Darkly Sparkling - Cut Steel Jewellery June 22 2017
The making of Cut Steel accessories and jewellery originated in England in the 17th century. It is believed that the technique of 'ornamental steelwork' first developed in the town of Woodstock in Oxfordshire, as this industry which was well established by 1720 became famous for 'the finest, most elaborate and expensive workmanship in steel toys'; acoutrements or accessories as we might now call them including shoe buckles, watch chains and keys, buttons etc, and included making 'stars' for the chivalrous orders.(1). The trade also grew in both Clerkenwell in London and amongst the steelworkers in Wolverhampton.
Steel, when polished can take a high shine, greyer than silver but highly reflective and very attractive. These Steely 'stones' became very fashionable and were used to adorn buttons, buckles, hair ornaments, and all manner of jewels as this famous antique print from the period shows, they could be quite bright!! (2). They were a more affordable alternative to Diamonds and were worn by both men and women alike. 'Popular from 1700’s through to Victorian times and a little beyond, cut steel is best described as a ‘mushroom’ of steel, the top of which is faceted and polished to a very high shine. Each ornately cut and individually polished stone then has individual facets. The more facets each ‘stone’ has, and the more tightly packed together they are, the better quality the item'. (3).
In the early days the technique of decorative 'cut steel' involved cutting and hand faceting small steel studs into various shapes (as you would a gemstone) and riveting them (as the making of Steel jewellery comes from a metal-working rather than a jewellery-making origin) onto a backplate which was cut to the desired design. Apparently it could take as long as two weeks for a single person to make a pair of buckles (4). The pieces would be made from the purest or best steel that could be afforded, from which the studs were then cut into the different shapes. These shapes have particular names; the most common shape is the round faceted stud in various sizes, but there is also the frustra, a flattened or truncated cone shape; the vesica, what we would now call marquise or navette shaped; and faceted oblong bars and crescent shapes too. This brooch in our shop has several of these shapes. These early entirely handmade pieces can be distinguished from the later by the variety of shapes, the small size and greater number of facets to each stud.
At the height of the fashion for shoe buckles in the 1770's, George III appointed John Worralow of Wolverhampton as the Royal Steel Buckle maker. This gentleman soon came to make pieces, including buttons, chatelaines etc. for the royalty in Spain, France and Russia and his work which was of the utmost quality was not cheap. At this time pieces did begin the be produced in France by some entrepreneurial Englishmen who set up workshops in Paris, but the main centres were still in England. George Wallis, one of the great Victorian art gurus, was born in Wolverhampton in 1811, and writes about the trade in steel ornaments; 'Let them remember that 100 years ago [sc. c. 1760] a large trade existed with France and Spain in the fine steel goods of Birmingham and Wolverhampton, of which the latter were always allowed to be the best both in taste and workmanship. ... A century ago French and Spanish merchants had their houses and agencies at Birmingham for the purchase of the steel goods of Wolverhampton. These fine steel ornaments, chains, chatelaines, sword handles, &c., were often purchased at their weight in coined gold - Spanish dubloons in one scale, steel goods in the other! Single chains, by first class makers, would fetch 25 guineas. The beaus and belles of the French and Spanish courts glittered on state occasions in the steel ornaments of the little Staffordshire town, the skill of whose artisans made made native iron glisten like diamonds' (5).
Another famous maker was Matthew Boulton, who had workshops in London and Birmingham and produced pieces of the finest quality in his Soho factory in Birmingham. 'He inherited his ‘toymaking' business, which at that time meant producing both useful and decorative products in polished iron and steel, brass, copper and silver, from his father. By 1766 his factory at the Soho Works in Birmingham, with up to 600 employees in more than 60 workshops, was one of the most famous in Britain.' (6). This buckle is believed to have been made by Boulton as it combines both ormulu and cut steel and is in his Neo Classical style which was is distinctive to his output. He also notably worked alongside Josiah Wedgewood and produced beautiful pieces set with Wedgewood 'cameos'.
