At times reserved only for the aristocracy and the clergy as a sacred gemstone, the emerald - the Jewel of Kings - is as green as they get. In fact, so perfectly deep and charming is the emerald's hue that it was proclaimed to have healing properties that could relieve stress and eye strain just from setting your gaze upon one. No wonder, then, that these greenest of green gems have been prized, carried, and flaunted in the form of jewelry for millennia across the world.


Gold ring, with a circular bezel set with emeralds in a cluster, with forked shoulders and each branch set with a leaf. Spain, c.1700-1800. - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London




A Brief History of Emeralds in Jewelry


Emeralds have been treasured and given a special place in stories and legends from the very beginning, with even the Holy Grail supposedly being carved from a large emerald - one that dropped from Satan's crown as he fell from Heaven and from grace.


The earliest ancient emeralds were mined in Egypt, in an area known to the Romans as 'Mons Smaragdus', meaning Emerald Mountain. These Egyptian mines were the most prolific source of emeralds for many centuries. It's believed that the ancient Egyptians may have been operating the mine as early as 330BC, but the main period of mining was under Roman rule around 30BC, and mining continued there well into the 15th and 16th centuries AD. The Romans were known for their love of gemstones, especially emeralds and pearls, and emeralds were also popular in classical Greece, often being associated with Venus, goddess of love and hope (Aphrodite in Greek Mythology).


Gold, emerald, amethyst, and pearl earrings, 1st-3rd century, Roman

From the Helen Tanzer collection, via Archaeological Museum



Gold and emerald necklace of 21 emerald beads in natural hexagonal crystalline form, alternating with flat quatre-foil gold links probably intended to evoke a stylized knot of Hercules. 2nd-3rd century, Roman. Emerald necklaces appear in portraits dated 2nd century and often would have been worn as part of an ensemble of necklaces, the others plainer to maximize the impact of the emeralds. Gold and emerald necklaces remained in fashion throughout the Empire from the 1st to the 4th centuries AD.

© The Trustees of the British Museum



A gold finger-ring with an angular and fluted hoop and an oval bezel set with an emerald engraved in intaglio with a fish; at the back of the ring is a second bezel engraved in intaglio with a bird upon a tree; inscribed. 3rd-4th century, Roman. - © The Trustees of the British Museum



To the ancient Egyptians, green was a sacred color that represented the fertility of the land of Egypt and therefore symbolized fertility and immortality. They were attributed talismanic properties, such as bringing prosperity, revealing the truth, protecting against evil, and even offering the ability to see the future when placed under the tongue. Shrouded as they were in legends of power, in early times only Pharaohs were allowed to wear emeralds, but soon this became anyone of high status. During Cleopatra's reign, she laid claim to all emerald mines in Egypt, decorating herself and her palace with emeralds and giving them as gifts to foreign dignitaries.


Egypt was the major source of emeralds until the discovery of better quality emeralds in even greater numbers in the New World, in present-day Colombia. With the Spanish conquest, there came a huge influx of emeralds into Europe. Initially, these were reserved for Spanish royalty, but soon all of the European courts were craving these deep green gems. From 1500 to 1700 Spanish jewelers often made lavish use of emeralds.


“Father Joseph de Acosta tells us that when he returned from America in 1587 there were on his ship ‘two chests of emeralds; every one weighing at the least foure arrobas” (that equals two chests of emeralds weighing around half a million carats or about 200 pounds)”

Interestingly, the emeralds in present-day Colombia were known about from legends and stories long before the conquistadors actually found the emerald mines. The Muzo Indians of Colombia had hidden them so well that it took the conquistadors nearly 20 years to find them. It's also believed that around the time of the Spanish conquest, the people of the Peruvian city of Manta were found to be worshipping an emerald the size of an ostrich egg, which they referred to as goddess 'Umina'. According to the goddess' 'priests', her followers could best worship 'the mother emerald' by bringing her 'daughters' (other, smaller emeralds) to her. When the Spaniards seized the town, they took with them the huge wealth of emeralds stored in the city, though they never found Umina, who had been well hidden.


A gold finger-ring with quatrefoil shoulders with projections to right and left and a large bezel with an emerald, the petals at the side elaborately chased with scrolls, once enameled. 16th century.

