Precious metals decoded

One of the most common questions I get on Etsy is a variation on ‘what is gold-filled? Is it real gold?’. Precious metals and their various purity ratings can be a real minefield, when all you really want is to know you’re buying something that won’t turn your skin unexpectedly green or tarnish the second you wash your hands…

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Source: tenor.com

That’s why this week I’m going to break it down for you, with a handy guide on some common metal purity ratings and how to select the right one for your needs and your budget…

I’m going to decode precious metals, if you will… (Yep, you guessed it – I’ve been watching a LOT of Ancient Aliens while fulfilling your orders this week! Sorry not sorry…)

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What are precious metals?

Precious metals are rare, naturally occurring metallic elements, prized for their scarcity. The two precious metals you’re most likely to come across when buying jewellery are silver and gold, so let’s focus on them for now (I might do a follow up post on other metals like palladium and platinum in the future).

The purity (and therefore value) of these metals is measured by how much of the metal is made of the precious metal, and how much is made up of ‘base metals’, or other precious metals (e.g. silver is often used in gold alloys). Base metals is the term used for any non-precious metal, such as copper, nickel and zinc. These are added to the relatively soft precious metals following mining, in order to strengthen them, and sometimes they form naturally-occurring alloys with precious metals.

Silver purities

There are three main types of silver alloy which you are likely to come across when shopping for jewellery: fine silver, sterling silver, and silver plated metal. There are other variations in fineness available, but today I’ll focus on the three main options you might come across while doing your holiday shopping…

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Source: giphy.com

Fine silver

Fine silver has a purity of 99.9% silver by weight. This means it is virtually pure silver (100% silver is extremely difficult to create, as the purer the metal, the harder it becomes to remove impurities).

Pure silver is also what is created when silver clay is fired, because the binding agents of paper, cloth and water in the clay burn away.

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Pure silver sewing scissors pendant

Sterling silver

Good old sterling silver is one of the most popular metals for less expensive jewellery designs. To be classified as sterling silver, an alloy must be at least 92.5% silver by weight, and maximum 7.5% other metals.

Many of the items I make in silver are crafted from sterling silver, because it’s affordable for most customers, good to work with, and has a high enough purity level that it’s suitable for all but the most sensitive skin.

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Sterling silver hoop & necklace gift set

Silver-plated metal

In cheaper jewellery pieces, silver plated metals are often used. Silver plating is where base metals are plated with either fine silver or sterling silver by being dipped into an electrolyte bath.

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GCSE Chemistry, anyone? (Source: Wikicommons)

Plated metals can give you the dreaded green-skin effect over time, as the layer of silver begins to rub off and the internal alloy (often copper) is revealed and comes into contact with your skin. How fast this happens depends on how thick the layer of silver on top is, and whether there’s a barrier layer between the base metal and the precious metal on top.

Gold

Gold comes in various different colours, but the purity ratings are the same for yellow, white and red/rose gold. Sometimes high-quality rose gold will be referred to as ‘red gold’ in jewellery stores, which can be a bit confusing, but it has the same pinky-gold colour that you would expect from rose gold

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Source: karryon.com.au

As you probably already know, gold is measured in carats – but what does that actually mean? Well, the carat rating system measures the amount of gold per 24 ‘parts’. So 24 carat gold is virtually pure gold (999/1000 parts gold), whilst 18 carat gold is 75% gold and 25% other metals. Gold jewellery is also commonly sold at 9, 10 and 14 carats, although 15, 20 and 22 carats are sometimes available (20 and 22 being used more widely for gold coins).

So, the higher the carat rating, the higher the percentage of gold in your jewellery, and the more you’re likely to be spending on it.

But how do I pick which purity I want?

An important thing to consider when buying jewellery is that 24 carat gold is much too soft for jewellery which will be worn regularly, particularly wedding and engagement rings.

For durability, 18 and 14 carat gold has the best balance of pure gold and other metals, so this is the one to pick if you’re choosing a wedding or engagement band, or another piece you expect will get a lot of wear over the years.

For affordability, as long as you’re not planning to wear the item on a daily basis for a long period of time, 9 carat gold is well worth considering, since it is still very durable, and a lot easier on the purse strings than other options, without sacrificing quality!

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9ct gold love knot ring

Gold-plated metals

In much the same way as silver-plated metals tarnish over time, gold-plated metals are not the best pick for durability, although they are more affordable than pure gold or gold filled options. Gold plating is generally done via the same method as silver plating, but because gold is a softer metal, it wears even less well than its silver cousin. Not recommended for any jewellery you’re planning to wear a lot, but fine for more costume pieces or less frequent use.

Gold-filled metals

To be labelled as gold-filled, an alloy’s weight must include at least 5% gold. Gold-filled metal is made up of a solid layer of gold which is mechanically bonded to a base metal or sometimes to silver. Because the gold is bonded rather than just layered on top of the other metal(s), gold-filled metal is a more durable option than gold-plating, but still has the bonus of being much more affordable than purer, carat-rated gold.

This is why many Tiding of Magpies designs feature gold- or rose gold-filled materials – pretty, durable jewellery, without the hefty price tag!

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Moonstone and rose gold fill gift set

5 tips for presenting your jewellery collection

So, I may have mentioned that a selection of my work is currently being shown at Birmingham’s RBSA Gallery (once…or twice…a second…all summer…!), and I found it quite difficult to whittle down my designs to a cohesive collection of just 15 pieces.

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Source: tenor.com

When I was choosing what to include, I couldn’t find a huge amount of advice online on how to make the collection hang together whilst showing the best Tiding of Magpies has to offer.

So, here are 5 useful things I learnt about putting together a collection from your body of work:

1) Start with your favourites

These are the pieces you love, the ones you’re proudest of, the first ones you’d show someone if they asked ‘what’s your jewellery like?’. These could be old or new designs, but they should make up around 1/3-1/2 of the collection, depending on how well they fit into the theme of the exhibition.

Here are a few of mine…

 

An exhibition is also an excuse to get creative and show off something brand new, like this beauty I designed for the exhibition, which is probably now my all-time favourite:

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Coming soon to the Tiding of Magpies shop…

2) No ‘throwaway pieces’

I mean, technically speaking, none of your designs should be ‘throwaways’, so let me explain what I mean by that! It’s actually an idea I got from Project Runway (because, of course I did). When the designers show their final collections, Tim Gunn always tells them to get rid of ‘throwaway’ pieces which are just in there to fill space in the collection.

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Source: tenor.com

These pieces can sometimes be a bit less interesting than the rest, or include multiple repeats of ideas that crop up later in the show. What this means in a jewellery context is, consider whether you want to include multiples of the same design in different colours, or popular designs you’re less proud of (we’ve all got them!).

3) Try and have a relatively even spread of jewellery types & price points

Although my overall body of work is largely made up of necklaces and earrings, I made sure my display collection featured three rings as well, to demonstrate the versatility of my designs and create a more pleasing and varied overall display. If your designs skew more to one type of piece, it’s a good idea to try and even up the numbers a bit in a limited-size collection.

It’s also wise to mix it up in terms of price points; galleries might allow for a higher overall price range, but it’s still worth including some pieces on the lower and middle ends of that scale to tempt casual purchasers or gift-hunters (especially at this time of year!).

4) Echo shapes or materials, but not both at once

This one’s fairly self-explanatory, but as an example, I put these two pairs of earrings into my collection:

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The same overall shape signals that they’re part of the same collection, but the different metals, stones, and stone shapes maintain interest and variety.

5) Think about the theme of the exhibition

If it’s your first time exhibiting (or even if it isn’t), jewellery exhibitions usually feature multiple artists, so there will be an overall thematic link rather than the theme being that of your collection alone. You want your collection to stand out in a good way, but to also have a visible link to the theme of the exhibition.

 

The display Tiding of Magpies is currently part of is titled Stellar, and themed around the sparkliness of space. In response, I made sure my collection included some of my designs which feature star shapes, as well as themed stones such as moonstone (duh) & lapis lazuli (which looks like the night sky, with its blue colour and gold flecks).

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Now all you have to do is avoid the inevitable over-thinking and wondering if you put the wrong pieces forward!

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What other aspects of jewellery design would you like to see posts on? Let me know in the comments…

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Cursed jewellery? Jinkies!

