Posts tagged victorian jewelry
Victorian Symbology

The Victorians wore jewellery which conveyed nuanced meaning, expressed sentiment and brought fortune. They celebrated life events, friendship, love, and courtship with these designs. Below is a list of motifs and an outline of what they symbolised  for the Victorians. Many of these meanings remain today although others have been lost along the way. 

BIRDS

Birds had a wide variety of meaning for the Victorians. For example, swallows symbolized love and mating for life.

Read more about the LANGUAGE OF BIRDS 

Victorian turquoise and silver bird bangle. Elder & Bloom. 

Victorian turquoise and silver bird bangle. Elder & Bloom. 

CRESCENT MOON AND STARS

The crescent moon represented a new relationship and the hope it would “wax” into matrimony. Read more about ASTROLOGICAL MOTIFS 

The   simple crescent moon was a popular motif in the late Victorian era  England, c. 1890 Gold set with diamonds V&A Museum   

The simple crescent moon was a popular motif in the late Victorian era
England, c. 1890
Gold set with diamonds
V&A Museum

 

CROSSED OARS

Crossed Oars symbolised ‘contentment’.

Photo source: Spielman Antiques    

Photo source: Spielman Antiques

 

DOGS

A dog symbolised loyalty and friendship.

Victorian Micro Mosaic Dog Brooch. Lang's Antiques

Victorian Micro Mosaic Dog Brooch. Lang's Antiques

 

FIGURE EIGHTS

Figure eights symbolised eternity or ‘infinity’.

Victorian 'Figure Eight' Brooch. Photo Source: Lang Antiques. 

Victorian 'Figure Eight' Brooch. Photo Source: Lang Antiques. 

FLOWERS

Flowers and plants had diverse hidden meanings for the Victorians. An entire 'language of flowers' was developed, known as 'Floriography'.  Read more about the LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS

Forget-me-not, rose and acorn motif. The acorn symbolized strength and longevity.   Paris, c. 1820-1840 Brooch with gold, diamonds and turquoises. V&A Museum

Forget-me-not, rose and acorn motif. The acorn symbolized strength and longevity.

Paris, c. 1820-1840
Brooch with gold, diamonds and turquoises.
V&A Museum

GARTER MOTIF

The garter symbolised chastity and virtue. The 'order of the garter' was an order of chivalry founded by the British monarchy. 

Garter Motif brooch. Source, Lang Antiques. 

Garter Motif brooch. Source, Lang Antiques. 

GREEK KEYS

The Greek Key motif symbolised infinity or the ‘eternal flow of things’. Read more about the GREEK KEY MOTIF

bordermotif17_meander.jpg

GRIFFINS

The mythical griffin represented courage.

Victorian Griffin Pendant. Elder and Bloom. 

Victorian Griffin Pendant. Elder and Bloom. 

HANDS

Hands had a variety of different meanings, depending on the form, including affection, strength, family and love.  

See THE HAND MOTIF  See also  FEDE, CLADDAGH, GIMMEL and PUZZLE RINGS

Victorian Hand Motif Necklace / Watch Chain. Elder and Bloom. 

Victorian Hand Motif Necklace / Watch Chain. Elder and Bloom. 

HEARTS

These symbolised love, friendship, affection and devotion. Combined hearts and flowers signified fidelity and remembrance. 

Victorian Heart Earrings. Elder and Bloom. 

Victorian Heart Earrings. Elder and Bloom. 

 

HORSESHOE

Horseshoes symbolised good luck and fortune.

Victorian Horseshoe Motif Brooch. Source: Ebay. 

Victorian Horseshoe Motif Brooch. Source: Ebay. 

 

KEYS

Keys symbolised knowledge and success and were also given as a 'coming of age' gift on the 21st birthday. They also meant 'you have the key to my heart'. 

Victorian Key Pendant. Source: Butter Lane Antiques. 

Victorian Key Pendant. Source: Butter Lane Antiques. 

LIZARDS

A lizard  symbolised ‘wedded bliss’ and was given as wedding or anniversary gifts.

A Victorian opal, diamond and ruby salamander brooch, late 19th century.  Bonhams. 

A Victorian opal, diamond and ruby salamander brooch, late 19th century.

Bonhams. 

