Amber Beads in Fashion at Toovey’s

Detail of Amber Beads Sold Recently at Toovey's Auctions
Detail of Amber Beads Sold Recently at Toovey's Auctions

Amber is a fossil tree resin. It originates as a soft and sticky substance and, as such, sometimes includes animal and plant material or insects. Many people will remember amber as being the source of ‘Jurassic Park’ in Michael Crichton’s fictitious novel, with dinosaur DNA being extracted from the blood of a mosquito trapped in amber.

Since the neolithic period amber has been appreciated for its colour, beauty and supposed healing properties. It has always been seen as a status symbol since these prehistoric times. The transparent amber seen in the movie adaptation of Crichton’s novel is the image most people conjure into their mind when thinking of amber. Pieces containing insect inclusions were particularly prized among aesthetic Victorians. Historically, and up until quite recently, this type of amber was the most desirable.

A recent fashion change has lead to another type of amber realising astonishing prices. This amber is less translucent and almost milky in appearance. The ‘butterscotch’ coloured amber and variants of it were popular in the 1920s and have dipped in and out of fashion ever since. Today, this specific type has captured the eye of the emerging economies of China, India and the Middle East. With Toovey’s global internet marketing, these buyers are only a mouse click away. Over the last few months Toovey’s have had a good number of amber necklaces consigned to auction, many from a single private collector – a small selection is shown below. The highest price achieved to date was in Toovey’s end of year auction on the 31st December 2013. A single row necklace of forty-nine mottled yellow butterscotch coloured graduated amber beads, gross weight 278g, total length 136cm, achieved £11,000. Other examples can be seen by searching for ‘amber necklace’ in the archive on Toovey’s website. The price variations are largely attributable to the colour, number and size of the beads, as fashion reverts back to prehistoric times using amber as a symbol of status. Another group of amber bead necklaces will be offered in our specialist jewellery auction on the 29th January 2014.

Click on an image to enlarge.

The Revival of a Golden Age, Edwardian Jewellery

Pink Beryl Brooch sold at Toovey's
An Edwardian diamond and pink beryl pendant brooch, circa 1900

At the beginning of the 20th century, England had never been more prosperous. The English purchased more jewellery in the early years of this new century than in any other period in history.

The popularity of Art Nouveau and Revivalist jewellery continued in the spirit of the 1890s as people looked back to late 19th century tastes. The influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement was again felt as a demand for handcrafted jewels grew among this affluent society.

At its best, Edwardian jewellery interprets earlier styles with a lightness and delicacy of ornament and manufacture. The fashionable Edwardian lady wore her diamonds, pearls and precious gems with restraint, avoiding the Victorian tendency for ostentation. Restraint and exuberance marked out tastes in the light-hearted first decade of the century. Stones of intense, yet soft colours were favoured. Take, for example, the exquisite Edwardian jewel illustrated. This diamond and pink beryl pendant brooch, circa 1900, beautifully illustrates the appeal of an Edwardian Revivalist jewel. It measures 2cm x 1.7cm, this smaller size reflecting changes in women’s fashion. At the centre is the large pink beryl, claw-set in a surround of sixteen pinched collet-set, old-cut diamonds. The term ‘beryl’ covers a range of mineral-based stones, including emerald and aquamarine. The cut and setting of the diamonds also add to the air of restraint and softness of the piece. The pendant was owned by a continental lady, who had lived through the tumult of 20th century European history and had made her home in the heart of Sussex. At a recent specialist jewellery sale, its understated quality attracted the attention of contemporary connoisseurs of jewellery and it realised £15,500.

An Art Nouveau silver and enamelled bracelet by Charles Horner, Chester 1909

Less expensive examples from this period can still be found, like the Arts and Crafts-style bracelet in silver with blue/green enamelled rectangular and Celtic pierced-scroll panel links, also shown here. It was made in 1909 by Charles Horner, who manufactured this type of work in his Halifax factory in relatively large quantities, in response to fashion and demand. A bracelet like this would realise around £700 at auction today.

A gold, plique-à-jour enamel and rose diamond-set pendant in an Art Nouveau design

The gold, plique-à-jour enamel and rose diamond-set pendant illustrated is a delightful example of Art Nouveau design. It is decorated with the portrait of a maiden between two rose diamond-set flowerhead motifs above a cultured pearl drop. Plique-à-jour is a technique where enamel is applied to cells without backing; it gives the impression of miniature stained glass windows. The Art Nouveau seeks not to slavishly depict nature but rather to capture something of its essence. This appeal helped the pendant to realise £680 in spite of faults to the enamel.

All these pieces reflect the joy and light-heartedness of a new century, a punctuation mark in the procession of history before the tragedy of war and revolution broke upon Europe. The first decade of this new century was filled with expectation. The outbreak of the Great War in 1914 brought this extraordinary and particular period of patronage and manufacture to an abrupt close. Jewels were locked in security vaults or sold for survival.

Today this jewellery attracts attention and competition from across Britain and from around the world including the USA and, increasingly, China. Its quality of design, material and manufacture places it out of time and its continued appeal, it would seem, is as assured at the beginning of this new century as it was in the last.

Toovey’s specialist jewellery auctions can be viewed here.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 1st May 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Jewellery Collection to be Sold at Toovey’s

A diamond and pink beryl brooch
Lot 675

TOOVEY’S April auction this month includes an impressive collection of jewellery consigned for sale by a single local private vendor.

Lots 660-705 inclusive are all the property of a local lady collector and commences with a pair of brilliant cut diamond single stone earrings (Lot 660), each stone being approx 3cts. The pair or earrings carry a pre-sale estimate of £12,000-18,000. The collection continues with a £7,000-10,000 platinum and diamond single stone ring (Lot 661), the brilliant cut diamond measuring approx 2.80cts. Other highlights include a gold, emerald and diamond ring (Lot 665) estimated at £8,000-12,000 and two diamond bracelets (Lots 667 and 668) estimated at £4,000-6,000 and £3,000-5,000 respectively.

Lot 670 is another fine piece sure to attract attention, being a single row necklace of ninety graduated natural saltwater pearls on a diamond set clasp containing approx 2.50cts of diamonds, the principal diamond being approx 1.65ct of the total weight. The necklace is offered with The Gem and Pearl Laboratory pearl report (No. 07496, dated 6th April 2013) which states that the largest ‘pearl’ is 8.3-8.4mm in width, the smallest ‘pearl’ 2.6mm in width and the gross weight being approximately 20.25g. The necklace carries a pre-sale estimate of £5,000-8,000.  Another star of the collection is a diamond and pink beryl pendant brooch (Lot 675), circa 1900, with the large cushion shaped pink beryl in a surround of sixteen pinched collet set circular old cut diamonds with a similar set single stone suspension offered with an estimate of £10,000-15,000.

The collection is offered for sale on the afternoon of Wednesday 17th April, for viewing times and to view the entire collection please click here. We’re sure you’ll agree the sparkly array is enough to dispel any gloom caused from the occasional April shower!

Click on a thumbnail image for the full view and again for further magnification.