© The Trustees of the British Museum



A 16th-century large table-cut hexagonal emerald supposedly associated with Elizabeth I, set and backed in gold; in a later frame with white, black, blue, green, and red champlevé enamel cartouches with rosettes alternating with six table-cut diamonds. From a large red and blue enamel suspension loop and a small red enamel loop at the bottom is suspended a lozenge-shaped pendant set with four table-cut diamonds. Inscribed with a facsimile of Elizabeth I's signature, probably c.1860-70.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021



A gold and enamel brooch in the form of a salamander with splayed limbs, raised head, gaping mouth, and a tightly curled tail. The sinuous body is fashioned from ten cabochon emeralds from Columbia flanked by 30 tiny table-cut diamonds from either Burma or India. It is highly detailed, with little flecks of darker enamel representing teeth and scales on the underside if viewed very closely. Late 16th - early 17th century. - From the Cheapside Hoard, © Museum of London



An elaborate timepiece (probably Genevan) set into a single large Colombian emerald the size of an apple, of skillfully cut hexagonal form with a hinged lid, enameled in translucent green, c.1600-1610. Emerald is a hard and brittle gemstone, so cutting it without cracking the crystal was very difficult. According to scholars, there is nothing existing from this time to rival this piece, and it would have had to have belonged to someone of extraordinary wealth. Who that was, we don't know.

From the Cheapside Hoard, © Museum of London



The Helyar Jewel: An exceptionally fine memorial jewel for Charles I, whose portrait is concealed by a hinged cover in the floral enamel back. Gold pendant mounted with a cabochon emerald on the front and a pendant pearl. The back is painted in enamel with polychrome flowers, including tulips and forget-me-nots, arranged symmetrically around a central flower, on a white ground with black scrolls and black circles of diminishing size (a vestige of peapod ornament). England, c.1650-70.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Late 17th century Spanish diamond-set gold pendant with emerald drops

From @peterszuhay via Instagram



Iberian emerald jewelry c.1680-1700 from @peterszuhay, shared by @beneaththeloupe via Instagram



Pendant, the scrolling gold openwork is in the form of a bow surmounted by a crown. From the lower edge hangs a spreading triangular segment hung with an emerald drop. Spain, c.1680-1700.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London




Georgian-Era Emerald Jewelry


Enameled gold pendant set with Colombian emeralds and table-cut diamonds, made in Spain, c.1700-1715.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Portuguese c.1700 gold flower brooch set with emeralds and diamonds.

From @peterszuhay via Instagram



c.1740 Portuguese gold brooch of the bleeding heart, set with emeralds rubies and diamonds.

From @peterszuhay via Instagram



Two slides in the form of a bow with a pendant cross. Left: Slide and pendant with table-cut emeralds set in gold openwork. Spanish, probably Cordoba, c.1750. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Right: Necklace element or slide, gold set with emeralds, with filigree wire decoration and a small flower spray pendant engraved on the reverse. Spanish, 18th century. - © The Trustees of the British Museum.



Ornate Iberian bow baroque lavalier necklace in 18k yellow gold, typical of 18th century Spanish jewelry. The bow top and pear-shaped bottom can be worn individually.

From @21stfinds via Instagram.



Giardinetti rings, meaning 'little garden', were designed as a spray of flowers and became very popular in the second half of the 18th century. These Spanish examples from San Sebastian use only emeralds, since Spain had access to emeralds in abundance from their colonies.

( 1 | 2 ) - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London



For comparison, here is are some English giardinetti rings. Left: set with rose-cut diamonds, rubies, and emeralds in silver collets, c.1730-60. Right: a mourning ring set with rose-cut diamonds, rubies, emeralds and amethysts. England, c.1787, inscribed 'Cease thy tears, religion points on high/ CS ob.25 Jan 1787 aet 70/ IS ob. 18 Sep 1792 aet 72'. - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Beautiful Georgian component ring in the shape of a leaf featuring diamonds, emeralds, blue sapphires and rubies set in silver with a 9k gold band - From @colonialdame via Instagram.



A gold openwork pendant set with emeralds and a blue paste, the pin is a later addition, made in Spain, 18th century. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London



Two stunning emerald Iberian jewels, the jewel on the left is 18th century, the jewel on the right is early 19th century, and they are both featured together in the middle photo.

From @colonialdame via Instagram



Hair-pin ornament in the form of an open flower. Silver with a trembler center and closed-back. The petals are of emeralds, rubies, diamonds, sapphires, and topazes and the large central emerald is bordered with diamonds and sapphires. France, c.1770. - © The Trustees of the British Museum



18th-century gold ring with table-cut emeralds, Spain, c.1770.

