The Magpie's Jewel Box

A treasure trove of sparkly bits and pieces

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Trollbeads new spring collection banishes winter blues

Here in the Midlands, we’ve just experienced a week of real winter weather: snow, more snow and now wind and rain, so the countryside is looking very drab. All the more reason, then, to check out the lovely new Trollbeads spring collection of nature-inspired glass, silver and gold beads.

The glass beads are in warm pinks, browns and blues, evoking beaches, cliffs, fossils and pebbles. Sea creatures, flowers and butterflies are the themes of the silver beads. All the glass beads are priced at a reasonable £23 while the silver beads start from £23. There are two gold beads in the collection, one based on coral and the other on butterflies but at £300 and £600 respectively, these are a little out of my league!

I really like the nature theme of this collection – it’s warm and earthy and I would add any of these beads to my Trollbead bracelet which currently features all blue beads.

I’m looking forward to checking out the spring collection for real when I visit The Jewellery Show (part of the annual Spring Fair), at NEC Birmingham next Sunday. This major jewellery trade event runs from 3rd to 7th February and all the leading designers and retailers will be there. A true magnet for magpies like me! Look out for my review of the event next week.


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Must-see jewellery at the V&A Museum

I first stumbled across the amazing jewellery collection at the V&A a couple of years ago and could not believe my eyes. I had never seen so much fantastic jewellery all in one place. If you love jewellery and are in London go and check out The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery (Rooms 91-93) at the Museum which displays around 3500 items of jewellery from the V&A’s collection.

The collection has a mainly European focus and includes everything from rings to tiaras and features examples from Ancient Greece to the present day, including several pieces with royal connections. You can see the work of famous jewellers such as Cartier, Lalique and Faberge as well as examples by 140 contemporary designers. Personally, I prefer the older pieces for their historical associations and, in many cases, their total over-the-topness!

The Museum is free to visit. Opening times are 10.00 to 17.45 daily and 10.00 to 22.00 Friday. I recommend getting there early because the jewellery gallery is very popular, is not particularly spacious and gets very crowded. Give yourself plenty of time to view the exhibits – they are stunning and deserve a good look! And don’t miss the beautiful gemstone ‘wheel’ near the gallery entrance – it includes examples of just about every gemstone you can think of and it’s worth visiting just to see that.

Finally, before you leave, take a look at the V&A shop where you can buy costume and designer jewellery.  Enjoy!

Photo by: Steve and Sara 

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Getting to like garnet: January’s birthstone

Until fairly recently, I was never very interested in garnets (January’s birthstone and the Zodiac gemstone for Aquarians), thinking of them as rather insignificant and dull – I don’t know why!

I started to change my mind when I visited Prague 12 years ago. The Czech Republic is rich in the familiar blood red variety of garnet known as pyrope (often referred to as Bohemian garnet). In the jewellery and antique shops of Prague I saw so many large, fine examples of these gemstones set into classical and contemporary style jewellery that I was forced to take notice.  I didn’t succumb on that trip but I did come to appreciate the lustre of this fiery red stone.

What really made me change my mind about garnet (by which I really mean pyrope) was seeing the Anglo Saxon Staffordshire Hoard at the Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum just weeks after it was discovered and brought up out of the ground. Many of the beautiful gold finds such as this sword hilt fitting were inlaid with pyrope which was used by the Anglo Saxons in jewellery, religious artefacts, such as crosses, and to decorate weaponry.

The Staffordshire Hoard examples, which include this beautiful sword pyramid, are work of very high quality and stunning in their detail; I now fully appreciate the beauty and impact of pyrope. The 7th century Anglo Saxon ship burial found at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk also contained fine gold and garnet fittings which can be seen at the British Museum in London.

Not just red

Like many people, I had always assumed that all garnets were red and it wasn’t until long after my return from Prague that I learned that garnet can be found in every colour except blue; the grossular variety appears in a wide range of colours, while demantoid, the most valuable variety, is emerald green. The iron and chromium content of pyrope are what give it its deep red hue. Unlike many gemstones, garnets are not artificially treated to enhance their colour.

Garnet myths

The word ‘garnet’ is derived from the Latin ‘granatus’ meaning ‘seed-like’. Garnet has long been associated with pomegranates since the pyrope variety is similar in colour to pomegranate seeds.  Traditionally, Bohemian garnets are set close together in clusters to ressemble the seeds.

The Garnet is also linked to fire and it was once believed that the gem had the power to light up the night sky. Travellers liked to carry a garnet with them as an amulet or talisman on their journeys in the belief that the stone would offer protection against danger. In the Far East garnets were used as missiles because it was thought the stone would cause mortal wounds.

Enduring popularity

Perhaps because of their clarity, durability and availability, garnets have been appreciated for thousands of years. The Eygptians, Romans and Anglo Saxons used garnets in jewellery and the gem’s popularity endured over the centuries, with pyrope jewellery becoming a ‘must-have’ fashion item in the 18th and 19th centuries; when the late Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis’ estate was auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1996, a 19th century cabochon garnet flower brooch sold for $145,000 and a heart shaped garnet carbuncle ring sold for $33,350. Garnet jewellery is still popular and is available everywhere from high street jewellers to the jewellery TV channels.

If I were thinking of buying pryope, I’d be very tempted to revisit Prague as there’s probably no better place to find this rich red stone displayed in all its fiery glory.

For more information on garnets, check out the International Colored Gemstone Association.

Next month’s birthstone: Amethyst

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Book review: Costume Jewellery by Judith Miller

It’s 17th January already and I’ve hardly had time to think let alone write since the new year began. The day job has gone crazy and Christmas seems ages ago. Fortunately, the dust has settled for the moment so that I can, at last, get back to the Jewel Box.

