• Antique Animal Jewelry

The Best Jewelry History Books to Fuel your Antiques Obsession: Part I

Whether you’re a jewelry collector, wearer, buyer, or simply an admirer, a good way to expand your knowledge is by diving into some of the best books in the field. But where to start?

Antique Animal Jewelry has compiled a list of the very best jewelry history books to either begin your jewelry journey or to further boost your knowledge of the field. This blog will come in two parts, so look out for the next post coming soon, which will focus on reference books and specific collections. For now, read on to find out some of AAJ’s recommendations, and exactly what they’re useful for.

Diamond Jewelry: 700 Years of Glory and Glamour by Diana Scarisbrick (2019)

Best for: fabulous photography of the most exquisite diamond jewelry ever made, with a focus on who commissioned and wore these glorious pieces.

This luxurious, glossy hardback centers itself on the people behind the jewelry. Arranged chronologically, Diamond Jewelry follows the contextual histories, ownership biographies, and aesthetics of diamond jewelry from the mid-14th century up until the opening of mines in South Africa in 1867.

AAJ's Must-Have-o-Meter: ★★★★★

Rings: Symbols of Wealth, Power and Affection by Diana Scarisbrick (1993)

Best for: a chronological look at the history of rings with particularly good detail on the medieval era.

This book showcases over 480 examples of rings from the medieval to the modern. With a particularly impressive roster of medieval and renaissance rings as well as portrait-ring pairings, this book is organized chronologically, offering a good overview of the history of rings.

AAJ's Must-Have-o-Meter: ★★★★★

Rings: Jewelry of Power, Love and Loyalty by Diana Scarisbrick and James Fenton (2007)

Best for: an overview of some of the most beautiful rings throughout history, with gorgeous detailed photographs and more 18th and 19th-century rings than the first book.

This well-loved book, not to be confused with Rings: Symbols of Wealth, Power and Affection (above), is organized thematically rather than chronologically. Its focus is primarily on the 18th and 19th centuries. Each piece is explored in terms of symbolism within history, alongside quotations, illustrations, and photographs.

AAJ's Must-Have-o-Meter: ★★★★★

Earrings From Antiquity to the Present by Daniela Mascetti and Amanda Triossi (1999)

Best for: a detailed look at earrings throughout history.

From prehistory to modern times, this book covers a definitive history of earrings, beginning with the spread of the fashion of wearing earrings from Ancient Egypt to Mycenae, to Greece and Rome. The book has a brilliant selection of illustrations covering every period and style mentioned.

AAJ's Must-Have-o-Meter: ★★★

Jewels & Jewellery by Clare Phillips (2000)

Best for: A glimpse into the collection at the V&A.

This A-Z guide to Western jewelry featuring the V&A collection takes a three-pronged approach, considering the history of western jewelry regarding materials used by jewelers, the development of styles from the Middle Ages up to contemporary designs, as well as the distribution, ownership and hallmarking of jewelry over recent centuries. The result is a wide survey of all kinds of historical jewelry, spanning medieval to renaissance, art nouveau, and 21st-century jewelry.

AAJ's Must-Have-o-Meter: ★★★

Jewellery in Britain: 1066-1837 by Diana Scarisbrick (2000)

Best for: A detailed look at the history of British Jewelry, illustrated with pieces from private collections, not otherwise easily accessible.

From the Norman Conquest to the accession of Queen Victoria, this wide-reaching book is a must-have for British jewelry enthusiasts. Diana Scarisbrick is a leading jewelry historian, and by detailing not only the history of beautiful jewels but also showing them in their social and societal contexts, this book is beautifully illustrated with pieces that enhance Scarisbrick’s extensive research.

AAJ's Must-Have-o-Meter: ★★★

The Power of Love: Jewels, Romance and Eternity by Beatriz Chadour-Sampson (2019)

Best for: drooling over rare sentimental jewelry.

A relatively short book at only 135 pages, this exploration of sentimental jewelry is as concise as it is informative. With a particular focus on wedding and courtship rings, this fully color-illustrated book is ideal for the romantic among us. There are some extremely rare and exquisite rings to be found in this one's pages!

AAJ's Must-Have-o-Meter: ★★★★★

French Jewelry of the Nineteenth Century by Henri Vever (2001 edition)

Best for: Contemporary knowledge of a historical era; weightlifting (this book is a hefty 1312 pages!)

It's expensive, but useful for the advanced collector.

This enormous, encyclopedic book was first published as three separate volumes in 1906-08. Henry Vever was a prominent jeweler in Paris throughout his life (1854-1942) and the benefit of his knowledge is that it is totally contemporary; this book was not written by a historian but by a working jeweler of the time. The volume is certainly meaty, with over 1400 illustrations and 136 color photographs to dig your teeth into.

AAJ's Must-Have-o-Meter: ★★★

Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria by Charlotte Gere and Judy Rudoe (2010)

Best for: a fantastic reference book for dating pieces of Victorian jewelry, and getting a sense of that era.

The ‘age of Victoria’ covered in this book not only explores Victorian Britain but Europe and America too, from the perspective of foreign trade. Oriented toward the social aspects of jewelry, links with other disciplines provide a full picture of what jewelry meant in Victorian society. Whether it was the jewelry written into stories by novelists to denote hidden meaning in certain characters, or the jewelry of luxurious oil paintings, this book is filled with analysis, commentary, and images.

AAJ's Must-Have-o-Meter: ★★★★★

Traditional Jewellery in Nineteenth-Century Europe by Jane Perry (2013)

Best for: gaining an insight into Folk jewelry from the V&A collection.

Traditional jewelry here means to say jewelry historically worn with national and traditional costumes. Wearing this kind of national jewelry from European countries was in fact very popular during 19th century Britain, so this book curates a wide selection of pieces from various countries to demonstrate the wide varieties and intricacies of the category. Highlights include gilded Norwegian wedding crowns and filigree clasps from the Balkans.

AAJ's Must-Have-o-Meter: ★★

Georgian Jewellery 1714-1830 by Ginny Redington Dawes with Olivia Collings (2007)

Best for: a must-have for Georgian jewelry fans.

This AAJ fave is a light, refreshing counter to some of the heavy academic books sometimes written around this period. With the goal to ‘encourage people to realize this lovely jewelry is as beautiful an adornment today as it was over two hundred years ago,’ this volume may tickle and delight you as you look over portraits, caricatures, and even gossip nuggets about famous Georgians of the time.

AAJ's Must-Have-o-Meter: ★★★★★

Jewellery 1789-1910: The International Era by Shirley Bury (1991)

Best for: a great reference book for the Georgian and Victorian jewelry collector.

Jewellery 1789-1910 is packed with information about development in jewelry design within Europe, but also within a worldwide context. Shirley Bury, a leading jewelry historian, covers all manner of accessories, from royal jewelry to mass-produced wares. This is actually a two-volume set that splits at 1862, for full coverage and analysis of the years presented.

AAJ's Must-Have-o-Meter: ★★★★★

7000 Years of Jewelry edited by Hugh Tait (2007)

Best for: a general overview of jewelry history, organized by country.

This impressive sweep of history does what it says in the title: it covers a hugely varied timespan of jewelry, beginning with pieces made as early as 5000 BC. Covering worldwide techniques, materials, and symbolism, 400 well-selected photographs make up this ‘mind-boggling feat’ of a book, according to the New York Times Book Review.

AAJ's Must-Have-o-Meter: ★★

See Antique Animal Jewelry's beautiful antique jewelry collection for sale here.

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