 

LOVER’S KNOT

Lovers’ knots symbolized ‘eternal love,’ ‘fidelity’ and ‘commitment’. See also  FEDE, CLADDAGH, GIMMEL and PUZZLE RINGS

Victorian Lover's Knot Ring. Lang's Antiques. 

Victorian Lover's Knot Ring. Lang's Antiques. 

SCARAB

Scarabs symbolised ‘endurance of the soul.’ They rose to prominence with the 'Egyptian Revival' Movements. 

Victorian Scarab Necklace. Lang's Antiques. 

Victorian Scarab Necklace. Lang's Antiques. 

 

SHAMROCKS AND FOUR-LEAVED CLOVERS

Shamrocks and four-leaved clovers symbolised good health, good luck, and happiness. They were very much associated with Ireland and many were produced there. They could often be made with real shamrocks or four-leaved clovers set under clear enamel, rock crystal or glass. 

Victorian Four-Leaved Clover Brooch. Source: Ebay

Victorian Four-Leaved Clover Brooch. Source: Ebay

 

SNAKES  

Snakes symbolised eternal life, sexuality and mystery. Read more about SNAKE MOTIFS

Victorian gold serpent ring. Elder and Bloom.     

Victorian gold serpent ring. Elder and Bloom. 

 

STONES

Acrostic jewelry was a way to convey a sentimental message by way with the first letter of each stone, the first letter of which spelled out a word. Read more about the LANGUAGE OF STONES

England, c. 1830 Pendant, gold with lapis lazuli, glass in imitation of opal, garnet, emerald and gold. Here, the pendant has the stones of Lapis Lazuli, glass in imitation of Opal, Vermeil ( the old name for garnet ) and Emerald which spell LOVE. V&A Museum

England, c. 1830
Pendant, gold with lapis lazuli, glass in imitation of opal, garnet, emerald and gold.
Here, the pendant has the stones of Lapis Lazuli, glass in imitation of Opal, Vermeil ( the old name for garnet ) and Emerald which spell LOVE.
V&A Museum


Further reading: https://beautifulantiquetreasures.com/2013/02/21/charm-bracelets/

 

© Pippa Gaubert Bear and Elder and Bloom LLC, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pippa Bear and Elder and Bloom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Jewellery of the Great Exhibition, 1851

The Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations (aka ‘The Crystal Palace Exhibition’) opened on May 1st in 1851. It was the first and most well known of many subsequent world fairs. It showcased the peak of achievement and modern technology from the British Empire as well as many other countries. It was considered a celebration of industry, arts and culture and was one of the most colourful events of the Victorian Romantic Era. 

The exhibition took place in a purposefully designed building in the Hyde Park area of London. The building was made of glass and iron and resembled a giant greenhouse. Although some doubted its safety, it was considered by most to be an architectural marvel. It became known as ‘The Crystal Palace’ and had an area of about 19 acres or 772,284 square feet.

The exhibition itself must have been a true wonder to behold. It brought sights normally reserved for the elites to the average person. There were literally miles of amazing things to see – from manufacturing machinery to engines and steam hammers and boilers. There were inventions and discoveries, musical instruments, furniture, fine textiles, pottery, laces, clocks, toys, colourful glass and much more.

The jewellery and the precious materials which were displayed at the exhibition drew much attention and went on to influence a whole generation of designs with repercussions to this day.

Below is an overview of some of these displays. This is not meant to be a conclusive list but, rather, an impression.

The Great Diamonds

On proud display were two of the greatest diamonds ever discovered. The 280 carat Koh-i-Noor, meaning the ‘Mountain of Light’, was, in 1851, the world’s largest known diamond. It was acquired in 1850 as part of the Lahore Treaty. Also on display was the Daria-i-Noor, one of the rare pale pink diamonds in the world. It was 177 carats.

These stupendous diamonds must have been a breathtaking sight for the average Victorian who would not necessarily have been exposed to diamonds in their everyday life, let alone ones of this size. The effect must have been to spur on a greater desire for diamonds in the general populace.

 

A.W.N. Pugin’s Medieval Court

The designer A.W.N. Pugin presented a ‘medieval court’ complete with fixtures, furnishings, art and fine textiles.

Pugin’s ‘Medieval Court’.

Pugin’s ‘Medieval Court’.

