Black Materials

Black Materials

Here is an overview of the different black materials used in vintage and antique jewellery.

 

JET

Jet is fossilised wood. For more information see here.

jetbead

Simple jet bead circa 1910. Elder and Bloom.

ONYX

Onyx is a variety of chalcedony. For more information, see here.

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Victorian Onyx pendant locket. Elder and Bloom.

BERLIN IRON

Berlin iron is made from cast iron and delicate wire pieces. For more information, see here.

 

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Germany, Cast iron earrings. c. 1820-1830 V&A Museum

ENAMEL

Enamel is fired ground glass. In theory, almost all methods of enamelling can produce black items but generally it is en grisaille, niello and taille d’epargne which are known for being worked in black. (Technically, niello work is not true enamel but is usually classified as such)

For more information, see here.

niello

Niello work.

GUTTA PERCHA

Gutta Percha is a type of rubber derived from the gum of Asian trees. It is usually molded rather than carved and mould lines can be visible when examined carefully. When rubbed vigorously, it gives off an acrid, rubber smell. It is very flexible and durable and can produce a wide variety of jewellery items. Upon close inspection, you can see that it is actually brownish-black. Popular through the mid and late Victorian era, it made its debut at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

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Gutta Percha Brooch.

VULCANITE

Vulcanite is vulcanised India rubber formed using sulphur. It was first patented in 1844 by Charles Goodyear. Vulcanite is almost always moulded, as opposed to carved. It is actually white and can be dyed to produce a variety of colours, often in imitation of coral and tortoiseshell. Most commonly, however, it was dyed black and used in mourning jewellery as a substitute for jet. Over time, black vulcanite usually turns dark brown. It is lightweight and warm to the touch. It will develop a sheen with polishing but is never as glossy as jet. Like jet, it will leave a brown streak on porcelain or unglazed tile.

 

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Victorian Vulcanite cameo pendant.

FRENCH JET

French jet is black or very dark red glass. It can sometimes be backed with foil or attached to a metal setting but is most commonly found as beaded necklaces. It first made its appearance in the early part of the 19th century but came into its own in the 1860s when the techniques to produce it were perfected. It was produced in France, Germany, Austria, England and what is now the Czech Republic. It is cold to the touch and heavier than jet and has a distinctive glitter. Sometimes it is roughly moulded or carved to further simulate jet. Upon close examination, it can often be identified by tiny chips. If you gently tap it against your teeth, you should be able to identify the chink as glass.

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French jet necklaces. Elder and Bloom.

BOG OAK

Like jet, bog oak is fossilised wood. It is usually mined from the bogs of Ireland and is not necessarily oak but can be fir, yew or pine. Similar in feel to jet, it is lightweight and warm to the touch but generally has a more matte finish. It was used from the early 1800s and grew in popularity after 1852 when techniques involving heat and pressure were invented to mold it and create detail. It can be carved or moulded. It is generally found in mourning jewellery as a substitute for jet but can also often be found with Irish motifs in the form of souvenir jewellery.

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Victorian bog oak brooch.

TORTOISESHELL

With age, tortoiseshell can darken enough to appear black. See here and here.
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Tortoiseshell pique pendant. Elder and Bloom.

© Pippa Gaubert Bear and Elder and Bloom LLC, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pippa Bear and Elder and Bloom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Natural Materials

Natural Materials

The wide variety and beauty of the natural materials used in vintage and antique jewellery is staggering. It seems jewellery designers never cease in their inventiveness. Here is a list which I believe is comprehensive or almost comprehensive (there is bound to be something I have left out).

I have excluded metal as that seems to deserve it’s own separate list.

 

Amber

Animal parts (ie Rabbit Foot)

Bog Oak

Bone

Butterflies and insects

Cinnabar

Coral

Flower and Plants

Gems & Gemstones

Hair

Horn

Ivory

Jade

Jet

Marcasite

Pearl

Sea Shell

Stone (Mosaics)

Tortoise Shell

Tooth

Tusk

Wood

 

Copyright © 2017 by Pippa Gaubert Bear and Elder & Bloom. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pippa Bear and Elder & Bloom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tortoise Shell

A LOT OF EIGHTTEN TORTOISESHELL OBJECTS

19th and early 20th century tortoise shell objects
Christie’s Sale 2811

Tortoise shell objects are made from the outer blades covering the upper shell of the Hawksbill turtle and the Loggerhead turtle.  Fortunately, it has been illegal to produce tortoise shell jewelry since the 1970s.  The beauty and rarity of real Tortoise Shell is, for me, tempered by its sad history.  In order to buy or sell Tortoise Shell legally, it must be at least a hundred years old and a genuine antique, or to have originated from a private collection (for example, if you get left some Tortoise Shell jewelry as an inheritance). But do double check the laws in your own country as they differ.

