The French Revolution was a movement that shook France from 1787 till 1799. In this week's blog post we're going to be taking a look at some of the revolutionary jewelry that came out of this time of political turmoil and national upheaval.

The two portraits stamped on the hoop of this silver ring commemorate the revolutionaries Jean-Paul Marat (1743–93) and Louis-Michel Lepeletier de St Fargeau (1760–93). © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The French Revolution - Some Historical Context

For those of you in need of a refresher, the first thing to know is that before the revolution France was divided into three 'estates', also known as Estates-General or États-Généraux. The First Estate was the clergy (the country's ordained religious ministers), the Second Estate was the nobility, and the Third Estate consisted of the great majority of the people, the 'commoners'.

Pre-revolution Rings with the Etats de Bretagne (the sovereign court of the Duchy of Brittany) of 1788. 'TRIPLICI FOEDERE TUTA' translated from the Latin means, 'protected by a triple bond'.

Fabian De Montjoye

There were many tensions in France at the time, all of which surely played their part in the revolution. Firstly, opposition to the feudal system was mounting. Merchants, manufacturers, and professionals who were prospering were becoming a wealthy elite, or 'bourgeoisie', with political aspirations. In addition, the living and education standards of the peasant class were improving, and many of them now owned land, wanting to get rid of feudalism to ensure their full rights as landowners and increase their holdings.

Secondly, with 26 million inhabitants in 1789, France had become the most populated country in Europe. Greater demand for food and resources caused an economic crisis that started many small revolts and put great pressure on social reform.

Thirdly, 'the Philosophes', - literary men, scientists, and thinkers with great influence over the French people via press like pamphlets and newspapers - were calling for reform.

Dieppe Ivory depicting the graves of Voltaire and Rousseau - key thinkers of the Enlightenment, with their works being heavily drawn upon by French revolutionaries. Both writers emphasized the importance of reason, with Rousseau adding the need for emotion and passion as well as reason to effectively fight injustice - an ideology that reigned during the French Revolution

Fabian De Montjoye

The first 'wave' of the revolution took place when the controller general of finances tried to increase taxes on the privileged classes. The privileged classes resisted - strongly. Unrest followed amongst the common people in the cities and towns, forcing the king to yield and promise a meeting of the Estates-General to resolve the matter. The meeting was a disaster. The Third Estate - the common people - outweighed the rest greatly in numbers. Arguments broke out, groups of people were locked out, troops were gathered to disperse the meeting, and rumors spread of an “aristocratic conspiracy” by the king to overthrow the Third Estate of the common people. This led to the Great Fear of July 1789; peasants rose up against their lords, and a Parisian crowd seized the Bastille.

Soon after this, the National Constituent Assembly decreed the abolition of the feudal regime, introducing the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, proclaiming liberty, equality, the inviolability of property, and the right to resist oppression. The Estates-General (and the 'ancien régime' it signified) were dissolved and replaced by a system of French départements, districts, cantons, and communes. This, however, was not enough for the revolutionaries.

Wanting to spread revolutionary principles beyond France, with the king hoping to either strengthen his authority or be rescued by backing them, France declared war against Austria in 1792. Prussia soon joined the war and France faced defeats. With an Austro-Prussian army headed for Paris, many believed the Austrian-born queen, Marie-Antoinette, had betrayed them. The people of Paris revolted, occupying Tuileries Palace, and imprisoning the royal family. Meanwhile, the nationalism that the revolution had awoken led to a bolstering of the French army that stopped the Prussians, showing France the strength of its people. On the same day, the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the republic was declared. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were executed in 1793.

No more jewels

In a time of such economic crisis and political upheaval, wearing jewelry - particularly anything made with precious gems - associated you with the monarchy and aristocracy, placing you on the 'wrong' side of the revolution. During the 'September massacres' and the 'reign of terror' - in which a group of presiding radicals arrested and executed 17,000 people without trial - wearing expensive jewelry was enough to lose your head. Therefore the jewelry that was worn at the time mostly consisted of revolutionary jewelry, plain and made from metal, with revolutionary symbols or commemorative themes.

French rococo ring in 18K yellow gold with a double portrait in profile of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette engraved in an agate cameo. Edged with 46 rose-cut diamonds and eight rubies. Jewels like these were given to the king and queen's friends, political and diplomatic allies, and courtiers. This would have identified you immediately as a royalist and member of the nobility. Via Antique Jewel

'1793: it is the 'Terror'. The jewelers do not have any more work, the nobility is decimated by the guillotine and nobody dares to wear any more jewels, apart from some revolutionary jewels of the Phrygian bonnet genre, triangles, cockades, and even guillotines in earrings.'

