There are so many ways with which to understand a jewel and place it in its context. Let’s look again at this brooch and see what we can find…

I’ve often made mention that one of the most prolific periods for jewellery experimentation in design came about during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This isn’t to discredit earlier or more modern periods, but there are simply moments in history when socially, culturally, financially and politically, a particular movement flourishes. It is during this time that a confluence of factors caused the outcome of experimentation and styles in jewellery, or at least, a mainstream cultural identity, be it Prussian, British, American or Italian, emerged with styles that started are clearly recognisable. Much of this has to do with higher production levels, greater social access to wealth/cultural mobility and advanced transit and communications, which not only broke down established borders, but upheld cultural uniqueness within different geographic parameters. Such as Continental travel had opened up for a society that now could focus on recreation and through this simple means, culture started to transcend borders that were traditionally drawn politically and culturally.

Blue Pearl Brooch

Forgive the long winded preamble, but now we can look at this wonderful brooch and how its style fits directly into these paradigms. The first thing to note is the excellent use of the variety of pearls, which for this style, as you will see in further examples, simply shows two things has occurred;

  1. There was a greater access to pearls through higher trade routes to the East (China and Japan) for potential use as a material and
  2. Styles has started to embrace material over classical depictions, a shift away from the obvious Neoclassical ideal.

The brooch is set on blue, foil-backed glass, in the same style as contemporary miniature portraits, so the method still remains adapted and not wholly unique to this particular style of brooch. For this manner of construction, often the most common type was to set the pearls on ‘a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover.’

As for the style itself, using pearls on blue glass or enamel to depict Neoclassical scenes and symbolism was quite popular throughout the Continent and England. Particularly, this style can be found in pieces ranging from c.1790-1820 from the northern region of France and what is today Germany. Allegorical scenes, often transcending the ecclesiastical undercurrent of many painted Neoclassical scenes, are quite prevalent, focusing directly on the personal love sentiment instead. This is due to regional style, contemporary culture and religious influence in the art directly.

This style of pearls on blue glass or enamel is used heavily in sentimental jewels and can be seen in these further examples from the British Museum:


“Oval gold brooch with seed-pearls, in the form of a winged cupid with a lamb, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster; laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover in a gold mount within a pearl border. Inscribed in French.”


“Marquise-shaped pendant with seed-pearls, in the form of sheep and lambs under a tree, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover in a gold mount with blue and white enamel and a tooled gold border. Compartment on reverse with plaited hair under glass.”


“Gold finger-ring with seed-pearls, in the form of a spray of flowers, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster; laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass under a domed glass cover in a gold mounted oval-shaped bezel with a pearl border.”


“Marquise-shaped pendant with seed-pearls, in the form of two birds carrying a knotted ribbon, flowers and wheat-ears, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster, laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover in a silver mount with a gold backing, with a border of pastes set in silver and a tooled gold inner rim.”

Blue Pearl Brooch

Upon the back of this brooch, we have a magnificent inscription that is quite personal for a dedication:

‘This Brooch was occasionally
worn for more than 40 years by James Saunders Esq who died on the
24th September, 1831 in the 79th year of his Age’

To state that a jewel was worn be a gentleman is firstly unusual (rather than directly dedicated to) and then there is the statement of the brooch being ‘occasionally worn’. From here, we move into supposition about the wearer. Why did he wear it? Was this a dedication for someone else or a personal sentiment? Who received the brooch after his passing to inscribe this upon it? Some wonderful questions that may never be answered, but fascinating ones all the same.

I have a few examples of this style in my collection, so when I finally get them out and properly photographed, I’ll continue the look at the pearl/blue phenomenon!

Courtesy: Penny Rushby-Smith

Gibbs / 8 Feb, 1820, Age 69 Mourning Ring Pair Original BoxHere’s a wonderful pair of rings in their original box that I liberated from Alfies Antique Market (13-25 Church Street, Marylebone, London NW8 8DT). I highly suggest you go if you’re ever in the area, I’m always surprised by how wonderful it is every time I go.

As for the rings, they’re stunning and appear to have been kept in a drawer for the last 200 years. Enjoy the show!