From @peterszuhay via Instagram



A Georgian emerald and old-cut diamond cluster ring, 18-carat gold shank with scrolled split shoulders. The emerald in a cut-down pinched collet gold setting, the old-cut diamonds set in silver.

Antique Animal Jewelry


Georgian Colombian emerald five-stone ring mounted in 18ct yellow gold. English, c.1780. The emeralds are set in traditional closed-back rub-over settings and split gold shoulders.

From Flaxman Fine Jewellery



A Georgian emerald and diamond cluster ring, the oval faceted emerald cutdown and collet-set in yellow gold and surrounded by ten old-cut diamonds, all silver cutdown collet-set to a yellow gold closed-backed mount, to a tapered fluted shank with ornately scrolled pierced shoulders, c.1800.

From Bentley & Skinner



c.1800 gold and silver ring with diamonds and an emerald

From @peterszuhay via Instagram



A stunning early 19th century emerald key with chain and pendants

Antique Animal Jewelry



This necklace and earrings are part of a larger set or parure of jewelry believed to have been given to Stéphanie de Beauharnais by Napoleon Bonaparte and his consort Joséphine upon her arranged marriage to the heir of the Grand Duke of Baden in 1806. The necklace features faceted table-cut emeralds in borders of brilliant-cut diamonds with briolette emerald drops; open-set in gold and silver. Probably made by Nitot & Fils, jewelers to Napoleon, France, c.1806.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



A variegated gold ring, cast with rose gold and silver roses on a matted ground. The top set with large emerald, flanked by a foliate motif set with small diamonds. Memorial inscription engraved inside the hoop, 'Meinem lieben Sohn Albert zur Erinerung des 11t und 12t April 1835.' (My dear son Albert in memory of 11th and 12th April 1835), Gifted to Albert, Prince Consort, by his father in memory of his confirmation. - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021



Queen Victoria's very first ring, owned by her while still Princess. A very small, thin gold ring surmounted by a flower set with five emeralds around single ruby.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021




And a small selection of Antique Animal Jewelry's Victorian emerald pieces...


An antique early Victorian emerald and diamond anchor symbolizing Hope.

Antique Animal Jewelry



A Victorian 'HOPE' bracelet, the O and decorative touches picked out in emeralds, and an extremely rare Victorian 15 carat gold lizard/salamander bracelet, c.1860, which is set with diamonds and diamond-shaped emeralds along the spine. - Antique Animal Jewelry



Victorian diamond and emerald horseshoe ring. 18-carat gold.

Antique Animal Jewelry



A charming Victorian double stickpin with chain and hand holding a doublet emerald, modeled in 15-carat gold. - Antique Animal Jewelry




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

38 views

You may have seen our previous blogs on snakes and how to date your jewelry, but this week's blog offers a slightly different perspective in the meeting of the two subjects - providing a guide on how to date your antique snake jewelry according to how snake faces have changed from the early Georgian to the late Victorian period. There is also a section on spotting fakes and distinguishing between modern and antique snake jewelry.


c.1845, a gold, turquoise, ruby, and diamond necklace.

Understanding Jewellery by David Bennett & Daniela Mascetti




18th Century & Early 19th Century Snakes


Generally speaking, snakes mostly feature in Georgian jewelry as mourning pieces, especially in ouroboros form, as a symbol for the eternal soul. Early examples feature more classical depictions of snakes from mythology, while later Georgian era examples generally speaking were depicted in profile, with open mouths and etched detailing on the faces, often in gold.


An 18th-century agate cameo of Medusa in a gold frame with diamonds and emeralds. These snakes are classical snakes with forked tongues. - From Peter Szuhay via Instagram.



It's important to note that many Georgian snakes may not initially look like snakes to modern-day collectors. At that time, it was very unlikely that your average Georgian jeweler had seen an actual snake, so most depictions were derived from stories and mythology, including depictions of giant sea serpents and dragons, which is why some of the faces appear beaked. The Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London housed over a hundred rattlesnakes in 1828, and the first reptile house at the Zoological Gardens didn't open until June 1849.


#1 is a depiction of an Ouroboros from 1682, #3 is an illustration of a winged snake representing the world spirit from 1760, #4 is a depiction of the serpent Moses crucified also from 1760. All from Alchemy & Mysticism by Alexander Roob



18th-century antique French ouroboros earrings, the 18-carat gold embossed with scales, the eyes set with garnets - Antique Animal Jewelry



c.1795, bracelet with a miniature of Caroline Felicitas (1734-1810), Princess of Nassau-Usingen (great-grandmother of Queen Mary, wife of George V). The miniature is set in a gold bracelet with a blue enameled ouroboros frame. - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021



c.1800, Georgian ouroboros opening rings that reveal hidden messages or souvenirs like hair.

