4 Treasures for the Merry Month of May

4 Treasures for the Merry Month of May

Art Deco 14k Onyx Gold Earrings

Art Deco 14k Onyx Gold Earrings

Gorgeous Art Deco or Art Moderne 14 karat gold onyx earrings. They are simply beautiful and elegant in a very ‘Art Deco’ faceted elongated drop shape.  You won’t need a Maypole with this stunning pair.

CLICK HERE for more details.


Vintage 8 k Gold Bohemian Garnet Ring

Vintage 8k Gold Bohemian Garnet Ring

A wonderful vintage or antique 8 karat (hallmarked) yellow gold and (Bohemian) garnet cluster ring. It has an à jour setting which means the light shines through it beautifully. There are 9 deep, dark red rose cut garnets in total, one large central one surrounded by 8 smaller. 

CLICK HERE for more details.


Chinoiserie Dragon Head Bangle

Chinoiserie Dragon Head Bangle

Here is a magnificent, rare, antique, heavy and chunky, brass double headed dragon motif woven mesh bangle. Era: Probably 1890 – 1950 

The first wave of Chinoiserie (Western and Chinese fusion design) came in the 18th century. Towards the end of the 19th century there was a renewed interest in all things Chinese. This style continued through the Art Deco period and onwards. I haven’t quite been able to make my mind up about the age of this amazing bracelet which is why I’ve given it a wide range. 

CLICK HERE for more details.


Victorian Gilded Green Bead Earrings

Victorian Gilded Green Bead Earrings 

Here are some stunning antique gilded 900 silver green bead earrings. They are back fastening. Era: Possibly 1840 – 1848

CLICK HERE for more details

Have a wonderful month of May!

Classical Cannetille Silver Amethyst Tiara

Classical Cannetille Silver Amethyst Tiara

I love it when a piece gives me plenty to think about. I’ve been examining and researching this lovely headpiece ever since I got it. (I love it so much that I’ve been wearing it, much to the surprise of my new neighbour but without any reaction from my family who are no longer surprised by such things). I do hope I’ve made the correct assessment of this amazing tiara (with antiques there is rarely 100% certainly, especially when it’s one of a kind like this one).

Here are some related articles that I wrote previously you may find interesting:

Cannetille. Filigree. Amethyst.

To see more about this amazing piece, please click here.



Evaluating a Rolled Gold Griffin Locket

In this post, I’d just like to discuss this rolled gold griffin locket from my personal collection and breakdown how we can evaluate it.

There are several clues which help:

The first prominent clue is the fact that it has a maker’s mark from S & B Lederer & Co. This was a company founded in Providence, Rhode Island in 1878.  They later operated from Fifth Avenue in New York City. They produced gold plated and silver jewelry of good quality. They used a variety of signatures including S.B.& L, sometimes with an inverted triangle and sometimes with a star. They eased operations circa 1931 so we know this piece is from before 1931 and after 1878.

The style of the griffin motif (created with repoussé and chasing, probably using a machine stamp) itself is very ‘Art Nouveau’.  The griffin and mythical creatures in general were popular motifs in the Art Nouveau era.  However, it is the more the recurrent whiplash motif which genuinely place it as in the style of Art Nouveau. So we know that it is at least after the date of 1890, when Art Nouveau first came about and it is likely to be from before 1920, when Art Nouveau styles ceased to be the height of fashion (and we know it is not a replica because of the marker’s mark).

There are other clues to look at.  The barrel clasp on the necklace is indicative of a piece from before the 1940s, as after that date necklaces were made with the circular clasp we are familiar with.

Another clue is the rose hue of the gold.  Rose gold was very popular in the Victorian era. The gold actually tests as 9k rolled gold or gold fill. This places it after the date of 1844 when rolled gold was first introduced to the USA (I will discuss rolled gold more in a future post).  The fact that it is 9k rolled gold suggests that it from the Victorian era as 9k was very common in mid-priced jewelry like this.   But the biggest clue is that it has no hallmark for the gold purity. This places it from before 1906 as purity marks were required in the USA after that date, even for gold fill.

Some other clues to look at are the relatively large link size on the belcher or cable chain.  It was likely that although the links of this necklace were machine made, they might well have been assembled by hand. As mechanization improved, chains became finer and had smaller links. The length of the chain (it is 17 inches long, by 1920 longer chains were in fashion) also suggest it is from the late-Victorian era, as does the relatively large size of the pendant itself.

The glass paste gems are in imitation of diamonds and diamonds were very popular in the late Victorian era.  In addition, they appear to be foiled and possibly Swarovski Crystals, which place them after 1892.  They are cut, rather than molded, which make them higher quality and also indicate that they might be Swarovski Crystals.

So, all in all, we can say that this Art Nouveau 9k rolled gold American locket and belcher chain with glass paste gems is most likely from between the years of 1892 and 1906. As they were slightly later in adopting Art Nouveau style in the USA, it is likely to be towards the later end of these dates.


This is a humorful cartoon from Punch magazine, 1849.  Chateline’s were not really used for children!

During Georgian and Victorian times, Chatelaines were considered an essential part of a married woman’s or head housekeeper’s outfit.  Since the medieval era, ladies who managed households very often wore one.  They were only known as chatelaines after 1830, before that they were known as an  ‘equipage’.

19th century ladies wearing ‘chatelaines’.
1787 print from ‘Le Magain’.  This lady is wearing two chatelaines.

Essentially, chatelaines were a decorative metal belt accessory which was worn at the waist, usually hung from a chain, from which household tools and practical items were hung.  These items, called accessoires, nearly always included keys and could also be such things as a watch, household seal, a scent bottle, a coin purse, a pencil, a locket, a notebook, a pair of scissors, a pincushion, thimble or a sewing needle and thread etc. These accessoires were held in containers called nécessaires or, sometimes, étui.


