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Belle Époque Elegance

Tiffany & Co.’s Wade Family necklaces, together again
Stephen Harrison, Curator of Decorative Art and Design
August 23, 2016
necklace TIffCo

Wade Necklace, c. 1900. Paulding Farnham, designer.  Gold, platinum, diamonds; 36 x 8.5 cm. Tiffany & Co. Archives, A1999.49.01. © Tiffany & Co. Archives 

Two exquisite jeweled masterworks from the Belle Époque—the Wade Family necklaces by Tiffany & Co.—once again reunite as part of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s centennial loan series. Both necklaces were on view in the museum’s 2008 exhibition Artistic Luxury: Tiffany, Fabergé, Lalique, an exploration of artistic design in the decorative arts at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioned by Cleveland Museum of Art co-founder Jeptha Wade II around 1895, the two necklaces were gifts to his wife, Ellen Garretson Wade. She likely wore them when the couple visited Russia in 1896, the year of the coronation of the ill-fated Nicholas II and Alexandra.

Both jewels represent the finest work in goldsmithing and gemology of their period. The rare and impressive stones were probably collected for Wade by George Frederick Kunz, the celebrity gemologist who advised Wade on his mineral collection, then set by Tiffany & Co., for whom Kunz also worked procuring rare specimen gems. Each is designed in a setting reminiscent of late 18th-century Louis XVI neoclassicism, favored by society’s elite who passed from one continent to the other, attending balls and banquets and opening nights at the opera just as the Wades did during those heady years before the First World War.

necklace CMNH
Necklace, 1885–95. Diamonds, pink tourmalines, platinum, yellow gold; circumference 34.5 cm; pendant h. 4 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, 1991-20

The tourmaline necklace features a single strand of deeply colored stones surrounded by diamonds, while the larger necklace is set with enormous diamond solitaires hung from garlands of tiny diamonds. This setting resembles delicate lace, an effect surely appreciated by the Wades, who amassed one of North America’s finest collections of antique lace, now in the permanent collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Eventually both jewels passed to relatives in the Wade family before the pink tourmaline and diamond necklace was given to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the solid diamond necklace was acquired by the Tiffany & Co. Archives. Don’t miss this opportunity to see these beautiful jeweled masterworks, first owned by one of our museum’s most generous benefactors.   

 Cleveland Art, September/October 2016