Berlin Iron was mostly made in the early 19th century and had a black lacy effect. It was sand cast and then lacquered and often were Neo Classical in style. A large quantity of it was made in Germany during the Prussian War of Liberation against Napoleon (1813-15). It gained international attention when the wealthy citizens of Germany were asked to contribute their fine jewelry of gold and gemstones to the war effort and in return gave its patrons iron jewelry that had the inscription “Gold gab ich fur Eisen 1813” (I gave gold for iron). After the war, it was still popular and was desirable as mourning jewelry in England, Germany and France.
The heyday of cut steel jewelry was in the late 18th century and is considered “secondary jewelry” because of it’s bold, playful and modern aesthetic. It is comprised of tiny studs or nails mounted into a base plate. It was a time consuming endeavor as the studs or nails were individually faceted and polished. They were then riveted one at a time through tiny holes to a base plate. They were fastened to the base plate in the best way to catch the candlelight to emulate the brilliance of diamonds. When you find pieces that survive today that are in good condition, it is remarkable that they haven’t rusted after all of these years.
Upon the discovery of the ruins of the Etruscans in what is now Tuscany, the ancient art of granulation became wildly popular. Granulation was the art of meticulously decorating a smooth surface with tiny gold balls. It was time-consuming and tedious work and the Etruscans mastered this sophisticated technique. Fortunato Pio Castellani, a Roman jeweler during the early to mid 19th century, crafted fine jewelry based on these designs. His interpretation of this art brought it to the forefront and became extremely popular in Europe, especially among the aristocracy and those that were on their Grand Tour.
Coupled with the opening up of trade relations during the mid 19th century between England and Japan and simpler designs trending, the Japonesque themes became very popular during the late Victorian period, also known as the Aesthetic Period (ca. 1880-1901). Motifs often depicted include, among others, birds, bamboo, fans, water and leaves.
The term micro mosaic references two types of mosaics crafted in Italy. The first was made in Rome and was composed of little glass bricks called tesserae. The tesserae were cemented to stone, glass or metal backgrounds and framed. They were originally so small that they were often mistaken for enamel or paintings until they were observed under a microscope. The scenes were typically of classical buildings in Rome. The second type of mosaic is Pietra Dura, which means “hard stone” in Italian. It was crafted in Florence and typically were decorated in floral motifs. It would be comprised of pieces of hard stone (lapis, malachite, marble, etc) cut out and fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle. These types of miniature mosaic were sold as fine jewelry and could be found in brooches, pendants, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, large parures and demi-parures. As the tourism trade blossomed, Victorian ladies collected micro mosaic jewelry on their Grand Tour.
A miniature portrait was a way of depicting a loved one before the invention of photography. It was one of the popular forms of sentiment during the 18th century through the mid 19th century. Religious themes along with just a pretty scene depicted were also popular. They were usually painted on metal, ivory, vellum or copper. The medium used was often gouache, watercolor or enamel.
Niello is a black substance that is a mixture of the alloys copper, silver and lead sulphides. It was used as an inlay on etched and engraved metals. The technique dates back over a 3000 years. Because of the high contrast, silver was often used as the base. Any number of items were decorated with niello including chains, lockets, earrings, brooches among others during the Victorian Era.
Pinchbeck was invented by Christopher Pinchbeck, a London clockmaker, in the late 18th century. It is a combination of copper and zinc that is very durable and resembles gold. As an affordable substitute for gold, many people would travel with jewelry made of Pinchbeck instead of gold for fear of being robbed en route to their destination. Popularity declined in the mid 19th century due to the legalization of nine karat gold. Authentic Pinchbeck is highly desirable and collectible.
The “poissarde” literally means “fish wives” and refers to the style of earrings worn by the wives of the fisherman selling the daily catch in the market in France. They were in vogue during the Georgian period and are easily recognizable by the typical S-shape cross over on the ear wires.
Repoussé is a French word that means “pushed up”. It is a technique used when working with a metal to create a design in low relief. The craftsman would use a malleable metal to shape by hammering from the reverse to develop a desired design. This technique dates from Antiquity and was often used to decorate silver and gold jewelry.
Taille d’Epargné is a French word and literally means “sparing cut”. It refers to the technique of filling in lines with a black enamel after etching or engraving a metal base. It was used to embellish bracelets, earrings, brooches and was considered mourning jewelry. The style was popular through the mid-1850s in England.
The benefit of the Grand Tour was the exposure it gave to classical antiquity and the art of the Renaissance. At the time during the early to mid 19th century, it was thought of as a rite of passage and was a custom embraced mainly by upper-class Europeans. The itinerary commonly included France (Paris), Switzerland (Geneva, Lausanne), Italy (Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples), German-speaking parts of Europe (Innsbruck, Vienna, Dresden, Munich), and finally Holland and Flanders. The Grand Tour often spanned a period of several months.
There was a tradition in Victorian England of the groom-to-be gifting a bracelet to his betrothed. She would wear it during the engagement and upon the marriage, he would present her with another matching bracelet. Often, they were worn one on each arm. It is rare to find a pair of wedding bracelets and for this reason, thrilling when you do.
Upon Prince Albert’s untimely death in 1861, Queen Victoria went into inconsolable mourning. As she grieved, her nation grieved. Her court was required to wear mourning clothes and only black jewelry was allowed to be worn. The Whitby jet market flourished because of this. Whitby is a little town on the Yorkshire coast in Britain that began the manufacture of jet jewelry in the 1830s and came into world prominence because of the Great Exhibition in 1851 held at the Crystal Palace in London. Jet is a carbonized, black substance which is very coal-like and is formed by heat, pressure and a chemical reaction on ancient driftwood. It is very lightweight and has a shiny patina.