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





Animals


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.

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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 gunsinternational.com




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 guns.com




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 collectorebooks.com, 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 gunsinternational.com



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



Copycats


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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This week's blog offers some insight into the trend of Berlin Iron, the dark, lacquered metal that became internationally fashionable in the early 1800s, during the Napoleonic Wars, and remained fashionable - at least to some extent - until the end of the century.


Necklace, iron, with classical figures in silhouette, with vine and acanthus decoration, Germany, c. 1820. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London





The origins of the fashion


So, what was so great about jewelry made from an inexpensive, dark, and dull material like iron?


Well, at the very beginning of its production at the turn of the 18th century, Berlin iron was popular as a material used in mourning jewelry. With a matte black lacquer finish - used to prevent rust - it presented an appropriately somber and affordable choice for those grieving the loss of loved ones.


The process involved molding wax which was then pressed into sand, creating a mold into which molten iron could be poured. The pieces were then hand-finished with the black lacquer. Berlin iron is said to have first been made in the Gleiwitz Foundry in Silesia, Prussia, in the 1790s, but production was soon taken over by the Royal Berlin Foundry (Königliche Eisengiesserei bei Berlin) in 1804, also situated in Prussia at that time, and from which it takes its name.


The origins of Berlin iron in Prussia plays an important role in the rise of Berlin iron to a position of international fashion. For a bit of context, Prussia at its peak included much of modern-day Germany and western Poland, as well as various parts of what is now Belgium, Czechia, the Netherlands, Russia, and even Switzerland. Prussia became a huge force throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries: waging war and seizing land across Europe to grow its kingdom.


Photo from Britannica.com



However, Prussia was not alone in its attempts at expansion at this time - in Russia, Alexander I was accruing a sizeable landmass of his own, and in France, Napoleon I was bulldozing his way across Europe in pursuit of his dream of becoming the Emperor of the world. In 1806, Prussia went to war with Napoleon I in France and lost, facing overwhelming defeat. In the treaty that followed, the kingdom of Prussia was enormously reduced in size and was made to pay an exorbitant amount in acceptance of the French occupation of much of its territory. As a result of the occupation of Berlin, molds were 'confiscated' from the foundry, and the manufacturing of 'Fer de Berlin' spread to Paris - though it remained a primarily Prussian specialty.


Now, here's where Berlin iron really comes into the spotlight. In 1812, Napoleon I's French grande armée was defeated in Russia, and occupied Prussia was faced with a choice: cooperate with Russia and go to war with France, freeing themselves from French occupation, or remain occupied by Napoleon I's dwindling forces. In 1813, Prussia went to war, in what was known as one of the Wars of Liberation.


Severely lacking in money after paying so much to the French occupation, the Prussian Royal family asked the aristocracy and upper classes to donate their precious jewelry to help fund the war, particularly gold. In return, those who contributed were given iron jewelry (an inexpensive replacement) for their loyalty, many of which were inscribed with the phrase, 'Gold gab ich für Eisen' (I gave gold for iron), or 'Für das Wohl des Vaterlands' (For the welfare of our country/ the fatherlands), and some of which are also dated 1813 or feature a portrait of the Prussian king, Frederick William III.


This was the making moment of the fashion - in this action, Berlin iron became more than just a mourning material or cheap metal - it became a material imbued with patriotism, loyalty, and resistance (against Napoleon's forces), giving it a huge amount of symbolic weight.


Iron Cross, with a medallion head of Frederick William III of Prussia on the obverse. The reverse inscribed 'Unvergeslich 1813' (unforgettable). Voided Maltese cross with an oval medallion on the intersection of the limbs. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Wedding ring "I gave gold for iron", Berlin 1813 Museum of the City of Dortmund, via Wikipedia



'I gave gold for iron in 1813' Berlin iron ring, via The Prussian Correspondent





The peak of the fashion


After the Wars of Liberation made Berlin iron into something extremely desirable to be seen wearing in Prussia, and once France (the European 'center of fashion') had started producing their own pieces of 'Berlin' ironwork, the trend took off around Europe, and Berlin iron became internationally in demand. The production of Berlin iron peaked in the 1830s when Berlin alone had 27 foundries.


