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The Gilded Age

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© Bulgari Vintage Collection V40

This 18-karat-gold art deco cigarette case with diamonds was created for Bulgari in 1936.

The gold rushes of the 1800s and early 1900s in the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa provided economic stimulus far beyond the goldfields, at a time when money was based on gold.

The term "Gilded Age," coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their 1873 book, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, was an ironic comment on the difference between a true golden age and their present time, a period of booming prosperity in the United States that created a class of the super-rich. This new social elite bought gold luxury items that declared its wealth and status in society.

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© Cartier Collection; Photo: Nick Welsh

Vanity case purchased by Douglas Fairbanks as a gift for his wife Mary Pickford, early Hollywood actress. Cartier, Gold, diamond, and enamel, One baguette-cut diamond. London, England; 1930.

Whether furnishing the home or accessorizing the person, gold objects signaled the owner's high social status as well as his high income. The American tradition of giving children of prominent families silver and gold gifts began in the mid-1800s and helped ensure the child's social and economic status right from the start.

Jeweled eggs were popularized as Easter presents in the late 1800s by the legendary jeweler Karl Fabergé, imperial jeweler to the Russian czars.

Dinner parties in America in the late 1800s helped a host elevate his social stature in society. Elaborate dinnerware, from china and crystal stemware to silver and gold hollowware, flatware and serving pieces, covered every inch of the high-society table.

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© Tiffany & Co. Archives B1993.08

Rattle with mother-of-pearl handle: Tiffany & Co., 18-karat chased gold and mother-of-pearl. New York; c. 1890.

Baby Rattle

A Tiffany baby rattle with mother-of-pearl handle, manufactured around 1890, features 18-karat "chased" gold, a technique that involves pushing and pulling the metal with chisels and hammers to create a high-relief decoration.

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© Tiffany & Co. Archives B2004.17

Coffee pot: Tiffany & Co, New York; 1898. 18-karat gold and ivory.

Tiffany Coffee Pot

This 18-karat gold-and-ivory coffee pot created for the 1900 Paris Exposition by Tiffany & Co., was acquired by the gold millionaire Thomas F. Walsh (father of Evelyn Walsh Maclean, owner of the Hope diamond); the full set was later given to King Leopold II of Belgium, a family friend.

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© Tiffany & Co. Archives A2003.39

"Meteor" cigarette box: Tiffany & Co., designed by Schlumberger. New York; c. 1971.

"Meteor" Cigarette Box

"Meteor" 18-karat gold box, designed by Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co. in 1971, one in a series of 24 cigarette boxes commissioned by Paul Mellon (1907-1999), the son of financier and industrialist Andrew W. Mellon. The box was given as a gift to John Walker, the former Chief Curator and Director for The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

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