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Blog - bess heitner spring summer 2015 collection

Nature's Treasures: The Chambered Nautilus

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Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul! 

As the swift seasons roll! Leave thy low vaulted past! 

Let each new temple, nobler than the last, 

Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast, 

Till thou at length art free,

Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea. 

           - The Chambered Nautilus,  Oliver Wendell Holmes

All my life I’ve been fascinated by the amazing shapes and colors of what I call "nature’s sculptures"– seashells, sea urchin spines, pearls, coral. I’ve collected them during my travels and at special shows.This past snowy winter, I yearned for their beauty and decided to build my new collection around nature’s treasures, especially the majestic Chambered Nautilus. 


Did you know..

  • The nautilus dates back 500 million years to the early days of the planet when the land was barren and the seas were warm. Some grew to be true sea monsters with gargantuan shells and big tentacles. Now only a handful of these species remain.
  • Nautilus comes from the Greek word for Boat. When explorers first returned to Renaissance Europe with these amazing objects, people were stunned. Philosophers believed their perfect spirals reflected the perfect order of the universe. They compared the nautilus shell, that grows in a spiral chamber upon chamber, each larger than the one before, to climbing a spiral staircase and, with each step, coming closer to inner knowledge and to God.        


  • Oliver Wendell Holmes made it the subject of one of the most popular poems of the 19th century and Jules Verne In “Twenty-thousand leagues under the Sea” created a watertight submarine with many compartments named The Nautilus.
  • Wealthy collectors had these marvelous miracles of nature fashioned into objects for their "curiosity cabinets" Most popular were extravagant nautilus shell cups, mounted by goldsmiths on a thin gold or silver stem intended for display rather than practical use.



This Dutch treasure pictures Atlas carved in silver holding up the world in the form of a fabulous Nautilus Shell


  • The nautilus lives on the slopes of deep coral reefs in the warm Southwest Pacific. The finest specimens come from Indonesia and the Philippines (every piece in my spring/summer collection is from these sources.)
  • The nautilus builds chambers inside its shell as it grows and like a submarine, changes the amount of gas in the empty chambers to adjust its buoyancy using jet propulsion to swim.
  • Shell necklaces have been found in Stone Age graves as far inland as the Dordogne Valley in France.


  • Shells inspired an entire French art movement: Rococo, a word blending the French rocaille, referring to the practice of covering walls with shells and rocks and the Italian barocco, or Baroque. Its architects and designers favored shell-like curves and other intricate motifs.
  • Leonardo da Vinci's designs for a spiral staircase in a French chateau were probably inspired by the magnificent Nautilus

NOTE: Just as coral reefs are becoming extinct, so is the nautilus.  In the near future Nautilus Shells will probably be placed on the Endangered Species list and become as rare as real coral so if you crave one, now is the time to get it.

Top: Nautilus Shell, Wikimedia; click on each picture to see details about these one of a kind designs

Click here to read The Chambered Nautilus by Oliver Wendell Holmes


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