Eventually the craze for shoe buckles waned and by the 1820's although shoe ornaments were still made to be stitched onto the shoes, and the trade turned mostly to jewellery and other toys such as; buttons; buttonhook; beads for decorating clothing; chatelaines etc. Most of these later pieces are not of the same high quality as the earlier ones as by this time the techniques used had changed and pieces were stamped out rather than cut by hand as greater mechanisation had made possible faster production of these popular items. There are many pieces of exquisite cut steel work to be seen in museums and these pieces are a wonderful and inexpensive item to collect, although as they become recognised for the mini works of art they are prices may rise accordingly.
Further, more detailed information concerning the development of the industry can be found on the website of the Wolverhampton Museum, with some very informative articles written by Frank Sharman. The museum also which has a collection of antique pieces of both jewellery and 'toys'.
1. Clifford, Anne (1971). Cut-Steel and Berlin Iron Jewellery. Adams & Dart. pp. 13–14.
2. 'Coupe de Bouton' print. Lewis Walpole library. http://images.library.yale.edu/walpoleweb/results.asp
4. Reinhold Angerstein, visited and wrote in his journal about the steel 'toy' making industry in Woodstock in 1753.
George Wallis. Jewellery, 1878.
An Antique Fish Scale Glass Pearl Necklace May 05 2017
Out treasure-hunting one day, my eye was caught by a string of old Pearls with an almost ethereal silkiness of lustrous glow. After looking closely it became obvious that these were not the fabled 'Naturals' that they looked like, in fact not real Pearls at all, but 'faux' Pearls, with a very convincing lustre! Faux Pearls usually go by unappreciated, but even so, as a Pearl lover I was drawn by their gorgeous sheen and quirky hand-made shapes to investigate further. Looking with a magnifying glass, it was apparent that a few of the 'Pearls' had a craquelure surface and appeared to be made of glass with a waxy substance filling the inside of the sphere.
I could see they had quite some age as they were fairly grubby and had an antique 'Black Dot Paste' clasp. They had caught my curiosity, and searching online, after a bit of digging I came across the their story...that of the Fish Scale Glass Pearl, which is told through the following articles; Firstly, Loretta Chase and Susan Holloway-Scott aka The Two Nerdy History Girls describe the hunger for Pearls. It should be noted that the only Pearls available at the time were natural Pearls, and that approximately one oyster in 1000 produces a Pearl big enough to be called' gem quality', and so they were a rare commodity. 'European ladies yearned for the look of pearls, even if they couldn't afford the real thing, and ingenious craftsmen were creating look-alikes from the middle ages onward. By the 18th c. – an era when pearls were the perfect accessory to flowing, pastel Rococo fashions they were much in demand. The luxury-craft is described in Denis Diederot's famous Encyclopedie, which includes illustrations of women making the beads.' http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/roman-pearls-faux-jewels-for-18th-c.html
Image: 'Mrs Jerathmael Bowers' by John Singleton Copley c.1763.
A description of the discovery from Christine Dec Jewelry; 'A Frenchman by the name of Jacquin observed that when fish were in a barrel of water, a resulting film of silvery pearlescent particles on the water's surface was quite lovely. Skimming these particles and dehydrating them, he discovered a lustrous powder that captured his imagination; he had a most unusual iridescent pigment and began experimenting in the early manufacture of faux pearls.'
The technique used, as described by Marie-José Opper and Howard Opper in their 1996 article Imitation Pearls in France; 'The production of false pearls continued to grow in the 18th century. A mid-century encyclopedia covering handicrafts and manual trades includes a three-page segment illustrating the process (Diderot and d'Alembert 1751-1772) describes the manner in which blown glass beads were filled with essence d'orient. The essence was sucked into a pipette and then blown into the bead which was then attached to a waxed stick and plunged into a bowl of melted wax. The final step involved piercing the wax core to produce the hole. To further enhance their luster, false-pearl beads were made using a special opale-scent French glass called girasol (Barrelet 1954: 119). Traditionally, men were responsible for blowing the glass beads, while women filled them. 'http://surface.syr.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1076&context=beads
It would appear possible that many of the 'Pearl' necklaces that feature in portraits from previous centuries could in fact be glass 'Fish Scale' Pearls...
