Sentiment and Superstition were important parts of life in the 19th century.
With constant reminders of the fragility of life, the Victorians embraced love and entreated luck. These two themes can be seen in the jewels of the era.
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A Tale of Two Rings

These 2 rings have long intrigued me. Both from the 1700's, both commemorating love and loss, yet they are very different.

The lovely blue and white enameled navette shaped ring shows the love of a mother and wife. The wear to the crystal tells us she lived long after the loss of her loved ones and wore the ring daily, never forgetting that deepest of sorrows. The ring is so personal it seems as if we too can feel her sadness. The double tragedy of losing a son and then a husband in the space of 18 months.

The ring has a hair and sepia decorated plaque under the crystal. The scene is a woman weeping over an urn, common imagery for a mourning ring of this era. But this ring has the added detail of a phrase written around the image, it says "The Wish That Would Have Kept Ye Here" This ring imparts a great deal of information to us. The ring is engraved on the back with names and dates. "Moulton Messiter ob 5 July 1786 ae 57" "Moulton Messiter Junior ob14 Dec1784 ae 17"

The second ring is as untypical in its imagery as the first is typical. Furthermore, there are no lovely inscriptions to assist and inform us. And maybe for those reasons this is the one that intrigues me the most.

The simplicity of design, a curving cut cornered rectangle made to embrace a finger, a barely-there bezel of rose gold holding in the bevel edged crystal. Where the first ring was stylish and in vogue, this ring was made to unique specifications. But the shape and expensive yet subtle details of the setting are not the most unusual thing about this mourning ring. While the typical mediums were employed, hair and sepia on ivory, the imagery is one I've never seen before. The curved plaque of ivory under the crystal displays musical notes.

The top line of the ring has a highly ornate A with a short line of music displaying one note. The bottom line of the ring has a highly ornate M with a short line of music depicting a different note. In the center is what appears to be a monogram, unfortunately, it is quite difficult to make out. The mystery of this ring continues, Who is A M? What significance do the musical notes have?

I continue to learn from and to be intrigued by antique jewels, they offer a unique insight into the lives of people in centuries past. When Love and Loss went hand in hand with living.

Birthstones by Month and Sign.

 One of the things I enjoy collecting are books related to the magical properties and myths of Gems and Jewels. So when I decided to do a blog post about Birthstones I naturally felt it important to include some of the mystical origins and history of the tradition of Birthstones. I could really geek out here, but I’ll attempt to stay in the last 200 years or so.

One of my Favorite books “The Power of Gems and Charms” by George Bratley, published in 1907, has proved quite helpful in this research.

Birthstones have not always been associated with a Month. In earlier times they were associated with each sign of the Zodiac. The assigned Gems have also changed over time.

Aquarius: The Water Bearer - January 21st to February 18th - Garnet

Pisces: The Fishes – February 19th to March 20thAmethyst

Aries: The Ram - March 21st to April 20th - Bloodstone

Taurus: The Bull – April 21st to May 21stSapphire

Gemini: The Twins – May 22nd to June 21stEmerald

Cancer: The Crab – June 22nd to July 23rdAgate

Leo: The Lion – July 24th to August 23rdRuby

Virgo: The Virgin – August 24th to September 23rdSardonyx

Libra: The Balance – September 24th to October 23rdChrysolite

Scorpio: The Scorpion – October 24th to November 22rdOpal

Sagittarius: The Archer – November 23rd to December 22ndTopaz

Capricorn: The Goat – December 23rd to January 20thTurquoise

 At some point prior to the Victorian period Birthstones became associated with the months of the year rather than the Zodiac signs. All of the traditional 19th century birthstones featured prominently in the fashionable jewelry of the time.

 The modern birthstone for each month dates back to 1912, some months have 2 options.

January: Garnet – It is thought to promote romantic love and passion. It is also considered the gemstone of patience, calm and stability.

MOHS HARDNESS: 6.5-7.5

February: Amethyst - It is considered the gemstone of meditation, peace, balance, courage, and inner strength.

MOHS HARDNESS: 6.5-7.5

March: Aquamarine - It is considered the gemstone of compassion, clarity, and gentle courage.