Dedication: Gibbs / 8 Feb, 1820, Age 69

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I’ve often made mention that one of the most prolific periods for jewellery experimentation in design came about during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This isn’t to discredit earlier or more modern periods, but there are simply moments in history when socially, culturally, financially and politically, a particular movement flourishes. It is during this time that a confluence of factors caused the outcome of experimentation and styles in jewellery, or at least, a mainstream cultural identity, be it Prussian, British, American or Italian, emerged with styles that started are clearly recognisable. Much of this has to do with higher production levels, greater social access to wealth/cultural mobility and advanced transit and communications, which not only broke down established borders, but upheld cultural uniqueness within different geographic parameters. Such as Continental travel had opened up for a society that now could focus on recreation and through this simple means, culture started to transcend borders that were traditionally drawn politically and culturally.

Blue Pearl Brooch

Forgive the long winded preamble, but now we can look at this wonderful brooch and how its style fits directly into these paradigms. The first thing to note is the excellent use of the variety of pearls, which for this style, as you will see in further examples, simply shows two things has occurred;

  1. There was a greater access to pearls through higher trade routes to the East (China and Japan) for potential use as a material and
  2. Styles has started to embrace material over classical depictions, a shift away from the obvious Neoclassical ideal.

The brooch is set on blue, foil-backed glass, in the same style as contemporary miniature portraits, so the method still remains adapted and not wholly unique to this particular style of brooch. For this manner of construction, often the most common type was to set the pearls on ‘a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover.’

As for the style itself, using pearls on blue glass or enamel to depict Neoclassical scenes and symbolism was quite popular throughout the Continent and England. Particularly, this style can be found in pieces ranging from c.1790-1820 from the northern region of France and what is today Germany. Allegorical scenes, often transcending the ecclesiastical undercurrent of many painted Neoclassical scenes, are quite prevalent, focusing directly on the personal love sentiment instead. This is due to regional style, contemporary culture and religious influence in the art directly.

This style of pearls on blue glass or enamel is used heavily in sentimental jewels and can be seen in these further examples from the British Museum:


“Oval gold brooch with seed-pearls, in the form of a winged cupid with a lamb, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster; laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover in a gold mount within a pearl border. Inscribed in French.”


“Marquise-shaped pendant with seed-pearls, in the form of sheep and lambs under a tree, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover in a gold mount with blue and white enamel and a tooled gold border. Compartment on reverse with plaited hair under glass.”


“Gold finger-ring with seed-pearls, in the form of a spray of flowers, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster; laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass under a domed glass cover in a gold mounted oval-shaped bezel with a pearl border.”


“Marquise-shaped pendant with seed-pearls, in the form of two birds carrying a knotted ribbon, flowers and wheat-ears, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster, laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover in a silver mount with a gold backing, with a border of pastes set in silver and a tooled gold inner rim.”

Blue Pearl Brooch

Upon the back of this brooch, we have a magnificent inscription that is quite personal for a dedication:

‘This Brooch was occasionally
worn for more than 40 years by James Saunders Esq who died on the
24th September, 1831 in the 79th year of his Age’

To state that a jewel was worn be a gentleman is firstly unusual (rather than directly dedicated to) and then there is the statement of the brooch being ‘occasionally worn’. From here, we move into supposition about the wearer. Why did he wear it? Was this a dedication for someone else or a personal sentiment? Who received the brooch after his passing to inscribe this upon it? Some wonderful questions that may never be answered, but fascinating ones all the same.

I have a few examples of this style in my collection, so when I finally get them out and properly photographed, I’ll continue the look at the pearl/blue phenomenon!

Courtesy: Penny Rushby-Smith

As mentioned last week, I spent an all-too-brief weekend in Sydney, where I got to meet a lot of lovely people who all opened their ears to my unstoppable rambling about old jewellery. I’d like to thank the wonderful people at the Victoria & Albert Antiques store at the Strand Arcade for their hospitality and the lovely conversation! If you’re ever in the city, do pop in and have a look, they have some magnificent things. I’d also like to thank all the lovely people who wrote in and gave me some superb advice on where to go treasure hunting in New South Wales, your help was not only brilliant, but invaluable.