Antique Animal Jewelry



c.1800, a gold mourning brooch with a frame in the form of a serpent (ouroboros, though it's not quite devouring its tail here) set with seed pearls and a ruby enclosing a glass-fronted locket for hair, England, ca.1800. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London



c.1810, a gold and enamel mourning ring for Princess Amelia. The oval bezel is bordered by an ouroboros and enameled with a coronet and monogram 'A' with the words: 'REMEMBER ME'. The enameled white inscription around the ring reads: 'Princess. AMELIA. DIED. 2. NOV. 1810. AGED. 27.'

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021



c.1817, mourning ring mounted with a glazed oval miniature of Princess Charlotte (1796-1817) within a frame of a gold ouroboros with a diamond eye, the band enameled in black and white with a mourning inscription 'IN MEMORY OF PRINCESS CHARLOTTE 1817'. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021



19th-century Neoclassical cast rings that copy Roman snake rings.

Rings: Alice and Louis Koch Collection II by Anna Beatriz Chadour, page 578



c.1800-1830, a gold ring with a single serpent with three coils, the eyes set with rubies, England. Said to have been a favorite ring of King George IV who is perhaps wearing it in a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence in the Wallace Collection. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London




1810 - Black Enamel Crosshatching


Crosshatched black enamel scales on antique snakes were characteristic in ouroboros jewelry from 1810-15, with some later pieces inspired by this style dating up to around the 1840s and the beginning of the Victorian era.


c.1810, a Georgian ouroboros snake mourning ring. Inscribed 'Sarah Lane ob 27 Mar 1810 at 60'. The ouroboros is boldly crosshatched with black enamel inlay, and lies around a foiled and collet-set central garnet. - From Heart of Hearts Jewels



c.1811, a gold mourning ring enameled in black, white, red, and blue. The oval bezel with the Union flag is surrounded by a crosshatched ouroboros serpent. Inscribed behind 'Captn. James Newman Newman lost off the Haak in the Hero 74. Dec. 24, 1811, aged 46.', England.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



c.1813, a mourning ring for Princess Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick. The ring is gold, enameled in black, inscribed in gold letters, 'Died/ 23 March,/ 1813./ aged 76'. The bezel depicts a princely coronet above a monogram A in enamel, with a relief serpent border set with a small rose-cut diamond eye.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021



c.1827-30, a stunning gold swivel ouroboros memorial ring, the bezel containing miniature gold medallion under glass with relief head of Frederick Duke of York, framed by a black cross-hatched enamel ouroboros with a red enamel eye; shoulders with foliate ornament in relief. © The Trustees of the British Museum



c.1827, another crosshatched, ouroboros-framed depiction of Frederick Duke of York (George IV’s younger brother). This is a memorial piece following the death of the Duke in 1827, featuring an onyx cameo with the use of the Idar staining technique. - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021



c.1835, a Georgian ouroboros crosshatched enamel snake mourning pendant, shown here on a snake link chain, with enamel detailed central panel with urn design in gold and cream surrounded by a border of pearls. The back has a hair panel locket and inscription ‘Eliz Challen died 21 May 1835 aet 25’.

Antique Animal Jewelry



Dated c.1837 though the ring may have been made earlier and later inscribed. An antique ring with a black crosshatched enamel ouroboros snake, coiled around a landscape agate, with a patterned enamel band. The back inscription reads ‘ Thomas jones ob 11 October 1837’.

Antique Animal Jewelry



c.1843, ‘In memory of my dear mother born 21st june 1769, died Aug 16th 1843' - with her initials in diamonds AE beneath the crown and a wonderful pair of curling snakes in black crosshatched enamel. These are some fearsome-looking snakes depicted with sharp teeth detailed in open mouths and gem-set heads, bridging the transition from Georgian to Victorian snake jewelry.

Antique Animal Jewelry




Mid-19th Century/ The Victorian Era


With the dawn of the Victorian era comes quite a distinct change in the faces of antique snake jewelry. This is particularly thanks to the snake becoming a more romantic motif, symbolizing eternal love. On the announcement of Queen Victoria's engagement to Prince Albert in 1839, he presented her with an 18-carat gold serpent engagement ring, set with rubies for the eyes, diamonds for the mouth, and a large emerald at the center.