This particularly grizzly pair of guillotine earrings commemorates the execution of Louis XVI during France’s Reign of Terror. From each guillotine hangs a monarch's head, c.1793. Via Cult of Weird - Curiosities

A silver, oval-shaped revolutionary signet/seal ring engraved with a lictor's bundle (a bundle of wooden rods with an axe emerging, symbolizing the power to carry out capital punishment) under a Phrygian cap (symbolizing liberty) and the initials AP, with the motto "French Republican". Via Coutaubegarie

French Rings depicting Louis XVII in prison

Fabian De Montjoye

Rare ring depicting Marie Antoinette in The Conciergerie (where she was imprisoned after August 1793)

Fabian De Montjoye

French Revolutionary Rings. The ring in the bottom left reads: VIVRE LIBRE OU MOURIR and LA NATION, LA LOI, LEROI, meaning 'live free or die' and 'the nation, the law, the king' From La Bague en France by Maximin Deloche

Two Revolutionary Rings c.1789. Left: features a birdcage motif and the inscription 'sacre a la liberte' meaning 'sacred freedom'. The inscription on the underside 'Bastile' is proof of provenance. According to Deloche, the chief demolisher of the Bastile - Palloy - converted the debris of the prison into souvenirs like this ring. They were known as 'rocamboles' or 'a la constitution'. Right: a personification of freedom appears both on this ring and on a medal dated 1792, said to be an official municipal and state seal, meaning they might have the same source. From Koch page 319, item 164 and 1063

The Martyrs

In the revolutionary jewelry that was worn, many pieces depict people known as the 'martyrs' of the revolution - influential revolutionaries who died for the cause. The martyrs most commonly depicted include Marat, Le Pelletier, Chalier, Joseph Barra, and Joseph Viala. The most popular items of revolutionary jewelry were medallions and rings.

Jean-Paul Marat (1743 - 1793) was a journalist and politician during the French Revolution, known for his steadfast revolutionary ideals and his fierce advocacy for the rights of the poorest members of society. He was assassinated by Charlotte Corday, thought to be a Girondin sympathizer (revolutionaries who did not support the radicalism and mass killings - especially that of the monarchs - executed by the Montagnards, the faction who ruled during the reign of terror and who 'purged' the Girondin's after taking power). She held Marat personally responsible for the September Massacres and the fall of the Girondins.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

It's also worth noting that there were many who supported Charlotte Corday's actions, holding her up as a savior who rid the nation of Marat the monster. In the months following her execution images appeared in the moderate press of her, stressing her beauty, virtue, and stoicism. Marat's supporters tried to squash this narrative of Corday as a kind of French heroine, but it was a hard one to suppress given the way that Corday had set about constructing her own legend during her trial and imprisonment.

© University College London

Louis-Michel Le Pelletier (1760-1793) was a politician during the French Revolution. As deputy to the Second Estate - the nobility - his views were initially aligned with his class. This soon changed. As part of the Constituent Assembly, his decision to abolish the death penalty, the galleys, and branding, and replace hanging with beheading, made him president of the Assembly in 1790. In 1793, he supported the trial of Louis XVI, and was one of the deciding votes in his execution. That evening, Le Peletier was assassinated by Philippe Nicolas Marie de Pâris, one of the king's guard. The Convention held a magnificent funeral for Le Pelletier.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Joseph Chalier (1747 – 1793) was a French revolutionist and the leader of the Jacobins of Lyon (anti-royalist republicans). Chalier led the Jacobins to arrest a great number of Royalists in February 1793, following the king's execution in January. He faced down the National Guard and demanded that the Convention create a revolutionary tribunal and a revolutionary army. The Convention refused, Chalier's party rose up, and Chalier was eventually arrested and sentenced to death. He was guillotined the next day. During the reign of terror, he was held up as a martyr of liberty, who died for his convictions.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Joseph Barra (1779-1793) was a drummer boy who served in the French Revolutionary Army. At the age of fourteen (too young to officially join the army), he found himself surrounded by counter-revolutionaries. He refused to surrender to the Royalists and was bayoneted. He was seen as having denied the Ancien Régime at the cost of death and became an icon of revolutionary propaganda. Songs and paintings were dedicated to him, and he is frequently depicted as one of the martyrs of the revolution.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Joseph Viala (1780-1793) was similarly a child hero in the French Revolutionary Army. He was shot as he was trying to cut the ropes of a pontoon to protect some troops from attacking royalists. According to various accounts, the 12-year-old Viala had grabbed a hatchet, launched himself at the ropes, and started cutting before he was shot.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Left: Popular print of individual woodcut portraits of the 'martyrs of the French Revolution'. Right: Cast oval silver medal with suspension loop featuring the 'heroes' that died for liberty during the French Revolution: Marat, Le Pelletier, Chalier, Barra, and Viala. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Medallion with the effigy of Le Peletier, Marat, Chalier, and Barra. Enamel, wood, and copper.

