Silent greatness

Berlin iron pendant with antique emperor portrait, around 1820

Iron jewellery is a special chapter in the jewellery history of the early 19th century. Under the impression of the Napoleonic Wars, it had become fashionable in Berlin to wear humble iron as jewellery instead of precious gold in order to express one's patriotic sentiments (Cf. "Learn more..."). But even after Napoleon was finally banished to Elba, iron jewellery remained popular, indeed, the delicate creations in the Gothic or antique style actually only reached the peak of their popularity. The pendant here was created in the years around 1820 and shows a relief portrait in the antique style, probably an emperor with laurel in his hair. The plaque is laid on polished steel and surrounded by a double frame of a gilded bar and airy loops of iron. Elisabeth Schmuttermeier: Cast Iron from Central Europe, 1800-1850, The Bard Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, New York 1994, p. 276 reproduces a necklace owned by the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, which was made in Berlin in the years around 1820. Cf. the enclosed illustration. Here, corresponding relief plaques are combined to form a necklace. On the back left is a very similar portrait in lost profile, as on the pendant here. We discovered the pendant in Great Britain. Here too, in the land of Wellington, people loved the Berlin Iron as a reminder of victories of the former allies of Belle Alliance.

At the time of the Napoleonic Wars at the beginning of the 19th century, the Prussian Princess Marianne initiated an action which, under the slogan "Gold I gave for iron", was intended to contribute to the defence of Prussia, the homeland threatened by France: In a grand procession on the boulevard Unter den Linden in Berlin, the ladies of the society, led by the princess, offered their gold jewelry as a gift to the king. The gold collected in this way was used to finance the fight against Napoleon and his troops; in exchange for their jewels, the donors received pieces of jewellery made of cast iron, which they wore with patriotic pride from then on. The great age of iron jewellery thus began in the years of the Napoleonic occupation of Prussia. This new demand for iron jewellery led to the founding of the Berlin Iron Foundry, which was headed by the goldsmith Conrad Geiss, who had numerous classicist designs executed. The Berlin iron jewellery, the "Fer de Berlin" with its clear contours and its restrained, dark colour corresponded to the spirit of classicism. With it, the lavish diamond pomp of the 18th century was countered by an alternative that gave expression to bourgeois virtues such as modesty, restraint and education. But it was not only in Berlin that pieces of jewellery were made of iron during these years; jewellery was also made of this material in Silesia, in neutral Switzerland and later even in France: Blackened iron had become fashionable and respectable. Finally, in 1851, pieces of jewellery made of Fer de Berlin were also exhibited and awarded prizes at the World's Fair in London. Cf. Elisabeth Schmuttermeier: Schmuck aus Eisen, in: Berliner Eisen. The Royal Iron Foundry Berlin. Zur Geschichte eines preussischen Unternehmens, ed. by Charlotte Schreiter / Albrecht Pyritz, Berlin 2007, pp. 227-240, and the corresponding chapters in Brigitte Marquardt: Schmuck. Klassizismus und Biedermeier 1780-1850. Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Munich 1983.

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We want you to be 100% satisfied! That’s why we examine, describe and photograph all our jewellery with the utmost care.

If for any reason you are still not satisfied, contact us and we will find a mutual solution immediately. Regardless, you can return any item within 30 days and we will refund you the full purchase price.