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

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

Charles I Miniature Pendant with Pearl

I don’t think there’s enough that I can say about these Charles I pieces. To me, they represent the inception of an industry that certainly was on the verge of being one of the most culturally important movements in modern history, due to its cross-cultural pervasiveness and obvious necessity. Yes, I’m talking about the industry of mourning.

However, there is also the way that death was adapted by the oncoming industrial revolution and the inception of social movement. In some ways, the affectation of mourning speaks about the superficial nature of the human condition, with our fickle concerns of outward presentation and adherence to human-imposed social conventions.

Charles I Mourning Pendant Royalist Enamel Blue

What has this to do with the Charles I pendant on display here? The beheading of Charles I created a royalist movement that provoked society to adapt tableaus in dedication to the fallen king, with a disregard to the monetary context of the dedications – surviving portraits of Charles may vary in quality from the finely painted to the naive. However, there is quite an effort to present the man with respectful quality, regardless. This royalist movement was one that could transcend the socio-economic demographic and allow for the lower classes to express their grief/loyalty (even when the pieces were covered or hidden in lockets), as opposed to more insular cultural outlooks, which focused more on the immediate family/work paradigm without the greater social awareness. Communication was becoming faster, social borders were crumbling and the presentation of the self to this greater social audience was becoming more and more important.

Hence, when a piece like this was worn, albeit enamel side up (the pearl is a later addition), it still conveys a message about the wearer to the society around them. It shows obvious status and wealth.

Looking at the piece itself, Charles is looking off (not engaging the viewer) with sadness, hence its meaning as being a royalist piece is established (hardly the demeanour of a king still alive), the portrait itself, shows the face is painted to a pre-established ideal of the king and not painted in personal company with the man himself though the miniaturist has taken careful detail to shading of the hair and attention to the costume – often portraits of Charles would be closer in to the face of the subject. On the reverse, we have the blue enamel and this side doesn’t demand that the wearer turn it over to reveal the portrait. In this case, the portrait is personal and worn over the heart, while this enamel reverse can be presented with all the sophistication of class status that it deserves. If the wearer commissioned the blue enamel with the intent of royalty in the face of such a personal sentiment is truly the prerogative of the person who commissioned it, however, it is more likely. The piece is set in silver and retains much of the popular late Baroque design in the flower and enamel that would be expected.

And how does this all reflect upon us today? Well, essentially, it gives us all a great appreciation for the industry that surrounds us, but personally, I simply like to enjoy looking at this magnificent piece.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
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