Amber, Iron & Hair

Amber, Iron & Hair

Artistic Works Made of Natural Materials

In past centuries, gold, pearls and precious stones were not the only things to make jewellery of. The list of supposedly non-precious materials that were also used as such is quite long indeed and comprises things as different as amber or even some sort of coal! But even if their material worth isn’t what counts: The quality, their craftsmanship and the stories behind the pieces remain worthy of admiration.

Jet is a form of petrified coal which like bone materials has been used for jewellery since prehistoric times. That’s because it’s easy to work with and because of its unique lustre. The ancient Romans created jewellery and amulets from jet and in the Middle Ages, it was used for rosaries all over Europe. Starting in the mid-19th century, during the heyday of jet fashion, large pieces with elaborately carved details were created. Since the material is light-weight, it was particularly well-suited for this purpose. Jet has been largely known as mourning jewellery since that time. For example, Queen Victoria forbade the wearing of all jewellery in the English court after the death of her husband in 1861 – with the exception of jewellery made of jet.

Amber, also referred to as as the “Gold of the Baltic Sea”, continues to maintain its attractiveness to this day. The wide spectrum of its warm colouring and Amber’s good material properties enabled it to be fashioned into wonderful and unique objects over the centuries. But beyond great works of art like the famous Amber Room and the numerous valuable art chamber works of the Renaissance, amber was always a material used in jewellery. We’re particularly excited by the exquisite products of the State Amber Manufactory Königsberg SBK, which produced wonderful chains and brooches between 1926 and 1945. Often mounted in silver, they can make any lover’s heart skip a beat.

Making and wearing jewellery made of hair is a romantic fashion of friendship and memento. Some of the most beautiful pieces of this kind have their origins in the Biedermeier period and either preserve the hair of loved ones in small medallions or were made directly from hair using a complicated lacing technique. Discover this now forgotten form of remembrance and enjoy the technical finesse of these objects!
We encounter jewellery made of hair for the first time in England in the mid-17th century. So-called “Stuart Crystals” hold a lock of hair from the decapitated King Charles I under a faceted rock crystal. By the beginning of the 19th century, as part of the cult of sensibility, of devotion to friendship and romantic love, jewellery made of hair reached even larger sections of the population (see also our › Topic Page for Mourning and Remembrance). Wigmakers left unemployed by the French Revolution used their knowledge of how to process this special material and created precious works made of hair. The most tender of images and ornaments were braided and sealed behind glass – even Queen Victoria followed this tradition after the death of her husband Albert. The custom of wearing a long-lost lover’s lock of hair in a medallion emerged around this time.