 

As part of this breathtaking display he also presented a range of jewellery resplendent with gothic and ecclesiastical motifs, blue and green enamel work, pearlsturquoise and cabochon garnets in medieval style settings along with quatre-foils and other architectural inspired details. This line of jewellery appealed to the romantic nature of the Victorians who were in love with a perceived lost history, the novels of Sir Walter Scott and the notion of honour and courtly love. Pugin’s range caused an explosive revival in enamelling techniques and medieval influenced styles.

Pugin Brooch A. W. Pugin, born 1812 – died 1852 V&A museum

Pugin Brooch A. W. Pugin, born 1812 – died 1852 V&A museum

 

George Waterhouse’s Celtic Revival

The early 8th-century Tara Brooch, discovered in 1850, was the finest known Irish penannular brooch. It was exhibited by the Dublin jeweller George Waterhouse along with a display of his fashionable Celtic Revival jewellery. These Celtic Revival designs would have appealed to the romantic nature of the Victorians and their reverence for the perceived beauty of the deep past.

This line of jewellery went on to inspire generations of Celtic influenced styles. Queen Victorian presentation of gifts of Scottish Jewellery at the Exhibition’s  Opening Ball gave further impetus to this trend.

Drawing of the Tara Brooch

Drawing of the Tara Brooch

Wedgewood Cameos

Wedgewood, of course, is famous for his jasperware cameos. Even though they began to be produced in 1769, they were showcased at the Great Exhibition and catapulted to popularity as a way to bring relatively inexpensive cameo jewellery and the neo-classical styles to a those who had previously only been able to admire from afar.

Wedgewood Cameos.

Wedgewood Cameos.

Sunar Indian Jewellery

Gold ornaments and silver enamelled handicrafts fabricated by the Sunar caste from Sind, British India, were given much attention. These exotic and ornate pieces went on to inspire a taste for Indian influenced jewellery and ornamentation that continues to this day.

Sunar ornaments.

Sunar ornaments.

Gutta Percha

It was at the Great Exhibition that the rubber gum based material Gutta Percha made its debut with a diverse range of products displayed by The Gutta Percha Company.Gutta Percha was one of the first natural plastics, a lightweight, adaptable material which became popular for jewellery in the 1850s and throughout the 1860s and 1870s.

The Crystal Place catalogue of 1851 had this definition, ‘The Isonandra Gutta, the source of the gum, known as gutta percha, one of the most useful substances introduced into the arts during the present century.’

Gutta Percha Brooch

Gutta Percha Brooch

Primitive Jewellery

There were many pieces of jewellery on display crafted by pre-technological peoples from far-flung locations. These exotic materials and simple designs certainly went on to have a great influence on the styles of the era.

Shell Necklace, Displayed at the Great Exhibition, 1851. Oyster Cove, Tasmania, before 1851. Trustees of the British Museum.

Shell Necklace, Displayed at the Great Exhibition, 1851. Oyster Cove, Tasmania, before 1851. Trustees of the British Museum.

Devaranne’s Cast Iron

Devaranne is recorded in 1828 as a manufacturer of cast-iron wares and in 1850 as owner of a cast-iron foundry. In 1825 he was asked to supply cast-iron wares for a Parisian firm of goldsmiths. He showed cast-iron jewellery at the Great Exhibition in 1851 (Art Journal illustrated Catalogue, 1851, p. 37).

Devaranne Cast Iron Brooch.

Devaranne Cast Iron Brooch.

Nature Motifs

Also in evidence were many floral and nature themed motifs as the Victorian movement of ‘Naturalism’ emerged as a counterbalance to the growth in industry and technology.

The Art-Journal Illustrated Catalogue said, ‘The taste for floral ornament in jewellery has been very prevalent of late and it’s a good and happy taste, inasmuch as an enamelled leaf or floret of brilliant colour is an excellent foil to a sparkling stone. We have scarcely seen the designs for jewellery at any period more tasteful, elegant, and appropriate than they are at the present day.’

Plate 24. Group of jewellery selected from the costly and elegant assortment exhibited by Messrs. Hunt and Roskell. Jewellery in the Great Exhibition from the 1851 Illustrated London News.

Plate 24. Group of jewellery selected from the costly and elegant assortment exhibited by Messrs. Hunt and Roskell. Jewellery in the Great Exhibition from the 1851 Illustrated London News.

