A lorgnette is a pair of spectacles which are held to the eyes with a long handle, rather than being fitted over the ears.  The word is derived from the French word ‘lorgner’ to peer at. Lorgnettes were invented in England during the 1700s by a man called George Adams.  Lorgnettes were very popular throughout the Victorian era and were the preferred way for ladies to wear spectacles.  They continued to be worn through the 1920s and beyond, although they eventually came to be seen as something older ladies wore. Lorgnettes were often worn around the neck with a chain.  Often, lorgnettes were highly ornate and jeweled and were considered more of a piece of jewelry than just a practical item. Holding lorgnettes up to the eyes in a way that was just so was considered a perfect opportunity to convey comportment, style and finesse. They were a more feminine and streamlined look for stylish ladies than the spectacles that gentlemen wore.

File:Silver Lorgnette, circa 1909.jpg


French gold enamel and gem set lorgnette c. 1890
Christie’s Sale 2560


Belle Epoque Sapphire and Diamond Lorgnette
Christie’s Sale 2306

A pair of French Art Nouveau gold and diamond lorgnettes

A pair of French Art Nouveau gold and diamond lorgnettes
Christie’s Sale 5891

A pair of early 20th century diamond lorgnettes

A pair of early 20th century diamond lorgnettes
Christie’s Sale 5888

A pair of late 19th century gold and gem lorgnettes

A pair of late 19th century gold and gem lorgnettes
Christie’s Sale 5383

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Arts & Crafts Movement Jewelry

I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.
William Morris


Gaskin, Georgie Cave, 1868 – 1934 (designer)
Brooch, Silver wire, opals, glass imitating emeralds
V&A Museum

The Arts & Crafts Movement (1860-1910) was a philosophical, political, cultural and design movement that was the human soul’s response to industrialism.  It stood for economic and social justice, for a return to simplicity and connection with nature.  It was nostalgic for the time of the small-holder, for the freedom of the individual artisan before workmanship became centralized in factories. In a time when everything, including jewelry manufacture, was becoming more and more mechanized and therefore homogenized, The Arts and Crafts Movement looked to traditional craftsmanship and the virtue and beauty of the hand-made.  When it came to design, The Arts & Crafts Movement looked to the romance of medieval times, to naturalistic forms and to European folk culture.

The movement began in Britain, and was led by the great writer, thinker and artist William Morris (1834-1896).  William Morris was the single most influential designer of the nineteenth century. Standing outside the mainstream of Victorian thought and sensibility, William Morris and his followers brought a breath of fresh air, light and youth to the stuffy, grandiose, morbid and dark design sensibility that pervaded that time.  It is marvelous to contrast the subtle, sensual, fresh, colorful work of William Morris and his peers with what had come before; his designs must have truly been revolutionary. Indeed, having nothing whatsoever to do with ‘mourning’ and Queen Victoria’s grief that was imposed on her populace or with ostentatious displays of wealth, The Arts & Crafts Movement was, in many senses, anti-establishment.

Two other strong influences on the Arts and Crafts Movement were the writers John Ruskin (1819-1900) and Augustus Pugin (1812-1852). The movement, which began as British, soon spread across Europe and to North America.  Each country had their own specific interpretation of Arts & Crafts with their own influential designers and writers. It would be lovely to delve into the details of each and discuss each individual country’s interpretation of Arts & Crafts, but I will leave that for the future.

Of course, The Arts & Crafts Movement and The Art Nouveau Movement have a great deal in common and some might well argue that The Arts & Crafts Movement was just part of The Art Nouveau Movement.  However, if you examine the jewelry of each movement, you will find that, although related, they do have strong stylistic distinctions. But it has to be said, rather than being necessarily always distinctive in style, Arts & Crafts movement jewelry is always distinctive in being part of a unique philosophy.


Arts and Crafts jewelery designers were often painters or architects who then later turned to jewelry design and were often self-taught.  Some Arts and Crafts Movement designers (to name but a few) were:  Arthur and Georgie Gaskin, Nelson and Edith Dawson, Andrew Fisher, Henry Wilson and C.R. Ashbee.

Materials, philosophy and techniques

No man is good enough to be another’s master.
William Morris

Arts and Crafts designers believed in simplicity and allowed the method of construction to be seen in the object.  They believed that the ideal was for one individual artisan to finish one piece from start to finish.  They believed in ‘truth to material’ meaning the quality of the material was entirely important and leaving the material in as close to natural state as possible was vital. But that did not mean they used expensive materials, Arts and Crafts designers gravitated towards less precious metals like brass, copper, silver and aluminum.  They loved leaving the hammer marks and demonstrating the hand-made process.  Gemstones were understated and chosen for their beauty, rather than as a display of wealth.  Cabochon cuts were more common than faceted stones and were often bezel set.  Pearls were loved by Arts & Crafts jewelers, with an emphasis on less perfectly rounded specimens.  Lapis, turquoise, carnelian, ivory, tourmaline, opal, peridot, moonstone and malachite were some of the other materials that were loved.  Craftsmanship and artistry was considered more important than value of the materials.  Enameling was of course hugely popular with Arts & Crafts movement jewelers, and many pieces displayed marvelous, sumptuous colors that are clearly reminiscent of Renaissance enamel work. Arts & Crafts enamel work was simpler, using Limoges enamel techniques (where enamel is painted across the whole metal like painting a picture), than Art Nouveau, which favored the more sophisticated plique-a-jour.


Henry Wilson, (1864-1934)
Necklace, 1905, Gold, enamelled, opals, pearls, emeralds
V&A Museum

Designs and Motifs

If you cannot learn to love real art at least learn to hate sham art.
William Morris

The past is not dead, it is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.
William Morris

The Arts & Crafts movement looked to nature, to tradition, to flora and fauna.  Several Arts & Crafts Movement workshops and guilds were set up in the countryside of Britain and elsewhere and explored old techniques and methodologies.  The Gothic Revival (1830–1880) was greatly influential to Arts & Crafts design, and the romance and naturalism of the medieval past was dear to the heart of the designers. Motifs included winged scarabs, flowers, birds, leaves, peacocks and ivy. Celtic and Etruscan design was strongly influential. The sailing ship was also a recurrent and distinctly Arts & Crafts motif.

Cloak clasps, brooches, hair ornaments, rings and pendants, bracelets and cufflinks were more common.  Earrings were rarer.

Arts & Crafts designers had much in common with the ‘Pre-Raphaelites’ who also rejected mainstream Victorian sensibilities and looked to the past for inspiration. Rosetti and Mallais were two Pre-Raphaelite painters who liked to feature Arts & Crafts jewelry pieces in their works.

Abbildung: Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Fair Rosamund (1861)

Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Fair Rosamund (1861).© National Museum of Wales.
The necklace she is wearing appears to be Arts & Crafts

It is perhaps ironic and a little sad that although the stated intent of the Arts and Crafts Movement was to bring the common man beautiful hand-made design, the cost of labor meant most Arts & Crafts Movement items were out of reach for all but the wealthy. Some would argue that The Arts & Crafts Movement was intrinsically an elitist philosophy although it aspired to be the opposite.

The Arts & Crafts Movement designers and artisans said that they believed in ‘the moral purpose of art’.  Truly, when you look at the amazing work they created and your heart and soul just lift and then you compare that to the machine made, poor quality, mass produced jewelry that is so prevalent today, I really believe they were right.  There is a moral purpose to art and Arts and Crafts Movement jewelry fulfills that purpose.


England, c. 1912
Necklace, gold with silver, moonstones, carnelians and labradorite
Reginald Pearson
V&A Museum


England, c. 1900
Pendant gold openwork, gold openwork, pearls, blister pearls sapphires, emeralds, rubies, moonstone, turquoise.
Henry Wilson
V&A Museum


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” Look, here it is, the prophetic Russian stone! O crafty Siberian. It was always green as hope and only toward evening was it suffused with blood. It was that way from the beginning of the world, but it concealed itself for a long time, lay hidden in the earth, and permitted itself to be found only on the day when Tsar Alexander was declared of age, when a great sorcerer had come to Siberia to find the stone, a magician.”    Leskov, Nikolai Semyonovich (1884), “Alexandrite”

Today, I’d like to share just a little about one of my favorite stones of all time, “Alexandrite.”  This amazing color-changing gem has a most fascinating history.  It was discovered in Russia around the time that Tsar Alexander II was celebrating his 16th birthday in 1834 and it was named after him.  This gem came to be intrinsically tied in with Russia’s dramatic history and fascinated the Russian aristocracy and future generations.  It was also said to be the favorite gem of  Tsarina Alexandra. Her wistful beauty and the story of her tragic life cannot fail to move anyone.


Tsarina Alexandra

In 1891, The Ladies’ Home Journal wrote: “… Alexandrite appears to be in the ascendancy jewel comes from Siberia, and is of a beautiful dark green transparent color, which under any artificial light changes to that of pigeon blood ruby.  The Alexandrite is cut like a diamond and is being used by the leading jewelers for lace pins, bracelets, and other ornaments.”

To this day, Alexandrite is associated with duality, hope and sadness, pain and pleasure, loss and life, tears and laughter.  This is truly a mystical and fascinating stone and it definitely appeals to those with a literary or artistic sensibility.  Looking at genuine Alexandrite can evoke strong emotion in a sensitive person.


Christie’s sale number 1350, 15 November 2007
Set with a square-shaped alexandrite to the lavender enamel tapered gold band, circa 1890, ring size 8, with St Petersburg assay mark for 22 carat gold (1908-1917)

For more info see here.

In daylight, Alexandrite is green or blueish green (symbolizing ‘hope’) changing to red or purple or lavender (symbolizing ‘blood’).  Natural Alexandrite does not come in any other colors than this (if it is yellow or brown it is probably color change crysoberyl which is often sold as Alexandrite). The closer the green is to emerald and the closer the red is to ruby, the more valuable the stone. It is extremely rare to find a stone which changes to red however, normally the color is purple or lavender. Naturally mined Alexandrite is rare and valuable and very seldom comes in large carats.  Nearly all of the Alexandrite you see today in contemporary jewelry is lab created.  I personally would only look for something in a vintage setting with small stones as a big stone is almost certainly lab created (if it is natural it should command a very high price!)  But only a trained and trusted gemologist can tell you for certain.


Here is a natural Alexandrite specimen from the Ural mountains. This one is a spectacular true green and lavender.


A naturally mined Alexandrite and 9 ct English ring from my personal collection. Judging by the Art Deco setting, I would place this ring from 1920 to 1940. It was hard to capture the colors with my camera, but the stones change subtly from dark green to dark purple in daylight.

 Further reading / sources: