The Art of the Egg

Ornaments of Fine Silver

- Thursday, January 12, 2017

The history of Vivian Alexander Silver Ornaments
Vivian Alexander has been in business of creating egg shaped products for over twenty years. The idea actually started in the summer of 1986 by decorating goose eggs for Christmas tree ornaments and dioramas. The raw material came from various sizes and types of eggs that were laying around Alexander's yard as a result of his flock of feathered foul roaming his country estate.

After three years of cutting, gluing, painting, and adding other embellishments on goose egg shells, Alexander moved up to larger egg shells; ostrich, rhea, and emu. Figuring out what to do with the larger shells proved to be much more interesting and challenging to Alexander, a graduate Civil Engineer. An astute observation of stringy evening purses carried by ladies at a Mardi Gras ball in 1991 proved to be the start of a new career. At the ball Alexander sketched out on his bar napkin an evening purse made of an ostrich egg shell. The following day Alexander went to his barn shop and made the first egg purse. That day the Vivian Alexander Company was born.

After several successful years creating and selling egg purses, Alexander was approached by the Forbes family with a request to replicate some of the famous Imperial Faberge Eggs that were in the vast Carl Faberge collection started by Malcolm Forbes. This experience exposed Alexander to the intricate details of these famous Imperial eggs, and just what made them so beautiful and unique in the world of European art and jewelry making. What stood out was that almost every egg and most of the other jewelry pieces made by Faberge, started with an intricate guilloche pattern etched in precious metal, and was followed by the most gorgeous translucent enamels. The precious metals, embellished with intricate guilloche and enclosed in transparent enamel sparkled with ever changing flashes of light that appeared to dance on the etched patterns deep in the enamel's embrace.

For Alexander to properly replicate the Faberge pieces in the Forbes Museum collection, he concluded that he had to become knowledgeable in the art of guilloche and the mechanics of enameling. True to his engineering mind, he immersed himself in studying the intricate machinery required and the ancient skills necessary to produce Imperial jewelry grade guilloche. He went so far as to locate an 1840 rose engine turning machine in Birmingham, England. He quickly learned that the process was extremely time consuming, required a steady hand, and years of experience to produce the quality needed to carry out his replication task. The skills and the machinery were available in Birmingham, but at a dear price.

The skills, materials, and equipment required to create beautiful translucent enamel were more readily available. However, one important and necessary procedure; the art of applying baked enamel on a curved surface was almost unknown, the art of applying enamel to a double curved surface such as an egg was unheard of. So the engineer went back to work to reinvent a method of applying and baking enamel so that it was flawless when used on a spherical surface. Since those early experiments Alexander has evolved, through several iterations of equipment and many days of frustration and makeovers, a process to reliably apply enamel to his curved designs.

With the two basic embellishment requirements solved Alexander sourced a Russian electrical engineer that had perfected a method of electroforming ovoid figures using fine silver. Vivian Alexander was now ready to produce replicas of Carl Faberges work that would meet and exceed the rigid requirements of the curator of the Forbes Museum Collection. Various egg sizes were produced using fine silver with guilloche engine turning applied and enamel baked on to be used in the production of the replica Imperial Eggs. Additionally, smaller such eggs were produced to emulate the delicate jewelry boxes and sewing kits made for European nobility.

Alexander ruminated over how to use the smaller silver egg shells to create additional art. Sculptures that would benefit from the lessons learned from his work with the Forbes Museum and the Imperial Faberge Eggs. Thinking back to his early days of decorating egg shells, he decided to try making an ornament using the small silver eggs. After much trial and error the first fine silver Mardi Gras ornament with the ubiquitous purple, green, and gold enamels and crystals was created. Naturally it was followed by the first silver Easter Egg, and finally a Christmas tree ornament. Since those first silver ornaments, three more have been created each year for the last six years. Because of the arduous, time consuming labor involved in replicating these ornaments, and the costly materials required, the decision was made to severely limit production. Two hundred of each design was deemed to be the practical maximum that could be made in a reasonable time. And since the production numbers were so small it seemed proper to serially number them and register the individual ornaments to the original owners. To date there have been nineteen unique ornament designs made many of each series has been registered and sold. Many customers have standing orders for their particular series number. Some senior citizens have reserved numbers for each of their grandchildren. Their grandchildren aren't particularly happy but, given time, they will come to appreciate their series of Vivian Alexander ornaments and the significance of their value.