As an interesting side note – William Morris, the renowned British Arts and Crafts philosopher and designer, is reported to have visited the Great Exhibition and been appalled by what he saw. He found the technology ‘dehumanising and ugly’. The exhibition was, no doubt, an impetus for him as he developed his anti-industrialisation philosophy and iconic designs.

For many others, The Great Exhibition of 1851 was a source of inspiration that continues to this day.

© Pippa Gaubert Bear and Elder and Bloom LLC, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pippa Bear and Elder and Bloom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Other Reading / Sources

http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/g/great-exhibition/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Exhibition

http://www.victorianweb.org/art/design/jewelry/gere/3.html

https://www.thegazette.co.uk/all-notices/content/100717

http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=81341&partId=1

http://victorianweb.org/history/1851/20.html

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O74972/brooch-a-w-pugin/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tara_Brooch

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=OfMHAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA123&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4

Onyx

Onyx, with its sleek and glossy beauty, has long been sought after for use in jewellery. It  is often thought of as being pure black but in reality it is usually banded white and black or banded white and brown.  It can come in a variety of other colours, such as shades of white, green and red, but these colours are not generally found in jewellery usage.

Onyx is a variety of chalcedony. It can be differentiated from agate because the bands in onyx are parallel whereas in agate they are curved. Onyx is cool to the touch, quite heavy and has a highly polished and glossy finish.  For this reason, it can sometimes be confused with French Jet. 

The demand for pure black onyx has traditionally outstripped the supply so most all black onyx is dyed.  This is why most black onyx has such an even finish. A trained eye can tell the difference between dyed and natural onyx under a loupe by looking for uneven surface colour.

Victorian Era

Black onyx was particularly revered by the Victorians, especially during the Grand Era 1861-1880. The Victorians of this era loved all black materials and the fashion of wearing mourning styles went far beyond that which was necessary.  They created a wide variety of jewellery items from all black onyx, including lockets, pendants, brooches and earrings. They also mixed it with coral, turquoise, seed pearls and rubies.

Victorian onyx and rose gold earrings. Elder and Bloom.

Victorian onyx and rose gold earrings. Elder and Bloom.

Art Deco Era

Black onyx was also especially beloved in the Art Deco era as the stone lent itself to the bold and stark minimalism of the Machine Aesthetic. Jewellery designers used contrasting materials such as coral, jade or diamonds to further accentuate the beauty of the black.

[caption id="attachment_5829" align="aligncenter" width="564"] Art Deco Diamond, Jade, Platinum and Onyx earrings. 1stdibs[/caption]

Theodor Fahrner was a well known Art Deco designer who used onyx in many designs.

Cameo

Onyx is also one of the most popular materials for cameo as the bands are ideal for creating contrasting relief images. Sardonyx is the name for the brown and white banded variety of onyx that is often used for cameo and intaglio.

Sardonyx cameo portrait of the Emperor Augustus. British Museum.

Sardonyx cameo portrait of the Emperor Augustus. British Museum.

© Pippa Gaubert Bear and Elder and Bloom LLC, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pippa Bear and Elder and Bloom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sources / further reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onyx

http://www.langantiques.com/university/Onyx

http://www.collectorsweekly.com/fine-jewelry/onyx

 

Tortoise Shell
19th and early 20th century tortoise shell objects Christie’s Sale 2811

19th and early 20th century tortoise shell objects
Christie’s Sale 2811

Tortoise shell objects are made from the outer blades covering the upper shell of the Hawksbill turtle and the Loggerhead turtle.  Fortunately, it has been illegal to produce tortoise shell jewelry since the 1970s.  The beauty and rarity of real Tortoise Shell is, for me, tempered by its sad history.  In order to buy or sell Tortoise Shell legally, it must be at least a hundred years old and a genuine antique, or to have originated from a private collection (for example, if you get left some Tortoise Shell jewelry as an inheritance). But do double check the laws in your own country as they differ.

Testing Tortoise Shell.  

Other materials such as celluloid, Lucite, Bakelite, horn, bone and plastic can all be mistaken for tortoiseshell, especially if looking at pictures alone.  In order to identify genuine Tortoise Shell, apply a hot pin to a hidden spot - if the resulting smell is similar to burned hair and a black spot is left, it is likely to be Tortoise Shell.  If there is a plastic smell it is not Tortoise Shell. You can also run it under hot water to see if it gives off a plastic smell.  Another way to tell is have a look at the markings - real Tortoise Shell is not regular in it’s marking and will have a distinctive luminosity when held to the light.  There will also be a slight unevenness to it that cannot be found in molded materials.  Upon close inspection, one can often see fine knife marks where the tortoiseshell was carved by hand.