Carnavalet Museum, History of Paris

Bronze medal with the portraits of three martyrs of Liberty: M. Pelletier, J.P. Marat, J. Chalier, arranged on a background of laurel branches. On the reverse is inscribed: "In memory / of the glorious fight / of the French people / against Tyranny / Aux Tuileries / The town / of Paris".

©Department of Isère - Museum of the French Revolution

A mourning ring made to commemorate the deaths of Jean-Paul Marat and Louis-Michel Le Peletier. 10k gold profile portraits affixed to a wide silver band that proclaims their martyrdom to the cause of liberty. Via @ericaweiner on Instagram

Revolutionary finger ring in silver with gold applied low-relief portraits and an inscription: MARAT ET LEPELTIER MARTIRS DE LA LIBERTE EN 1793. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Rare THREE Revolutionaries ring, depicting the deaths of Marat (left), Chalier (center), and Le Pelletier (right) above the name Chalier or CHALIRE. The ring is inscribed: LE PELLETIR MARTIR DE LA LIBERTE and MARAT MARTIR DE LA LIBERTE

Antique Animal Jewelry

Another important figure from the revolution is Maximilien Robespierre (1754-1794), a French lawyer, statesman, and radical Jacobin revolutionary. He was known for campaigning fervently for universal manhood suffrage, the abolition of celibacy for the clergy, and the abolition of slavery. He made himself an outspoken advocate for citizens without a political voice and later became instrumental in the downfall of the French monarchy. Robespierre is perhaps best known for personally signing 542 arrests as part of the Committee of Public Safety, and for supposedly being involved in passing the law that allowed the number of executions to rise dramatically, alienating many. His obsession with having an ideal republic at any human cost eventually turned both members of the Convention and the French public against him. He became a very divisive figure, some choosing to remember him as the Revolution's principal ideologist, while to others, he was the incarnation of the 'Terror' that gripped France.

Charlotte Robespierre's oval mourning medallion containing a lock of Maximilien Robespierre's hair, made after 1794. Carnavalet Museum, History of Paris

French Rings Of Robespierre and Saint-Just

Fabian De Montjoye

Symbols in Revolutionary Jewelry

Liberté & Égalité - Liberty and Equality

The national motto of France - Liberté, égalité, fraternité - was first expressed during the French Revolution by Maximilien Robespierre who, in a speech on the organization of the National Guard, expressed that he would like the uniform of the National Guard to be inscribed with the phrase. During the revolution, it was only one slogan among many others, but the symbols of liberty and equality appeared on many depictions of events both during and after the revolution.

This blue jasper medallion allegorically depicts the French Revolution in white relief. France is shown with a staff surmounted by the Phrygian cap of revolution and is greeted by Athene the goddess of wisdom. On the alter between them stands Public Faith, holding a sheaf of corn in one hand and a cornucopia in the other. The medallion is decorated with a white floral border. Via The Wedgwood Museum

A jasperware medallion with a white relief depicting Liberty holding a pole, on which is a cap of liberty. She shakes hands with France, who wears a helmet and holds an oval shield decorated with fleurs-de-lis. Between them is an altar on which stands a figure of Public Faith holding a sheaf of corn in one hand and a cornucopia in the other. © The Trustees of the British Museum

A tortoiseshell box decorated on the lid with a miniature: under a winged depiction of victory, Truth/Liberty with a Phrygian cap on her staff gives the hand of France to the allegory of an unidentified City seated on the throne. Beside the latter is a sleeping lion. Tyrannical powers flee in the background or lie inert, c.1794-5. © Le Département de l’Isère - Musée de la Révolution Française

The Phrygian Cap

Red Phrygian caps or ‘liberty’ caps, as they were sometimes known, were soft conical hats with the top curled forward. They have a long history of association with liberty, and during the French revolution, they eventually came to symbolize allegiance to the republican cause. In ancient Rome, freed slaves wore a hat of a similar style called the pileus, to indicate their liberty, which many in Europe believed to be the same thing as a Phrygian cap. They were also worn when the people of Brittany rose against the taxation policies of Louis XIV in 1675, to declare rebel support, and were used as a visual symbol of freedom during the American revolution.