I know, I know, it’s been a while. Lots of things have happened but the highlights are lots of illness, a holiday & new projects. It has been A TIME.

Anyhow, this week was the start of the new school term, and you know what that means? It’s also time for the new HOGWARTS school term. If, like me, your letter never arrived, don’t despair – you can still show your house colours and pretend it did.

Ready for the new year, I’ve created a line of barely-there Hogwarts house necklaces, for an oh-so-pretty and dainty nod to your dreams of becoming a wizard that won’t get you stared at on the tram…

 

It was only a matter of time until I made some jewellery inspired by my childhood obsession, and designing these subtle house colours made me think about how much jewellery there is in the Harry Potter series. From Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem and Hermione’s gold time turner to Marvolo Gaunt’s tasteless ring (nobody giggle) and the horcrux locket, I think it’s safe to assume that the wizarding world is as full of magpies as the muggle one!

Because we all know plenty about these fictional magical trinkets (and because I’ve just discovered the And That’s Why We Drink podcast!), I thought I’d have a little look for some ‘real life’ gems with special powers. Here are three sinister sparklers and the mysteries behind them…

1. The ‘Atlantis Ring’

Supposedly magical jewellery tends to fall into two categories: amulets/talismans and cursed objects. Ring number one on our list is the former.

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Allegedly found in 1860 by the Marquis d’Agrain in the Egyptian Valley of the Kings, this clay ring with its strange markings seemed completely out of place amongst the hieroglyphs and imagery of its surroundings. Long story short, this led to the belief it was from the lost city of Atlantis (because, of course it did). And then it gets weirder…

Source: Wikicommons

Howard Carter, the archaeologist famous for leading the exhibition that found Pharoah Tutankhamun’s tomb, was so interested in this ring’s supposed protective properties (especially against mummies and their curses) that he had a copy made for himself. Years later, he became the only member of his expedition to die of natural causes… Hmmm.

2. The Hope Diamond

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Possibly the most famous cursed gemstone in the world, the Hope Diamond has definitely seen its share of misfortune. Tales of its first owner being ripped apart by wild dogs started the rumour of a curse, although these proved to be false. Perhaps it wasn’t so cursed after all then? Not so fast; after adorning the doomed necks of various members of the French royal family, including Marie Antoinette, it made its way to England and then the USA following the French Revolution. Realising the ‘curse’ could be a selling point, Cartier obtained the diamond and sold it to socialite Evelyn Walsh McLean.

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Not one to be cowed by curses, McLean showed the diamond off at every opportunity. However, bad luck began to plague her and her family. Her children both died, one in a car crash and the other from a drug overdose. Then her husband left her for another woman, bankrupted the family in the process, and eventually died of alcoholism-induced brain atrophy. Yikes. But wait, what about McLean herself? She died the year after her husband, her jewellery being sold to pay the family’s debts.

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It now lives in the Smithsonian Museum, where the worst it does is doom the tourists who view it to the curse of being overcharged in taxis and losing their passports…

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3. The Koh-i-Noor Diamond

In this case, it seems that diamonds really are a girl’s best friend. Or, at least, a boy’s worst enemy!

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This whopping 105.6 carat stone passed through the hands of Delhi sultans, Persian shahs, and Mughal, Afghan & Sikh emperors, before being willed to a temple by its second-to-last owner, Ranjit Singh. Unfortunately, the East India Company had other ideas, and the stone was handed over to Queen Victoria in the Last Treaty of Lahore.

Because Disney’s Aladdin, it hadn’t come out yet, so people didn’t seem to realise that stealing stones from sacred places was a really bad idea

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After effectively nicking the diamond from the gods, British sailors faced the battle to get it home, coming up against cholera, attack, and gales.

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However, because every previous male owner had lost his throne – and the stone – in unfortunate circumstances, the British royal family did take the ‘sensible’ precaution of making sure that only female royalty wore the stone. So far it’s been in a brooch, a circlet and a tiara, and is currently in the Queen Mum’s crown in the Tower of London.

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Its ‘curse’ was the inspiration for Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, and it’s featured in an Agatha Christie novel and Assassin’s Creed since then!

