PARIS — What was lost hasn’t necessarily been found but recreated in its all its dazzling purple, white and gold glory. The noted Howe amethyst brooch has risen from the proverbial ashes of Maine’s mines and has been brought back to life by a local artist.
For the past five years, jeweler and mineral collector Dennis Creaser has worked to replicate the amethyst, pearl and gold-leafed brooch commissioned by famous Norway naturalist George Robley Howe for his mother, Mary. The piece was made to honor his parent’s 50th wedding anniversary and created around 1912 or 1913. It was lost during a field trip in Boston in 1957 and hasn’t been seen since, according to Creaser.
“It is a quintessential piece of Maine jewelry,” he said from his shop on Main Street in Paris recently. The Art Nouveau piece features a kite-shaped piece of amethyst, surrounded by tiny gold leaves containing 12 fresh water pearls between the leaves. “I was saddened to learn from Vandall King, noted Maine mineral and mining author/historian (who contributed to my historical knowledge of the brooch) that the piece was lost.”
Before Howe became a naturalist, Creaser said he worked for an insurance company and as a reporter for New York World. He married to Emma Bordman in April 1888 and, two years later, they had one daughter, Marjorie. When the child was three years old, Emma moved back to Connecticut, taking their daughter with her. The couple divorced in 1897.
This was a turning point in Howe’s life, according to Creaser and local historian David Sanderson, who penned a short biography on Howe. Howe took a job on a farm in Denmark, where he learned about high-grade amethyst that had been found at the now-lost mine on Pleasant Mountain in nearby Bridgton roughly 30 years earlier. He set out to the mine to find amethyst.
“This was a transitional time for him, from the man of business and the big city to the almost Thoereau-like lifestyle that followed his self-imposed exile to the Denmark forest,” Creaser said in a piece he wrote about the history of the brooch and its recreation.
Howe had found a vein of amethyst and mined a substantial amount of gem-quality material, according to Sanderson.
“He never revealed the precise location of his find and, except for some guesses, the site of the deposit is still unknown,” Sanderson wrote.
By 1898, Howe had moved back to Norway, his hometown, and earned a reputation as a gem and mineral expert. He coined the term “watermelon tourmaline,” which Mt. Mica in Paris is famous for, and also discovered the world’s first rose quartz crystals, mined in Mt. Mica in the late 1800s, Creaser said.
By 1900, a fresh water pearl craze had taken over parts of the country and Howe became interested in pearling. He discovered that a number of fresh water brooks in Oxford County contained mussels that produced pearls. He most often visited Crooked River.
These were the pearls he used in the brooch. The gold came from pieces he panned in Swift River in Byron, Creaser said. The amethyst was one of the best pieces he mined from Pleasant Mountain and was cut by William or Robert Bickford in their Norway gem shop.
After Howe’s mother Mary died in 1913, the brooch came back to him, which he gave it to his mother’s best friend, Effie Akers. Effie gifted the piece of jewelry to her daughter, Ruth, who lost it on a school trip while touring Faneuil Hall.
Creaser first learned of the brooch in 1985 and has been fascinated with it ever since. The only known photograph of the piece was taken by the late Benjamin Shaub, a well known mineral collector and historian. It appeared in Jane Perham’s book, “Maine Treasure Chest.”
There brooch’s size isn’t referenced, nor is there a photograph of its backside.
“Jane and (her mother) Hazel tried to figure out how big this thing was. They guessed 50 carats,” Creaser said, adding it doesn’t make sense because it would be too heavy and the size of the pearls wouldn’t match up. “(It would have had) six to seven millimeter pearls. (Those are) gigantic pearls for regular ones, let alone ones you find in a Maine stream.”
His friend Van King later discovered a newspaper article that said the brooch weighed between seven and eight carats. Creaser had amethysts of this size he had mined at the Fourth of July pocket in 1993. It took him three tries to cut a stone that looked close to the original, which weighs slightly more than eight carats. He used a four-sided steep cut, which is “a traditional cut for unconventional stone shapes.”
Creaser looked at estate pins to try and recreate the back side of the brooch and used one as a fastener.
“I had to kind of guess because you can’t see the back,” he said. “I couldn’t use Maine pearls because I couldn’t find any despite my best efforts.”
Creaser ended up settling on pearls from his pearl dealer. He placed 12 three-mm pearls in slightly different spots to even out the gold leaves and other design elements that seemed out of place in the original. He plans to eventually sell the piece and it will be on display in his store for the summer.
“Somebody might actually have the pin in Boston, which would be something else.” Creaser said. “I hope somebody found it and somebody kept it.”