Two French revolutionary posters. Left: translated, the poster reads 'unity - indivisibility - of the French Republic - live free or die. Right: translated, the poster reads 'unity / indivisi / bility of / the Repub / Lic - Liberty / Equality / Brother / hood or death'. Both posters feature the Phrygian cap of liberty, a wreath, the tricolor flag, and on one of the posters, a pair of scales for equality.

A watch hook in the shape of a cannon barrel, surrounded by laurel branches and surmounted by Phrygian caps; the hooks themselves are snakes. Carnavalet Museum, History of Paris

Monogram “RF” (French Republic) surmounted by a Phrygian cap, symbol of the French revolution. Via Keos

Gold and hardstone intaglio ring depicting a bust facing left wearing a Phrygian cap, the inner band inscribed Jean-Paul Marat, Assasine 13 Juillet 1793. Via Bonhams

A revolutionary silver signet/seal ring with a depiction of a Phrygian cap and on which is engraved the words: COMMUNE DE PARIS and LIBERTE 14 JET 1789 EGALITE 10 AOUST 1792, commemorating the taking of the Bastille and the liberation of the prisoners in 1789, as well as the massacre of the Swiss guard on 10th August 1792. - from La Bague en France by Maximin Deloche

Tricolore Flags & Cockades

The French tricolor cockade was a symbol that was created at the beginning of the French Revolution. Initial plans for a green symbol of revolution to rally the Parisian crowd behind were quickly superseded by the two-color cockade that was worn by the newly established citizen militia. The colors were blue and red, in the ancient colors of Paris.

In 1789 when King Louis XVI went to Paris to meet the new French National Guard, its members wore the blue and red cockade of the militia, to which it would appear that Lafayette (the commander of the Guard) had added a white band representing loyalty to the Sovereign. This was the day that Louis XVI appointed the revolutionary Jean Sylvain Bailly as mayor of Paris and many members of the nobility supportive of absolute monarchy fled the country.

They were often made by circularly pleating a blue, white, and red ribbon together.

Button, France, end of the 18th century (Révolution Française). Metal, enamel, paint. With the words 'Liberte' and 'Egalite' - Liberty and Equality - and a Phrygian Cap painted above a tricolor flag

Via Pinterest

Tricolore cocarde or tricolor cockade via Pinterest

A ring featuring the symbols of the French Revolution: Tricolour Flags and a Phrygian cap, and the Triangle for equality, after 1879 - Koch page 319 item 1065


On the eve of the French Revolution, Jacques-Louis David - a revolutionary French artist known for joining an extremist Jacobin group led by Maximilien Robespierre - painted The Lictors Bringing to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons. The painting was exhibited shortly after the fall of the Bastille in 1789, and depicted the patriotic Roman consul, Brutus, receiving the dead bodies of his sons, who he had condemned to death as traitors. Brutus -Lucius Junius Brutus in full - was the man who put an end to the brutal regime of Tarquin, Rome's last king, and established the first Roman Republic. True to his political convictions, he sacrificed even his sons, who he found had been embroiled in a royalist conspiracy, to the cause of founding the Republic. Brutus was therefore an important figure of political conviction during the French revolution in the people's quest to found the French Republic.

French revolutionary agate intaglio ring dating to c.1790. Via Ruby Lane

Intaglio swivel ring made of onyx depicting the head of Lucius Junius Brutus with a dagger beneath; set in gold, 18th century. Paris presented this to the National Convention in 1792. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The jewelry that was made during the French Revolution is a far cry from the Roccoco splendor of King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette's jewelry. They are simple and plain; commemorative and symbolic rather than attention-grabbing and highly decorative, holding a vast amount of meaning in each piece. As jewelry, they were more than just an accessory, they were a form of political allegiance and motivation, a way of declaring one's ideals and hopes for France, and are the perfect example of how even the simplest pieces of antique jewelry can tell a story so much bigger than itself.

For more rare Georgian and Victorian jewelry, follow Antique Animal Jewelry on Instagram.


Our first blog post of the new year is all about silver - that rare, soft, and shiny element that has been prized for so many millennia. Already in this first week of 2021, it's clear that silver has lost none of its perpetual desirability, as it's looking like the next big opportunity for investment with global supply on the rise and new demand from clean energy sectors. This seems like the perfect excuse to delve back in time and look at its historical popularity, especially in Europe during the Georgian and Victorian eras.

Floral brooch, crystals set in silver, west Europe, late 18th century © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Silver's importance as a material throughout history is unparalleled: it has swayed wars, birthed economies and empires, and triggered many advances in technology, mining, and metallurgy. From as long ago as 3000 B.C, ancient civilizations have been enamored with the material, heating silver ore and blowing air over it to refine it - a process that separated the silver from any lead or copper. An element formed in the explosion of a small star, or supernova, before falling to earth to shine on in the form of silver - it's no wonder this rare material has thrilled so many for so long.

During the Georgian era, when new sources of silver were found in silver-rich South America, the production of silver jewelry flourished. Silver was the most popular type of metal for making jewelry in Europe at the time and has remained one of our most prized jewelry making materials to this day. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, while silver mining was in full force and stores were still relatively plentiful, some people chose to store their wealth in the form of silverware. If needed, silver items could be melted down and reworked, or even made into coins.

That said, silver is far too soft to use in jewelry in its purest form and doesn't keep its shape well. As we still do today, the Georgians and Victorians used 'sterling' silver, which is 92.5% silver - the other 7.5% being made up of other materials that helped to strengthen it and slow tarnishing, like copper. Nowadays we use numbers like '800' (meaning 800/1000 or 80%) or '925' (sterling silver) to talk about the purity, or standard, of silver.

Sterling silver in the 18th and 19th centuries was certified in London and other British Assay Offices by stamping it with a 'Lion Passant' mark, a walking lion with the right forepaw raised. For a brief time, between 1696 and 1720, the purity of the silver used was elevated to 95.84% and pieces of this standard were marked with the "Britannia" mark instead of the 'Lion Passant', a female figure with a 'lion's head erased'. Different marks were used in different parts of Britain, such as the 'thistle' in Edinburgh and 'Lion Rampant' in Glasgow, or the 'Crowned Harp' in Dublin. Marks also differed throughout Europe.

Photos of standard marks via government Hallmarking Guidance Notes

Silver Settings

In the Georgian era and well into the Victorian era, silver was commonly used in jewelry to set diamonds, as well as other pale gems and pastes. As a backing, silver - which is the most reflective existing element (reflecting more than 95% of visible light) - lent a white-tinted brilliance to such clear gems, helping them shine even brighter.

Diamonds and other gems were often set in silver collets, while pastes were sometimes also lined with foils to add an extra or colored shine to them. Many earlier examples of silver-set Georgian jewelry hold pastes and opal imitations, while later pieces are mostly set with diamonds. Silver was also often backed with gold - so as not to tarnish onto the skin.

White gold had yet to be invented and platinum was not yet used for jewelry-making, so silver was the only available white metal at the time, and was therefore used widely. From brooches and rings to the crown jewels; diamonds and silver were a pairing in high demand amongst the fashionable and wealthy.

Pair of earrings, silver and gold, set with rose-cut diamonds, made in northeast Spain, about 1740.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Pair of earrings, pastes (glass) set in gilded silver, made in Western Europe, about 1760-70.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Brooch, silver set with paline and white pastes. Made in Western Europe, about 1760.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A Georgian necklace with a cross pendant, silver set with pastes. Antique Animal Jewelry

A French late 18th-century provincial silver heart-shaped pendant. The top is a trophy consisting of a quiver with two arrows and a hymeneal torch (named after the Greek goddess of marriage, Hymen). It is set with a central large flat cut foiled rose diamond with smaller rough-cut diamonds interspersed throughout the piece. Via The Antique Jewelry Company.

It is worth noting also that naturalism in jewelry became very fashionable in the 1800s. Flowers became very symbolically meaningful in jewelry towards the middle of the 19th century, and with empirical expansion and colonization taking place across Europe, a keen interest in botany and a love of nature became one of the most universal and respected sentiments amongst society.

Earlier pieces of naturalistic jewelry were likely influenced by the Romantic movement and the revived Rococo style, while later pieces became ever-more precise and elaborate. Common motifs included roses, lilies, chrysanthemums and fuchsias, the most fashionable flowers at the time. Larger floral pieces and tiaras worn for grand occasions were often made to be dismantled into smaller elements, such as brooches, for other occasions.

Floral brooch of rose- and brilliant-cut diamonds set in silver, made in Northern Europe, about 1780-1800.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Aigrette in the form of a ribbon-tied sheaf of wheat-ears. Silver and gold. Mixed closed and open-back, set with diamonds, made in England in the early 1800s. On close inspection, it appears each wheat-ear could be pulled out and individually slotted into a tiara. At Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1838, her attendants wore wreaths of silver corn-ears. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Part of a hair ornament, brilliant-cut diamonds open-set in silver, made in Western Europe, about 1820.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

You may recognize this - The Diamond Diadem - as Her Majesty The Queen's from postage stamps and coins. However, this feminine association conceals its true origin. It was originally made for George IV's extravagant coronation in 1821. On that occasion, he wore it over a large velvet 'Spanish' hat. Openwork silver frame lined with gold and set transparent with diamonds and pearls. The front cross is set with a pale yellow brilliant, and four sprays representing the national emblems of the United Kingdom.

© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

Floral tiaras are very rare as they are usually broken down into separate sprays and sold as brooches. This tiara is formed of seven floral sprays and has been worn as a necklace at some time in the past. Wreath of brilliant-cut diamond flowers and foliage set in silver, with ruby stamens set in gold, in a gold frame. Made in Western Europe, about 1830-40.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Tiara in the form of a wreath, brilliant and rose-cut diamonds with pearls set in silver, backed in gold. The basic structure is a wreath of Neoclassical design. Made in England, about 1850.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Silver Filigree

Filigree was a popular decorative technique throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly in Germany, the Nordic countries, and Switzerland. The fashion also became popular in Venice and countries neighboring Italy. Characterized by swirling or curling patterns and natural, floral elements, filigree is a simple technique that takes advantage of the softness and malleability of silver, twisting it into delicate, and often elaborate, designs.

Stylized silver filigree cross (Ulrichskreuz) with the letters SV on each side, South Germany, 18th century.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This silver filigree cross, with its flamboyant twisting leaves, is typical of the kind made in Venice. The raised compartment in the center opens with a hinge and would originally have contained a relic or something else of religious value. Probably made in Venice (Italy), about 1750-1800. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A two-tier necklace consisting of nine red pastes alternating with six silver filigree plaques. This delicate necklace is typical of those worn in Bavaria in southern Germany and is particularly associated with the city of Nuremberg. Made about 1780-1840. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Choker necklace, consisting of five graduated chains of flat oval filigree links joined by plain loops. Choker necklaces were originally worn, in both Austria and Switzerland, to hide the signs of goitre, a disfiguring disease caused by lack of iodine, which was endemic in the high Alps. Made in St Gall and Thurgau (Switzerland), about 1800. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Horizontal oval silver filigree brooch in a stylized floral pattern. Made in Germany, 1750-1850.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Part of a set of silver filigree traditional jewelry from Föhr (North Germany), made about 1850.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Silver openwork, Links & Elements

Because of its malleability, silver was often favored as a material for making elaborate frameworks to show off other gems or as a linking metal or fine detail material in jewelry. Though there are plenty of Georgian and Victorian pieces that were purely made of silver, it was more common to use silver as one of several materials in one of these mentioned ways. Quite a few pieces of silver jewelry bear frames made using a technique called 'openwork'. This is a kind of jewelry with holes or gaps in it to let light through the object. Techniques for making these holes or gaps included piercing, saw cutting, or intricate wirework.

Necklace, gilded openwork designs under glass, with borders of marcasites (faceted crystals of iron pyrites) set in silver, probably made in France, about 1780-1800 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Pendant, hardstone cameo of a classical male head surrounded by marcasites set in silver openwork and hung with pearls. With a locket fitting at the back, possibly made in Switzerland, about 1810-20.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Pendant cross of silver tracery (Croix de Saint-Lô) set with rock crystals, made in Normandy (France), about 1809-1819. Crosses are the most distinctive element in French traditional jewelry. Every French woman had one. They usually wore them as a choker around the neck on a black velvet ribbon.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Three-part openwork silver pendant set with rose-cut diamonds in cut-down settings. The lower part is heart-shaped, with a honey-colored diamond in a raised conical setting on a gilt base. This Belgian piece is similar to traditional openwork jewelry from Normandy and the Catholic parts of the southern Netherlands from this time. Made about 1814-1832. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Cast and chased oxidized silver brooch of octagonal form, the openwork border set with eight square-cut garnets, with a grotesque mask surrounded by foliage in the center. Made in Vienna, about 1870.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Bracelet of five rectangular panels in gold and silver, openwork and pierced, decorated with black enamel threads and set with old-cut diamonds and fine pearls, made in France, about 1870. Via the Museum of Fine Arts of the City of Paris

Openwork oxidized silver bracelet with 18 applied gold lions' masks and borders of gilded beads on both edges. Made in Vienna, about 1875-1890. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Austro Hungarian silver and enamel bracelet

Antique Animal Jewelry

Sheets of Silver

Before 1750 and the invention of the rolling mill, sheets of silver would have been made by apprentices, who were tasked with the arduous job of hand-hammering silver down into sheets of the desired thickness for jewelry-making. The invention of the rolling mill, however, cut-out the need for this labor-intensive process. This paved the way for mass-production in jewelry lines, meaning that silver jewelry produced this way could be sold for lower prices and pieces could be produced much more quickly.

