History of Jewelry Part Three — Accessories from the Titanic

By: Shmukler Design

Last week, our blog post — History of Jewelry Part Two — Accessories: From Ancient Egypt to the Roaring ‘20s — covered the history of jewelry accessories and the different trademark styles created by cultures around the world from ancient times to the early 20th century. That post takes us up to the early 1900s, discussing the popular jewelry styles in the United States at the time, including those worn by the fated passengers aboard the RMS Titanic.

Today, we are fortunate to have Craig A. Lynch, G.G., with us to discuss the jewelry accessories he appraised from the Titanic, recovered from the bottom of the ocean nearly more than eight decades after an iceberg struck the luxury liner back in April of 1912.

Craig. A. Lynch, G.G.

You may recall from last week’s post that Craig, who is an Accredited Senior Gemologist and Certified Insurance Appraiser, is the owner of Ouellet & Lynch in Phoenix, Ariz. In 2002, he was selected to document and value all of the jewelry recovered from the Titanic. Below, in his own words, Craig provides answers to our questions about that experience and the jewelry accessories from the time of the sailing of the Titanic.

Custom Jewelry Blog: How did it come about that you were asked to assess the value of jewelry accessories retrieved from the Titanic? Do you recall how you were contacted?

Craig Lynch: I was asked on a Friday afternoon in early 2002 if I would have time to meet with the vice president of RMS Titanic Inc. the following Monday morning to examine some Titanic recovered artifacts. The vice president was in Phoenix to set up a new artifact exhibit at the Arizona Science Center. At the meeting, he asked if I would be interested in appraising the 70 or so recovered pieces of jewelry and watches from the shipwreck.

Custom Jewelry Blog: In what condition were the jewelry accessories presented to you for appraisal? Did they hold up well since 1912?

Craig Lynch: As the artifacts were about to be put in a museum display, they had already been professionally cleaned and stabilized. Each material (gold, silver, platinum, steel, brass, bronze, various base metals, and pearls) has its own set of protocols for cleaning and stabilization. Platinum and gold items were in like-new condition after nearly 80 years in the ocean, two miles underwater. The silver was very brittle, and all of the steel parts of watches were dissolved or rusted away. The pearls showed heavy corrosion.

Custom Jewelry Blog: Did you find the experience of examining jewelry accessories from the early 1900s — especially top-shelf items aboard a luxury cruise ship — an exhilarating experience? We would think that would be the adventure of a lifetime for a jewelry expert.

Craig Lynch: Yes, indeed, it will probably be the most important historic work I’ll ever do. Even more so because my first career choice and training after high school was commercial deep-sea diving. The vice president of RMS Titanic at the time was also the chief submersible driver and had been to the wreck site more than 22 times, so I told him about the jewelry and watches at the same time he told me about the recovery process with the submarines.

Custom Jewelry Blog: In what ways do today’s jewelry accessories differ from those of the era when the Titanic set sail?

Craig Lynch: The artifacts related to how a gentleman dressed was the biggest surprise. Men’s fashion has changed dramatically in the last 100 years. For example, at that time the white dress shirts were very different from what we have today. They had a white cuff-less, collar-less, button-less base shirt on which a well-dressed man would attach (by buttons) shirt cuffs, a collar, and buttons up the front, plus a starched white dickey garment over the front buttons. He would then add a waistcoat with detachable buttons and suspenders, which the British call “braces.” Finally, trousers and a suit coat. Each set of buttons were a different shape so it could be identified as to where it was to be used.

Custom Jewelry Blog: From what area of the ship were most of the jewelry accessories retrieved? In the purser’s safe? In individual staterooms? Lying on the ocean floor?

Craig Lynch: All of the recovered artifacts are from the debris field between the two halves of the ship (about three quarters of a mile apart), and several were in a black leather purser’s bag.

Custom Jewelry Blog: What jewelry accessory did you personally appraise that you found to be the most unusual or unique? Perhaps not the most expensive — but impressive?

Craig Lynch: Although there were many unusual and interesting items recovered, one of the most unusual that I had a chance to appraise — unusual because I’d never seen the style before — was a pair of custom-made gentlemen’s dress cuff buttons (pictured above), each with a 1.75 carat diamond and two duck-like feet attached to them. Items such as these are often referred to as cufflinks, but they are actually buttons, not cufflinks, as identified by the way they attached to the sleeve and cuff. But the presence of duck-like feet, well, that’s something I haven’t seen since.

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