Vienna, c 1760
Gold, enamel Chateline
V&A Museum

ChatelaineVienna, c. 1760

Gold, enamel chatelaines

V&A Museum


c 1850, London.
Cut steel Chatelaine
V&A Museum

The chatelaine signified the lady’s status as manager of the household and signaled to the servants, if there were any, who was in charge. The word ‘chatelaine’ literally means in French ‘mistress of the castle’.  But it wasn’t always women who wore then, men did also, with appropriately masculine tools such as knifes and watches attached. Chatelaines could be made from gold, pinchbeck, silver or silver plate, gilt, copper, stamped metal or cut-steel.  Some could be very elaborate with much cannetille, applique and repouse work.  Mid 18th century models were often ornately embossed with Rococo scroll work.  Sometimes,  they had mother of pearl or agate panels. Enameled chatelaines, like this one, were less common.


England, 1765-1775
Chatelaine with painted enamel on copper, with gilt-metal mounts and attachments
V&A Museum

Their role as either ornament or for practical use changed with the years. Towards the late Victorian era they were often worn more for decorative reasons or were even adapted for evening wear, with a place to keep dance cards and a fan.  They were even considered a normal part of ‘formal’ wear.  The general trend throughout the Victorian era was for chatelaines to become smaller.  The Art Journal reported the following in 1883: ‘…the long and inconvenient châtelaine, with it’s noisy toys, has shrunk to the dimensions of a watch-chain and swivel, worn at the lady’s waist so as to show outside her dress…’ Chatelaines were still worn as late as the Edwardian era.  However,  they became to be seen as increasingly old-fashioned and cumbersome until their use finally died out altogether.


c.1875, England
Chatelaine, Iron embossed and chased
V&A Museum
You can already see the move towards a smaller style

What I find interesting about the chatelaine is how an item that was once so ubiquitous and so much part of the culture could be all but entirely forgotten in the modern day.  If someone from the Georgian or Victorian era knew that the chatelaine was no longer worn, it would almost be as strange to them as if we traveled into the future and found that the bracelet was no longer worn.  It seems as though the decline of the chatelaine is tied in with the movement towards a more youthful and less responsible culture as well as a more streamlined silhouette. Perhaps the desire to be respected, to be seen as a ‘matron’ and someone in charge of a household was replaced with the desire to be seen as carefree, unencumbered and young.  Regardless of the genuine reasons for the end of the chatelaine, they are still fascinating historic and artistic objects that are considered very collectible.


London, c. 1755-1756
Chatelaine, gold cast embossed and chased.
V&A Museum

19th century advertisement for chatelaines.

Here is some 18th century verse about Chatelaines by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu:

Behold this equipage by MATHERS wrought
With fifty guineas (a great pen’orth!) bought!
See on the tooth-pick MARS and CUPID strive,
And both the struggling figures seem to liue.
Upon the bottom see the Queen’s bright face;
A myrtle foliage round the thimble case;
JOVE, JOVE himself does on the scissars shine,
The metal and the workmanship divine

In 1938, there was a brief attempt to bring back the Chatelaine as a brooch.
Sources / further reading:

The Grand Era – 1861-1880

File:Empress ellisabeth 1865.jpg

Empress Ellisabeth, by Franz Winterhalter, 1865

The mid-Victorian era 1861-1880 is also known as ‘The Grand Era’. 

The era began in 1861 with the death of Prince Albert, which plunged Queen Victoria into mourning for decades to come. Mourning jewelry became very fashionable and was mandatory in court.  Mourning attire became a formalized code and mourning itself became almost like a cult.  It seems there was a general obsession with darkness and grief, at least in mainstream Victorian culture.  Meanwhile, in the United States, the Civil War had begun, increasing the somber mood internationally. In 1865, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln truly deepened the world-wide fashion for mourning.  After the gaiety and youthful sensibilities of ‘The Romantic Era’, the culture now leaned towards somberness, formality and ostentation.

Of course, as always, along side the mainstream, there were other attitudes at play.  For every stereo-type we have of the ‘Grand-era’, the opposite was also true. Naturalism, which had become a formal movement in 1850, was still developing and flourishing behind the scenes.  The taste for nostalgia and mystery seemed stronger than ever. Whilst prudery and modesty were the order of the day, fashion created what is arguably the most exaggerated female form ever seen in history. With the new jewelry production methods, the taste for novelty could be satisfied with increasingly whimsical and fun motifs.  Although the mid-Victorians have a reputation for being repressed and patriarchal, creativity, femininity and sensuality flourished, along side the arts and invention.

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The Bunch of Lilacs, 1875, James Tissot (1836-1902)
Notice the simple black ribbons she is wearing at her throat and wrist. Coupled with the colorful dress it is unlikely that this lady is in mourning; rather she is wearing the fashion for black accessories that was popular at that time.

Styles were altogether ‘larger’ during the Grand Era and the larger dresses with bustles, hoops and petticoats created a form which called for larger and bolder jewelry pieces.  Societal rank, age, occasion and dress determined what jewellery could be worn and when. One manual on etiquette said that pearls, diamonds and emeralds were for full evening wear only.

It was also an era of enormous changes on many levels. A revolution in costume jewelry (also known as ‘secondary jewelry’) happened during this period as machines were increasingly being used for jewelry production.   The rise of costume jewelry was economically fueled by a new law in England in  1870 that allowed women to keep their own earnings (and therefore spend it on jewelry). The taste for bigger and bolder designs could be satisfied as a result of the new machining methods. As a new middle class emerged, jewelry shifted towards more dispensable and affordable creations.  Although Empress Eugenie remained a constant style icon it seems that styles were changing at a much faster pace now, and new designs and reinventions of older designs seemed to emerge with each new season.