MOHS HARDNESS: 7.5 to 8.0

April: Diamond - It is considered the gemstone of harmony, imagination, and strength. Diamonds are the hardest material on earth: 58 times harder than anything else in nature.

MOHS HARDNESS: 10

May: Emerald – It is considered a symbol of rebirth, and is believed to grant the owner foresight, good fortune, and youth.

MOHS HARDNESS: 7.5 to 8

June: Pearl – In many cultures the Pearl is associated with the moon. They are considered a symbol of innocence, modesty, and purity.

July: Ruby – It is thought to increase integrity, and promote gentle nurturing and understanding.

MOHS HARDNESS: 9

August: Peridot – It is thought to lessen anger and jealousy, and promote abundance and prosperity.

MOHS HARDNESS: 6.5 to 7

September: Sapphire – It is considered the gemstone of nobility, truth, sincerity, and faithfulness. It is also said to aid in creative expression and inner peace.

MOHS HARDNESS: 9

October: Opal – It is considered to be a gemstone to inspire creativity and imagination. Some people think it’s unlucky for anyone born in another month to wear an opal. But that particular superstition comes from a novel written in the 1800s (Anne of Geierstein by Sir Walter Scott), and not from any ancient belief or experience. In fact, throughout most of history, opal has been regarded as the luckiest and most magical of all gems because it can show all colors.

MOHS HARDNESS: 5 to 6.5

Tourmaline – Also an accepted birthstone for October, Tourmalines come in a rainbow of colors.

MOHS HARDNESS: 7 to 7.5

November: Topaz – It is believed to aid in strength, joy and success. It is also thought that wearing it above the heart assures long life, beauty and intelligence.

MOHS HARDNESS: 8

Citrine – Also an accepted birthstone for November, Citrine is considered to promote success, abundance, and clear thinking.

MOHS HARDNESS: 7

December: Zircon - In the Middle Ages, this gem was thought to induce sound sleep, drive away evil spirits, and promote riches, honor, and wisdom. It is also considered to be grounding and inspire confidence.

MOHS HARDNESS: 6 to 7.5

Turquoise – Also an accepted birthstone for December, Turquoise is thought to aid in communication, creativity, and balance.

MOHS HARDNESS: 5 to 6

 Developed by Friedrich Mohs a German mineralogist in 1812, The Mohs Hardness scale begins with 1 being the softest mineral, talc, to 10 being the hardest, Diamond.

 

The Process of Discovery.

A beauty from the past, this bracelet was a treat to research. I would love to walk you through how I went about it.

                                                                    

 

Let's start with the hallmarks. Two of the three Hallmarks are the same. The ET is a French import mark. It comes about after the Cobden-Chevalier treaty of 1860. This treaty was a commercial trade treaty between France and England. When other countries realized how mutually beneficial the treaty was it inspired them to develop similar treaties with France. The ET mark is used specifically for imports from countries who had not previously partaken in trade treaties with France.

Unfortunately, the third Hallmark is too worn to be identified. The hallmarks only give so much information so it's time to focus more on the materials and the ways in which they are used, as well as the methods used to set the stones.

How beautiful are the pearls on this bracelet! Pearls have an interesting and long history. These pearls are done in the classic pierced style, a style seen during medieval times. While this piece does not date as far back as medieval times, the more baroque style of pearl is helpful in giving it an era. When the Georgian era begins larger pearls are popular, but as the era progresses we see seed pearls coming into play and quickly becoming more popular. If you look at mid Georgian era pieces and the eras that follow the pearls used in jewelry become finer with the exception of Renaissance revival pieces; even the revival pieces handle the pearls differently than true Renaissance jewelry. I was beginning to realize that this bracelet will most likely predate 1720's.

 

Next to investigate were the collets and enamel. A collet is also known as a bezel setting. I started with pieces from the 1860's and worked my way back in time. The mountings and placement didn't match up with the style seen in this bracelet until the late 17th century. There are three very noticeable differences between collets of the 17th century and 18th century. One is how the stones are set. They are set at a distance from each other in the 17th century, while in Georgian jewelry we see stones placed much more closely together. Second would be the lack decoration or cutting back of the collet. There are no claw or scallop details on our piece. You will see plain collets in the Georgian era, but once again the stones would be set closer together. The third is the how high the collet rises on this piece. As I worked my way back thru time, comparing and contrasting other jewelry to this bracelet, I arrived at pieces dating around the 1680's and things started to fall into place. I started seeing pieces with stones set in a similar manner and also a use of enameling that was very much in line with the bracelet. In fact, in our extensive research library I found some wonderful jewelry that offered great comparisons.        