'What is likely the most famous strand of faux pearls worn in 18t c.North America: the necklace worn by First Lady Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818). In the earliest known portrait of her, the pastel portrait, left, she is shown wearing the fashionable glass pearls. A strand of pale pink beads belonging to her is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, donated by a descendant in 1914.' http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/more-faux-pearls-abigail-adamss.html
Fish Scale Pearls were made for an extended period of time and it is difficult to tell the age of our Pearls, but their luminous hand-blown beauty transcends time, and so we have cleaned these precious little survivors and rethreaded them so that they can be worn as they were intended. They would make the most exquisitely unique, delicate and historic wedding necklace.
Antique Jewellery Addicts March 24 2017
Some people say we are Jewellery Junkies, or Antique Addicts. We can't deny it! To put it simply; we work, live, talk and dream (yes, really) vintage Bling!!
Why do we love 'old' jewellery so? Well, for us it's the personal element...each piece is unique, most often handmade and hence has originality. Giving a new home to an old or vintage piece of jewellery is multi-layered... your 'new' jewel will have had a life before, and comes to you with a richness of heritage and the subtle echo of its mysterious 'history'. It may have evidence of wear from its previous owner, and as you wear and live with it, you will get to know your piece, becoming familiar with it from all angles.
Sometimes a new curiosity is awakened. An interest for the period in which it was created, an appreciation of its hand-craftmanship, and desire for knowledge about the metals, gemstones and techniques used at the time. It is a richer experience as there is so much to know and not least is the enjoyment in continuity in that now you become part of it's 'history'.
To us, this is the appeal...the mystique of the antique!
The Delight of an Antique Wedding Ring February 17 2017
In the world of jewellery, there is little more poignant and meaningful an item to hold in your hand than an antique wedding ring. The pattern worn; flattened sides; thinned to a shadow of its former self; or rich with the warm patina of dinks and scuffs earned by a lifetime's wear, they hold personal history.
This delightful antique wedding band is dated 1904. That's 113 years old! Imagine a marriage which may have survived two world wars...maybe the husband even served in the trenches in WW1? Exchanged when young and fresh and full of hope, it has years of service etched into it's surfaces. It really is something quite touching to handle an antique wedding band which has been worn for so many years. They have seen the living of the vows that were exchanged promising themselves to each other in lifelong love and fidelity. Years of work, maybe washing, cooking and cleaning for the family ....a blessed token of all that marriage entails; the emotional, mental and physical devotion. It is 18ct gold and was made in Birmingham, and if you look carefully, you can still see traces in the depressions of the hallmark of the 22ct gold mercury gilding which would have been applied at the time of making to make the ring look as bright as possible.
The exchanging of wedding rings is a tradition throughout the world to signify dedication to one relationship with one other person, and these to be worn throughout the marriage, perhaps for 40, 50 or even 60 years. The symbolism includes that of the circle; perfectly round, complete, and never ending. A band with no end, representing eternal life, the cycle of life. The rings should ideally be made of a metal which is as pure as possible, and gold, the noble metal itself was traditionally chosen as it is pure, and will not tarnish or rust, symbolising the permanence of marriage.
In our view, choosing an antique wedding band has such a richness of 'story' it would always be our first choice, and the chance to bring an antique wedding ring to life again is such a delightful thought it makes our hearts leap!