Colors

Most Tortoise Shell is the dark brown or reddish-brown variety with translucent amber high-lights but it can also be a uniform dark brown with no amber. Generally speaking, the older and more well worn the piece, the darker the Tortoise Shell, even appearing quite black in very old pieces. Tortoise Shell can also bethe ‘Blonde’ or ‘Demi-Blonde’ variety in which case it will not be dark, but will still darken with age.  Blonde Tortoiseshell is rarer and is considered more valuable and can range from an even pale yellow to a deep amber color. Tortoise Shell can also be stained different colors.

A GEORGE III GREEN-STAINED TORTOISESHELL TEA CADDYChristie’s sale 6853

A GEORGE III GREEN-STAINED TORTOISESHELL TEA CADDYChristie’s sale 6853

AN ENGLISH BLONDE TORTOISESHELL DRESSING TABLE SET     Christie’s Sale 4888    

AN ENGLISH BLONDE TORTOISESHELL DRESSING TABLE SET  
Christie’s Sale 4888

 

A SPANISH COLONIAL TORTOISESHELL AND SILVER MOUNTED DOMED CASKET 18th century Christie’s Sale 4607

A SPANISH COLONIAL TORTOISESHELL AND SILVER MOUNTED DOMED CASKET 18th century
Christie’s Sale 4607

Uses

Tortoise Shell is very pliable and can be formed into many shapes with heat. It can also be carved and inlaid (piqué). Tortoise Shell was a very popular material throughout the 18th, 19th and first part of the 20th century.  It had an enormous variety of uses in jewelry, household objects and accessories. 

Here are some examples below:

Hair Ornaments

Fans

Bangles

Brooches

Boxes

Cigarette Holders

Dog Collars

Dressing Table Sets and Traveling Boxes

Canes

Card Cases

Necessaires and étui

Glasses and Lorgnettes

Piqué

One of the most popular uses for tortoise shell was piqué, which involved the delicate inlay of gold and silver. Every type of jewelry, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, rings and brooches, were produced throughout the Victorian era with this fine technique.

Sources / further reading:

http://www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/Tortoise_Shell

http://www.ebay.com/gds/TORTOISESHELL-Real-or-fake-How-to-tell-the-difference/10000000012067858/g.html

http://www.conservation-housekeeping.co.uk/blog/24-antique-tortoiseshell-ivory-bone-a-mother-of-pearl

http://www.nre.gov.my/Biodiversity/BioD%20Knowledge/CITES_Briefcase-10_Tortoiseshell_Identification.pdf

Copyright © 2017 by Pippa Gaubert Bear and Elder & Bloom. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pippa Bear and Elder & Bloom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Piqué
Earrings, tortoiseshell inlaid with gold and silver (piqué posé), English, ca. 1850.      Photo copyright of Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Earrings, tortoiseshell inlaid with gold and silver (piqué posé), English, ca. 1850.  

Photo copyright of Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Piqué work was a method of inlaying gold, silver and sometimes mother of pearl into tortoiseshell and other materials to create truly stunning effects.   Piqué originated in Italy in the mid 1600s and then spread to France where it was further developed as a technique.  The English also enthusiastically adopted the method and English piqué jewelry is the most prevalent.  Jewelry was first made with this technique in the early 1800s and piqué jewelry peaked in popularity in the 1850s to 1880s.  It was considered appropriate for mourning because of the dark colors. It quite abruptly ceased to be made almost entirely by 1885. Earlier designs were much more naturalistic and softer; later designs became more geometric as production methods became more mechanized.

Generally, pure gold and silver were used as the metals.  It is quite difficult to metal test such small amounts of metal but it can generally be assumed that if you have a piece of genuine tortoiseshell and the design is well executed that the gold or silver is high carat.  Sometimes brass was also used. In order to embed the metals, the tortoiseshell was heated up first which caused it to expand and soften whilst the metals were worked in.