But enough of the preamble, you’re wondering what did a lucky lad like myself find? Was there any form of treasure that I couldn’t pass by? Well, I’m an impulsive chap by nature, so I can’t restrain myself sometimes and couldn’t resist the allure of the following brooch and ring:

Garnet Ring, c.1830

(excuse the impromptu phone-photography)

1830s Embellished 3rd Stage Mourning Ring

Similar Style

The ring is 9ct and the beautiful garnet (which is a rather pale/ruby colour, I’ll see if I can get better pictures soon) is a later replacement for the original hair memento. Surrounding the ring and following over the bezel is the magnificent 1830s floral embellishments, which show the evolution of the style from the previous cleaner lines of the Regency period.

Note the similarities to the following piece and see how the design became ubiquitous. Another lovely feature of the ring that is now sitting proudly in the collection is that it shows very little wear at all, for a ring that has design built into the band, there’s very little wear.

Early 19th century brooch with hair and pearlsAs for this brooch, I can’t say enough superlatives to describe how wonderful it is. It has the rectangular shape that was quite common from around 1800-1820 and would date to the earlier side of this. Surrounding, the pearls are in remarkable condition, but it’s also inside where this brooch is the business. Here, we have a border in gold, with triangular patterns etched in (which when magnified look almost Masonic, but one would assume it’s simply the design) and then the dual over-crossed hairwork underneath. What makes the hair so lovely is that the contrast of the brown/blonde hair is so striking, that you can’t ignore it. Furthermore, what is rather unconventional is that rather than using slim glass, there is a heavy, domed piece of crystal covering the hair and magnifying it as well. With so much at play here, the piece is actually physically weighty to hold.

Is that all, you’re wondering? Well, I did see a lovely blue enamel mid-19th century ring with pearls in the daisy configuration and hair compartment underneath that was in stunning condition, but my wallet can only take so much. Yet, there may be a couple more pieces that I’ve seen which may take the flight down to Melbourne in the next few days, but that remains to be seen.

Right now, I’m very happy with the new additions to the family and to everyone who I met and who helped me along the way, my undying thanks!

One of my favourite periods of jewellery is the Neoclassical transition into the 19th century. The Regency period (1811-20) tends to appropriate this period in concept (the term ‘Regency’ is used quite liberally, just like ‘Georgian’), but the true transition from the big Neoclassical miniatures to the cleaner lines and shape/material based first quarter 19th century pieces began at about the turn of the 19th century.

This ring exemplifies what I mean when I say ‘shape-based’, it has an elegant twist and circular motif to the shank, which has its allusions to the snake and eternity (there are variations with an overt snake used to entwine and create the band itself).

Also note the hatched gold work surrounding the hair memento, something which would become more popular as engine turning in jewellery construction became cheaper/popular.

Advances during the Industrial Revolution created a lot of social transience in jewellery, different classes had access to pieces unlike previously, where it denoted social status in a more prominent way.

Before I ramble on too long, this is a charming little ring and comes from a wonderful period of stylistic experimentation in jewellery!

Year: c.1800
Dedication: LL

As the 19th Century approached, styles altered greatly, with the size of the previous pieces growing smaller and the importance of symbolism being held in the materials used and not in paintings on ivory or vellum.

Stages of mourning, the move away from romanticism and the techniques of jewellery construction made pieces more accessible to the greater public with more mobility in price and with different levels of grandeur.

This piece, shows the signs of the transition of the neoclassical period in the late 18th to early 19th centuries. Stemming from around 1820, this piece shows how the oval shape in neoclassical jewellery had evolved into a smaller, rounder design. Compare this with the larger navette shapes (which would often hold large mementoes, such as miniatures), the oval shrank down to accommodate simple hairwork mementoes.

Much jewellery of this time began to reduce in size and followed form, circular or geometric patterns and clean enamel lines were quite prevalent during the Regency period. Style constantly evolved, rather than halt altogether.

An important thing to note on this piece is that it shows evidence of a marriage between items. The prongs with the paste doesn’t blend perfectly with the interior brooch, hence it may have been re-appropriated as a latter-stage mourning piece. The hair and the original brooch appear to be largely untouched, rather than the hair memento replaced (which is much more common).

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