Testing Tortoise Shell.  

Other materials such as celluloid, Lucite, Bakelite, horn, bone and plastic can all be mistaken for tortoiseshell, especially if looking at pictures alone.  In order to identify genuine Tortoise Shell, apply a hot pin to a hidden spot; if the resulting smell is similar to burned hair and a black spot is left, it is likely to be Tortoise Shell.  If there is a plastic smell it is not Tortoise Shell. You can also run it under hot water to see if it gives off a plastic smell.  Another way to tell is have a look at the markings; real Tortoise Shell is not regular in it’s marking and will have a distinctive luminosity when held to the light.  There will also be a slight unevenness to it that cannot be found in molded materials.  Upon close inspection, one can often see fine knife marks where the tortoiseshell was carved by hand.

Colors

Most Tortoise Shell is the dark brown or reddish-brown variety with translucent amber high-lights but it can also be a uniform dark brown with no amber. Generally speaking, the older and more well worn the piece, the darker the Tortoise Shell, even appearing quite black in very old pieces. Tortoise Shell can also be  the ‘Blonde’ or ‘Demi-Blonde’ variety in which case it will not be dark, but will still darken with age.  Blonde Tortoiseshell is rarer and is considered more valuable and can range from an even pale yellow to a deep amber color. Tortoise Shell can also be stained different colors.

A GEORGE III GREEN-STAINED TORTOISESHELL TEA CADDY Christie’s sale 6853

AN ENGLISH BLONDE TORTOISESHELL DRESSING TABLE SET  
Christie’s Sale 4888

A SPANISH COLONIAL TORTOISESHELL AND SILVER MOUNTED DOMED CASKET 18th century
Christie’s Sale 4607

Tortoise Shell is very pliable and can be formed into many shapes with heat. It can also be carved and inlaid (piqué). Tortoise Shell was a very popular material throughout the 18th, 19th and first part of the 20th century.  It had an enormous variety of uses in jewelry, household objects and accessories.  Here are just some examples below:

Hair Ornaments

Three Belle Epoque diamond-set tortoiseshell hair combs

Three Belle Epoque diamond-set tortoiseshell hair combs c. 1910
Christie’s Sale 8644

Comb

France, c. 1875
Tortoiseshell, hinged copper-gilt, applied decoration and filigree
V&A Museum

ANTICO PETTINE IN TARTARUGA E CORALLI

Hair comb with coral 19th century
Christie’s Sale 2521

Fans

Fan

Bangles

Brooches

Brooch

Europe, c. 1825
Brooch, tortoiseshell, decorated with gold cannetille work, turquoises and a pearl
V&A Museum

Boxes

An enormous variety of boxes, from snuff boxes, to trinket boxes, to jewelry boxes to tea caddies were created with Tortoise Shell.

A REGENCY TORTOISESHELL COFFER-FORM TEA CADDY,

A REGENCY TORTOISESHELL COFFER-FORM TEA CADDY.
Christie’s Sale 2458

Cigarette Holders

Cigarette Holders were all the rage during the Art Deco era (1920-1940)

An Art deco gold, enamel and tortoiseshell cigarette holder, by Cartier
Christie’s Sale 5657

Dog Collars

A TORTOISESHELL DOG-COLLAR WITH GOLD INLAY
Christie’s sale 5467

Dressing Table Sets and Traveling Boxes

Popular with both gentlemen and ladies.

A SILVER-MOUNTED TORTOISESHELL TRAVELLING DRESSING TABLE SET
Christie’s Sale 5680

Canes

A GROUP OF WALKING CANES
Christie’s Sale 5902

Card Cases

Piqué

Perhaps the most popular use for tortoise shell was piqué, which involved the delicate inlay of gold and silver. Every type of jewelry, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, rings and brooches, were produced throughout the Victorian era with this fine technique.

pique-earrings

Earrings, tortoiseshell inlaid with gold and silver (piqué posé), English, ca. 1850. 

Photo copyright of Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Victorian Pique Pendant Antique Inlaid Delicate Real Gold Silver Tortoiseshell English Black Vintage Rare Collectible Flowers Fine Necklace

Mid to late Victorian Piqué single earring, converted into a contemporary pendant.  Note the typical circular design with geometric motif.

Sources / further reading:

http://www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/Tortoise_Shell

http://www.ebay.com/gds/TORTOISESHELL-Real-or-fake-How-to-tell-the-difference/10000000012067858/g.html

http://www.conservation-housekeeping.co.uk/blog/24-antique-tortoiseshell-ivory-bone-a-mother-of-pearl

http://www.nre.gov.my/Biodiversity/BioD%20Knowledge/CITES_Briefcase-10_Tortoiseshell_Identification.pdf