An imagined representation of Queen Victoria's engagement ring, via The History Press.



This new romantic association transformed the representation of snakes in jewelry, which were now usually depicted from above, often with closed mouths and wide-set eyes, and friendlier, sweeter, more romantic-looking features. They often also had heads encrusted in gems or set with one large stone.


c.1838 18-carat gold snake bracelet/cuff set with a trail of cabochon garnets and one diamond. With a secret locket compartment and the inscription- ‘Friedrich et Auguste Dobrity d: 7th October 1838’. The inscription and the romantic motifs suggest that it was a wedding bracelet.

Antique Animal Jewelry



c.1839, an elaborate gold bracelet set with a miniature of Queen Victoria, the strap engraved with arabesques, the serpentine mount set with diamonds and rubies, the reverse engraved with Queen Victoria's monogram and the date. Commissioned by Queen Victoria and given by her to Augusta, Duchess of Cambridge on her birthday, 25 July 1839.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021



c.1850-1900, gold ring ornamented with a single coiled serpent, set with a brilliant-cut diamond and cabochon rubies. - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London




1830s-40s - Snakes with Pendants


At this time, brooches frequently featured snakes twisted into elaborate shapes with a drop pendant hanging from their mouths or bodies, which is usually either commemorative or romantic.


c.1832, both given as gifts to Queen Victoria in 1832, the first a gold brooch commemorating the births of Princess Feodora Hohenlohe-Langenburg's eldest children - Charles and Ernest (later called Hermann) - with the initials C and E. - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021



c.1840, a gold brooch enameled in dark blue in the form of a coiled serpent, set with ruby head and eyes. Set with four large moonstones. Given by Princess Clementine to Queen Victoria 10th June 1840. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021



An early Victorian 18-carat gold crosshatched enamel snake brooch with cream enamel accents and a matching heart locket. Notice how the eyes are large and wide-set, almost googly, and paired with the beautiful enamel heart it becomes a very romantic and sweet motif. It is also depicted from above, with a closed mouth, creating a less threatening effect.

Antique Animal Jewelry



c.1840, the eyes here are not set so wide, but they are large and fitted into a pointed face in a way that looks very sweet. This is an unusual snake bracelet made from carved bog oak wood, and set with a hinge and paste pale blue stones for the pear drop and head, and clear pastes for the eyes.

Antique Animal Jewelry




1840s-60s


Snake Bracelets


Snake bracelets became particularly popular in the mid-1840s. These bracelets often feature a kind of gold scale-like linking for the body, or a scale-like meshwork, with gem-set heads that are usually mounted with one large stone or a cluster of gemstones. Queen Victoria wore a serpent bracelet to her First Council, to signify to all those attending that she had achieved the ‘wisdom of the serpent’ and was therefore ready to rule.


c.1840, a gold, enamel, and diamond snake bracelet with an ingeniously concealed clasp. The pear-shaped diamond suspended from its jaws is a later replacement, and would likely originally have been a larger, enameled, and gem-set drop. - Understanding Jewellery by David Bennett & Daniela Mascetti


c.1840, a snake bracelet made of braided hair, head & tail in gold with engraved floral decoration, the head set with garnets. - From Nathalie Pavula via Instagram.



Turquoise


Turquoise also became very fashionable in snake jewelry around this time, representing a promise of love. The Victorians were very keen on symbolism, and there were many variations on a similar turquoise-covered snake design for Victorian bracelets.


c.1840-1845 - several gold turquoise-set bracelets. Top left: c.1845 with a hinged and sprung body, in a popular design of the time but set with garnet eyes rather than ruby, making it more affordable to the less wealthy; Top right: c.1845 set with a diamond on its head and the inner sleeve of the hinge also set with turquoise, as is the entire body. Middle and Bottom: c.1841 an unusual expanding bracelet with the sides and back hinged and sprung - a variation of the popular snake motif. Expanding bracelets appeared around 1840. - Understanding Jewellery by David Bennett & Daniela Mascetti