Gold and metal

Gilt metal was replaced by low karat gold and Doublé d’or (also called ‘rolled’ gold or ‘filled’ gold) for costume and lower-priced jewelry. Sheets of brass with a layer of this gold and filled with base metal could be machine stamped (die stamped) into any variety of shapes and sizes.  Pinchbeck was replaced by this new process and was no longer used. There was also a series of gold discoveries world-wide which made gold more affordable. These less expensive low karat and rolled gold pieces were rarely marked. Book chain was created with the new stamping machines.

Hollow work and enamel

The new stamping techniques allowed for the creation of pieces that were referred to as ‘hollow’ work.  Hollow work were often engraved and filled with black taille d’épargné enamel (or black-enamel tracery.)  Niello, a somewhat similar enamel technique, was also used.


As seems to have been true in almost every era, pearls were highly valued and worn by the upper classes.

This lady below appears to be wearing a rope length string of pearls, doubled to create a princess and opera length.

File:Simmler Emilia Włodkowska.jpg

Portrait of Emilia Włodkowska, 1865 by Jozef Simmler


Diamonds were more plentiful since they had been discovered in South Africa in 1867 and there was more focus on the gemstone itself with less visible settings.  Diamonds were used alone or as a backdrop for colored stones. Tiffany, the largest jeweler in the United States, popularized blue sapphires and tourmalines. A very large deposit of Australian opals was mined in 1871 and the opal at last became popular. Garnets, sapphires, citrine and topaz were popular stones. Empress Eugenie loved emeralds and they became almost as valued as diamonds.


In the 1860s, silver was discovered in Nevada and suddenly pieces which had always been produced in gold were now often made in silver. Once again, the trend towards more affordable jewelry continued.


Pique reached a peak in 1860, with machine made pique emerging in 1872.


The craze for coral jewelry continued.  It was believed to promote health and well being and was still given to children to wear for protection.

Hair work

Hair work jewelry was also extremely popular.



There were now rigid dress codes for mourning. Jet was, of course, the most common material used for mourning jewelry; according to many formal mourning attire codes, it was practically mandatory.  Less expensive alternatives to jet also flourished; these included black glass called French jet, vulcanite, (a hardened rubber), bog oak, (which although brown was still very dark,) gutta-percha, black onyx and black enamel. Many jewelry pieces from the era had serious and somber designs. Heavy and dark stones such as amethyst and garnet were frequently worn in mourning pieces. Tortoiseshell was also worn. Black accessories were not only worn by those in mourning, but also were worn as fashion statements.

Renaissance Revival

The Renaissance and Middle Ages Revival, which had begun in earnest in the 1850s, continued. A key figure of the the Neo-Renaissance style throughout this era was Carlo Giuliano. He embraced the Renaissance aesthetic and adapted its designs to suit the Victorian woman. Enamel work, colorful gemstones, pearls and fleur-de-lis links were common in Renaissance Revival styles.

Archeological Influences

With the trend for the wealthy to take a ‘Grand Tour’ of Italy, ancient and traditional Italian styles and techniques were at the peak of popularity. With all the new archeological discoveries, ancient influences abounded. Cameo experienced a revival.  Ancient mosaic techniques were popular. Ancient styles of all kinds, but particularly Etruscan, were very popular.  Egyptian motifs for earrings and brooches included lotus blossoms, scarabs, falcons and the heads of Pharaohs. The Italian goldsmith Castellani was the master of Etruscan and Egyptian jewelry.

Stars and astrological motifs

In the 1860s, stars were probably the most popular motif of all.

Insects and naturalistic motifs

Realistic insects included all manner of flies, beetles, wasps, dragonflies, butterflies, bees and spiders.  These were often set with multicolored gemstones and could be worn prolifically in unexpected places, such as on veils, hats, sleeves and shoulders. Mr. William d’Arfey in Curious Relations writes that in the late 1860s, ‘Bonnets and veils were covered with every kind of beetle; that at least was the beginning of the mode, but it soon extended itself from rose-beetles with their bronze and green carapaces to stag beetles… Parasols were liberally sprinkled with ticks, with grasshoppers, with woodlice. Veils were sown with earwigs, with cock-chafers, with hornets. Tulle scarves and veilings sometimes had on them artificial bed-bugs…’

Other naturalistic motifs included flowers, plants and birds.  The ‘language of flowers’ continued.

Garter and buckle motifs

The garter motif and the related buckle motif continued.

Serpent motif

The serpent motif continued.

Novelty motifs

Novel styles became more common during this period, such as this fashionable ‘manchette’ or cuff bracelet below. Fish, lizards, bells, birdcages, household tools such as hammers and other everyday objects were worn, often as dangling earrings.


England, c 1860
Gold with turquoise and pearls
‘Manchette’ or cuff bracelets became fashionable in France in the 1850s and 60s and then spread to England. In a letter to her daughter, the Princess Frederick William of Prussia, in 1861 Queen Victoria described a wedding anniversary gift of ‘a beautiful bracelet which he got at Coburg- from Gotha- a large elastic gold bracelet like a cuff – and so pretty’.
The gold on this bracelet is textured to look like cloth. A buttonhole and button are formed of the turquoise and pearl fashionable in the period.
V&A Museum


Tiaras and Ferronieres and Hair ornamentation

Tiaras were revived in the Grand period.  In the 1860s, tiaras were designed as wreaths of gold leaves or gabled point with sloping sides.   Louis XVI styles with gemstone drops were popular.  In the 1870s, the Tiara Russe, a diamond spike motif that later developed into a radiating motif was introduced. Brooches were pinned in the hair.   Elaborate combs and bandeau were worn in the hair.