 

Would you wear a supposedly cursed piece of jewellery? I don’t believe in curses but I’ve not been keen to risk it since reading Simon Raven’s The Roses of Picardie! Excellent book, but also quite scary… For now I’ll stick to my Ravenclaw necklace! What’s your Hogwarts house – Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw? Let me know in the comments.

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Famous jewels: Jackie O’s engagement ring

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Source: Glamour Magazine

It’s been a busy week, so here’s a quick mini-blog to tide you over until my next full-length post later this week. In my various sparkly research I come across a lot of famous gems I squirrel away to look at at a later date, so here’s one of my favourites, made by French jewellery firm Van Cleef and Arpels…

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Subtle this one is not, but that’s why I love it. I mean, look at this sparkle! The First Lady was famously fond of emeralds (as am I!), so her engagement ring features a 2.84 carat square-cut emerald and a 2.88 carat square-cut diamond within a beautiful open-halo setting of 12 marquise-cut diamonds, as well as numerous smaller round diamonds along the gold band. Phew – no wonder its estimated value today is an eye-watering £966,000!

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Aside from the craftsmanship and sheer wow-factor of the ring, I love the two stand-out square-cut stones nestled together in their laurel-like surrounds. They’re the perfect pair, and a lovely representation of the promise of engagement – if only JFK hadn’t been such a rubbish, philandering husband, he and Jackie could have been the same! Still, at least she got this gorgeous sparkler out of him…

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Let me know your favourite famous jewels in the comments – I love discovering exceptional pieces that I’ve never seen before!

#collaborationovercompetition

I recently had the opportunity to collaborate with some wonderful artists for two exciting photoshoots, and the edits are back! Here’s a selection of the final images showcasing Tiding of Magpies jewellery…

Shoot 1: Festival Fashion

The first shoot was a fun and colourful romp through a bunch of different festival looks modelled by Kitty Devereux, with hair and make-up by Alia-Michelle, photography by Adrian G, and jewellery by Tiding of Magpies.

This first look featured a simple white tee to highlight Kitty’s gorgeous ink, topped off with fun and bouncy curls, a shimmery make-up look (using the Naked II palette) and metallic wayfarers. The necklace will be on sale at Tiding of Magpies VERY soon, and is a gold version of this piece, featuring gold-filled stars, discs and leaves, as well as amethyst, moonstone and crystal quartz drops. The hoops (which look fab through Kitty’s stretcher!) can be found here, with a smaller version here.

I love this look because it’s effortless festival cool that allows the model’s individuality to shine through (and would be pretty low-maintenance even when knee-deep in mud!).Kitty-31Look 2 has more country vibe with it, complete with plaid shirt and hat. More pared-down jewellery works perfectly with this look, so my classic silver chevron necklace and silver-wrapped amethyst teardrop earrings complement the look beautifully.Kitty-95

Plus, I’m loving this lip colour (Illamasqua Magnetism)…Kitty-125

The final look is my absolute favourite. Alia used two chunky glitters by Festival Face and a finer one by Stargazer.

As a magpie, I fully endorse all glitter, all the time! And I NEED more glitter roots in my life…Kitty-185This adorable flowery ensemble and awesome make-up really highlights the bluey-purple and rose gold tones in the coin pearl lariat necklace Kitty is rocking. My rose gold filled mini star hoops add a bit of extra sparkle to complete the look…Kitty-154The coin pearl lariat was a wedding jewellery design, so I was absolutely thrilled that Alia chose to show its versatility when styling this shoot!

Shoot 2: Soft summer style

The second shoot by Adrian G, with hair and make-up by Alia-Michelle, had a softer, more classic vibe, featuring the stunning Lilly Graham in a series of clean, simple spring and summer looks, all created with the Naked II palette.

My rose quartz and rose gold teardrop earrings look beautiful with the flawless skin and strong brows Alia created, picking out the pinker tones in Lilly’s hair wonderfully. I also want Alia to come and do my eyebrows for me for the rest of my life…Lilly-11Look number two featured my simple rose gold filled circle necklace and the same hammered disc hoops from the festival shoot.

 

The final look featured a gorgeously summery look, complete with a soft, floral hairstyle and my amethyst earrings making another appearance.