Early on, it was decided to increase the sale price of the retired ornaments by ten dollars a year. The price increase was called for by the increased scarcity of the individual ornaments as the years passed by. At this writing the oldest, and rarest, ornaments are priced at two hundred eighty five dollars. In 2005 the introductory price was set at two hundred twenty five dollars. At that time fine, bullion grade silver was priced at less than $7 an ounce. At this writing the cost of fine silver is over $28. per ounce. Despite this fourfold price increase of the single most valuable component, Vivian Alexander has determined to hold the introductory price at $225 per ornament as long as possible.

These pure silver, guilloched, translucent enameled, numbered and registered, artist designed, hand made ornaments are destined to be a valuable collector’s item in the years to come. The value of the original ornaments has already risen 25%, and that doesn't take into account the value of complete, like numbered sets of any one series. A complete set of all nineteen ornaments, at this writing, all with the same serial number, would be a collectors dream.

A little background of Vivian Alexander:Alexander’s primary product is his unique and beautiful silver purses that are lavishly decorated with colored crystals and enameled with complementing translucent enamel. Visit his web site to see hundreds of silver purses and other works of art that have been created over the last few years.

Of interest is his long connection with the Forbes Museum and their extensive collection of Carl Faberge sculpture. Additionally, Vivian Alexander was commissioned to create the centerpiece Imperial Coronation Egg for the Warner Bros. movie Oceans Twelve. Recently Twentieth Century Fox had him create an oversized Faberge Egg for a movie they were shooting in New York. The movie The Sitter, is due to premier July 15, 2011.
Exhibits of Vivian Alexander creations have been numerous and widely disbursed. The Louisiana Archives in Baton Rouge, the Opelousas Museum, and the Frist Museum in Nashville are but a few of his venues.]

The Minaudiѐre

- Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Minaudiѐre and Vivian Alexander

When an early owner of Van Cleef & Arpels, noticed a wealthy client in 1930 insouciantly carrying her ladylike essentials in a tin cigarette case, he had an idea: What if he constructed a small luxury purse in silver or gold for a woman to carry lipstick, powder, and some cash? He could craft it in precious metals, accent with gems or beads, and incorporate fine enamel and decorative features. The purses, which he called minaudières, a French word meaning to smile coyly, were an instant success. Ever since, well-turned out women, whether on the red carpet or at other gala events across the world, have smiled coyly while carrying these delicate works of art.

Vivian Alexander minaudières begin with an engine-turned, guilloché-decorated, pure (.999) silver armature, or supporting base. Guilloché, a French word meaning "engine turning patterns," involves carving ornamental patterns into metal; the patterns are then visible through fine enameling. These bases are made exclusively for the company by a Russian émigré silversmith with a background in electrical engineering.

Among the fine details featured in Vivian Alexander minaudières are intricate designs using cloisonnè, an ancient metalworking technique for decorating objects. It involves using delicate strips of precious metal wire to create compartments that Vivian Alexander artisans fill with up to 10 different enamel colors and hues. The enamels are translucent, transparent, or opaque, and can be pearlized, swirled with gold and silver particles, or infused with contrasting embedded enamel colors. The purses are often decorated with gemstones, fine crystals, and other precious accents as well. Alligator skins from Louisiana and lizard skins from South America are also used to cover the silver base and to complement the enamel. In many cases, designs take the form of fine brooches or pendants, many of which can be removed and worn separately.


- Sunday, August 21, 2011

Secretary of State Jay Darden announced the opening of the Vivian Alexander Art exhibit to run from May 18 through August 31, 2010 in the Louisiana Archives building in Baton Rouge.

The exhibit includes:

  • A retrospective of sculptures and purses produced by Vivian Alexander over the last twenty years.
  • Faberge replicas produced in cooperation with the Forbes Museum for inclusion in the Forbes Collection.
  • The Imperial Coronation Egg used in the Warner Bros. Ocean’s Twelve movie.
  • Animal sculptures using antique metal and ostrich egg armatures.
  • An entire section featuring current production of engine turned fine silver purses finished with gemstones, enamels, and Louisiana alligator.

Hours and Location:

The Archives building and exhibitsare open Monday-Friday from 8 AM until 4:30 PM. Exhibits are also open on Saturday from 9 AM until 5 PM and Sunday from 1 PM until 5 PM.

The Archives building is located at 3851 Essen Lane between I-10 and I-12 in Baton Rouge.