I was lucky enough to tick three jewellery books off my Christmas Wish List so I’m going to review one of them here: Miller’s Costume Jewellery.

Since I inherited my Marcel Boucher necklace and clip earrings, I have wanted to learn more about costume jewellery and this book has proved a great place to start. Published in June 2012 in hardback, it measures a neat 21.5cm wide x 25cm deep so fits handily onto a bookshelf. I would describe this as a reference book rather than a coffee table book because, as well as containing many beautiful colour photographs, its 256 pages are packed full of fascinating information including tips on how to identify the different styles of jewellery and approximate values for every item of jewellery featured. I feel as though I’ve acquired a good grounding in the subject in the short time that I have owned the book. It’s the type of book that you can easily dip in and out of which is handy if, like me, you are short on time but want to develop your knowledge over a period of time.

The author, Judith Miller, has been collecting antiques for nearly 50 years and is a world expert in this field. She co-founded Miller’s Antiques Price Guide in 1979, lectures and writes extensively and appears as one of the experts on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow.  She clearly knows her stuff.

The book is split into 5 easy to follow sections, all beautifully illustrated with colour photos:

The Introduction explains the Origins of Costume Jewellery and takes the reader from ancient times to the 21st century, describing the different styles and fashions.

The next section is dedicated to Major Costume Jewellery designers and features of 25 of them, including Marcel Boucher, Joseff of Hollywood, Chanel, Weiss and Vendome.

Next comes a section on Classic Designers – 57 of them! There are features on Christian Lacroix, Karl Lagerfield, Vivienne Westwood, Yves Saint Laurent and, surprisingly, Avon (Ding Dong!) who first began selling jewellery in 1971 and who, by 1975, had become the largest manufacturer of jewellery in the world. Who would have thought it!

There then follows a selection of Gallery photos including, amongst other things, Austrian jewellery, plastic jewellery, Czech jewellery and Jelly Bellies. It’s not completely obvious to me why some of the styles have been singled out for attention (e.g. are they currently popular? It’s not obvious) but the photos are beautiful and the accompanying commentary is detailed and interesting.

The book closes with a look at 14 Future Designers, presumably selected by the author as the ‘ones to watch’ although, again, it’s not totally obvious. As I’m still new to costume jewellery and would not yet call myself a collector, none of the names mentioned mean anything to me. That may change, though …

Overall, I’m delighted with this book. I bought it on the basis of the reviews I read on Amazon and it has more than lived up to expectations. I definitely want to start collecting costume jewellery but, as the book demonstrates, there are an awful lot of beautiful (and affordable) pieces to choose from. Hmmmn, where to begin? I’ll let you know when I make up my mind.

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New Anglo Saxon gold and silver finds declared Staffordshire Hoard treasure

81 gold and silver items recently found in the same field as the Staffordshire Hoard, discovered in 2009, have been declared ‘Treasure’. The Anglo Saxon objects, dating from the seventh century, include a helmet check piece and cross-shaped mount, will be valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee at the British Museum at the end of March.

The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest collection of Anglo Saxon gold ever to be found in England. The first find, in 2009, consisted of 3,900 gold items. Some of the gold in these pieces was traced to Istanbul in modern-day Turkey and the gems (garnets) to India, demonstrating that the Anglo Saxons were traders.

The original hoard was purchased for £3.3m and Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which jointly owns the hoard with the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, plans to start a fundraising campaign to buy the new items.

A selection of items from the original hoard can currently be viewed in Stoke Museum and at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.  I have seen the collection several times and it is beautiful. Many of the items are set with garnets and the quality of craftsmanship is stunning,  particularly given that many of the pieces are very small.

Look out for more information on the Staffordshire hoard in future posts.

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Rock, gem and bead fairs – January, February and March 2013

Now that the Christmas holidays are over, it’s time to think ahead and get some dates in your new 2013 calendar for upcoming gem and bead fairs.

The Rock Gem ‘n’ Bead Shows are large events where you can find a wide range of traders selling rocks, minerals, fossils (including dinosaur poo!), gemstones, gem-set jewellery and more.  I have been to the Kempton Park Race Course event on several occasions and can promise you it’s a real Aladdin’s cave. I’ve bought some of my favourite silver jewellery there as well as loose sapphires and tanzanite and jewellery making tools.  The quality of the items for sale is very good and it’s a great day out.

Of the West of England events I have only been to the Midlands Bead Fair which takes place in October every year.  Here, you can find traders selling beads, wire, findings, books, lampwork supplies and semi precious stones. It’s very good for beads, especially seed beads.

Here are the dates and links for the first three months of the year. These have been taken from the respective organisers’ websites and I recommend you check that the dates are still correct nearer the time if you intend to visit:


19 and 20 January:  The Hop Farm Rock ‘n’ Gem Show, Paddock Wood, Kent

26 and 27 January: Rock Gem ‘n’ Bead Show, Chepstow Race Course, Monmouthshire


03 February:  London Bead Fair, Kempton Park Racecourse, Sunbury TW16 5AQ

16 and 17 February: York Rock Gem ‘n’ Bead Show, York Race Course


02 and 03 March: Rock Gem ‘n’ Bead Show, Copthorne Hotel, Dudley, West Midlands

09 and 10 March: Rock ‘n’ Gem Show, Kempton Park Race Course, Staines, Middlesex

Sunday 17 March: Kent Bead Fair, Ashford International Hotel, Ashford, Kent

23 and 24 March: Brighton Rock Gem ‘ Bead Show, Brighton Race Course