Die striking was a technique in silverwork that began to be used for jewelry-making in 1777, involving stamping and cutting sheets of the precious metal using dies, presses, or drop hammers. Other pieces of jewelry made from sheet silver were engraved. Many rings and cuffs, bangles, or bracelets were made this way in the 19th century.

Stamped sheet silver ring set with a faceted red paste, made in Skåne (Sweden), 1800-1840. These rings were generally given at marriage but were part of the dowry wealth, not true wedding rings.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Ring made from thin sheet silver with a stamped pattern. Made in Skåne (Sweden), about 1818-1854. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Silver German fox bracelet from Antique Animal Jewelry

Silver ring of sheet silver. There is a shield engraved on the bezel with a scroll decoration on either side. Made in Württemberg (Germany), 1850-1870. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Sterling silver Victorian ornate scrollwork cuff bangle/bracelet, made by H. Bros and assayed at Birmingham in 1885. Via Antiques Atlas

A Silver Victorian Bangle Bracelet – Engraved and Granulated

Via Lang Antiques - Antique Jewelry University

Silver Victorian Bangle Bracelet – Engraved and Granulated

Antique Animal Jewelry

Victorian silver bracelet with lock and key. Handcuff bracelets like this one were not uncommon, though they were more often made from gold. They were frequently presented by a gentleman and locked on the wrist of the recipient as a symbol of matrimonial bondage, in place of an engagement ring. They were not only worn by engaged women though, and were favored by many ladies of fashion in the Victorian era.

Antique Animal Jewelry

Albert Chains, Fobs & Other Tools

Albert chains were watch-chains usually made of silver or gold, worn by men in the 19th century and named after Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria. The Albert chain had a T-bar on one end that could be fitted into the buttonhole of a waistcoat. The other end of the chain had a clasp that could be used to attach a pocket watch. Some Albert chains had a second chain of equal length attached to the T-bar, which would hold the watch key, while others would have a second smaller chain attached to the T-bar that could be used to hang a fob, fraternity, lodge symbol, dog whistle, charm, or locket from.

Victorian silver single Albert chains holding decorative pieces on the shorter chain Antique Animal Jewelry

Silver and gold watch key which might have hung from a double Albert chain Antique Animal Jewelry

Two silver fobs which might have been hung from an Albert chain: Anti-Vivisection Society fob, and a fob inscribed 'Save Me: I Would Save You' depicting a dog in peril, so loyal that it would save you without question, but would you save the dog and its kind from torture?

Antique Animal Jewelry

Victorian silver items that may have hung from an Albert chain: two decorative anchors, a perpetual calendar fob, and a silver charm in the shape of a dog's head. Antique Animal Jewelry

A set of silver dog whistles that may have been hung from an Albert chain Antique Animal Jewelry

Silver propelling pencils in various animal and other shapes. It has been suggested that young women may have worn these in some fashion to balls and dances in order to mark down their partners for each dance. Such propelling pencils might have been worn on a necklace or bracelet, or on other occasions might have hung from a housekeeper's chatelaine (a decorative belt hook or clasp). Antique Animal Jewelry


There are many, many pieces of beautiful Georgian and Victorian silver jewelry featuring animals - particularly as the symbology of animals became hugely popular during this time - but animals were not only featured in silver jewelry, they were also made silver jewelry to wear themselves!

Antique Animal Jewelry: A silver cat collar with engravings, some of Antique Animal Jewelry's antique dog collars, and a modern silver Hermes cuff modeled on antique dog collars.

To wrap up, here are some more of Antique Animal Jewelry's silver pieces:

For more rare Georgian and Victorian jewelry, follow Antique Animal Jewelry on Instagram.

Believe it or not, back in the 1800s there was a kind of ring that doubled up as a diminutive firearm. Yes, that's right - a ring that was also a miniature gun. Known initially as Le Petit Protector - which was the first documented example of this kind of gun - a later, smaller ring known as 'La Femme Fatale' soon took over in popularity. This rare and unique little ring is the subject of this week's blog.

La Femme Fatale revolver ring c. 1830s. Via

Why would you have needed one?

Carrying a gun for personal protection was quite a popular fashion throughout Europe in the early 1800s. The derringer, the pen-gun, the cane gun, all these James Bond-esque contraptions, and more, were being sold in small shops across Europe and the US. In France, there were revolutions and wars, the reign of terror, and the conquests of an Emporer. In England, there were highwaymen and robbers, thieves, and disbanded soldiers. In Germany, there were wars and destitution, occupation, and rebellion. All had a reason to fear for their personal safety or to suspect their wallets, watches, or jewelry might be lifted from them in hard times; so carrying a small gun seemed a sensible fashion for any man. But, what about the women?