Bracelet, iron, probably made in Germany (Berlin), designed about 1820-30. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Locket bracelet, cast iron, lozenge shape of filigree foliage with a central rectangle design, Berlin, c.1820s. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Necklace, iron with polished steel mounts. It consists of sixteen links alternating foliage and rosettes surrounded by tracery. The rosettes are set on burnished steel. A quatrefoil of tracery completes the design of each foliage link, Germany, c.1820s. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Cast iron earrings, Berlin, c.1830. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Pair of Earrings, Royal Prussian Iron Foundry, Berlin c.1820-30. Via Birmingham Museum of Art.




Neoclassicism


Throughout the early 1800s, neoclassicism was very much the fashion of the times. A revival of Roman, empirical style jewelry was popularized in France by Napoleon I and Empress Josephine, and the new classical style spread across central Europe (much of which was occupied by France). The occupied German Kingdoms lent towards a more Hellenic image than Napoleon I's Roman one, with the beautiful Prussian Queen Louise (wife of Frederick William III) amongst the most influential trendsetters of this neoclassical Greek style. Because it was so much in fashion at the time, many pieces of early Berlin iron jewelry are neoclassical in style.


Favorite subjects depicted in early Berlin iron pieces included ancient Greek warriors, Cupid (god of love), and Psyche (goddess of the soul), often depicted on cast-iron copies of cameos. James Tassie's glass pastes and Josiah Wedgwood's jasperware were used as the source for many of these copies. Using motifs such as acanthus leaves and palmettes was also very popular at this time.


Necklace in cast-iron with nine neoclassical 'cameos' in gold collet settings, linked by festoons of fine iron chain. Germany, c.1805. © The Trustees of the British Museum



Necklace, iron cameos on polished steel mounts set in gold on steel mesh ribbon, Germany, c.1815-20.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Berlin ironwork necklace, possibly from Berlin, c.1815. Via The Metropolitan Museum of Art.



Bracelet of openwork cast 'Berlin' ironwork with five classical figures in medallions, Berlin, c.1820.

© The Trustees of the British Museum



This necklace is a remarkable example of the caster's art. The individual narrative elements are encircled by ovoid frames that were cast separately and then joined to create a silhouette effect. Necklace, iron openwork plaques of classical subjects alternating with flowers, set in gold; intermediate links with gold griffins' heads, Germany, c.1820-30. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Berlin iron bracelet of cast-iron openwork in oblong links with stylized foliage and cameo of warrior's head, Berlin, c.1820-1830. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Berlin Iron Collier, blackened, gilded, with steel elements, Germany, c.1820-40. Photo via Very Important Lot Auctioneers



This piece reflects both the virtuosity of the foundries and the upper range of their clientele, as only women in the highest level of society would wear such an object. This splendid piece combines a Neo-classical cameo with Gothic Revival ornamentation. Comb, iron with a cameo of Iris set in the gallery, Germany, c.1820. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London




Gothic Revival Style


In this last piece, you might notice that there are elements of the Gothic Revival style sitting, unusually, alongside a neoclassical cameo. While the neoclassical style dominated from the late 1700s until it died-out around the 1820s or 30s, Gothic Revival styles began to take over by the 1820s, lasting until the end of the century. The Neo-Gothic movement actually began around the mid-18th century, but it took almost sixty years for it to reach mainstream thought.


Berlin iron craftsmen began incorporating motifs found in Gothic architecture - like trefoils and quatrefoils (plants with 3 or 4 leaflets such as the clover), and pointed arches like those seen in cathedrals - into their works of jewelry. Neo-Gothic Berlin ironwork became very popular in fashion, especially because the look of the black metal complimented the Gothic style perfectly. Since the two styles overlapped, however, some makers incorporated both classical and gothic elements into their pieces.


The Gothic Revival was not only an aesthetic movement but took hold of the European imagination as a way of thinking that stood in direct opposition to a lot of neoclassical thinking. It was used as a way to combat classicism and the industrialization of society, with its opposing reflection of 'proper Christian values'. While neoclassicism had been born from a kind of liberalism - idealizing the pursuit of knowledge and individualism - the Gothic Revival supported conservatism, the church, and the God-appointed bloodlines of the 'true' monarchy.


In 1815, after the Allied victory at Waterloo, travel to England from elsewhere in Europe was once again open, and it didn't take long before iron jewelry was being cast in Great Britain. Following Napoleon's defeat and the success of the Wars of Liberation, and as Napoleon I's influence began to fade across Europe, so did the fashion of neoclassicism. People sought to distance themselves from Napoleon I and his ideologies, and what better alternative existed than to embrace an opposing one? A great push to the Gothic Revival style in England has its roots in this.


Berlin ironwork necklace with cross pendant, German or French, c.1830.

