Every woman’s boudoir or vanity should have gilt—gold plating, or gilt with just an “i.” The term “boudoir” derives from the French word bouder, which means to sulk or pout, and it originally pertained to a room where a lady could withdraw to sulk.
By the 18th century, this sulking room was transformed into a lavish dressing room with a vanity table resplendent with costly gold ormolu perfume bottles, mirrors and jewelry caskets. True ormolu pieces are rare to find, and quite costly. Ormolu gilding went out of fashion in 1830, as the danger of the process was considered too high.
Today, collectors are gathering more contemporary gold-plated vanity pieces made in the early 1900s through the early 1960s. Collected to create a feminine dressing table or vanity space, or simply to display in a glass case, these jewelry caskets, perfume bottles and dressing table sets covered in a layer of pure 24-carat gold are exquisitely made, and beautiful to look at and use.
Gold-plated vanity accessories are most often Rococo style with ornate filigree work, birds and floral designs. Feminine and romantic, they made a luxurious statement. These extravagant vanity accessories were created with considerable attention to detail, which is why they’re a favorite collectible for women and even men.
Many manufacturers specialized in gold-plated vanity items. Apollo Studios was the earliest and most prestigious firm. A contemporary of Tiffany Studios, Apollo Studios produced many of the same items, creating pieces of exceptional quality from 1909 to 1922.
In the early 1940s, many companies began producing vanity items with a 24-carat gold-plated finish. Some of the most well-known include Matson, Stylebuilt, Guildcrest and Globe. Production of most of these types of items ended in the 1960s, although Stylebuilt still creates gold-plated pieces today.
What to Look For
Familiarize yourself with the shapes, designs and workmanship of the good vintage pieces. The most common design elements include roses, birds and filigree work, at times accented with faux jewels. Sometimes brushes and hand mirrors have faux mother of pearl or guilloche enamel behind the filigree, which is always plastic and not the real thing.
- Mark: Most of the vintage vanity and dresser items plated in 24-carat gold are marked by the manufacturer. Some were marked only by a paper label, which may be missing. But the quality is unmistakable; you’ll know it when you see it.
- Jewelry caskets: The jewelry caskets will have elegant feet and beveled glass held in by diamond-like prongs or accented by jewels. Most have velvet-lined board bottoms, tufted or not.
- Perfume bottles: Most perfume bottles are large filigree bottles with beveled glass. The bottle should retain its original glass dauber attached to its gilt filigree stopper. Another style, theatomizers, have siphon tubes inside.
- Dresser sets. Trays withmirrors or lace enclosed between glass are either large enough to hold an entire brush and hand mirror set, or small to showcase a few special perfume bottles. Most have little feet and ornate filigree handles.
When you display your collection, the more the merrier. One piece is beautiful on its own, but a display of gilt accessories can be captivating. A collection of jewelry bottles or a selection of jewel caskets on a mirrored tray will be the highlight of any space. These gilded vintage treasures are sure to add glamour and sophistication to your home.
- Display your collection away from direct sunlight. Keep your vanity accessories away from moisture, which can loosen the gilding and damage any jewels you may have.
- Dust your pieces regularly, using a brush to get into the little filigree areas. I recommend a medium-size paintbrush—the stiff bristles will loosen dirt and debris in the ornate designs.
- If you polish your gold-plated pieces, do so very, very carefully. The gold layer is thin and easily polished away. Use a Q-tip dipped in a high quality, silver-gold polish, and gently rub on a small area; then buff it out to a shine. Most collectors, however, prefer the beautiful unpolished patina that their boxes, perfume bottles and vanity accessories acquire over time.
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