora of designs and always with vivid, stunning results. The term Millefiori, literally translated, is Italian for million flowers and it is fairly much a prescriptive name. Early examples have been found on Roman sites and even, so I’m told, at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk so there is an obvious tradition at work here.

Single bead with intricate patchwork
Put simply (and I am not claiming to be an expert in glass making) the technique involves coloured rods of glass, stretched very thin and bound to form small intricate designs. These rods are then placed into molten glass and sliced. The glass is then reheated and dipped to seal the design and the result is moulded into its final shape.

More popularly perhaps this was used to make paperweights, and before the mid 19th century was called mosaic work (it is interesting to note that despite having existed since Roman times, the art was lost for a period).While paperweights can be stunning it is the intricacy and skill involved in bead making which always makes for an exciting find.

They weren’t always round

The best known examples are Italian, particularly the Venetian glass-men and Murano although England and the US also had a fair crack at the whip. A good set of antique or vintage Millefiori beads (and be careful of modern reproductions, they’re never quite the same) is a privilege to find. Knowing you hold a true piece of artisan jewellery which has taken years to perfect is a humbling concept.

Millefiori is where jewellery and art collide in a splash of colour; their brightness and joyous abstract design sets these beads apart and we will never tire of finding them. A humble glass bead perhaps but a venerable bead none-the-less.
Browse our shop for some beautiful Millefiori beads here

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A Touch of Glass…or Venini Vidi Vici

It seems (in the UK anyway) that recent interior design trends for “clean lines, white walls and open space” have rather dented the fashion for collectable glass. It is with a heavy heart that Touchstone Vintage placed some of our most beautiful items in storage until once again the doors of fashion are open to ornamentation.
Characteristic striped design vase
There are, however, some names which buck these trends and will always have a place in the living rooms of collectors. Perhaps the pinnacle of collectable glass lies in 1920s Italy and Murano glass. Taking inspiration from the opulence of the Art Deco movement, Murano became a powerhouse of intricate design and abstract art.
Although traditional Murano seemed weary, the vision of one man – Paolo Venini – brought new life into the industry and paved the way for “designer glass”.
The genius of Venini, a lawyer by trade, was to incorporate designers (known to this day as Authors) into the process; and, using experienced blowers and technical direction from an earlier Murano incarnation carved, or blew, a new path for glassware design.
A jar probably designed by Bianconi
As befits Venini’s legendary status, the path was beset with obstacles – disagreements, betrayal and fierce competition but by 1926 Venini and co by trumpeting modern design and techniques became the undisputed leaders of the field. Much of the design is instantly recognisable, rich colours, bold patterns, the introduction of latticino (using rods of colour) and replacing traditional plain patterns with extravagant and Avant Garde designs.
Venini himself was considered a fine “Author” but it is in collaboration with designers such as Carlo and Tobia Scarpa and later Fulvio Bianconi that the company found its metier. By the 1930s Venini was attracting designers from around the world and expanding its modernist style to ever more graceful heights.
A typical Latticino dish
Following the death of Venini in 1959, the company continued producing high quality glass using, in many cases, tried and tested designs but somehow nothing quite reached the zenith achieved by the man himself. Although much modern Murano is indistinguishable from early products the signs are there in the delicacy and pontils of the early glass.

Early Venini has become highly collectable and even in a slightly depressed glassware market can still achieve high sums of money proving there is still a place, even in the most modern of interiors, for a piece of history, immaculate design and Venini.Find us and some more of our collection of glass, china, collectables and jewellery at these links

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Deco Rating

Odeon style meets Egyptian Revival
Stick on some cool jazz, pour yourself a martini and settle back for a look at the age of opulence.
When faced with the term Art Deco most people will have myriad differing ideas. The idiosyncratic Odeon Style, symmetry, geometry and clean lines, the Egyptian revival – gods and monsters (yet again the adherence to geometry) or perhaps it’s green onyx, floral asymmetry, sweeping curves and semi-naked bronze statues?
Art Deco is not however, a singular style. Art Deco (Les Arts Decoratif) defines a movement which crossed continents, politics and decades; a movement which relaxed tradition, freeing designers and artisans. It was a movement which created bespoke and beautiful decor, architecture; and of course fashion. In short, Art Deco created the ultimate opulent lifestyle.
Late Flapper beads in Czech glass
Fashion and jewellery mimicked grander designs and blended them to create an instantly recognisable yet disparate styles. We at TouchstoneVintage have a particular love of all things Deco from the boom time flapper style to the later geometric and Egyptian styles; there is a romanticism which accompanies pieces like this silver and Jade ring and an organic oneness with nature with this floral brooch
Naturally being such a gluttonous, indulgent period there was always room for a certain amount of sparkle and glamour. The golden age of Hollywood inspired not only the Odeon style but the desire to imitate stars of the silver screen. While real gems were often unattainable, diamante and marcasite, as shown in this dress clip, made glitz affordable to many.
In many ways the styles and fashions of the Art Deco movement reflect not only changing society and economics but also the realisation of a lifestyle dream usually only afforded to the higher echelons of society. But like all dreams, depression, war and post-conflict austerity brought this wonderful movement to a graceful close.
It wasn’t all costume
Although traces remained, and still remain, in design the true age of Deco became a novelty, a treasure and now: almost an antique. This is a very simplified view of what is a complicated period of history but Art Deco leaves a legacy which remains pertinent to this day. That beauty and progression can triumph over austerity; that a melting pot of ideas breeds new thinking, new design and a new culture which can cross any boundary – including time.
Find out more about Touchstone Vintage and our Art Deco jewellery and collectables by following the links below.
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