At the dawn of the twentieth century, Louis Comfort Tiffany said that each piece of jewelry "acts as a little missionary of art and tries, in its own dumb way to convert the Philistine." Tiffany took the recent Arts and Crafts movement's reaction against the mediocrity of mass production toward the decorative to new heights in America. His Tiffany Art Jewelry department did not rely on stunning stones alone to speak up for art, for in its pieces the stones themselves did not even need to be valuable. Rather, it incorporated stones selected for color values within the romantic curves, sensuality and openness that marks Art Nouveau designs to make art's case.
The maker of the contemporary Art Nouveau bracelet pictured here did his work not far from Tiffany's "vast turreted factory" in Newark, New Jersey - a city then known especially for silver production - and would surely have agreed with L.C. Tiffany's assertion. Indeed, the Riker Brothers jewelry makers who seem to have not worked in silver often came up with design motifs similar to Tiffany's.
Founded in Newark, N. J. in 1846, William Riker's company composed at first with outsiders, became Riker &. Son in 1871, Riker &.(three) Sons in 1873, and Riker Bothers from 1892 - 1943. Beginning as a producer of gold fob chains and charms, by the 20th century the company produced all kinds of jewelry in gold and platinum. Its greatest fame came around the turn of the century from striking repousse work on hollow gold bangle bracelets, with and without stones. Panels incorporating flowing designs with repetitive motifs such as chrysanthemums, water lilies, American birds and plant life, and occasionally, New World themes such as cornstalks and tomahawks, were common in Riker Brothers bracelets. The open work in the beautiful example shown here, however, is unusual. This elegant 14K yellow gold butterfly bezel set aquamarine and diamond body, diamond "eyes," and three diamond "dewdrops" on each wing surmounts three of ten whiplash rectangular links that make up this American Art Nouveau bracelet.
Although not created for the carriage trade in its time, Riker Brothers' bracelets are sought after by collectors today because each piece continues to be a "missionary of art."