Evaluating an Enameled Holly Brooch


France, c. 1865
Enameled gold and coral brooch
V&A Museum

Today, I’d just like to discuss this one piece of jewelry.  A mid-Victorian era piece, the style is Naturalistic which was a popular style throughout the Victorian era (and many would say the forerunner to The Art Nouveau Movement).  We know that it is from before the date of 1890, because of the type of C-Catch fastening on the back, and also because it has a ‘tube’ style hinge, rather than ‘ball’. The fact that the pin extends outside the edge of the piece, places it more towards the mid-century, rather than the end of the century.


The coral beads are cabochon (unfaceted) and would be completely natural and undyed. The color of the coral is salmon.  There are fine gold pins attaching the coral beads to the piece.  The holly leaves themselves are enameled over a fine engraving, in a kind of enamel technique known as Basse-Taille.

Although the Victorian and Albert Museum don’t tell us the karat of the gold or anything about the hallmarks, they do tell us it is French.  This means that it probably 18 karat or more, although if it was meant for export it might be less.

It appears that it is constructed with one central, quite thick wire, with other small wires soldered on to it. These would have been shaped into the form you see.  After this, sheet gold would have been taken and cut into the shapes of the leaves and then would have been formed into the dimensional shapes with repoussé and chasing. They probably would have been enameled before soldering onto the wire form.

The style of brooch itself is a bodice brooch and would have been worn in the center of the dress.

19th century people, particularly in France, assigned meaning to every kind of plant or flower.  The meaning assigned to holly was ‘Defense, Domestic Happiness and Am I forgotten’.  At some point in our history, holly did come to be associated with Christmas, so it could also be that this brooch was considered a ‘Christmas brooch’.

A truly lovely piece!

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