Found Remnants / Architecture

Nova Gems

The Novagems which decorated the Tower of Jewels and the headresses of the Star Maidens were an integral part of the Exposition’s architectural scheme, and have become one of its most avidly collected pieces of memorabilia.

The brainchild of William D’Arcy Ryan, a General Electric lighting designer on loan to the PPIE, the Exposition’s “jewels” were imported from Belgium where the art of cutting and polishing fine quality glass to produce the highest refractory power was a cottage industry prior to WWI.

These faceted “gems” of different colors varied in size from 21 to 47mm. To attach the stones, small gauge wires imbedded in the masonry were passed through the hole in a tab extending from the edge of the mirrored backing. This permitted the “stones” to twist and turn in the slightest breeze. The different colored “gems” were capable of generating all the colors of the spectrum when catching and refracting sunlight by day or searchlights at night.

The 20ft. diameter sphere surmounting the tower was covered with “emeralds” and belted diagonally by “diamonds”. Horizontal forms were highlighted by stones the color of jonquils and amber while vertical columns carried “white brilliants” and were banded with “rubys”.

Besides the 102,000 Novagems which adorned the Tower of Jewels and another 1,000 hanging from the diadems of 95 Star Maidens, there were several thousand more given as gifts to visiting dignitaries and sold as souvenirs. While no record has been found of the total number imported, the figure could be as high as 120,000. Including duty charges, the average cost per gem was $1.00.

William D’Arcy Ryan asked to be given the “gems” gratis after the Exposition closed, but his request was not granted. The arrangement which was finally agreed upon stipulated that Ryan would pay 15¢ for those gems in “perfect” condition and from 10-12¢ for those which were “slightly” damaged. Who was responsible for making such a determination is left to the imagination, but, if it was Ryan or his helpers, one might suppose that there weren’t to many “perfect” ones to be found. He also had to pay for their removal and packing, and paid duty on all those still stored in the “duty locker” since the Exposition had failed to remit this sum.

Collectors of PPIE memorabilia have William D’Arcy Ryan to thank for having the foresight to preserve these cherished remnants which can sometimes be found for sale at an E-bay auction.