The Magpie's Jewel Box

A treasure trove of sparkly bits and pieces


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Historical jewellery finds: The Esrick Ring

I’m fascinated by the treasures that metal detectorists  (if that’s a proper word) have found in recent years around the UK (see my previous post about the Staffordshire Hoard). So, I was interested to read the latest post on my sister-in-law’s blog about the Escrick Ring, a gold and sapphire ring found in a field near the Yorkshire village of Escrick in 2009. Experts now believe that the ring is older than first thought, dating it to the 5th or 6th century, and they also think it may have been belonged to royalty.

Read the full article by Saesferd.

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Getting creative for Spring!

Well, it’s been way too long since my last post due to two main factors: first I’ve recently started a new job so I’ve been quite braindead during weekday evenings; secondly, I’m in the final stages of editing a book which is due to be submitted to the publishers on 25 March so all my spare time has been spent on that.

I am missing the Jewel Box so thought I would quickly share news of a couple of jewellery projects that I have coming up after the Easter holidays when, hopefully, life will have quietened down a bit.  I’m quite excited about them and will share news of my progress in future posts.

Silver Jewellery Beginners Evening class

All of the jewellery I have made over the last couple of years has been bead-based and while I love working with beads, I’m also keen to start learning about metalwork, specifically silver. At this stage, I’m just looking for an introduction to the subject. As I live close to Birmingham and its wonderful Jewellery Quarter, this seemed a good place to start looking for evening courses.  I came across this 5-week Silver Jewellery Beginners Evening class which is taking place in a workshop right in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter.

It’s being run by designer Victoria Delany who I haven’t come across before but she looks to be very well qualified and I like the fact that she doesn’t just design jewellery (check out her cutlery!).

Jewellery Photography

As I’ve been researching various articles for this blog, I have come across some fantastic jewellery photography. I love the detail and craftmanship that can be seen in even the tiniest piece of jewellery and I would love to be able to capture this in my own photography.

Most of the images I use for The Jewel Box have been bought and paid for, the others are my own. The difference in quality is a little embarrassing! I quickly realised that there’s a limit to how well you can photograph jewellery in close up (especially small items) with a point and shoot and I reached it a while ago.

As I didn’t have the budget to invest in a new camera, I have been making do as best I can. However, I was lucky enough to receive a new camera as a gift recently. It’s a FujiFilm Finepix HS30 EXR which I’m told has a great macro lens and should enable me to take good close ups.

My workload being what it is, I haven’t had a proper play with the camera yet. It’s sitting in its box, powered up and ready to go. I’m really looking forward to experimenting with it and will post up some images once I’ve got myself up and running. Watch this space …


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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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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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Jewellery books are top of the Magpie’s Christmas wish list

If Santa plans to stop by my house, could he please deliver the following books which appear on my Christmas wish list and are all available from Amazon:

7000 years of Jewellery by Hugh Tait. This books draws mainly on the collections held by The British Museum (hardly surprising, really, as the Museum published the book!). It is a broad illustrated history which looks at the different styles, techniques and materials used to make jewellery around the world.

Miller’s Costume Jewellery by Judith Miller.  This book provides an introduction to costume jewllery, starting in Ancient Egypt and exploring everything from Art Deco and Hollywood jewellery to the lives of key designers, their designs and makers marks.  The author is an expert on jewellery, founded the best-selling Miller’s Antiques Price Guide and has written over 100 books. She is also one of the experts appearing on the BBC’s ‘Antiques Roadshow‘ and presented the BBC TV series ‘The House Detectives’ and ITV1’s ‘Antiques Trail’.

Vintage Jewellery by Caroline Cox.  This book covers 100 years of jewellery history, from Lalique’s Art Nouveau enamelling and Cartier’s gemstones to Christian Dior’s costume jewellery and Harry Winston‘s diamonds. It sounds like a visual delight and a valuable source of information about the leading designers and jewellery houses. Caroline Cox is a visiting professor at the London School of Fashion and a leading fashion authority.

Jeweller’s Directory to Gemstones: A Complete Guide to Appraising and Using Precious Stones from Cut and Colour to Shape and Setting (bit of a mouthful, that one!) by Judith Crowe.

This book provides a full description of each gemstone and how it can be used in jewellery, a history of the cuts and useful information about identifying, buying and caring for the gems.  Sounds ideal for jewellery makers.

If I am lucky enough to receive all of the above, I will review each book in future posts. In the meantime, I will try to be good so that Santa pays a visit …