There were two types of piqué work: piqué point, in which gold or silver pins are driven into the tortoiseshell or other material to create the design and piqué posé, in which the design is engraved and then threads or small pieces of gold and silver are used to fill it in. You will sometimes hear piqué referred to as piqué d’or but this is only correct when referring to gold piqué work. Two major piqué artisans were:  Laurentini and Charles Boulle.

Christies sale 1447, 14 December 2004, New York, Rockefeller Plaza.     Lot Description ‘A Group of Antique Pique Jewelry. Mid 19th century’

Christies sale 1447, 14 December 2004, New York, Rockefeller Plaza. 

Lot Description ‘A Group of Antique Pique Jewelry. Mid 19th century’

Piqué work was of course worked into different materials other than tortoiseshell, particularly celluloid which can appear quite similar to the untrained eye.  One method for testing for tortoiseshell is to burn a very small place with a hot pin; if you smell burning hair it is most likely to be tortoiseshell.  Another test to see if it is celluloid is to run it under very hot water; if it gives off a plastic smell it is celluloid.  However, the absolute best way is to handle enough pieces so that you know the difference by eye.  Another base material I have seen is wood.  The other materials sometimes used were elephant ivory and horn although less commonly for jewelry.

Today, piqué jewelry is considered extremely collectible.  It can never be made again as of course tortoises and elephants are protected species.  Available Piqué jewelry is therefore only going to become rarer. Piqué jewelry is truly marvelous to behold, very wearable and absolutely beautiful.

Sources / further reading:

http://antiques.about.com/od/victorianandedwardian/a/Pique011810.htm

http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/a-group-of-antique-pique-jewelry-4396864-details.aspx?intObjectID=4396864

http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/jewelry/a-victorian-tortoise-shell-and-citrine-bangle-5285462-details.aspx?from=searchresults&intObjectID=5285462&sid=5dae670b-6768-4e60-8a48-5b68db3d575f  

 

Copyright © 2017 by Pippa Gaubert Bear and Elder & Bloom. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pippa Bear and Elder & Bloom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cameo

Cameo can be defined as a method of carving which creates a raised or positive design (as opposed to intaglio which is the opposite).   Cameos can be done in stone, gemstone, amber, coral, ivory, bone, lava, glass or shell.  Very early cameos (before 1800) were nearly always done in stone, particularly banded agate (also referred to as ‘hardstone’) which creates the contrast in colors between the raised part of the design and the background.  Other stones used in cameo are cornelian, malachite, jet, sardonyx and onyx. Black Helmet, Bulls Mouth, Horned Helmet and Queen’s Conches are the kinds of shells traditionally used for cameo. Italy has long been associated with cameo.

Castellani Cameo of Medusa, c.1870.  Sapphire.

Castellani Cameo of Medusa, c.1870.  Sapphire.

Trustees of the British Museum.

When discussing antique and period jewelry, the term cameo normally implies that there is a contrast in color between the relief portion of the design and the background; however the term cameo is also used to describe this style of carving even when the raised portion and the background are the same color.

Cameo carving is an ancient technique which has experienced many revivals throughout the ages.  A new interest in cameo came about in the early 1800s, inspired by all the archeological discoveries.  Around 1805, the Pope of the time opened up a new cameo school in Rome and Napoleon I had initiated a ‘Prix de Rome’ to encourage cameo.  By the year 1850, cameo had reached a new height of popularity and people flocked to have their portraits, or those of a loved one, carved as a cameo.  The best cameo artisans came from Italy and when the Victorians went on their Grand Tour, they often brought back these treasures much to the delight of their friends and families back home.  Italian cameo artists, often struggling sculptors, soon moved across Europe to open up small businesses to supply the demand. Cameo work was painstaking and slow.  A stone cameo could take many months; shell cameos were faster to produce and therefore were less expensive.

Commesso: Commesso is a bas-relief composition of precisely cut gem materials (pietra dura) combined with enameled gold elements to form an assembled cameo.

Habille (or 'en habille'): a cameo in which the carved figure wears real jewelry. “Habille” comes from the French word “habiller”, meaning “to dress”.

Christie’s Sale 7853   Jewels – The London Sale   9 June 2010   London, King Street   A VICTORIAN MOONSTONE AND DIAMOND CAMEO BROOCH, circa 1890.  Cupid with bow and arrow.

