The Art of Victorian Jewellery

A Victorian gold, diamond set brooch of floral and foliate spray design, circa 1880

From the mid-19th century an increasingly affluent middle class combined with a growing supply of gold and precious metals from California and Australia creating an explosion in demand for jewellery.

From the 1840s the classical world, Renaissance and the natural world continued to inspire jewellery designs which evolved to adorn the fashion of the times.

A mid-19th century circular gold, garnet and diamond brooch by the Neapolitan jeweller Giacinto Melillo, circa 1860

The small mid-19th century circular gold, garnet and diamond brooch is by the Neapolitan jeweller Giacinto Melillo. Melillo trained in the workshop of Alessandro Castellani. The Castellani workshop was famous for its copies of ancient jewellery. An inch in diameter this brooch was modelled on a typically classical design and realised £2200 at Toovey’s.

A Victorian gold and coral pendant brooch, circa 1860

From the 1860s, influenced by the fashion for décolletage neck lines, many brooches changed from horizontal to vertical axis designs. Coral was particularly fashionable between 1845 and 1865. The Victorian gold and pendant brooch measures some 3 ¼ inches. It, too, is classically inspired with its vertical design, classical amphora pendant drop and delicate applied wire work.

In contrast to the earlier corsets and crinolines from the late 19th century women’s fashion sought to enhance rather than alter the wearer’s figure employing softer materials. As a consequence brooches became smaller and lighter.

The Romantic Movement of the 1840s had stimulated designs in the forms of flowers and foliage. These designs remained popular throughout the second half of the 19th century. The late Victorian diamond set brooch is a typical example with its beautifully conceived scrolls. You can imagine it moving in a spring breeze as the light moves across the diamonds. It measured 2 ¼ inches.

Late 19th century Fin de siècle brooches of smaller, delicate design became popular. They were worn pinned to the lace and tulle draped around the décolletage. It did not matter whether the brooches matched, the fashion was for wearing numerous brooches at the same time.

A Victorian diamond and half pearl set pendant star brooch, circa 188

The late Victorian gold, diamond and half pearl set pendant brooch with its detachable brooch fitting measured just 1 ¾ inches. Its delicate design and scale is characteristic of the late 19th century.

Jewellery at its best adds to the beauty of the wearer and speaks across generations of love and precious moments in our human lives. These examples sold for £700, £1000 and £550 respectively. The appeal of jewellery is timeless.

Online has been an incredible blessing in these times with strong interest and prices for jewellery and across all the specialist auctions throughout lockdown. But nothing beats real life human encounters and we are now excitedly making preparations so that, ‘R’ number willing, we will be able to welcome you once again at the salerooms for valuations and auctions from the 12th April by appointment. Until then I look forward to seeing you for valuations online and at your homes.

The Timeless Appeal of Jewellery

An Art Deco platinum, collet set diamond ring, circa 1925

Over millennia jewellery has held a fascination for humankind bringing together timeless gems, the skill of the craftsman and the beauty of the jewel. Jewellery often marks important moments in our lives and the procession of history. It evolves to the delight of successive generations.

Jewellery designs from earlier periods have always been reinterpreted and adapted over the centuries with collectors prepared to pay a premium for original pieces. Alongside date and the quality of the stones the essential ingredients are the eye of the designer and the skill of the maker.

In the first decades of the 21st century mainstream taste has gravitated towards restrained clean lines.

These same qualities can be found in the Art Deco. Art Deco was a fashionable style in the inter-war years of the 20th century. It co-existed with machine age styles and modernism with clean lines and geometric designs in contrast to the Art Nouveau which preceded it.

The platinum ring you see here is a beautiful example of period, Art Deco jewellery. It dates from around 1925. It is collet set with a 3.5 carat old cut cushioned shaped principal diamond within a surround of smaller cushion shaped diamonds. It was sold at Toovey’s for £10,000.

A delicate, gold, diamond and ruby brooch, circa 1900, designed as a basket of flowers, with variously cut vari-coloured diamond flowers

Today there is also an interest in older antique styles like the delicate, gold, diamond and ruby brooch illustrated. The brooch dates from the late 19th century. Designed as a flower filled basket it is set with variously cut, vari-coloured diamond flowers and a band of calibre cut rubies. Just over 2 inches wide it made £3000 at Toovey’s.

The late Victorian period was characterized by fashionable women reacting against the technical progress in the mechanised production of jewellery for the masses, and the excess decoration of high Victorian designs. Their tastes favoured delicate jewels with understated fine gems and diamonds. Naturalistic designs like this remained popular from the 1840s onwards. Bees, insects and flowers were popular motifs.

In contrast to the earlier corsets and crinolines from the 1890s women’s fashion sought to enhance rather than alter the wearer’s figure employing softer materials. As a consequence brooches, like the flower filled basket, became smaller and lighter.

As these two contrasting pieces demonstrate it is not always just the stones that make a piece valuable. The setting, date and design can be as important. Provenance too influences price. If a jewel has been owned by a respected collector or celebrity it will often add value.

