crimsonbiblio (crimsonbiblio) wrote in victorian_wear,

Antique Jewellery

An interesting read, especially for those interested in making or restoring their own jewels :

(can be found here : )

ANTIQUE JEWELLERY : Its Manufacture, Materials and Design – Duncan James

 “Much jewellery take the form a favored talisman or symbolic device related to religious faith or secular interest, and that other passion, love, has always been a major reason for the giving of jewellery. However, above and beyond all of this, jewellery has a decorative purpose-it is designed simply to adorn the individual.”


Duncan James clearly loves jewelry, and like all great loves sometimes passion reigns over sense. Not that there has to be anything wrong with that.

             Diagrams of construction elements (such as the six basic brooch-pin designs and seven popular types of chain) are practical and well-thought out. On the other hand, these utilitarian components are a bit at odds with some of James’ more poetic flourishes. Describing some Victorian cameos as ‘pleasantly extravagant’ and then following with detailed writing on materials and manufacture can make it feel like you are reading two books at once. On the other hand that could make it a time saving bargain.

             Pictures of pieces from various collectors of 19th Century jewelry are one of the high-lights of the volume, as if usually the case with Shire’s books. A gorgeous early period golden brooch with rope wire hangings. A bracelet made from Pompeian lava. Another formed into an articulated snake. Beautiful and painstakingly constructed, these pieces eccentric and unique by modern standards.

             For the crafts person there are concise descriptions of both material and design methods. For the truly dedicated (perhaps obsessive) crafts person there are descriptions of how tools such as a rolling mill or jeweler’s drill were made and used.

             For someone as uncrafty as myself I found it exciting that – “A modern craftsman suddenly transferred back to a mid-19th century workshop would find himself so familiar with almost every piece of equipment that would be able to sit down at the bench and immediately begin working gold.”

             The chapter on gemstones has some of the oddest bits of information for some just learning about jewels. A blue tiger’s eye is called a hawk’s eye. Jade was known as kidney stone. Opals shrink over time, and emeralds can be boiled in old to increase their clarity. Not something I would try, but I will take his word for it.

             The descriptions of the various setting are a bit much for the non-collector or craftsperson, but it is always nice to be able to but a name to a thing. So the next time I want a new ring I know to ask for a gypsy setting.

             James says it best:

 “This book … is written in the belief that knowledge of the skills used to make jewellery will lead to a greater appreciation of its beauty.”


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