Well, that's where the miniature ring gun comes in. Produced in France in small quantities during the latter half of the 19th century, these rings were large enough to be worn on any finger and were often sold in small, oval-shaped jewelry boxes, suggesting that their target audience was predominantly women. While men carried larger guns in pockets and on belts, women wore these rings to protect themselves. While some believe they were mostly worn by prostitutes and spies - professions in which a woman was most likely to be attacked - there is ample evidence that they were popular among women in general, whether for making a journey alone or providing security while wearing expensive jewelry or carrying a heavy purse. Whatever the reason they were worn, the French company who sold them did, for a time, offer a matching set of 'his and hers'. These sets were dubbed 'Les Companions'.

‘Les Companions’ set with Le Petit Protector and Femme Fatal ring guns and ammunition. Note the difference in size. Via

How did it work?

Le Petit Protector and La Femme Fatal rings were both put together in similar ways. They usually consisted of a ring made from something like German Silver (a term for a kind of inexpensive 19th-century electroplating originating in Germany), mounted with a recoil plate, providing a base for a revolver-style cylinder full of brass pinfire rounds that could be fired while wearing the ring.

The revolver had to be manually rotated through each cylinder, and around the base of the cylinder, there were three attachments: the hammer, the cylinder release, and the trigger. In most cases, the ring would have been worn on the index finger, and the wearer would have fired the sideways-facing pinfire hammer using their thumb. To load, unload, or reload the gun, the user would have needed a small jeweler's screwdriver to separate the cylinder and ring base.

A finely crafted German silver ring revolver, the band engraved with herringbone borders and inscribed, 'Femme Fatale'. Top-mounted with a 7-shot cylinder, fold-down fire-blued trigger, and outer spring band. Contained with seven cartridges and a tiny screwdriver in a green velvet-lined ring case. Via, credited to Gregg Martin Auctions.

How Effective Was It?

Well, if you tried using one of these amazing little antiques now, the answer would probably be not so good. The ammunition costs a lot, since it's no longer produced, and the age and nature of the 19th-century metallurgy would probably make it into a bit of a liability.

Back in the 1800s, you would have had much less trouble firing one of these, however, given the size of the pinfire rounds, they would have produced something approximating the force of a modern BB gun or small pellet gun. While they may not have been 'guns' in the traditional sense of delivering a fatal wound, they would have likely created enough of a distraction to buy the wearer some time to get away, or if used at extremely close range could cause a decent amount of pain. If nothing else, they would have provided a perceived sense of security and would have gained you a fair bit of attention if you were caught wearing one at a dinner party or ball.

Antique six shot 2mm pinfire ladies’ ring gun, engraved 'LA FEMME FATALE'. Probably made in France or Belgium, c. 1860 - 1880. The balance of the parts are fire blued steel. The case interior bottom is French fit and lined in a dark blue velvet. Via Wayne Driskill Miniatures

Antique "LA FEMME FATALE" revolver ladies ring gun, comprised of silver and iron, displaying a leaf design and a blued inner band. Top-mounted with a six-shot cylinder 2mm pinfire. Preserved in its original blue velvet-lined, dark red leather-covered ring case marked "JOHN PINCHES LONDON", who was a notable silver dealer at the time. Via

Revolver ring gun dating from the third quarter of the 19th Century, France. Silver and iron, blued; the back marked 'LA FEMME FATALE' with a frame of leaves. Seven-shot, 2 mm cylinder, case lined with blue velvet, complete with a screwdriver and a second cylinder. Via Czerny's International Auction House


In the 1850s-70s in Belgium and Germany, some copycat versions of the original French pinfire rings were also made. These will often be marked ‘Five Aces’, ‘Imperial Protector’, or ‘Le Quartre Morts’.

Small revolver ring inscribed, 'The Five Aces', 5 shots 3mm. Via PROANTIC

Revolver ring inscribed, 'The Extra Ace', 6 shots in 4mm. Via PROANTIC

Why did they go out of fashion?

Realistically, they just didn't pack enough of a punch. Once rimfire pistols and small centerfire pocket pieces like the Browning FN were available, pistol rings just didn't compare. They remain, however, a wonderful antique curiosity, and an expression of fear accompanying revolution and war in France that made personal protection seem paramount.

To wrap up, here are some pieces from Antique Animal Jewelry with double uses or hidden contraptions:

For more rare Georgian and Victorian jewelry, follow Antique Animal Jewelry on Instagram.

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