I love how many pieces were used for different looks on these shoots – it just goes to show that a good design can be really versatile. From festival to picnic, and work to date night, Tiding of Magpies has got you covered with beautiful jewellery, all handmade with love in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter!
Lilly-240A huge thanks goes out to Alia-Michelle, Adrian, Kitty and Lilly for being your fab and talented selves! I’ve loved being a part of these shoots…here’s to the next one!

 

Spotlight on: Elsa Peretti, pioneering jewellery designer

It’s International Women’s Day, so today’s spotlight had to be on trailblazing jewellery designer Elsa Peretti, who started out as the epitome 70s cool and continues to design gorgeous, innovative jewellery to this day. I mean, what’s not to love about a woman who casually refers to Andy Warhol (once a close friend) as ‘a bit of a shit’…?

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Peretti wearing her own designs.

Born in Florence in 1940, Peretti studied interior design before becoming a fashion model and moving to New York in the 1960s. It was in New York that she began to design jewellery independently, creating forward-thinking pieces in sensual shapes and elegant materials.

A significant member of the Studio 54 scene, in the late 60s and early 70s, Peretti lived a tempestuous life that was as glamorous and edgy as her designs. After several drug-fuelled years, she got clean, going on to win the Coty award for her jewellery designs in 1971. In 1972, Bloomingdale’s gave her her own boutique spot; the same year, she made her first Vogue appearance. She also designed for close friend and fellow club-scene-member, fashion designer Halston.

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Peretti in 1975. Photo by Helmut Newon.

In 1974, Peretti joined Tiffany as a designer, and it was this partnership which made her a household name. It continues to this day, with the now-elderly Peretti designing from her Catalan bolt-hole, Sant Martí Vell. She still makes 10% of Tiffany’s profits from her designs, more than any other designer in the company.

So, why is Elsa Peretti such a significant figure in jewellery design? Part of her success lies in how effectively her original designs captured a moment and a mood, that of seventies New York. Rebellion, excess, disco, women’s liberation – it’s all reflected in the boldness and sculptural nature of Peretti’s designs, which are meant to take the wearer effortlessly from boardroom to dancefloor. From statement cuffs to stylised hearts and hoop earrings, it’s that most elusive of styles: wearable high fashion.

The young Peretti was no stranger to rebellion by the time she began designing; she fled her wealthy, conservative family for Barcelona at 21, before moving to America to model. Endowed with natural style and charisma, she modelled to pay the bills while pursuing her real interest: jewellery design.

Not content with simply designing, Peretti began to change trends in jewellery design as well, using silver in her work. At the time, silver was considered ‘common’ in fine jewellery, but Peretti’s elegant, exciting, silver designs soon changed that.

The first piece Peretti made was a tiny silver vase, hung from a chain and with a tiny rosebud inside it. Anyone who was anyone went made for the novel idea, and vases & bottles are a popular motif in Peretti’s collections even today:

Her simple, sexy designs were unlike anything that had come before, and her most iconic piece, the 1974 ‘Bone’ cuff was an instant hit with everyone from Sophia Loren to Liza Minelli. Even today, this design appears on the red-carpet wrists of the likes of Rachel Weisz and Rosamund Pike, showing its timeless appeal and eternal cool.

Peretti is also inspirational because of her take-no-shit attitude and enormous work ethic. She insisted on keeping her own name and intellectual property rights when she signed with Tiffany & Co., so her collection is ‘Elsa Peretti for Tiffany’. She also isn’t backward in coming forward about her success: as she put it to Vanity Fair, ‘I am very happy with what I’ve done. I knew a man wasn’t going to give me money,’

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In 2000, Peretti took the money she had inherited from her family and put it into a foundation in her father’s name. The Nando Peretti foundation works globally to support human rights, women’s rights, environmental protection, and a host of other causes, and Peretti is personally involved in the work even now.

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If that wasn’t enough, in 2012, aged 72, she signed a new 20-year contract with Tiffany!

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(Welsh) love is all you need…

January is super depressing; we all know this. Yesterday was Blue Monday, which in itself was basically a faux-scientific marketing tool…but it still managed to be excessively bleak, so I thought I’d look ahead to a more jolly day in January: the 25th, Dydd Santes Dwynwen.