Enamel


c.1845, a gold, enamel, and diamond serpent bracelet - a typical example hinged in four places and decorated with royal blue guilloche enamel. - Understanding Jewellery by David Bennett & Daniela Mascetti


c.1846, a gold and black-enameled mourning ring in the form of a snake, with diamond sparks for eyes, and a locket fitting with plaited hair. The ring commemorates the scandalous George Edward 7th Earl of Waldegrave, who died on the 28th September 1846, aged 30. He eloped to Gretna Green just past the Scottish border to marry Frances, the widow of his elder, illegitimate brother. The marriage would have been illegal in England, being within the forbidden degrees of kinship. He led a wild life, and in 1841 was arrested and briefly imprisoned in Newgate prison for a drunken assault on a policeman.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



c.1846, a Victorian mourning stickpin with a black enamel snake wrapping around an oval of pearls with a central agate motif, the forget-me-not. To the back, the snake bears the inscription, 'Samuel Whitbread born Jan 18 1764, died July 6 1815.' and 'Lady Elizabeth Whitbread born April 7th 1765, died Nov 28 1846.' Antique Animal Jewelry



Rare mid-19th-century Russian snake ring with french import marks in gold and finely detailed blue enamel with a large stone set into the head.

Antique Animal Jewelry




Snake Chain & Teeth on Show


Appearing c.1840-50 but reaching a height of popularity in 1860 were snake necklaces with an enameled or turquoise-covered head attached to a 'snake chain' imitating scales, sometimes also known as 'Brazilian chain'. The chain is made up of round, curved plates that join together to form a tube that bends like the slithering body of a snake. They were time-consuming to make compared to simple loop-in-loop chains.


c.1840s, two snake necklaces with scale-like linking, the heads gem-set.

Understanding Jewellery by David Bennett & Daniela Mascetti



Around 1860, there is a brief return to depictions of fairly fearsome-looking snakes with open mouths and sharp teeth on display, often as part of a fastening mechanism. This is purely a bit of fun speculation, but we wonder if those wicked-looking teeth might have had anything to with an incident that took place at the Zoological Gardens Reptile House in 1852. One night, Edward Gurling - one of the reptile keepers - returned from a night of merrymaking and gin-drinking to the Reptile House, and in a moment of 'rashness and indiscretion' decided to make a visit to a cobra, handling it roughly. He was swiftly bitten between the eyes and died an hour later. We wonder if the fear this provoked in the public might have altered the depictions of snakes for a time.


A Victorian 15ct gold, turquoise, silver, and diamond serpent necklet with garnet eyes in a fitted original case, the snake chain body set with turquoise all the way along.

From @preciousstonesjewellers via Instagram



A Victorian turquoise, rose cut diamond & ruby snake, most likely c.1840-60.

From @moons.curiousitems (Sandra Hendler) via Instagram



c.1860 fine Victorian gold and enamel snake.

From @jewellerydiscovery via Instagram



c.1860 snake necklace in 18ct gold with a pearl and rose-cut diamond crest and ruby cabochons for eyes.

From The Piece London via Instagram




Snake Bracelets with Teeth Bared


As mentioned above, the brief return to open-mouthed snake faces, some with teeth bared, seems to have resulted in bracelets from the 1860s also featuring open-mouthed snakes - some scarier-looking than others. Snake chains were also popular in bracelets as well as necklaces in the 1860s, superseding earlier scale-link and mesh bodies from the 1840s.


c.1860 18-carat yellow gold snake bracelet with detailed gold chasing and a gem-set head.

Antique Animal Jewelry



c.1860 Victorian 15-carat snake bangle with graduated turquoise decoration and ruby eyes.

Antique Animal Jewelry



c.1860 high-carat snake bracelet with a wonderful pavé turquoise head. Antique Animal Jewelry



c.1870, 14k yellow gold necklace with an undulating scale-like snake chain graduating in size from tail to head. The friendly face is studded with Persian turquoise cabochons and garnet eyes and conceals a hidden clasp. A turquoise pavé heart pendant is suspended from the snake's mouth.

From Erica Weiner




1860s - Blue Enamel Snakes


Around the 1860s, there was also a fashion for blue enameled snake jewelry with diamond or pearl-encrusted heads and ruby or garnet eyes.

1860 - Left: A design by the firm of John Brogden, 1860, for a gold and royal blue enamel bracelet depicting a serpent with ruby eyes. The body of the snake is decorated with bands of pearls and the head is ornamented with a large diamond surrounded by pearls and set in gold. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Right: An 1860 bracelet with a similar design, with garnet eyes and natural pearl crowning on 18-carat gold - Antique Animal Jewelry.




Late-19th Century



1870s & 1880s - Jet Snakes


Perhaps due to the difficulty of carving jet, snake faces in jet jewelry seem to be a little goofier looking than their predecessors, with chunkier heads and almost cartoonish looking eyes.


c.1870 extremely chunky and tactile Victorian Whitby jet snake bracelet.

