Disney Designs 5: Sale As Old As Time

The Goblin and I recently watched Beauty and the Beast for the first time in a few years, and you know what that means… Time for another Disney Designs post!

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Source: tenor.com

It’s not entirely clear in which historical period Disney’s 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast is supposed to be set, but a quick Google suggests some time around the mid-to-late 18th century, so let’s go with that.

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Source: giphy.com

In the film, Belle is too busy swooning over the Beast’s gargantuan library (wahey) to wear very much jewellery, but you know who was around at this time who did? You guessed it: Marie Antoinette, the soon-to-be-headless Queen of France.

Marie Antoinette (pictured here pre-guillotine, obviously..!) Source: Wikimedia Commons

As it happens, Marie Antoinette’s jewellery collection was just auctioned at Sotheby’s in Geneva, after going on display for the first time in two centuries. The collection was sold alongside other royal gems from the Bourbon-Parma family, and the whole lot broke Sotheby’s records, going for a whopping £33.63 million!

Source: Tumblr

Before the French Revolution broke, she saw the writing on the wall and shipped some of her jewels off to her nephew in Vienna, meaning that they avoided the dismantling which befell the pieces left behind… and, indeed, their owner!

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Source: giphy.com

So, let’s take a peak inside Marie Antoinette’s jewellery box… (Ok, that’s probably enough innuendo now…)


It’s clear from first glance that this famous historical magpie was a BIG fan of both diamonds and pearls. Unlike today, where cultured pearls are plentiful and relatively affordable, in Marie Antoinette’s time, naturally-occurring pearls were very rare, and required many hours of life-threatening dives to obtain in any great number. Is it any surprise, then, that they were a favourite of this image-conscious royal?

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly, some saved jewellery was later broken up and reset anyway. This was and continues to be common practice amongst aristocratic families when it comes to heirlooms, since the component gemstones are often more valued than the piece they’re set in. Thus, it’s not unusual to see particularly beautiful stones set and reset into more contemporary pieces over the centuries.

A 19th century diamond brooch made from stones smuggled out of Paris by Marie Antoinette. Image (c) Sotheby’s.

If you’re interested in the relationships between family members and gems, Sotheby’s have put together a handy family tree to show where each piece came from:

Source: Sotheby’s (c)

The most famous and anticipated piece sold at auction was this pendant, fashioned from an enormous natural pearl (26 x 18mm!), topped with a diamond bow and large solitaire diamond:

Image (c) Sotheby’s

It sold for *drumroll please* £28.4 million, beating its £1 million estimate by, er, quite a way, and beating the record previously set by Elizabeth Taylor’s Peregrina pendant.


Source: Tumblr

It’s a total the queen herself would likely have been proud of, although it is true that her lavish tastes were exaggerated by her contemporaries. After all, can you blame them? The opportunity to tie Marie Antoinette to 1784-5 scandal known as ‘The Affair of the Diamond Necklace’ was too good to resist amongst the anti-monarchy feeling of the day…despite the fact that poor old Marie Antoinette had nothing to do with it. But that’s a story for next week’s post…and it’s a banger!

Source: tenor.com

Disney Designs 2: I’d rather be shiny

I couldn’t do another Disney Designs piece without doing my new favourite Disney film: Moana. Seriously, it’s overtaken my long-time favourites, Hercules and Mulan, and it’s not even a cartoon! It’s also The Goblin’s new favourite – I don’t think he’s actually said ‘you’re welcome’ without singing it since the first time we watched the film…

The jewel in question is, of course, the Heart of Te Fiti, which Moana wears in a locket around her neck to keep it safe on her quest to return it to its rightful owner, the earth goddess Te Fiti.

Source: associatedmormonletters.org

The Heart is meant to be made of New Zealand greenstone, which is the catch-all term for certain types of nephrite jade, serpentine and bowenite, and which is highly valued in Maori culture. (They’re known as taonga, or treasure, and are so valuable that they’re protected under the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.) These stones are also extremely durable, so it’s no wonder the Heart survives an epic journey across the oceans! Carved and shaped greenstones are known as pounamu, and increase in value the older they are, as they gain mana (prestige or power) from the histories they are witness to. Different designs also – naturally – mean different things, as this very interesting articles explains.

Some examples of pounamu:

Making the Heart a greenstone pounamu is a gorgeous detail in the film, and I’ve definitely learnt something new researching it. I also now reeeeally want this necklace:

Source: kouragallery.co.nz

Canon deities, canoes, and the world’s scariest crabs: bonus trivia

1) Maui actually did all the things he brags about in You’re Welcome, although he had a female counterpart, Hina, without whom he wouldn’t have been able to achieve many of them, and who was disappointingly left out of the film… They also left out the story where he dies from encountering goddess of night and death, Hine-nui-te-pō’s, vagina dentata – I wonder why! The teeth were made of obsidian though, so at least she was stylish with her murdering…

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2) The storyline about Moana’s people being voyagers and then stopping for a mysterious reason is actually based on historical events. After settling Western Polynesia (Samoa, Tonga, Fiji 3500 years ago, Pacific Islanders stopped voyaging for a solid two milennia…and nobody knows why. Why did a civilisation built on voyaging just stay were they were until 1500-500 years ago? Many solutions have been suggested, from wind patterns to algae poisoning, but it remains a mystery to this day… As a historian, though, I was delighted that this element of Moana was based on a real-life trend.

