Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Mermaid ring, pink tourmaline, diamond, and baroque pearl 
in sea-poppy setting, circa 1900. 
Marked "F. Lawr." for F. Walter Lawrence
(Amanda Joy Rubin collection)

Some call it serendipity. We call it making a splash. After swimming apart for a century, a mermaid ring retailed by F. Walter Lawrence in the early 1900s and a matching drawing by the ring's probable maker, Gustav Manz, were reunited at the annual conference organized by the American Society for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts (ASJRA). Neither the ring's owner—who'd acquired the piece from Tadema Gallery after spotting it in the London shop's window—nor the custodian of the gouache drawing (a Manz descendant), had an inkling the "other half" would show up at the event, held at a private midtown Manhattan club last October. 

Gouache drawing of a double-mermaid ring by goldsmith-sculptor Gustav Manz, who frequently collaborated with Lawrence 
(Mathews family collection)

Closer inspection revealed that the ring purchased at Tadema was the near identical twin of another FWL-marked mermaid ring in another private collection (it appears, set with a different stone, in a Magazine Antiques article about Lawrence published in April 2004). Manz is known to have adapted his designs with minor variations for different wholesale clients, making us hopeful that a similar mermaid pair will surface. 

Lawrence and Manz collaborated on other marine-inspired pieces including a baroque pearl "Mermaid" ring exhibited at the St. Louis World's Fair—described on the entry form as having been "first modeled in wax [and] cast in gold with hand chasing". The modeling on a sterling silver and chrysoprase purse frame that was recently exhibited at Forbes Galleries has also been attributed to the German-born sculptor/goldsmith who, judging from drawings and archival records, co-designed many of Lawrence's showpieces. 

Above: Works in progress photographed on top of Manz & Co business stationery bearing the firm's circa 1901 address "41-43 Maiden Lane, New York"; the lotus clasp held by one of the mermaids has not yet been set with a stone (photo Winterthur Museum)

An article Lawrence contributed to The Craftsman and a subsequent profile in The Keystone featured images of finely carved gem mountings depicting a cast of exotic, historical, and mythological figures from Manz's repertoire, including a trident-bearing mermaid and sea serpent ring set with natural pearl. 

From top: A swimming mermaid carries a trident to defend her pearl against a sea serpent rounding the opposite shoulder (FWL, The Craftsman, June 1903); a publicity still of four rings from Lawrence's studio includes views of a mermaid figure ("Amphitrite") and sea serpent ring, second from left in both rows; detail of goldwork on the mermaid-serpent ring (Sargent, The Keystone, July 1905)

The theme for this year's conference is the symbolic meaning of jewelry across the ages. October 12 is just a month away, but you may still be able to snag a seat. For details about speakers, click ASJRA 8th Annual Conference. As past participants will attest, the storytellers in the room are as arresting as the gems. 

An ASJRA member models the Lawrence-Manz mermaid ring 
during the group's Fall 2012 gathering
Photo © Gustav Manz LLC

Copyright © 2014 
All Rights Reserved 

Sources cited:
  • "Craftsmanship versus Intrinsic Value" by F. Walter Lawrence, The Craftsman, June 1903
  • Louisiana Purchase Exposition , Department of Art records, 1896-1908
  • Official Catalog of Exhibitors, Universal Exposition, St. Louis, USA, 1904
  • "A Goldsmith-Sculptor: F. Walter Lawrence" by Irene Sargent, The Keystone, July 1905
  • "The Jewelry and Silver of F. Walter Lawrence" by Janet Zapata, Magazine Antiques, April 2004
  • "Where Credit is Due: The Life and Jewelry of Gustav Manz" by Courtney Bowers, Magazine Antiques, September-October 2010
  • "International Art Jewelry, 1895-1925" catalog of Forbes Galleries exhibit by curator Elyse Zorn Karlin, October 2011
  • Thanks to Winterthur library, Tadema Gallery, Cleota Reed, NYPL, and ASJRA members for their assistance with ongoing research


  1. My hand never looked so good as the day I had on Gustav's mermaid ring. xoxox Robin

  2. How exciting to have matched up a piece with a sketch. You must be so thrilled!