Antique Animal Jewelry



Whitby jet snake mourning panel bracelet, intricately carved from head to tail. The symbol of the snake was very popular in the Victorian era, used in both love and mourning jewelry alike to symbolize 'eternity'. The choice of material here suggests that this piece is a mourning bracelet. c.1880s.

Via 1stdibs.



1870s-1900s - Niello Snakes


A mentioned in a previous blog, Niello was a popular material in the late 19th century and early 20th, coating chains, bracelets, lockets, and more. Snake designs in Niello are rarer, but can often be dated by the use and popularity of the material.


Victorian-era niello and silver snake bracelet with rose-gold accents on the head and garnet eyes, c.1890s, possibly Austrian. The niello forms a checkerboard pattern like intricate scales. From The Eden Collective via 1stdibs




Entering the Edwardian Era


Towards the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of the Edwardian era, machines were being used more and more in the manufacture of jewelry, and mass production was now possible. That's not to say they aren't still beautiful pieces, but the difference is clear - no longer are bodies and heads marked with delicate handworked scales and patterns or fine enameling, instead, designs become smoother, with noticeably less facial definition. A common design in snake jewelry around the turn of the 20th century is the two-headed or double-headed snake.


c.1870 double snake ring with old cut diamond detailing. 18 carat.

Antique Animal Jewelry



c.1890 15k gold double snake ring with old mine cut diamonds and an animated little flick of the tail down the shoulders. - From @okoportland via Instagram.



c.1900 - an Edwardian double-headed diamond snake ring.

From @ruby_lovestuesday via Instagram



c.1900, an elegant 14-carat snake ring with a sparkly .1 carat transitional cut in an open-backed setting. This example does have finely detailed etching along the body, but it is more uniform, and the face has very simple features or suggestions of features.

Antique Animal Jewelry




How to Spot a Fake


The easiest place to start is perhaps with Georgian snakes. The Georgian era of jewelry making is esteemed largely for its hand-crafting and unique skill. This means that most pieces from the Georgian era are one-of-a-kind. Even where they share the same design as other pieces, the nature of hand-crafting means that there would have been marked differences from piece to piece. Besides this, the quality of the material, etching, and setting is also usually very high.



These three diamond serpent rings were sold as fully authentic 'Georgian' rings and were bought within a three-month period from reputable stores in London. They are not genuine. As laid out by Ginny Redington and Olivia Collings in Georgian Jewellery, 1714-1830, all three snakes have the same head, the same eyes, the same expression, and the same workmanship - which is crude and somewhat shoddy compared to a truly authentic piece. That three rings made by one particular jeweler 200 years ago could all end up in the same marketplace at the same time is also 'just too implausible'.


For comparison, here are some genuine Georgian diamond serpents...


Left: Late 18th century diamond snake earrings. Note the sea serpent-like faces. Right: Late 18th century diamond Georgian ouroboros. - Both from Georgian Jewellery, 1714-1830 by Ginny Redington Dawes & Olivia Collings



Georgian diamond snake ring

From @victorianvintagetreasures via Instagram



Another comparison from Understanding Jewellery by David Bennett & Daniela Mascetti is this early Victorian turquoise-set snake chain necklace, featured at the beginning of the blog as the cover image, with some fake imitations featured below...



Notice how the turquoises along the body are too spaced out, and how the heads are completely different and don't match the style of the time.



For 18th-century jewelry, some common identifiers for fakes include:

  • The use of modern techniques, tool marks, or materials.

  • Original pieces were usually made from silver or gold sheet, from scratch.

  • If the piece feels heavier than it should, it could be a sign that the piece was cast from a mold.

  • The settings are also a good tell, as modern jewelers may not painstakingly ensure that the settings are airtight like antique jewelers did, so the stones should fit the settings exactly.

  • Oxidation can be faked by dipping pieces in a sulphuric solution, giving the piece a matt black even finish. If you see this, be wary.

  • Many antique pieces will show signs of wear. If a piece is sharp in places where it should have been rubbed smooth over the years, this could be a sign that it's not genuinely antique. Unless it is a piece of 'deed box jewelry' passed down through the generations in safety deposit boxes, unworn.

  • If you've been told something is rare but you've seen more than one or two others, it probably isn't.

  • Abnormalities in design and manufacture for specific kinds of pieces that should share similar designs and manufacturing techniques is often a sign of creative modern reinterpretation rather than unique antique craftsmanship.

