Monday, September 24, 2012


Remember the tempest in 2009 when actress/model Heidi Klum cancelled her signature jewelry line, which included some clover-inspired designs? Lawyers for Van Cleef & Arpels apparently reminded Klum that "Van Cleef owns the clover" (as The New York Daily News reported), and she and her financiers backed off. Klum has since launched a "wildlife" collection on one of the shopping networks; happily for Klum and her design team, no one has yet suggested that VC&A "owns the wildlife"... 

Circa 1975 Van Cleef & Arpels engagement ring 
(image via Erstwhile Jewelry)

It's understandable that a luxury retailer like Van Cleef would challenge a TV personality stamping her name on fashion jewelry resembling one of its most popular motifs. But what about one of Van Cleef's own in-house designers? The question arose last week when the Court of Appeals in Paris ruled that contributions by individual members of a fashion house's creative team must be regarded as part of a company's "collective" archive. 

The back story: Thierry Berthelot, a former VC&A designer, had argued that his output for the 15 years he was employed at the firm was carried out entirely on his own initiative without supervision and, therefore, he had ownership rights to the designs he'd produced. The French court not only ruled against Berthelot (bringing to mind Diana Vreeland's famous commandment about the collaborative process: "Never say 'I! Always say 'we'!"), it scolded him for holding onto design drawings—more than 500, according to news sources—during the 7-year-dispute in order to "enforce the intellectual property rights he claimed"; he was then ordered to pay his former employer 10,000 euros in damages for this "malicious behavior." 

Circa 2003 Frivole earclips in 18kt white gold with pavĂ©-set diamonds 
and larger round brilliant cut diamond centers, 
signed Van Cleef & Arpels 
Image via 

Berthelot, who says he was the designer of VC&Arpels 2003 Frivole collection among others, vows to seek satisfaction in a higher court, though French law apparently favors those who "initiate" and supervise creative work over those who execute it. Sounds like someone may need more than a four-leaf clover to win this case.

An unsigned circa 1910 gold and diamond "Symbolist" Clover Ring 
with one four-leaf sprig hidden amongst the clovers

As William Butler Yeats wrote in his poem "Among Schoolchildren," How can one know the dancer from the dance?  Or, in the realm of adornment, the fabricator from the jewel? Clearly, the presence of a retailer's signature or maker's mark does not tell the full story...

Gustav Manz's renderings of his bronzes and numbered 
jewelry designs were featured in a self-published brochure

While no registered maker's mark has yet been found for Manz & Co, Gustav Manz did sign at least some of his work. On bronzes as well as his small silver one can detect "Manz" in block letter print, as shown, below, in a detail from a circa 1910 brochure he self-published, with 12 plates illustrating his favorite motifs. An independent designer-fabricator, Manz apparently relied on word-of-mouth, and longstanding relationships (coupled with discretion), to generate commissions from boutique jewelers and retail powerhouses like Theodore B. Starr, Dreicer, F. Walter Lawrence, Kirkpatrick, Gillot, Tiffany & Company, J.E. Caldwell, Marcus, Shreve Crump & Low, Raymond Yard, and Black, Starr, Frost-Gorham (a common practice that continues today, as Courtney Bowers points out in her profile of Manz for Magazine Antiques)

Though confident enough to list his profession as "artist" in early city directories, and recognized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1924 for the exceptional design and workmanship of his production pieces, Manz was less focused on developing brand awareness than providing a steady income for himself and his employees. The firm survived the tumultuous years of the Great Depression and two world wars until Manz's retirement in 1944, and continued for another decade under the ownership of George Hartjen, his head engraver and chaser. 

At the Thirteenth Annual Convention on Industrial Art in Washington, D.C. on May 16, 1922, Clara R. Mason, of the Philadelphia Art Alliance, bemoaned the post-industrial practice of paying subcontractors and in-house artists to relinquish ownership of their creative output. Here's the text of Mason's paper, reprinted in the October 1922 issue of The Magazine of Art (via google books).

A circa 1900 gold, enamel and pearls clover brooch, marked for Bippart, Griscom & Osborn. According to the Newark Board of Trade's 1912 directory, the firm employed over 100 workers, 
among them "the highest class of skilled workmen engaged in this line of manufacturing."
Image via Two Nerdy History Girls Pinterest board 

From October 1910 through the 1920s, a young woman in Portland OR collected over one thousand four-leaf clovers and pressed them in whimsical patterns between pages of ledger albums. Her name was Alda Carlson, and she lived until the age of 93 according to provenance supplied by the original eBay seller (whether she signed her creations or worked unassisted remains to be determined); more on Alda's creative output here and here
(image via


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