What’s Dydd Santes Dwynwen…I asked about 5 years ago when my Welsh husband, The Goblin, mentioned it. In very simple terms, it’s a sort of Welsh Valentine’s Day, and, like Valentine’s Day, it’s rooted in the (sometimes violent) life of a Christian patron saint of love. Huzzah! It’s got everything The Goblin and I need from a holiday: medieval history, avoiding other people, and feeling slightly smug for avoiding the more commercial option…

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But first things first: who was St. Dwynwen? There are a few different narratives for this (unsurprisingly, since it’s a mixture of Celtic and Christian lore), so I’m going to go with the most cohesive and least unpleasant one (because, believe me, some are unpleasant!).

Most stories agree that sometime around the 5th century CE, a girl named Dwynwen was born to Brychan Brycheiniog, either the son of an Irish king or a Welsh proto-king. She lived in the modern-day Brecon Beacons area, and, as the prettiest of Brycheiniog’s 24 (!) daughters, attracted a lot of attention. Maelon Dyfodrull, an at-first-seemingly-generic male character, fell in love with Dwynwen, and she returned his affections (again, not in every version). However, due to her aforementioned beauty, Dwynwen’s father had been planning to marry her off for political gain, and forbade the union.

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Maelon, clearly an entitled piece of work, lost his shit at Dwynwen when he heard the news, and, afraid and upset, Dwynwen did what any heartbroken teenage girl would do in the 5th century: she ran off into the woods to weep. Maelon followed her in a rage (in a the more adult and perhaps more believable version of the story, it gets a bit Law and Order SVU at this point) and, frightened of what he would do, Dwynwen prayed to stop loving him. An angel, taking pity on her, gave her a potion to drink to forget him, and turned him into ice to stop him being a threat. The angel then granted her three wishes, and the kind hearted Dwynwen prayed for Maelon to be thawed, then that God should help all true lovers, and finally that she herself should never have to marry.

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Wishes granted, Dwynwen demonstrated her gratitude by becoming a nun and founding a convent on the beautiful island of Landdwyn, in Anglesey. It might seem an extreme response to a bad experience with someone’s advances, but I can see the appeal of being a hermit on a beautiful island… After her death in 465CE, the church became a pilgrimage spot for young lovers. You can still visit the remains of the convent today, and peer into St Dwynwen’s sacred well (I see you giggling over there) to see the sacred fish and eels who, legend has it, will tell your romantic future with their movements…

The cult of Dwynwen remained strong over the centuries despite the attempts of the Reformation to quash such activity, and even today there is an annual service at her ruined church. It might have something to do with her seemingly cheerful and hopeful nature despite the crappy hand she got dealt; the best-known saying attributed to her is ‘Nothing wins hearts like cheerfulness’. D’awwww.

Like any good legend, there appears to be a kernel of truth in the story of St. Dwynwen, as this extremely interesting article explains in a more scholarly way than my armchair research allows! Sadly there seems to be no authentic hagiography of Dwynwen, which is a shame given what it could reveal about 5th century Welsh society, but given her appearance in early genealogies of her father, it does seem she was a real person at least.

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Dydd Santes Dwynwen has only been celebrated in earnest as a lovers’ day since the 1970s, as a rebellion against the commercialisation of Valentine’s Day…which suits the Goblin and I just fine! One of the main reasons we celebrate DSD rather than Valentine’s is that it’s much easier to get a table somewhere nice, and you’re not surrounded by snogging couples, teddy bears and heart balloons… The celebration is an interesting mix of ancient and really modern, and I kind of like that it’s simultaneously traditional and a modern invention.

However, despite DSD’s youth, some much older Welsh traditions have been tied into the celebration, most notably the carving of lovespoons. Lovespoons were first recorded in Wales in the 17th century CE, although it’s believed the tradition is much older. They also have a really interesting symbolic language of their own, of which more here. They are meant to show off the skill of a woodcarver, and I think this selection succeeds…

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Source: lovespoons.co.uk

And, of course, DSD involves the giving of cards and gifts…

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Available at Draenog on Etsy

…and going out for such a big dinner your special occasion undies are totally pointless!