England, c. 1880
Diamond Diadem.
Christie’s Sale 2306


Christie’s Sale 3002


Parures (complete jewelry sets) often had Archaeological Revival themes.  Gold with enamel, garnets and other small gemstones, carved coral, cameos and tiger claws were popular.  Entire sets made with precious stones were rarer.  Demi-parures, with an adaptable brooch that could also be worn as a pendant and earrings that could also be worn as a choker were also in style.


France, c. 1860,
DEMI-PARURE with email and diamonds
Christie’s Sale 5624


Shorter necklaces, often with  flexible tubular links and with a hanging pendant or trio of pendants were worn.  The Léontine chain, (named for the actress) was popular; this was made of woven gold ribbon, with a watch hook on one end and a tassel on the other and was wrapped around the neck with the two ends joined by a slide in front.


England, c. 1875
Gold cross set with pearls and lapis lazuli, hanging from flexible gold chain
V&A Museum


Wide gold bands were popular, often featuring a central star or claw set gem.  The  navette-shape (boat-set) with a trio of stones, as well as the cluster and half-hoop rings were popular. Gypsy-set rings, disguising a doublet stone or protecting a very valuable one were created around 1875. Snake rings with gem studded heads were still in fashion.  Mourning rings would be lined with hair or black enamel.


England, c. 1870.
Ring, gold set with a cabochon sapphire in a serrated collet and with applied ornament.
V&A Museum


By the 1850s, ears had once again began to be shown although revealing the ears wasn’t completely normalized again until the 1860s.  Earrings were still only the ‘Shepherd’s Hook’ and the front closure kind.  Motifs included archaeological revival with gold amphorae and granulation, twisted wires and rosettes. Hoops, spheres, crosses, flowers,  drops, insects, stars and novelty motifs were favored.


England, c. 1860
Earrings, diamonds, gold and silver
V&A Museum


Pendants were probably the most popular type of necklace in the era. They could be suspended from strings of pearls, from chains or from ribbons. Enameled lozenge-shapes and Renaissance style gem-set cruciforms, often with chains which also had matching enameled plaques. Sentimental lockets containing locks of hair, daguerreotypes and other mementos were universal. Chased silver lockets made their first appearance in the late 1870s.  Lockets could also be gem-set or enameled and have monograms, stars, insects, buckles and serpents.


England, c.1860.
Diamonds and silver pendant.
V&A Museum.

Brooches and Pins

In the 1860s, round or oval brooches with a central cabochon or enameled dome in a decorative setting were popular. Often, brooches doubled as pendants and therefore brooches began to be orientated vertically instead of horizontally. Roman mosaic, cameos and portrait miniatures were frequently worn in brooches, as well as Celtic and Scottish style brooches. Naturalistic bugs, hummingbirds, feathers and flowers, set en tremblant, were worn as well as stars. Sporting and horse-riding motif brooches with saddles, stirrups, balls, clubs and horseshoes were considered appropriate day-wear jewelry.

Brooch, England c. 1850-1865
Citrine set in stamped gold
V&A Museum


Bracelets were made of gold curb, ship’s cable or flexible links.  They often made a decorative buckle or a central gem-set.   It was considered desirable to wear a lot of bracelets together; up to seven or either bracelets or bangles of different designs might be worn on each arm, often over gloves. Bangles were often wide bands with a motif, cameo, intaglio or plaque which could often be detached.  Gem pavéd bracelets were considered very desirable. Hinged bangle bracelets were also worn and are probably the item most associated with use of taille d’epergne enamelwork.


England, c.1875
Bracelet with brilliantand rose-cut diamonds and pearls set in gold with black enamel
V&A Museum

Sources / Resources:








The Romantic Era 1837-1860

The Early Victorian period of 1837-1860 is also known as ‘The Romantic Period’.

Greatly influenced by the idyllic marriage and courtship of Queen Victoria, the styles of this era reflected this romantic sensibility.  As in the Georgian era, sentiment, symbolism and meaning were still vitally important.  If the era could be defined in one word, it would be ‘feminine’.  Nostalgia for the Middle Ages abounded and Renaissance themes were popular.  Women took over men as the primary wearers of jewelry. Gems were now almost always worn opened backed (a jour).

Jewelry in the early part of this period was still handmade. However, in 1852 hand operated presses for stamping and cutting settings were developed and jewelry suddenly could be made less expensively. Some of this less expensive jewelry included gilt and glass gems.  Pinchbeck was still in use until the 1840s when it was replaced gradually with electroplating. The new use of electroplating, beginning in 1840, caused a new and sudden wave of costume jewelry, making it possible for people of all levels of wealth to wear styles which would have once only been for the upper classes. A new middle class was emerging in this era and the jewelry of the day catered to this market; in terms of jewelry it was a very dramatic shift.  1854 marked a big change for gold standards. Prior to 1854, hallmarking was allowed for 22 karat and 18 karat.  Tricolor gold and silver were also used.  After 1854, 9, 12 and 15 karat gold were legalized, in order to encourage international trade. Suddenly, jewelry could be worn by a shop assistant, a housewife or a Princess; the more rapid fluctuation in fashions reflected this new universality.

Generally, it was only considered appropriate for married women of a certain age to wear diamonds and gemstones.  Unmarried women were expected to wear mourning jewelry, chains, crosses and pearls.