Via The Metropolitan Museum of Art.



Cross pendant formed of lozenge-shaped filigree tracery at each end of the cross. A flower device covers the central pin, Berlin (probably), c.1820-30. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Berlin iron necklace, formed of nine large links each formed of three panels of gothic tracery joined to foliage in the angles and a rosette backed with burnished steel. Smaller lozenge-shaped links of similar work are hung between the larger links, Berlin, c.1820-30. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Pair of earrings, cast iron, in the gothic style. The lanceolate style is formed of pointed arch tongues filled with Gothic tracery taken from architectural details, Germany, c.1820-30. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Cross from the Royal Prussian Iron Foundry, Berlin, or possibly made by Geiss. Similarly taking details from Gothic architecture. c.1820-30. Via Birmingham Museum of Art.




Famous Makers of Berlin Iron


Johnn Conrad Geiss was a notable Berlin iron artist-craftsman believed to be the first designer to use both classical and gothic motifs on the same piece. He was a pioneer of many innovative techniques in casting and his ideas were widely copied.


This vine leaf motif was originally designed by Johnn Conrad Geiss. Brooch, iron, decorated with vine leaf motifs and with a central rosette, Berlin, c. 1820. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Bracelet, iron with gothic tracery, and classical acanthus foliage. The central link of foliage springs from an oval rosette with links alternately formed of two trefoils and an oblong panel of gothic tracery with foliage sprouting from either end. Marked with the inscription 'GEISS BERLIN', c.1820-30. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Berlin Ironwork Suite in Gothic style, designed as a series of trefoil and quatrefoil links decorated with floral and acanthus leaf motifs, accompanied by two bracelets, an additional bracelet link, and a pair of earrings en suite, c.1830, by Johan Conrad Geiss. Via Bonhams.



A group of early 19th century Berlin ironwork jewelry: a bracelet of scrolling panels to a cartouche design clasp with flowerhead center, signed Geiss A Berlin; a necklace of scroll panels with floral centers; a pair of cagework design articulated ear pendants. Via Christie's.




Other renowned Berlin iron artist-craftsmen of the time included the likes of Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who was famous as the main maker who introduced the gothic style to Berlin iron, as well as Lehmann, Hossauer, and Devaranne (who won an international reputation for the delicacy of the casting of his iron jewelry.).


Waist-buckle in cast-iron openwork with scroll ornament patinated black, inscribed, 'Deveranne Ac. Kunstl. a Berlin', c.1850. © The Trustees of the British Museum



The manufacturer of this clasp, August Ferdinand Lehmann established himself in Berlin as a manufacturer of fine cast goods in 1830. Iron belt ornament made up of five plaques of floral design linked with iron rings. Marked 'A.F. Lehmann a Berlin', c.1820 (designed). © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Bracelet, iron, the clasp signed by A.F. Lehmann, Berlin. The back formed of four long plaques of tracery and foliage, five smaller plaques of vine-foliage, and a clasp of cusped tracery with an applied rosette, Berlin, c.1820s. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Iron buckle signed 'Devaranne Ac. Kunstl a Berlin', probably by Siméon Pierre Devaranne, Germany (Berlin), c. 1820. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Pin, iron, by Siméon Pierre Devaranne, Germany (Berlin), c. 1833. This example was probably shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Simeon Piene Devaranne, goldsmith and manufacturer of cast iron, was, like Geiss, recognized as an artist-craftsman by the Berlin Royal Academy. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Iron bracelet, probably by Siméon Pierre Devaranne, Germany (Berlin), c. 1815-1820. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Pair of earrings, Berlin iron, openwork butterflies with drops set over polished steel, probably made by Siméon Pierre Devaranne in Germany (Berlin), early 19th century. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Pair of Berlin ironwork bracelets, each formed of seven openwork links. The catches depict a spray of flowers within a border of flowers. Four links display rectangles held top and bottom by an arch of three scrolls lined with scrolls and trefoils, the other two depict a flower in an acanthus and fleur-de-lys cross, with more acanthus above and below. The middle link shows scrolls centered by the same floral spray as on the catch. Made by Devaranne, Berlin, c.1820-30.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London





Floral and naturalistic Motifs in Berlin Iron


You may also notice that, across both styles and also existing separately to each, many Berlin iron pieces depict intricately embellished floral motifs and natural forms such as vines, leaves, flowers, and other foliage or natural forms. In the emerging age of sentimentality - where plants and animals held such symbolic significance - they provided a great and meaningful accompaniment to any design.



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