Intriguing Date 1833 Scottish Brooch November 29 2016
It's such a pleasure to do a spot of time travelling through your jewellery, and holding a piece of sentimental jewellery like this gorgeous antique 19th century brooch evokes such poignant emotion... Dedicated to 'W Murray Esq, Obt 14 April 1833', and set with a richly coloured barrel shaped hand cut Citrine and natural River Pearls, it is such a beauty! Through it's long life it has been cared for by at least three different owners, and survived massive historical changes. After a spot of research we managed to find out a few facts about William Murray. He was born on 16th March 1748 in Minningaff, Stewartry of Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland. He didn't marry, but lived in Toronto for some time. He died aged 83 in 1833, (in the reign of William IV) and his funeral was held at Bath Abbey. He sounds a nice gentleman as in his will he left today's equivalent of £5000 'to be applied for the benefit of the poor of Minningaff', and also the same amount to the Bath Hospital for the same purposes. He was obviously remembered kindly as the brooch is high quality, in 18ct gold and set with gems from his homeland, Scotland. It's heart-warming to think that we might one day find it yet another caring home to take it into it's third century!
The Jewellery 'Rules' September 11 2016Vintage jewellery has never been more 'NOW', and the new rule is that there are 'no rules' on how to wear it. Unique vintage and family pieces which have personal significance can be central to creating an 'individual' look. This aesthetic says; Silver can be worn alongside Gold; a mixed-up melange of old and new can create an exciting visual feast; and blending 'real' jewellery with chain-store jewellery makes for an eclectic mix.
Visit to The Birmingham Jewellery Quarter July 10 2016
For more than two centuries Birmingham has been central to the jewellery trade in England. As dealers in antique jewellery, our visit to The Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham was long overdue. Many of the Victorian pieces we sell originated in the jewellery quarter of Birmingham, as did the beautiful silk-lined boxes we handle every day. There were once great numbers of businesses involved in producing all types of jewellery, silver wares, boxes, and even such skills as hair weaving for mourning jewellery could be found there. The Birmingham Assay Office was founded in 1773, in recognition of the great number of jewellers working in the area we now know as the Jewellery Quarter. At that time silversmithing was booming in Birmingham and the city itself was playing a leading role in the Industrial Revolution. The area grew rapidly and came to cover a large area, becoming home to thousands of workers, who lived in the area and worked from its hundreds of small workshops. It even had its own school, church and eventually cemetery, which opened in 1835.
The price of raw gold dropped from the 1880's onwards, and this fact added to the new processes which were being championed in Birmingham such as electroplating (invented by George Elkington of Newhall Street, Birmingham) and the first man-made plastic, Parkesine (invented by Alexander Parkes in 1862), saw rapid growth of the jewellery quarter. By 1880 there were nearly 700 workshops, but this boom period was short-lived as by 1885 as there was a downturn in business caused by the nationwide depression. At its peak in the early 1900's, when the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham employed over 30,000 people, the larger factories producing great numbers of gold seals and watch chains, silver buckles, brooches and combs, but the industry declined in the twentieth century (although WWl created opportunities for making silver buttons etc. for soldiers uniforms), and since WW11 many of the factories and workshops have been empty.
On our visit to The Quarter we were saddened to see that nowadays, although this area of Birmingham is still home to many producers and small shops, it is quite run down and the streets are lined with empty factories and workshops which have long since closed their doors. The famous names such as Fattorini, Unity, and The Victoria Works still proudly announce their premises, but it is quite a sorrowful experience to imagine the decline of the businesses and how this would have affected those working in them. Somewhat ghostly and atmospheric, gorgeous Victorian gothic architecture adorns these factories with their empty windows, and half demolished workshops remain as poignant reminders of the golden days when they would have been bustling hives of industry. The most wonderful Victorian cemetery sits prominently at the centre, full of finely inscribed eminent graves, the last resting place to many a well-to-do Victorian jeweller. It's gracefully curved catacombs lined with the tombs of Birmingham great and good.
The Jewellery Quarter's historic importance was recognised in the 1970's by English Heritage, and 106 of these wonderful old buildings now have listed Grade ll status. The area is slowly being regenerated, since The Jewellery Quarter Urban Village Framework Plan was adopted in 1998, and new businesses are beginning to repopulate it's streets with a mixed-use aim to re-establish a community and hub for creative businesses. The Quarter is still Europe's largest concentration of businesses involved in the jewellery trade, home to the world's largest Assay Office, and still produces 40% of all the jewellery made in the UK.