A mid 19th century amethyst and diamond necklace

A mid 19th century amethyst and diamond necklace
Christie’s Sale 8127

Techniques, materials and types

Victorians on their ‘Grand Tour’ collected micro-mosaics and lava cameos from Italy. Cameos of all kinds were very popular.  Swiss enameled plaques also became popular. The craze for Scottish Jewelery was also begun by Queen Victoria in this period. Gold etching was popular.  Colorful gemstones and diamonds (with rose cut or early brilliant) were loved.

Coral was very much in fashion until around 1865.  Seed-pearls were extremely popular, particularly with flower motifs, and were often worn as bridal jewelry. Amethyst, topaz, turquoise, chalcedony, garnet and ruby were popular. Agate, onyx, glass, carnelian, emerald, amber, peridot, ruby, sapphire and pearls were loved. Bog oak, cut steel, ivory, tortoiseshell were also used.

Elaborate and fantastic pieces were created entirely out of human hairJet and French jet (made with glass) were also worn.

Motifs and Influences

Serpent jewelry was at its most popular in this era, due to Victoria’s engagement ring having this motif.  Snakes meant ‘eternity’.  Hearts, anchors and crosses were prevalent. Naturalistic themes were also strongly dominant and many pieces show motifs of flowers, leaves, berries, fruits and berries. The symbolism of flowers was very important to the Victorians and particular flowers motifs would be worn and given because of the meaning behind them.

Archeological digs uncovering ancient civilizations inspired a plethora of new ancient-inspired design in jewelry. Sir Austen Henry Laynard published Nineveh and its Remains in 1848.  Assyrian styles became popular, including the lotus flower which became a popular Victorian motif for at least the next forty years.  When the French conquered Algeria in 1830, Algerian influences began to influence European jewelry; festoons, cords, knots and tassels were common.

Acrostic jewelry was also worn. Roses, lilies, chrysanthemums and fuchsias were fashionable flowers. Sentimental and mourning jewelry was worn during this period (although mourning jewelry wasn’t to become a rage until the ‘Grand Era’ 1860 – 1885).

Symbolic Meaning of Motifs During Romantic Era

Dog – faithfulness / Butterfly – Soul / Daisy – virtue / Fern – attraction / Mistletoe – A kiss / Doves – domestic / Bluebells – reliability / Wishbone – Wish and Hope / Lilac – Constant Love or first feeling of love / Flaming Heart – passion / Forget Me Nots – Remember me / Arrows – Love / Crowned Heart – love / Ivy – Friendship / Clasped Hands – Lasting Love / Anchor – Hope


Necklaces were usually worn short and close to the neck although long gold chains were also worn.  Pave, particularly with snakes and naturalistic motifs, was popular.  Pendants and lockets with naturalistic motifs on ribbons or chains, as well as buckle motifs were common.  Lockets would usually be worn under clothing, close to the heart. Watches on long chains were worn.  Rivieres, often of amethyst or cameos or seed pearls or coral, were also worn.


Necklace, silver and gold, pavé-set with turquoises, with rubies, pearls and brilliant-cut diamonds
England, 1835-1840

Hair and head ornamentation

In keeping with the love of all things Renaissance, Ferronières, were worn by women between the years of 1830 to 1845.  These truly charming jewelry items consisted of a chain or cord worn around the center of the forehead with a single dangling gem. Tiaras were also massively popular, with naturalistic motifs dominating until the 1840 when Gothic motifs began to dominate. As 1860 approached, hair ornamention of all manner became more and more popular.


Tiara, brilliant-cut diamond set in silver, with rubies set in gold, and a gold frame
c. 1835, Europe


Large brooches were popular.  Often, these could double as a pendant and had a loop for a chain.  They were worn at the neck during the day and at the décolletage for evening wear. Sometimes, they were worn on the shoulder or in the hair or even on the waist.  Sometimes, fresh flowers would be added. Naturalistic themes dominated, particularly flowers, in a corsage motif.  Sometimes the leaves were enameled green.


Gold brooch set with turquoise and diamonds
c.1850, England,
V&A Museum


Between the years of 1837-1840, long earrings were considered proper for evening dress.  Between the years 1840-1850, earrings were very rarely worn as the hairstyles of the time covered the ears (and in fact it wasn’t even considered modest to show the ear).  In the 1850s, hair began to be worn off the face again and smaller earrings began to make an appearance, although it wasn’t until the 1860s that they entirely came back.  As Godey’s Lady’s Book stated in 1855: “We give up the ear.  Pretty or not, it cannot afford to be shown.  Any face in the world looks bold with the hair put away so as to show the ears.  They must be covered.  The curving of the jaw needs the intersecting shade of the falling curl, or of the plait of braid drawn across it.  So evident is it to us that nature intended the female ear to be covered (by giving long hair to women, and making the ears concealment almost inevitable as well as necessary to her beauty)-that we only wonder the wearing of it covered, by hair or cap, has never been put down among the rudiments of modesty.”


Earrings, gold set with pierced pearls and foiled garnets
Italy, c. 1820 – 1860


Bracelets were very popular during this era and were probably the most common jewelry item.  They were generally very big, at least over an inch wide and were often hinged or with linked lozenges. They were usually worn in matching pairs or in groups. Flexible, stretchy bracelets appeared as these could be worn higher up the arms. Serpent motifs abounded, often with pave and turquoise and other semi-precious stones.  Enamel work, often deep blue, was popular as well as diamonds for the wealthy.  Garter (jarretière) motifs were popular.  Hair-work and ribbons were common.  Mesh bracelets were also popular, often set with cameo or miniatures.  Often they would have very ornate clasps.