So after much research, I would date this bracelet somewhere between 1680-1700.

 

Editors note: We were also able to reach the conclusion that this bracelet was modified sometime in the 1800's from its original beginnings in the 17th century. the entirety of the top is a 17th-century piece, the simple gold back hoop dates from the 1800's.

Furthermore, import stamps were put on pieces when a piece traveled from one country to another even if simply being brought in as a personally owned item of an individual.

Blog and research by: Kate Calkins research goddess at Gem Set Love. Her enthusiasm and determination is inspiring.

Edited by: Paula Bixel

Books and Sources used in this research and referenced in this article:

Georgian Jewellery 1714 - 1830 By Dawes and Collings

Portuguese Jewellery By Guedes and Vassallo e Silva

Portrait Jewels By Scarisbrick

Mediaeval European Jewellery By Lightbrown

World Hallmarks Volume 1 By Niklewics, Whetstone, and Matula

Heavenly Constellations.

When collecting, studying and working with antique jewelry it is easy to take for granted the crescent and star motif that is so common in Victorian Era jewelry. While photographing some pieces the other day I had a renewed interest in the origins of these images and where they come from.

The nineteenth century saw a wealth of visible comets including the famous Halley’s comet and Comet Tebbutt, also known as “The Great Comet of 1861”. In fact, Comet Tebbutt was so great that earth passed right through its tail that arced visibly across the sky. It was an awe-inspiring sight that would be talked about across the world.

These amazing celestial demonstrations fueled a well-established fervor for astronomy. I can see the jewelry here worn by the woman who attended one of the highly popular astronomy lectures of the day. Her gold and turquoise starburst pin would have been another constellation among the projected images and orreries (mechanical models of the solar system) presented by the speaker.

And if she didn’t attend the lectures or study cosmology she might still have owned a piece with the ubiquitous star and crescent. These images were just as important as the flower or heart in the Victorian woman’s jewelry box. Astronomy was part of everyday conversation. Everyone who kept up with the fashions harnessed the strength and intrigue of the stars in metal and stone in order to have their own piece of the heavens.

 This blog post was authored by Jessie Hibbs.

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A Short History of the use of the Coil in Adornment.

While wandering the wonderful collections in The Metropolitan Museum of Art during my last trip to NYC I noticed the reoccurring theme of the coil. Once I noticed it, it seemed to be everywhere.

In the coils of a byzantine Kings gold bracelets.

In the rings lining the shelves of the Egyptian exhibit. Even in the earliest form of adornment, a simple seashell with a hole drilled in it for suspension from a leather thong. 

 

There were snake rings from 200 bce and a Pair of Triton bracelets, that have long been a favorite of mine, occupying the cases in the Ancient Mesopotamian hall.

And then I wandered into the Ancient Greek Hall and there was a magnificent trio of bronze faces, wearing their meticulously curled beards.

 

And I was reminded that the power of the coil wasn’t just reserved for adornment as jewelry but also used as a symbol of power in other ways. Gods were pictured with massive curling beards, and soldiers would use iron rods, heated in fires to curl their beards before going into battle.

As humanity moved into the modern era the coil continued to be a common design element in Jewelry. We see the snake, which was used in rings and bracelets in Greek jewelry circa 300 bce, becoming a popular style for jewelry again in the 18th and 19th centuries. For the Victorians the snake represented eternity, and as such was frequently given as a Love Token.

We see the simple stylized design of the snake, a coiling effect, in many cultures. The Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, and even the Chinese favored this style. This is a ring from our stock in high Carat Gold from the early 20th century that could just as easily be from any of the aforementioned cultures, as the design hasn’t changed in thousands of years.

I am delighted as I go thru my day to see the abundant design in nature that informs and inspires us in our designs today just as it has for Millennia. 

I am so thankful for The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the many hours of Joy it has brought to my Life.

Written by: Paula Bixel

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