The Secrets That Antique Jewelry Keep

We’re always pleased when jewelry reveals some of it secrets through hallmarks, maker’s marks and engraved details. However, some jewelry are meant to keep secrets; artisans have built compartments to protect the wearer’s valuables and tokens of significance, and encase them in some seriously fabulous materials.

 19th Century Etruscan Revival coach covers, from the Gray & Davis archives.

19th Century Etruscan Revival coach covers, from the Gray & Davis archives.

 Coach cover with the old mine cut diamond earring it encased, from the Gray & Davis archives.

Coach cover with the old mine cut diamond earring it encased, from the Gray & Davis archives.

Fashionable and functional in the 19th century, “Coach covers” are attachable orbs that cloaked valuable earrings to protect the wearer in transit (we assume from villainous highwaymen). Once the wearer arrived at her destination, she could remove the covers and let her diamonds out.

 A 15K gold brooch pendant with its original pin and catch made c. 1860.

A 15K gold brooch pendant with its original pin and catch made c. 1860.

 The brooch pendant's secret locket compartment, now fitted with a piece of brocade. 

The brooch pendant's secret locket compartment, now fitted with a piece of brocade. 

Jewelry that incorporated a loved one’s hair became popular in the seventeenth century and remained in fashion until the end of the nineteenth century. Pieces could be given as both a sentimental gesture (Queen Victoria gave hair jewelry throughout her life) or included as part of mourning jewelry to further personalize the token of remembrance. Jewelry with a glass plate built in, as well as some daintier antique lockets, most likely held beautifully woven hair; period jewelers were skilled at braiding and working it into compartments of brooches, pendants and rings.

 A 15K rosy gold locket ring with a buckle design and hand engraving, made c.1830.

A 15K rosy gold locket ring with a buckle design and hand engraving, made c.1830.

 Buckle ring hides woven hair around the band's center.

Buckle ring hides woven hair around the band's center.

Small ring compartments may have held other secrets besides hair. Rings crafted with a small lidded compartment for herbs, or something more sinister, are mentioned in ancient texts. Famous locket ring wearers included Elizabeth I and members of the powerful Borgia family. The ring’s use in fictional and real life drama buoyed their popularity in the 16th through 19th centuries.

 Victorian 15K gold and banded agate men's intaglio ring with locket compartment.

Victorian 15K gold and banded agate men's intaglio ring with locket compartment.

Larger locket pendants became fashionable c. 1860-1880, coinciding with increasing availability of portrait photography – for the first time, images could be created and mounted into jewelry that didn’t require the skill of a miniature portrait painter. Today, with the help of image resizing, we can put pictures into those small jewelry compartments so they may once again hold treasured mementos.

 French 18K gold Georgian locket with carved Garnet and scalloped edge of rose cut diamonds, c.1800. Rock crystal locket backing.

French 18K gold Georgian locket with carved Garnet and scalloped edge of rose cut diamonds, c.1800. Rock crystal locket backing.

 Early 20th Century 14K gold locket watch fob with black enamel and a spider design set with an old mine cut diamond.

Early 20th Century 14K gold locket watch fob with black enamel and a spider design set with an old mine cut diamond.

 Victorian 18K rose gold watch chain is hung with a shield-shaped locket containing a hinged disk of rock crystal. French Import mark c. 1838 - 1864. 

Victorian 18K rose gold watch chain is hung with a shield-shaped locket containing a hinged disk of rock crystal. French Import mark c. 1838 - 1864. 

Autumn = Brooch Weather

Fall is wonderful for many reasons: Halloween candy, foliage, apple picking, etc., but for antique jewelry addicts the absolute BEST part about fall is the return of big brooch weather.

 Assortment of Victorian gold & gemstone brooches, all currently available at Gray & Davis. 

Assortment of Victorian gold & gemstone brooches, all currently available at Gray & Davis. 

That’s right, gone are the gauzy garments of summer that could barely support a single stick pin. Back are the formidable trench coats, tweed blazers and chunky sweaters of fall: all perfect canvases for the substantial, statement-making brooches favored by Victorian fashionistas. 

A Victorian Brooch by Richard Attenborough & Co.

A recent addition to our cases is this exquisite antique 15k gold knot brooch set with turquoise cabochons: 

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The two hanging charms are detachable, and can be worn separately as pendants:

The heart even has a tiny locket compartment on the back, now filled with a piece of old silk.

Even better, this brooch comes in its original fitted box, which is still marked with the label of Richard Attenborough & Co at 68 Oxford St. in London. Attenborough & Co. resided at the Oxford Street address c.1841 – 1871 – we think the brooch dates to the earlier part of this range, c.1840 – 1850.

A Monday Menagerie

We have quite a collection of animal-themed jewels at the moment.

A lovely lizard:

 Brooch, 18k gold, coral, diamond & ruby. 19th century, French. Currently available at Gray & Davis.

Brooch, 18k gold, coral, diamond & ruby. 19th century, French. Currently available at Gray & Davis.

An Outstanding Owl:

 Brooch. 9k gold, Bohemian garnet. 19th century. Currently available at Gray & Davis.

Brooch. 9k gold, Bohemian garnet. 19th century. Currently available at Gray & Davis.

Some slithering snakes surrounding a scarab:

 Ring. 14k yellow gold, boulder opal carved as scarab. Art Nouveau c.1900. Currently available at Gray & Davis.

Ring. 14k yellow gold, boulder opal carved as scarab. Art Nouveau c.1900. Currently available at Gray & Davis.

A ghostly goat:

 Intaglio seal ring. 14k gold, carnelian, early 19th century. Currently available at Gray & Davis.

Intaglio seal ring. 14k gold, carnelian, early 19th century. Currently available at Gray & Davis.

Two loving lions:

 Bangle. 18k yellow gold, 19th century. Currently available at Gray & Davis.

Bangle. 18k yellow gold, 19th century. Currently available at Gray & Davis.

A foxy fox:

 Brooch. 14k yellow, ruby. Currently available at Gray & Davis. 

Brooch. 14k yellow, ruby. Currently available at Gray & Davis. 

And some busy beetles:

 Earrings. 14k yellow gold, Brazilian tortoise beetles. Mid-19th century. Currently available at Gray & Davis.

Earrings. 14k yellow gold, Brazilian tortoise beetles. Mid-19th century. Currently available at Gray & Davis.