Bracelet, gold, gold filigree, dannetille decoration, pearls and turquoises
C. 1830-1850, England,
V&A Museum


Rings would commonly be figural carved in high relief, snake motifed, gem-set, enameled, buckle or floral motifed.  Cluster rings were also worn.  Rings would often be worn as love tokens and for mourning (with black enamel).


Ring, orange-brown tourmaline, in a gold mount
England 1800-69

Sources / further reading: 







Marcasite Jewelry

Marcasite brooch made from pyrite and silver

Marcasite jewelry is actually made from iron pyrite or ‘fool’s gold’.  There is a gem stone called marcasite which is normally considered unsuitable for jewelry making so this can result in some confusion when discussing marcasite jewelry.  For the purposes of this posting, when I say ‘marcasite’, I mean marcasite jewelry made with iron pyrite (you can assume this is the case just about everywhere that you see ‘marcasite’ referred to).


Iron pyrite, used for making marcasite jewelry

Marcasite jewelry is nearly always made with silver settings. Marcasite jewelery was worn as early as 1700 or even before, but gained popularity particularly during the mid-Victorian era as it was appropriate for mourning wear.  It continued to be worn throughout the Art Deco period as a less expensive alternative to diamonds.   Even into the 1980s, it was considered appropriate jewelry for young women as it gave some glitter and glamor at a low cost.

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Marcasite Silver Bracelet

Things to consider when looking out for old marcasite jewelry are:

1) Is it hallmarked? If it is a quality piece it should have a silver stamp of some kind. If it is not stamped as silver, the chances are it is not a quality piece.

2) Many pieces were made in Germany before the Second World War for export.  If it is marked GERMANY, it might well be prewar.

3) Marcasite jewelry is either set with prong or bead settings (just like gemstones) or glued pieces of pyrite.  The properly set pieces are far superior to the glued. Setting the tiny pieces of pyrite by hand would have been a time consuming labor and gave much more durability.  In order to tell if the pieces are set or glued, examine closely with a jeweler’s loupe.  If you see any little overlapping claws or edges from the silver, it is set (unless the piece is cast and has just been made to appear as though it is set and is still actually glued, investigate thoroughly to check if the pieces are actually held in place by the overlaps or not).

4) Pyrite for marcasite jewelry is usually cut in tiny pieces with a flat bottom, similar to a Dutch Rose Cut. Cut steel can also resemble marcasite jewelry and unfortunately most contemporary ‘marcasite’ jewelry is actually just cut steel or is glued in pieces of pyrite. To tell the difference between cut steel and pyrite, look at the back. Cut steel pieces will be attached with rivets on the back of the piece.

Scallop Shaped Cut-Steel Brooch.
© The Trustees of the British Museum.

Scallop Shaped Cut-Steel Brooch: Reverse. Note the Pattern of Rivets Securing the Studs.
© The Trustees of the British Museum.

Other things to consider are:

Are there any missing pieces of pyrite in the piece? If so, this can lower the value. Also, remember that just because it is old it doesn’t mean it is high quality.  Many Victorian pieces were glued and also made with cut steel. However, if the pieces are set properly and not glued, the chances are it is quite old (although not necessarily of course).

Today, old marcasite jewelry is considered collectible and is also very easy to wear and enjoy with contemporary looks.  I expect marquisite jewelry will always be popular.

Sources / further reading:






Cameo can be defined as a method of carving which creates a raised or positive design (as opposed to intaglio which is the opposite).   Cameos can be done in stone, gemstone, amber, coral, ivory, bone, lava, glass or shell.  Very early cameos (before 1800) were nearly always done in stone, particularly banded agate (also referred to as ‘hardstone’) which creates the contrast in colors between the raised part of the design and the background.  Other stones used in cameo are cornelian, malachite, jet, sardonyx and onyx. Black Helmet and Queen’s Conches are the kinds of shells traditionally used for cameo. Italy has long been associated with cameo.

A carved shell cameo brooch, the large cameo depicting the winged figure Nyx carring her two sleeping children.
The gold frame with Greek key pattern border.
Woolley & Wallis Salisbury Salesrooms, Lot 1278

Castellani Cameo of Medusa, c.1870.  Sapphire.

Trustees of the British Museum.

When discussing antique and period jewelry, the term cameo normally implies that there is a contrast in color between the relief portion of the design and the background; however the term cameo is also used to describe this style of carving even when the raised portion and the background are the same color.

Cameo carving is an ancient technique which has experienced many revivals throughout the ages.  A new interest in cameo came about in the early 1800s, inspired by all the archeological discoveries.  Around 1805, the Pope of the time opened up a new cameo school in Rome and Napoleon I had initiated a ‘Prix de Rome’ to encourage cameo.  By the year 1850, cameo had reached a new height of popularity and people flocked to have their portraits, or those of a loved one, carved as a cameo.  The best cameo artisans came from Italy and when the Victorians went on their Grand Tour, they often brought back these treasures much to the delight of their friends and families back home.  Italian cameo artists, often struggling sculptors, soon moved across Europe to open up small businesses to supply the demand. Cameo work was painstaking and slow.  A stone cameo could take many months; shell cameos were faster to produce and therefore were less expensive.

Neoclassical themes, particularly busts and figures, were very much in style and many cameos of the Victorian era have this motif.


Christie’s Sale 7853
Jewels – The London Sale
9 June 2010
London, King Street
A VICTORIAN MOONSTONE AND DIAMOND CAMEO BROOCH, circa 1890.  Cupid with bow and arrow.