  • For snake chains especially, they quickly fell out of favor and the chains were often removed from the snake heads and sold separately. If the color of the head and the chain body don't match, it isn't necessarily a sign that the chain isn't genuinely antique, but more likely that someone found a separate chain and head and joined the two together.



Modern Snakes for Comparison


To get a handle on what more modern snakes look like, here are some examples. Notice how much more realistic a lot of the face shapes and scale patterns are for the snakes...



c.1930s, 14ct gold ouroboros set with diamonds and ruby eyes

Via Neumeister Auctions



c.1960-90, a 9ct gold sprung snake bracelet, a collectible design made by companies like Smith & Pepper.

Via The Saleroom




A modern diamond-set snake ring - Via The Saleroom




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

128 views

In last week's blog, we took a look at some of the names behind the antique jewelry of the V&A. This week, we take a dive into the magnificent collections of the generous donors of the British Museum. From important art historians and collectors who dedicated their lives to the stories and meanings behind antique jewelry, to curiosity hunters who scoured Europe in their attempts to find antique treasures.



Two-color gold and silver brooch in the form of a vulture fighting a snake twined around a branch, both vulture and snake are pavé-set with turquoises and pearls with eyes of cabochon rubies. French, c.1860. From the Hull Grundy Gift - © The Trustees of the British Museum



Anne Hull Grundy

Anne Hull Grundy (1926–1984) is described by the British Museum as one of the 20th century's most significant jewelry collectors. Born in Nuremberg, Germany, Grundy and her family - a Jewish banking and manufacturing family - were forced to flee to England in 1933, when the National Socialist government (The Nazis) took power in Germany. They re-established their family business in Northampton with great success, placing Anne Hull Grundy in the perfect position to begin collecting.


Starting at the age of 11, Anne Hull Grundy developed a keen interest in antique jewelry. After seeing in a catalog that the British Museum's jewelry collection only went up to the 1700s, Grundy dedicated herself to acquiring 18th and 19th-century objects to fill the gap; from Victorian pieces with hidden messages to lovingly and expertly hand-crafted works of goldsmithing. In 1978, she gifted her collection of over 900 items of jewelry to the Museum.


Early 19th-century English jewels. Top left: A marquise-shaped pendant with seed-pearls, in the form of two birds drinking at a fountain, on a background of blue enamel or glass, bordered with diamonds set in silver, inscribed in French, 'l'amour et l'amitie' (love and friendship). Top middle: Oval gold brooch with seed pearls, in the form of a winged cupid with a lamb, on a background of blue enamel or glass with a pearl border. Inscribed in French, 'Taisez vous' (be quiet). Top right: Gold brooch in the form of a padlock set with pearls and with a dark blue enameled center. Middle left: Gold brooch set with pearls and pink topazes with heart, padlock, and key pendants. Middle right: Bloomed gold brooch in the form of a hand holding a pearl-bordered heart with an inset compartment containing hair and a gold graintille 'key' pendant. Bottom: Gold brooch in the form of a key with diamonds set in silver and a hair compartment in the bow, and a chain from which hang two heart pendants set with a ruby and turquoise. © The Trustees of the British Museum



Miniature English jewels c.1826-1875. Clockwise from top left: Gold bracelet with a double chain and set with a garnet surrounded by small pearls; Enameled gold bracelet with articulated links in the form of a snake, set with diamonds and rubies; Gold bracelet with a flexible band and set with a turquoise surrounded by diamonds; Gold brooch in the form of a padlock and key set with diamonds and sapphires; Brooch in the form of a flower-spray, gold, set with seed-pearls and turquoise.

© The Trustees of the British Museum



English 18th-century bracelet in facet-cut steel with a beaded border, one of pair forming a necklace. It is suggested that steel bracelets like this would have been worn mounted on silk to prevent the wearer’s wrists being scratched. - © The Trustees of the British Museum




Antique Aigrettes


A French aigrette in the form of a flower spray with a trembler insect. Silver-gilt with a dished closed-back and set with flat-cut garnets. c.1700-1725.

© The Trustees of the British Museum



Three English aigrettes set with flat-cut garnets, c.1726-1775. Left: Aigrette in the form of a flower spray, with trembler bird. Silver-gilt with dished closed-back. Middle: Aigrette in the form of flowers and a feather tied with a bow and with a trembler butterfly. Gold with a dished closed-back. Right: Aigrette in the form of a spray of flowers, tied with a bow, with a trembler bird. Silver-gilt with a dished closed-back.

All © The Trustees of the British Museum