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Want to wear a bit of history? Antique jewellery offers that possibility!
By Chere Di Boscio
Imagine owning a piece of history; something that has been infused with the emotional life of people throughout the ages; an object that has seen love and birth, war and death; the rise and fall of nations– and has retained its beauty throughout.
There can be no doubt that antique jewellery has far more soul than anything off the modern jeweller’s production line, no matter how exquisite it may be, so it comes as no surprise that antique jewellery is a perennial favourite with collectors from around the globe.
There’s something for all tastes: the languid floral forms of Art Nouveau brooches and necklaces; the sentimentality of Victorian lockets and rings; the embellishment of Edwardian elegance; the clean, minimalist lines of Art Deco pieces–the possibilities are endless.
Rarer Than Rare
For some, the older the better, and specialists jewellers like the Three Graces offer customers museum quality pieces, such as a 16th century gold foil ring, below.
It’s an important piece, because this was an important era for jewellery technique: “The 16th century found itself at the beginning of a shift for gem-set finger rings,” says a spokesman for the company. “Technology was evolving which allowed the development of stone faceting (also known as polishing)…Innovations such as placing foil beneath a transparent gem to increase the sparkle or saturation of colour became the order of the day.”
The company has many other century-old pieces that would not only normally be up for auction with the likes of Christies or Sothebys, but could even be shown in museums like London’s Victoria & Albert Museum or the Paris Museum of Costume Design.
The ring above, for example, dates from the Medieval period. Can’t you just imagine someone like Lady Sansa from Game of Thrones swanning about with this on her finger?
Another piece that stands out for me is this 20k yellow gold Stuart crystal slide, shown above. Exceptionally scarce, it features four perfect skulls with crossed bones, connected by a gold vine adorned with tiny flowers and leaves covered with red and green enamel.
The piece was worn as a ‘memento mori’, popular at the time. These small objects were the Victorian way of whispering ‘carpe diem’ to themselves; a reminder that life is short, death is inevitable, so enjoy yourself while you can.
Early 20th Century Themes
For those who prefer a lighter message, both the Art Nouveau (early 1900s) and Art Deco (mid-1920s) periods liked to play with natural themes in various forms, highlighting the shapes and bends of plants and flowers in the former movement, for example, and animal forms particularly in the latter.
The distinguishing ornamental characteristic of Art Nouveau could be said to be its undulating asymmetrical line, often taking the form of flower stalks and buds, vine tendrils, insect wings, and other delicate and natural objects. Lines were elegant and graceful, or infused with a powerfully rhythmic and force.
The distinguishing features of Art Deco style, on the other hand, were simple, clean shapes, often with a “streamlined” look; ornaments were often made from rather expensive materials, which included new yet rare (at the time) man-made materials such as plastics, especially Bakelite; vita-glass; and ferroconcrete, in addition to natural ones like jade, silver, ivory, and crystal.
Though Art Deco objects were rarely mass-produced, the characteristic features of the style reflected admiration for the modernity of the machine and for the inherent design qualities of machine-made objects.
Some of my personal favourite pieces are the opal rings from any age: vivid neon blue, electric green and hints of red and orange move about these magical stones like a mesmerising hologram with half-formed images levitating from their surfaces.
Below, you can see a Victorian, Modern and Edwardian ring using this stone, all with different styles, but the same hypnotic effect.
Opals are thought in some countries to embody the evil eye, but other traditions are more positive: it’s also thought to have protective effects, and in the Middle Ages, it was even believed that an opal held in the hand with a sprig of sage could cause the holder to become invisible.
Functional and Beautiful
Antique jewellery also offers us a range of novel trinkets that are no longer produced. Tiny perfume flasks, for example, were popular during the Beaux Arts period, which has its roots in the academic neoclassical style taught at the French national school of architecture, Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Characterised by its classical forms, symmetry and rich ornamentation on a grand scale, the genre came at a time when Edwardian, Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts coincided.
Lockets are another unusual form of jewellery that was once hugely popular with both Edwardian and Victorian society. Although these were usually filled with sentimental objects, like baby’s hair or small photographs, they also sometimes held snuff, for women in tight corsets to sniff before they passed out from the constriction of their garments. I’m particularly obsessed with this ring, below, which opened up to allow the wearer to put something inside the 4-pearled flower, be it snuff, perfume…or poison (I could write a whole thriller based on this ring!).
It’s exactly this type of history that makes antique jewellery all the more fascinating to wear. Far more than a pretty accessory, they are historical objects, conversation starters and heirlooms that can serve to delight and enchant generations to come.
Click here for more information on the Georgian Jewelry pictured above and see all the new jewelry they have coming in.
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