Christie’s Sale 2390
Rare Jewels and Objets d’Art: A Superb Collection
21 October 2009
New York, Rockefeller Plaza
Centering upon a carved agate cameo depicting a Greek figure, within a white and red enamel and gold foliate surround, enhanced at the cardinal points with an old mine-cut diamond and scrolled white enamel detail, suspending pearl drops, mounted in gold, circa 1870

Cameo; carnelian breccia; the 'Flora of Pistrucci'; part of head of Flora to right in high relief, wearing wreath of roses, poppies and marguerites(?); stone ground at back; what remains of lowest stratum is cut very thin; roses in a red stratum.
Fragment of Flora of Pistrucci, early 19th century, Benedetto Pistrucci, The British Museum.
Carved from cornelian.
This cameo is famous for the controversy surrounding it (click on image above to read more on the British Museum site).

Sotheby’s (Magnificent Jewels [N08843] )

Gold and Hardstone Cameo, Tommaso Saulini, Circa 1860

Scenic cameos, depicted more than one figure and background details were also popular. Motifs included ‘The Three Graces’ and other classical maidens, often in gardens.

Cameo carved on Cassis madagascariensis by Ascione manufacture, 1925, Neaples, Coral and Cameo Jewellery Museum Ascione

By the time 1860 came around, another popular motif was ‘Rebecca at the Well’ which is from a biblical story. Taking different forms, it always comprised a girl, a bridge and a cottage. Other motifs were naturalistic and included flowers and leaves. Commemorative cameos of special events such as weddings were also popular.

William Tassie, who invented glass paste in the 1760s, began to create molds of cameos and reproduce them in glass.  He had an enormous collection of impressions of antique cameos and many credit him with being a key participant in the Neo-Classical revival. These imitation cameos were known as ‘Tassies’ and were popular and inexpensive.  This production continued as a family business well into the 1800s.

Detail from a ‘Tassie’ cameo

Wedgwood bought many of these molds from William Tassie. Wedgwood produced and still produces jasperware plaques in blue and white which are in the style of cameo and are also often referred to as cameo.  In fact, many people will think of these as being the archetype of cameo. However, these are not true cameo as they are made from molds.  There were quite inexpensive in their day; they are nowadays considered collectible.

Woolley & Wallis, Salisbury Salerooms, Lot 171

A Wedgwood Jasperware cameo brooch late 18th / early 19th century, probably after a design by John Flaxman.

Cameo was also loved by the artisans and designers of the Art Nouveau movement and continued in the Art Deco era.

Brooch/pendant, carved opal, demantoid garnet, diamonds, 18k yg, platinum, c. 1890, a circ carved opal depicting a sea nymph, rising/setting sun with circ-cut diamond center, and ocean waves, with grad oe diamond border above and demantoid-set yg foliate wreath border surmounted by two stylized fish below, three hidden pendant loops, sgd "Marcus & Co."
Brooch/pendant with carved opal, demantoid garnet, diamonds, 18k yellow gold, and platinum, c. 1890.
A carved opal depicting a sea nymph with ocean waves by Marcus & Co.
Cameo Brooch, Carved Shell, Art Nouveau era, Maker unknown.
The W.H.Stark House
Spring Trend – Cameos

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, painted by John Sargent in 1892.

She is wearing a red and gold cameo pendant.

With the advent of Industrialization, many ‘cameos’ could be produced with molds, with dyed agate layers and later with ultrasonic machine carving. (In my opinion, this is why many people today don’t admire cameo or think of them as desirable, they are associating them with the mass-produced, machine made or mold made variety). Cameo continues to be produced and loved today to one degree or another.  However, the artistry, technique and popularity of cameo that was experienced in earlier eras, particularly in the pre-industrial Georgian and the early and mid Victorian era, (as well as by a few eminent Art Nouveau artists),  has not been seen since.

Dating and Valuing Cameos

There are many clues to look for when dating and valuing cameos and these are just a few below. Having, evaluating cameos is challenging as so many have been remounted and also many cameo artists were really good at copying older styles.  Some experts devote their careers to appraising cameos and it requires great skill.   I will come back and add more to this list as I learn more.

Style: If the cameo features a long Roman nose, the chances are it is from before 1850 and if it has a more pert nose, it is likely to be afterwards.  Up-swept hair suggests late Victorian; short hair would imply 20th century.

Materials: If it is made from lava, it is almost certainly Victorian.  Shells are also not likely to be from before 1800 (shell is translucent when held to the light). If it is jet, it is likely to be mid-Victorian and later.

Mounting: If the mounting is made of pinchbeck, it will probably be from between the mid-1700s to mid-1800s. If it is gold electroplated it will be from after 1840.  If it is 9k, will be from after 1854.  Silver implies it is from the 1880s, but certainly not necessarily so.  A safety clasp implies it is from the 20th century. (But take into consideration that it might well have been remounted).

Value: Scenic cameos are often considered to be more valuable than simple portraits. Stone is considered more valuable than shell.  Obviously, ivory, coral and gemstones are the most valuable. Of course, the mounting is important.  Most important of all though is the fineness of the carving; fine detail, flowing lines and grace show skill.  Less skilled cameos with be harsher with jagged lines and with less details.

Authenticity / method of creation:  Things to watch out for are whether or not it is mold made / where it is actually two pieces glued together / laser cut (in which case it is modern) (all of these are best examined with jeweler’s loop).  Ultrasonic machine made cameos will have no undercutting and a satin surface texture. There will be absolutely no variation between them and many others of the same design. Dyed agate will show very strong color contrast between the layers.

Other: if it is signed it is probably from after the mid-1800s. However, it doesn’t mean that if it isn’t signed it is older than the mid-1800s.

Sources / further reading:












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.