Jewellery at its best adds to the beauty of the wearer and speaks across generations of love and precious moments in our human lives. The appeal of jewellery is timeless.

Amber: Liquid Gold

0641 - Amber Beads at Auction
A single row necklace of amber beads. Sold for £7,000

As documented in our previous blog posts on amber, the market for amber is undeniably incredibly buoyant.

Among the offering of amber beads in Toovey’s February auction was a single row necklace of nineteen large and thirty small vari-coloured oval and spherical butterscotch coloured opaque amber beads (gross weight approx 175.5g, total length approx 88cm). This necklace (illustrated right) sold under the gavel for £7,000. The prices for this fossil tree resin which starts out in a liquid form are about twice the current price for gold per gram for the right example.

The February auction included a number of other examples, a selection of which can be seen below.

Toovey’s jewellery auction on the 26th March 2014 includes another good selection of amber.

Green Light for Amber Beads at Auction!

Detail of Amber Beads sold at Tooveys
Detail of Amber Beads sold at Toovey's in January

Further to our blog post ‘Amber Beads in Fashion at Toovey’s‘ and Rupert Toovey’s article in the West Sussex Gazette ‘Prehistoric Treasure in Demand Today‘. We wanted to share some of the prices achieved for amber beads in our January auction on the 29th January. Highest price was £10,000 for a single row necklace of thirty-eight slightly graduated oval vari-coloured opaque and semi-translucent butterscotch coloured amber beads, total weight approx 255g, total length approx 110cm, length of smallest bead approx 2cm, length of largest bead approx 2.7cm.

More amber beads are consigned in our Specialist Sale of Jewellery on 26th February 2014. See lot numbers 640-664. If you would like your amber beads valued for possible inclusion into a forthcoming auction please contact our offices, pre-sale valuations are free of charge at our Spring Gardens salerooms.

Amber: Prehistoric Treasure in Demand Today

Amber – prehistoric treasure in demand today
Amber – prehistoric treasure in demand today
A necklace of forty-nine butterscotch amber beads, sold at auction for £11,000
A necklace of thirty-eight butterscotch amber beads, sold at auction for £10,000
A necklace of forty-seven brown and butterscotch amber beads with tassel pendant, sold at auction for £3,800

When collectors from China, India and the Middle East simultaneously decide to pursue the same collectors’ items, the effect on prices can be sudden and dramatic! In recent times the market for amber beads has been transformed with many thousands of pounds now being paid for the most sought-after examples.

Since the Neolithic period amber has been celebrated for its colour, beauty and supposed healing properties. In classical times, the Greeks called amber ‘electron’. According to myth, after the death of Phaethon, the son of Helios (the Sun), his sisters wept for him unceasingly and were changed into poplars. These trees continued to ooze tears, which were hardened by Helios into amber. This classical articulation of the origin of amber is not so far removed from our own understanding of amber as fossilised tree resin.

This sticky resin often captured insects and plant material, which can be seen in some examples of amber. The image of trapped insects in clear, golden amber found a place in contemporary culture at the heart of Michael Crichton’s novel ‘Jurassic Park’ and the subsequent film of the same title. Film fans amongst you will remember that in this story DNA extracted from the blood of a prehistoric mosquito preserved in amber was used to recreate dinosaurs.

Examples of amber with insect and plant inclusions were highly prized by Victorian collectors and aesthetes and until quite recently this transparent amber remained the most sought-after. But a recent change in fashion has resulted in another type of amber realising astonishing prices. It is less translucent with an almost milky quality to its appearance. ‘Butterscotch’ amber, as it is known, and its variants became fashionable in modern times during the 1920s. Interest has ebbed and flowed over the ensuing decades. Today this specific type of amber has captured the eye of collectors from the emerging economies of China, India and the Middle East, creating demand on a scale which was unimaginable only a short time ago.

This extraordinary change in the market has brought a good number of old amber necklaces to auction. Take, for example, the necklace arranged in the photograph as a heart. Comprising forty-nine mottled yellow butterscotch amber beads, weighing 278g and measuring 136cm in length, it sold in Toovey’s New Year’s Eve auction for £11,000 with competition from across the Near and Far East. The thirty-eight bead necklace illustrated, weight 255g, length 110cm, featured vari-coloured opaque and semi-translucent butterscotch amber beads and realised £10,000 in our January specialist jewellery sale a fortnight ago. The necklace of forty-seven brown and butterscotch amber beads, which realised £3,800 in November last year, was a favourite of mine. The beads had a flame-like quality to their appearance and were complimented by the charming tassel drop, finished with smaller beads.

Differences in prices paid for amber necklaces are largely attributable to the colour, number and size of the beads. They are not all as expensive to buy as these three; a reasonable example can still be found at auction for about £700. These days, though, you are as likely to find yourself up against a bidder from Mumbai or Beijing as you are against a bidder from London or the home counties. With global internet marketing providing a truly international shop window, these pieces are only a mouse-click away for specialist buyers across the globe and many in the emerging economies have deep pockets indeed at present. Another group of amber necklaces will be offered in our next specialist jewellery auction on Wednesday 26th February 2014.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 12th February 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.