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3) Although the queer-coding of Tamatoa was one of the more disappointing elements of the film, it turns out that Coconut Crabs like him he is actually are well-known for stealing shiny things. At up to 9lbs and 3m from leg to leg, they’re also the largest land crab, and they’re bloody terrifying. They’re cannibals and autophages (they fucking eat their own offcast exoskeletons, people), and they’ve been known to attack humans. Maybe Tamatoa was more on point than I thought… I just wish they’d made him the same browny-yellow colour as an actual coconut crab rather than that loaded pinky-purple!

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So there we have it – Moana’s Heart of Te Fiti and some trivia on the film (which is amazing and you should all watch it right now seriously go I’ll wait). Moana is a badass heroine who’s also really human and fails throughout the film, and she has no love interest for the entire 107 minutes. It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s as close as Disney’s ever got to decent representation whilst still being hilarious. And obviously Lin-Manuel Miranda’s involvement in the soundtrack doesn’t hurt…

Which Disney design should I do next? Let me know in the comments.

Disney Designs No.1: Poor unfortunate shells

Who doesn’t love a bit of nostalgia on an unseasonably-cold September evening? With the wedding coming up, I’m trying to stop obsessively checking the weather forecast for the weekend and lean into the cosy autumnal vibe instead. Lots of children’s books/films, bubble baths, and herbal tea (Twinings Lemon Drizzle Green Tea is the only thing getting me through chilly work afternoons at the moment, let’s be honest).

So, it’s not surprising that I’ve chosen now to start a ‘jewellery from Disney films’ blog series. (You may be thinking ‘hmm, large life change looming – is she watching kiddie films because she’s in denial about becoming someone’s actual wife?’, but if I’m honest, this series was The Goblin’s idea.)


This was a pretty fun one to research, and I’ve learnt several unexpected things, like the difference between a nautilus and an ammonite, and the fact there was a Little Mermaid Broadway musical (how did I miss this?!).

Ursula’s necklace

Ursula uses her shell necklace to keep Ariel’s voice once she’s traded it for legs. The first time we see her, Ursula is already wearing the ornament, so it’s presumably something she values as a piece of jewellery in itself. After all, where better to keep the precious spoils of your nefarious deals than in your favourite accessory? (I mean it worked for Voldemort…for a while…)

According to the Disney wiki, Ursula’s necklace is a nautilus shell, which, it turns out, is not the same as an ammonite, although they look pretty bloody similar:

As this extremely helpful page explains, they’re both cephalopods (from the Greek for ‘head-feet’), but the main difference between them is that ammonoids are extinct. No news on why nautiloids survived extinction despite being pretty much identical to their extinct ammonoid siblings (apart from their small biological differences such as flesh tubes – yuck – and separations between shell chambers). Whatever the reason, I’m guessing Ursula uses one because fossils don’t tend to have handy storage chambers…

Fun bonus reminder: in the original Hans Christian Anderson story, the Little Mermaid sacrifices her voice by having her tongue cut out rather than putting her voice in a shell. That necklace would have been more Hannibal Lecter than Hans Christian… (Although Ursula has more in common with Hannibal than you’d think – more on that later.)

Fairytale facts: Disney budgets, Ursula’s characterisation, and prehistoric jewellery

1) Ursula is an octopus with only 6 tentacles due to Disney’s budgetary constraints – apparently animating 8 tentacles in 1989 was way more difficult and pricey than just the 6 they ended up with.


2) In the original draft of the film, she was meant to be Triton’s sister, making her Ariel’s aunt. They decided to save that storyline for The Lion King, which I think is a good thing. I mean, how much more badass is Ursula as a character when she’s just generally power-hungry and keen for revenge than if she were explicitly usurped in some way (yawn)? Also, Ursula screws Ariel over for revenge, but what about the rest of the merpeople? She seems to just be a cannibalistic sadist with great charisma – what’s not to love?

See? Cannibalism.

3) Ursula is not alone in favouring seashell jewellery; from Brittany to the Bahamas, and countless other cultures across time and space, it has and continues to be incredibly popular. So popular, in fact, that what’s thought to be the first extant jewellery, created 100-135,000 years ago, is made out of seashells:

Source: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5504545

Back in the here and now, if you want a subtle silver version of Ursula’s magical pendant, my ammonite gives a nod to the sea witch without making your boss passive-agressively email you the company dress code…


Unfortunately, you can’t use it to trap the voice of every pillock making obnoxious comments on the tram… May have to consider that for the next shop upgrade!