Antique Scottish agate, or “pebble” jewelry is bold, sentimental and a tad bit kitschy: a perfect embodiment of the Victorian era.
The same way Woody Allen’s Gil Pender ached to time travel back to the roaring twenties in Midnight in Paris, nineteenth-century Brits pined away for a life in Medieval Scotland. The country’s romantic castles and dramatic, empty landscapes provided the perfect backdrop for urbanites caught up in the industrial revolution to imagine themselves as noble knights and their lovely ladies.
Queen Victoria herself was an enthusiastic proponent of all things Scottish. In 1847 she purchased Balmoral castle in Aberdeenshire as a vacation home, and published affectionate memoirs of hunting for gems in Scottish streams.
Tourists were swept up in the Queen’s fascination with the highlands, and followed her there in search of their own authentic Scottish experience. Local jewelers and merchants capitalized on this influx of vacationers by producing jewelry featuring stones like the ones Queen Victoria had found in the creeks near Balmoral. Multicolored mosaics of striped and speckled agates, smoky quartzes and pink granite were carefully arranged in engraved settings of silver and gold.
Many of these jewels were fabricated as traditional Scottish forms dating back to the Middle Ages - like the luckenbooth, or crowned heart brooch pictured above. Scottish style agates were also used in more contemporary Victorian designs, as demonstrated by the two stunning bangles below.
Scottish jewelry was at its height of popularity between 1845 – 1870, but remained fashionable until the turn of the century. A fair number of pretty pieces survive today, waiting to be taken from their dusty velvet boxes by those nostalgic for a time long before their own.