Christie’s Sale 7853
Jewels – The London Sale
9 June 2010
London, King Street
A VICTORIAN MOONSTONE AND DIAMOND CAMEO BROOCH, circa 1890.  Cupid with bow and arrow.

Neoclassical themes, particularly busts and figures, were very much in style and many cameos of the Victorian era have this motif.By the time 1860 came around, another popular motif was ‘Rebecca at the Well’ which is from a biblical story. Taking different forms, it always comprised a girl, a bridge and a cottage. Other motifs were naturalistic and included flowers and leaves. Commemorative cameos of special events such as weddings were also popular.

William Tassie, who invented glass paste in the 1760s, began to create molds of cameos and reproduce them in glass.  He had an enormous collection of impressions of antique cameos and many credit him with being a key participant in the Neo-Classical revival. These imitation cameos were known as ‘Tassies’ and were popular and inexpensive.  This production continued as a family business well into the 1800s.

Detail from a ‘Tassie’ cameo

Detail from a ‘Tassie’ cameo

Wedgwood bought many of these molds from William Tassie. Wedgwood produced and still produces jasperware plaques in blue and white which are in the style of cameo and are also often referred to as cameo.  In fact, many people will think of these as being the archetype of cameo. However, these are not true cameo as they are made from molds.  There were quite inexpensive in their day; they are nowadays considered collectible.

Cameo was also loved by the artisans and designers of the Art Nouveau movement and continued in the Art Deco era.

With the advent of Industrialization, many ‘cameos’ could be produced with molds, with dyed agate layers and later with ultrasonic machine carving. (In my opinion, this is why many people today don’t admire cameo or think of them as desirable, they are associating them with the mass-produced, machine made or mold made variety). Cameo continues to be produced and loved today to one degree or another.  However, the artistry, technique and popularity of cameo that was experienced in earlier eras, particularly in the pre-industrial Georgian and the early and mid Victorian era, (as well as by a few eminent Art Nouveau artists),  has not been seen since.

Dating and Valuing Cameos

There are many clues to look for when dating and valuing cameos and these are just a few below. Evaluating cameos is challenging as so many have been remounted and also many cameo artists were really good at copying older styles.  Some experts devote their careers to appraising cameos and it requires great skill.   I will come back and add more to this list as I learn more.

Style: If the cameo features a long Roman nose, the chances are it is from before 1850 and if it has a more pert nose, it is likely to be afterwards.  Up-swept hair suggests late Victorian; short hair would imply 20th century.

Materials: If it is made from lava, it is almost certainly Victorian.  Shells are also not likely to be from before 1800 (shell is translucent when held to the light). If it is jet, it is likely to be mid-Victorian and later.

Mounting: If the mounting is made of pinchbeck, it will probably be from between the mid-1700s to mid-1800s. If it is gold electroplated it will be from after 1840.  If it is 9k, will be from after 1854.  Silver implies it is from the 1880s, but certainly not necessarily so.  A safety clasp implies it is from the 20th century. (But take into consideration that it might well have been remounted).

Value: Scenic cameos are often considered to be more valuable than simple portraits. Stone is considered more valuable than shell.  Obviously, ivory, coral and gemstones are the most valuable. Of course, the mounting is important.  Most important of all though is the fineness of the carving; fine detail, flowing lines and grace show skill.  Less skilled cameos with be harsher with jagged lines and with less details.

Authenticity / method of creation:  Things to watch out for are whether or not it is mold made / where it is actually two pieces glued together / laser cut (in which case it is modern). All of these are best examined with jeweler’s loop.  Ultrasonic machine made cameos will have no undercutting and a satin surface texture. There will be absolutely no variation between them and many others of the same design. Dyed agate will show very strong color contrast between the layers.

Other: if it is signed it is probably from after the mid-1800s. However, it doesn’t mean that if it isn’t signed it is older than the mid-1800s.

Sources / further reading:

http://www.cameojewelry.com/catalog/ANTIQUE_CAMEOS-1-1.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Tour

https://www.antiquesjournal.com/pages04/archives/cameos.html

http://www.antiquecolouredglass.info/History%20of%20Tassie.htm

http://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/gems/tassie/default.htm

https://www.antiquesjournal.com/pages04/archives/cameos.html

https://www.langsantiques.com/university/index.php/Georgian_and_Victorian_Cameos

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/s/semi-precious-carvings/  

 

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