Piqué work was a method of inlaying gold, silver and sometimes mother of pearl into tortoiseshell and other materials to create truly stunning effects.   Piqué originated in Italy in the mid 1600s and then spread to France where it was further developed as a technique.  The English also enthusiastically adopted the method and English piqué jewelry is the most prevalent.  Jewelry was first made with this technique in the early 1800s and piqué jewelry peaked in popularity in the 1850s to 1880s.  It was considered appropriate for mourning because of the dark colors. It quite abruptly ceased to be made almost entirely by 1885. Earlier designs were much more naturalistic and softer; later designs became more geometric as production methods became more mechanized.

Generally, pure gold and silver were used as the metals.  It is quite difficult to metal test such small amounts of metal but it can generally be assumed that if you have a piece of genuine tortoiseshell and the design is well executed that the gold or silver is high carat.  Sometimes brass was also used. In order to embed the metals, the tortoiseshell was heated up first which caused it to expand and soften whilst the metals were worked in.

There were two types of piqué work: piqué point, in which gold or silver pins are driven into the tortoiseshell or other material to create the design and piqué posé, in which the design is engraved and then threads or small pieces of gold and silver are used to fill it in. You will sometimes hear piqué referred to as piqué d’or but this is only correct when referring to gold piqué work. Two major piqué artisans were:  Laurentini and Charles Boulle.


Christies sale 1447, 14 December 2004, New York, Rockefeller Plaza.

Lot Description ‘A Group of Antique Pique Jewelry. Mid 19th century’

See here for more information

A Victorian tortoise-shell and citrine bangle

Christies sale 5639, 19 January 2010 Jewels at South Kensington.

Lot Description ‘A Victorian tortoise-shell and citrine bangle.  The tapered tortoise-shell bangle of half hoop design, set to the front with floral piqué decoration and central oval citrine, circa 1860.’

See here for more information.

Piqué work was of course worked into different materials other than tortoiseshell, particularly celluloid which can appear quite similar to the untrained eye.  One method for testing for tortoiseshell is to burn a very small place with a hot pin; if you smell burning hair it is most likely to be tortoiseshell.  Another test to see if it is celluloid is to run it under very hot water; if it gives off a plastic smell it is celluloid.  However, the absolute best way is to handle enough pieces so that you know the difference by eye.  Another base material I have seen is wood.  The other materials sometimes used were elephant ivory and horn although less commonly for jewelry.

Victorian 3 Interesting broken Pique Brooches Wood Celluloid Faux Tortoiseshell Bakelite Inlaid Inlay Gold Silver Plastic Brooch Lucite

As assortment of piqué brooches using inexpensive faux-tortoiseshell materials as a base (the top is likely an early plastic and more contemporary, the one on the bottom left is probably celluloid and the one on the bottom right is wood).

Today, piqué jewelry is considered extremely collectible.  It can never be made again as of course tortoises and elephants are protected species.  Available Piqué jewelry is therefore only going to become rarer. Piqué jewelry is truly marvelous to behold, very wearable and absolutely beautiful.

Sources / further reading:






A single, simple jet bead, circa 1910

Jet is fossilized wood, specifically fossilized resinous driftwood, originally from the Monkey Puzzle Tree, pressurized between layers of shale in the Jurassic period.  It has a feel like no other substance.  Smooth and mat and velvety, almost warm to the touch, it isn’t like wood or like stone or like rubber…it is unique.  Once you have handled real jet you will never forget the feeling in the hand.   Jet is considered to be one of the  ‘organic gemstones’ (the others are pearls and coral and amber).  A common misnomer for jet is ‘black amber’. Another confusion is that jet is often used to describe the color black and not just used to describe the substance.  (So if someone says that have a ‘jet necklace’ check that they don’t just mean they have a black necklace). The first piece of jet jewelry dates from 17, 000 B.C in Spain so it has truly been in favor for a long time.  It was also popular in Ancient Rome and has also often been used for rosary beads. However, in more recent times jet truly came into vogue after the death of Prince Albert in 1861.   As mourning jewelry became so popular, jet became a very favored substance and was always part of Queen Victoria’s mourning dress.

19th century polished jet mourning brooch

In the 1920s, the flapper girls favored long strings of jet beads and found them excellent accessories for dancing.

Flapper girls, circa 1927

Since the town began production in 1800, the most sought after jet has been from Whitby in Northern England.  ‘Whitby Jet’ is prized worldwide and is still a thriving production center.  Jet is relatively soft and is easily carved.  There are some stunning carved designs of Whitby jet, particularly brooches, which came in a large variety of designs.  Jet is also easily polished.


Carved Whitby jet brooch, late Victorian.  (This brooch is showing some slight damage around the edges).


Carved Whitby Jet Brooch, circa 1870.  The word ‘Mother’ as well as first names were popular, probably to remember deceased loved ones.

There are many other substances which are often mistaken for jet.  Onyx may have a similar look but is much cooler to the touch and shinier.  French jet is not jet at all but is in fact black glass.  Vulcanite or ebonite, Gutta Percha, coal, bog oak, epoxy resins and other substances have all been used in the past to imitate real jet.  It is worth becoming familiar with all of those just so you can better identify jet. One test for jet is to rub it on some unglazed porcelain; real jet will leave a brown mark. However, once you have handled a few pieces you will find this unnecessary. Jet is the most valuable of all the previously named substances apart. It is considered highly collectible, particularly Whitby jet.

il_570xN.340892961 Carved jet beads, circa 1910


Carved jet simple leaf brooch, circa 1910, German or Austrian

Personally, I believe a simple jet bead necklace and some drop earrings are the most wearable and stylish ways of wearing jet in the modern era.


Simple faceted jet bead necklace, circa 1865, Germany


Carved ‘Jugendstil’ jet and red gold earrings, circa 1900, Germany

Further reading / sources: