Antique butterfly brooch with rubies, sapphires & diamonds, around 1890
Jewellery in the form of precious insects was a major fashion of the last two decades of the 19th century. First there were pins in the shape of flies, which could be found on men's ties as well as on ladies' scarves. Then spiders and bees were worn, but the butterfly was particularly suitable for artistic decoration with precious stones. The last illustration we present is of the opera singer Emma Eames in her role as Colombe (around 1890), wearing such a butterfly next to a crescent moon brooch, also typical of the period. This colourful butterfly, which we were able to acquire in London, features brilliantly decorated wings with à jour set diamond roses, against which bright pink-red rubies and blue sapphires stand out. The body is made of shimmering natural pearls, while two demantoids - a grass-green variety of garnet - form the butterfly's eyes. It is probable that the butterfly originated in Britain. The British Empire, through its globe-spanning colonies, had access to the world's most important gemstone deposits, which yielded precious gems of all colours. With us, the butterfly is now waiting for a pretty shoulder on which to settle.
In the late 19th century, a new, never-before-seen type of jewellery emerged: so-called "Novelty Jewellery" caused a sensation with new, surprising and previously unthinkable shapes and material combinations: for example, birds suddenly settled on swings and became earrings. Many everyday objects found their way onto the lapels of ladies and gentlemen, such as tennis rackets, golf clubs and stamps, but the technical world also found expression in this fashion. Machines, automobiles in miniature and the new telephone were surprising focal points. The purpose of these pieces was to provide points of contact for conversation in society. At birthday parties, a brooch with the year of birth of the person being celebrated could be a sympathetic gesture; on joint hunting trips, a fox brooch could complement the wardrobe in accordance with the setting. Even skulls glowing from the eyes by batteries were offered to set a macabre, yet cheerful accent at a dinner party. Yet the jewellery was not exclusively costume jewellery. Many pieces were, of course, designed for one-time use and made of inexpensive materials. The ever more advanced industrialization also in the jewellery sector allowed at one time the mass production of gold-plated and also only gold-colored brooches and pendants. But renowned goldsmiths also created small novelty pieces from precious metals, set with precious stones, because the fashion for the curious, surprising and cheerful was alive and well in all strata of society: in fact, the royal family in Great Britain even took on a pioneering role here - and with their use of jewels set the standard by which their subjects then wanted to be measured. For more on this fascinating topic, see Charlotte Gere / Judy Rudoe: Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria, London 2010, pp. 190-247.
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You can rely on our years of experience in the trade and our expertise as a professional art historians for reviews of the antique jewellery. As a member of various trader organisations and the British Society of Jewellery Historians, we remain committed to the highest possible degree of accuracy. In our descriptions, we always also indicate any signs of age and defects and never hide them in our photos – this saves you from any unpleasant surprises when your package arrives.
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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.