If you've an interest in either jewellery or history, the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham is definitely worth a visit, and The Museum of The Jewellery Quarter is an interesting place to see, set as it is on the site of the workshops of 'Smith and Pepper' on Vyse Street, who closed up in 1981 leaving an intact workshop.
For too many decades the brooch has been an underappreciated form of adornment, but we urge you to pin your colours to your chest! Make a statement of intent; whether it's whimsical, romantic, witty, fun, comic, dramatic, powerful, glamorous or vamped, a carefully chosen brooch can really tell that story and magnify that emotion.
Window Shopping on the Ponte Vecchio June 12 2016
When in Florence any lover of jewellery can’t help but be drawn to the Ponte Vecchio, where all the classy jewellers gather. So, naturally, that’s where we found ourselves, drooling over the abundance of delicious gioielli displayed in the shop windows there. Italy is famous for the quality of its stone carving, and Florence didn’t disappoint. There were Cameos, Corals and Pietra Dura aplenty. Note: Lots of GOLD! Chunky charm bracelets and heavy lockets...cute bracelets up-cycled from cufflinks...an excitingly colourful feast for our hungry eyes.
Charm Necklace LOVE April 17 2016
Can't decide which pendant to wear? No fear...you CAN wear them all! We are heavily in favour of this look...such a lot of interest to one necklace. All you need is one strong chain; all your keepsake charms, fobs, totems, lockets and pendants...then just thread away! Don't be afraid to mix it up with metals and styles...show your personality. Such a lovely way to wear all your significant trinkets and memories.
Jewellery love affair... March 03 2016
Aged 18, in the 1970's, this bracelet was my most stylish and beloved piece of jewellery. Just a cheap souvenir bracelet bought in Paris which I'd found in my Mum's jewellery box; thousands of such items must've been sold. But to me it was beautiful and antique and mysterious and symbolic. It was aspirational (I'd never left the country, let alone travelled to Paris), and spoke volumes about who I thought I could become; exotic, unusual and cultured! It has always been my talisman, and thirty-odd years later it still has that cachet. Helen at Fetheray.
Jewellery Magpies... January 08 2016We are jewellery magpies, who revel in the eclectic; love the eccentric; enjoy vivid colours and shapes. We have a nostalgia for the glamorous days gone by, and we seek out the sentimental; ponder the mysterious past-life of the secondhand; wonder at the uniqueness of the handmade object; and yearn for a lifestyle where one can express one's individuality and be as fantastic as possible!
The Abandoned Gold Mine at Rodalquilar December 01 2015Rodalquilar, in Southern Spain is in the Cabo de Gata national park, a volcanic zone and an area of outstanding natural beauty and geological interest. Rodalquilar was once home to one of the largest producing Gold mines in Western Europe. Nowadays, the mine is deserted, but the site remains remarkably intact and it's strange, stark, post-industrial atmosphere makes an interesting and somewhat eerie visit. Operating for over one hundred years, from 1864-1990, over the years the Gold mines have seen a number of different owners and mining companies trying to develop bigger mines and exploit the natural ore found there. Initially using explosives and hand tools and donkey carts to transport the ore, in 1930 electricity was introduced and this enabled the use of electric drills to extract the material leading to increased output. At peak output in the 1950’s to 1960’s, some 280kg of gold was extracted each year, and the gold mining town of Rodalquilar was home to as many as 1400 people, and in 1956 it was one of the largest gold mines in Western Europe. After poor management, and economic changes lead to the closure of the mines in 1966 the population fell dramatically, to less than 100 people, the number who live there today. The mine is now a well preserved shell which one can wander freely around and explore, imagining the time when it would have been a noisy hive of industry. It's post-industrial apocalyptic architecture was the backdrop to the film 'Solarbabies' in 1986. The abandoned mine and museum is free to visit. It is open to the elements and can be visited at any time, a wonderful place to watch the sun go down.