Learn About Antique Coral Jewelry

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Louis Édouard Rioult – Portrait Of A Lady Wearing Coral Jewellery

Antique, untreated coral is one of the most loved of materials in antique jewelry.  It is considered to be one of the ‘organic gemstones’ (the other two being amber and jet and pearls).

Women who first own a piece of old coral jewelry soon become addicted to it and tend to become collectors. One of the wonderful things about coral is that it tends to adapt over time to the woman who is wearing it and will subtly change color in a very organic way.  Many women have reported a feeling of ‘rightness’ about their particular piece of coral jewelry, as though the piece is actually part of them.

There is something truly sumptuous and almost edible about antique, untreated coral.  It has long been worn as a talisman and later for its pure beauty.

It was considered by the Victorians to promote good health and vitality, and you can really believe that it does once you experience wearing it.

Coral ranges from white, to ‘Angel Skin’, to ‘Salmon’, to ‘Oxblood’ and every nuance in between.

Since ancient Rome, coral has been considered to be protective of children. In the Georgian and Victorian era, children were often given carved coral rattles. Children were also given coral earrings, bracelets, and necklaces to wear.

There are many works of art from Regency, Victorian, and the early 20th century that show coral being worn by both women and children.  Looking at old works of art can be a truly wonderful way of understanding antique jewelry.

Nicolaas Rubens Wearing a Coral Necklace, Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1619
Jane Elizabeth, Countess of Oxford, by John Hoppner 1797
Lady Maria Hamilton, Thomas Lawrence, 1802
Little boy with dog and coral necklace (it is unclear if dogs were sometimes given coral collars or if the child is giving the dog his own necklace) – Martin Drolling.

What to Look for When Buying Seed Pearl Antique Jewelry

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‘Lover’s eye’ miniature, circa 1900, set with seed pearls.

The pretty, delicate, and sensual luster of seed pearl antique jewelry is a delight. Seed pearls can be found in all kinds of vintage and antique pieces – arranged delicately around colorful enamel, painted miniatures, gems, corals, larger pearls, or other natural materials.

A seed pearl is a tiny pearl, weighing less than a quarter of a grain.  Often imperfect, these tiny treasures required great precision from the jeweler.  Some of the holes were so tiny that horsehair had to be used to string them, silk being too thick.

The labor required in working with seed pearls is probably one of the reasons they are not used as much today. Seed pearl jewelry was relatively inexpensive in the past because of the low cost of labor.

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Carved horn hair comb with seed pearls c1905, Louis Aucoc

History

Pearls and seed pearls have been sought after throughout human history. In the Georgian era (1714 to 1830), seed pearls were particularly used in cluster rings, combined with precious or semi-precious stones.

Seed pearl jewelry was particularly popular in the early Victorian era (1840 to 1860) and continued to be used until the Edwardian era.  Seed pearl jewelry fell out of vogue somewhat when the bolder styles of the Art Deco movement came in around 1920 but has near truly gone out of fashion to this day.

Victorian seed pearl jewelry was often sold in sets of a necklace, two bracelets, earrings, and a corsage.  Because people in the Victorian era tended to have a lot of children, these sets would normally get divided up so a complete set is much harder to find and much more valuable.

Interestingly, much of the work in seed pearl jewelry manufacture was done in Germany, although it was sold in England and elsewhere. The finest and more delicate seed pearls were from China.

Seed Pearl Ropes

Seed pearl rope necklace, representing hours of labor.

Seed Pearl, Persian turquoise and gold ring, England, circa 1900

Buying Seed Pearl Antique Jewelry

  • Seed pearls have the same characteristics as any pearl and maybe cultured or natural.  Nearly all pearls sold today are cultured.  However, pearls from before 1916 when the pearl culturing process was first patented will be natural.
  • The only way to know for certain if a pearl is natural or cultured is with an X-Ray.  Many professionals devote their whole careers to grading and valuing pearls.
  • Carefully inspect any piece of seed pearl jewelry. Seed pearls are one of the most likely gems to be missing.
  • If the piece is of a certain age, it is probable that the seed pearls will be the same age. However, it is possible they got replaced at a later date. Make sure there are no synthetic replacements.
  • As always, buying from a reputable jeweler is the best approach to buying any antique jewelry.

Learn About Antique Posie Rings

A ‘Posie ring’ (sometimes written as posy, posey or poesy) is any ring with an inscription on the outside or inside.  They are usually gold.  They were particularly popular in England and France during the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries as lovers’ gifts.

The early posie rings had inscriptions in Norman French and later were written in Latin, French, or English.  I have not come across them in other languages, although I suspect they must exist.  They can be simple bands or they can be set with stones. Tolkien must have gotten his inspiration from the English Posie Ring.

Here are some examples of typical inscriptions.  I love the deep romance of these sentiments from a more poetic age. Posie rings are truly a wonderful item to own, to give, and to collect.

In love abide till death devide’

‘ In thee my choyce I do rejoyce’

‘In thy sight is my delight’

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Post-medieval posie ring (1500-1650), found in Rowton Castle area, Shropshire. © Portable Antiquities Scheme and The British Museum

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Posie rings in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford