Last week, after almost 3 years of having the soundtrack on repeat, I FINALLY got to be in the room where it happens at Hamilton in London, along with The Goblin and a whole bunch of family and friends. I cried. A lot.
And I have A LOT of feelings about the show, the top 3 being:
1) How amazing Jamael Westman & Rachelle Ann Go are as the Hamiltons
2) How I will never be satisfied with a Washington who isn’t Christopher Jackson
3) How It’s Quiet Uptown will never not make me cry (especially when sung by the divine Rachel John).
I also have a lot of feelings about the gorgeous costuming, which Paul Tazewell, acclaimed Broadway costume designer, created as a modern, minimalist version of 18th century silhouettes. It’s a combination of old and new right after my own heart*, all in a palette of lush colours.
Costume design by Paul Tazewell
Costume design by Paul Tazewell
Costume design by Paul Tazewell
Costume design by Paul Tazewell
Costume design by Paul Tazewell
The minimalism doesn’t just stop at the clothing, with the only jewellery in the show being the main female characters’ delicate drop earrings (aside from King George’s bling, of course!). They’re a gorgeous example of minimal styling, because they add a little sparkle without taking away from the incredible vocals and rich dresses.
Like the costumes, the Hamilton ladies’ jewellery is a stripped-back version of what women of the Schuylers’ status would have worn during this period of history (although not that stripped back; in late eighteenth century America, less jewellery was definitely more). Hair adornments and brooches were the accessories of choice at this time. Necklaces, when worn, tended to be of a choker style, and earrings were relatively simple (albeit expensive) gemstone drops.
Mrs Richard Brown by John Hesselius, 1760
Henrietta Dart by Jeremiah Theus 1772
Henrietta Anthony by Gilbert Stuart
Hannah Winthrop by John Singleton Copley, 1773
Following the Revolution, at the start of the nineteenth century, American jewellery manufacture briefly boomed at home, as well as there being expanded import options. The Neo-classical trend in Europe carried across to the States, with pearl, topaz and amethyst designs gaining popularity.
Anna Dorothea Finney
Jane Beekman by Vanderlyn
Abigail Smith Adams by Benjamin Blythe, 1766
Mary Tallmadge by Ralph Earl, 1790
By Ralph Earl, 1790
However, from their portraits, it seems the real-life Schuyler sisters were even simpler in their tastes than the styles of the time:
I, of course, made myself some Hamilton-themed gems to wear to the show, focusing on the star motif….
Judging by the costumes and the historical jewels, perhaps I should have worn a pair of my gemstone drop earrings instead so I could pretend I was a Schuyler sister! Come to think of it, maybe I’ll do this tomorrow – I just need to find an orangey-pink outfit to go with my rose quartz drops…
Available via the shop tab above
Available via the shop tab above
Available via the shop tab above
Some interesting articles on the costume design process:
It’s the long weekend break in the UK, so I’m spending four days in Mid-Wales with the in-laws doing a whole lot of this:
(Learnt Monopoly Deal and then won twice in a row, just saying.) Not pictured: roast lamb and amazing homemade treacle tart courtesy of my lovely mother-in-law. But between all the food and scenery and aggressive card play, I’ve whipped up a little virtual Easter treat for you all. An Easter egg, if you will…(sorry).
I’m assuming most people (if not everyone) reading this have heard of Fabergé Eggs, but I thought they deserved a bit more of a detailed look (because, God knows, they don’t get enough attention…). Essentially, the Fabergé Imperial Eggs are a collection of 50 intricate, jewelled metal eggs, filled with equally intricate surprises, which were given as Easter gifts by tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II to their female relatives (predominantly their wives and mothers). The eggs were made by the world-renowned Fabergé workshop in St Petersburg, and 43 still exist, most of which are owned either by oligarch Viktor Vekselberg or the Kremlin Armoury.
I was lucky enough to visit the Fabergé Museum in St Petersburg last year, where I saw 9 of the surviving Imperial eggs, as well as a whole host of other Fabergé treasures. Fun fact: although Peter Carl Fabergé is most famous now for the creation of the beautiful eggs, he also made a vast range of other trinkets. In fact, in the late 19th and early 20th century, it became fashionable for the European aristocracy to gift each other “a little something from Fabergé” for almost any occasion. With Fabergé’s continuous technical innovations, cigarette cases, watches and photoframes could be had in a dazzling array of enamel colours:
And let’s not forget the stunning jewellery the workshop created (so many egg-laces):
He also made some gorgeous faux flowers, which I now desperately want for my wedding centrepieces…
But back to the eggs. Although there are 9 impressive eggs in the Fabergé Museum’s collection, these are my top picks:
First, the Coronation Egg, presented as an Easter present to Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna by her husband Nicholas II, the last Romanov ruler, in 1897. Among other skills, the egg’s construction involved the use of guilloché. Like my Staffordshire Hoard blog post, researching the details of these eggs has introduced me to new metalworking techniques, and this is one of them. Basically, guilloché, originating in the 16th century, is the engraving of a repeating pattern into a base material by mechanical means (engine turning).
The egg also features a range of enamels, and the Empress’ crest set beneath a large diamond (one of many in the design). More exciting than the egg itself (at least to me), is the surprise inside: a miniature, working replica of the Empress’ coronation carriage, less than four inches long and fashioned in enamel and gold. The carriage features opening doors, moving wheels, and even tiny folding steps.
The second of my favourite eggs from the museum’s collection is the Bay Tree Egg, which I found the most impressive in terms of mechanical ingenuity.
Fashioned from jewelled nephrite (a type of jade) and enamels, this egg was presented to Nicholas II’s dowager mother, Maria Feodorovna, in 1911. As if the individual leaves and enamelled planter weren’t impressive enough, the surprise inside is incredibly impressive. When a lever disguised as a jewelled fruit is turned, the tree opens and a feathered songbird which moves and sings appears:
My final pick from the Fabergé Museum is the First Hen Egg. As the name suggests, it was the first egg presented to Empress Maria Feodorovna by her husband, Alexander III, in 1885. Although the egg is much less showy than its descendants, it makes up for that in execution and number of surprises. When the first white egg is opened, it reveals a pure gold ‘yolk’, inside which is a golden chicken with ruby eyes. The hen’s tail feathers have hinges, and the hen opens up to reveal even more surprises. Unfortunately these are now lost, but they would have been a tiny gold and diamond replica of the imperial crown, with a ruby pendant suspended on a chain inside it.
The Empress was so taken with the egg that Alexander put in a standing order with Fabergé for one egg per Easter, giving him free rein to be as innovative as he liked, as long as each egg was different.
I loved the Fabergé eggs I saw in St Petersburg, but there are three in particular in the Kremlin Armoury collection that are on my itinerary for my bucket list trip to Moscow: the Moscow Kremlin Egg, the Memory of Azov Egg, and the Steel Military Egg.
The Moscow Kremlin Egg, by far the largest Imperial egg at more than a foot tall (36 centimetres), sits within a phenomenally beautiful model of the Uspensky Cathedral, where all of the Romanov tsars were crowned, forming the cathedral’s dome. The interior of the cathedral is fashioned in gold and enamel, and includes minute enamelled icons, carpets, and a high altar. The surprise inside is a music box which plays Easter music, including one of Tsar Nicholas II’s favourite hymns. The egg is from 1906, and is considered so precious it has never travelled outside Russia, unlike many other eggs, which have toured to different museums across the globe.
Frustratingly, I couldn’t find a picture of the inside of the egg’s cathedral, which only makes me want to see it more…
The Memory of Azov Egg, presented to Maria Feodorovna in 1891, is carved from a single piece of heliotrope jasper which has been richly jewelled. Inside is a perfect replica of the Memory of Azov ship, part of the Russian Navy, upon which Nicholas II (then the tsarevitch, or prince) cruised to Far East Asia in 1890. It is fashioned in red and yellow gold and platinum, and the windows are made of tiny diamonds.
The final egg I’d like to see is the most stylistically interesting, hinting at the Soviet Realism style that was yet to come, and far plainer than the other early 20th century eggs. The Steel Military Egg was presented in 1916, when Nicholas II was away fighting in the First World War. Set on four steel ‘artillery shells’, the egg is plain steel with just the Imperial crest and crown adorning the outside. Inside is hidden a tiny painting by Vassilii Zuiev, which sits on a gold and steel, enamel-covered easel. The painting shows the Tsar and Tsarevitch examining military maps, surrounded by senior army officers. The frame is filled with diamonds. With hindsight, this austere egg almost seems portentous; it was the last egg Fabergé delivered to the Tsarina before the revolution, removal of the monarchy, and nationalisation of Fabergé’s workshop.
What’s your favourite Fabergé egg? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter/Instagram.
Now, we’ve been doing dry Lent (The Goblin’s idea; never again), so if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for an enormous glass of Malbec. Enjoy the rest of the Bank Holiday weekend, UK readers!
Buttons are of local importance as well. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Jewellery Quarter, and Birmingham more broadly, made all the fixings and fripperies needed for contemporary life, from buttons to buckles and hinges to coffin plates. Come the nineteenth century, it also made 75% of the world’s steel pen nibs. Birmingham became known as the ‘toy-maker of the world’, ‘toy’ being another word for small items of fashion such as buttons, buckles and snuff boxes. Apparently, the Jewellery Quarter wasn’t just the home of trinkets and gems.
So, Birmingham was originally the centre of the buckle-making trade:
but when this was massacred by the humble shoelace in the late-eighteenth century, buttons came to the rescue. In 1800 there were over 100 separate button makers in the few square miles making up the city centre. In 1770 there were even two separate button makers in the tiny street where I work, and nine at larger Snow Hill.
Buttons were the city’s miniature money-maker until the early twentieth century. As William Hutton stated on a visit to Brum in 1780, ‘it would be no easy task to enumerate the infinite diversity of buttons manufactured here…’.
Buttons were Birmingham’s stock in trade because they were both functional and fashionable, desirable and essential. Originally made of horn (lovely, trendy, stinky cow-foot buttons), buttons have been made in Birmingham since at least the twelfth century, according to recent archaeological excavation at the Bull Ring. However, in the eighteenth century the trade exploded, with buttons being made of mother of pearl, glass or shell, embossed or stamped, or even covered in silk.
Button-making was also a huge employer, even after the partial mechanisation of the trade in the mid-nineteenth century, due to the fragility of some of the materials.
As I mentioned before, I love buttons – they’re the epitome of functional beauty, and (as Terry says in the video) a fascinating window into social history. In fact, that great social commentator, Charles Dickens, wrote an interesting (and very, very detailed) article about the Birmingham button trade. You can read the whole thing here if you fancy it, but I’ll leave you with an apt quote from the piece:
‘It is wonderful, is it not? that on that small pivot turns the fortune of such multitudes of men, women, and children, in so many parts of the world; that such industry, and so many fine faculties, should be brought out and exercised by so small a thing as the Button.’
It’s almost the weekend, so I thought a light treat was in order: another post in my Disney Designs series. This week’s film is one of my all-time faves, partly because it came out when I was little, and partly because it features a badass female hero (let’s just ignore the questionable depictions of the Huns).
Also, it came out 20 years ago this June (I’m not old, YOU’RE OLD), so it seems a good time to look into its jewellery…
For obvious reasons, Mulan wasn’t the first film that came to mind when I was thinking of Disney Designs post ideas. However, the scene where Mulan’s dad gives her the lotus hair comb (awwww) got me thinking. Now, the original ballad of Hua Mulan on which the Disney film is based is set in either the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), or during the reign of Emperor Yang of Sui China (reigned 604-617), depending on which source you use. In our case, it doesn’t much matter, because during both periods, hair combs were a popular means of self-decoration and of showing your social status.
Combs began to act as status signifiers during the Wei and Jin dynasties, around 100 years before the first given date for the story of Mulan, and by time of the Northern Wei dynasty, they were all the rage. Comb styles during this period were fine-toothed and delicate, like this:
Fast forward to the Sui dynasty, and they became larger, higher and more ornate:
Unfortunately, Mulan is set fairly early in the history of Chinese hair combs, so I want to take the opportunity to share some of the more fantastic creations the following couple of centuries brought to the country (the Tang Dynasty was when combs really hit their stride as a fashion accessory…):
That’s all for Mulan – which movie should I explore next? Let me know in the comments…
“On the fifth day of Christmas this great blog gave to me: five gold rings…”
Christmas itself may be over, but Tiding of Magpies has one last bit of seasonal sparkle for you. So if your stomachs are full after the festivities, feast your eyes instead on these gorgeous, gold specimens…
My new fave stone is front and centre in this statement piece. Crafted between 1908 and 1917 in Russia, it’s meant to be a men’s ring, but I think I could pull it off… Lapis lazuli was popular with Fabergé during this period as well, because it turns out it’s mined in Siberia – I had no idea!
Go big or go home
The largest gold ring in the world, the Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba), was made in 2000 for a fairly reasonable $547,000 but is now worth around $3 million. Not too shabby, for an investment that might have seemed a bit pointless at the time!
Source: Ashok Varma via emirates247.com
Source: Ashok Varma via emirates247.com
The ring weighs nearly 64kg, is 21 carats, and took 55 workers 45 days to finish it. As well as the vast amount of gold, you can also see some whopping Swarovski stones adorning the ring; 5.1kg of stones were used in total, made up of 615 individual precious stones.
Peas in a pod or corn on the cob?
I can’t decide what this gorgeous ring is exactly supposed to be, but it’s one of the most beautiful examples of Arts and Crafts jewellery I’ve seen. I’m a sucker for pearls being used in unexpected settings and styles, and this setting of three freshwater pearls from the Mississippi River is right up my street.
Made of 14 carat gold, this ring is unusual in the early 20th century Arts and Crafts movement, whose designers tended to favour silver.
The unusual stone choice in this Georgian ring caught my eye while I was researching this blog – the central amethyst is flanked by one white and one extremely rare blue diamond. The auction site where I found it suggests the jewellery didn’t realise the blue diamond was a diamond, and that it was perhaps passed onto them in a selection of salvage stones, since the cutting style pre-dates the ring itself.
I always love thinking about pieces that tell a story, and who knows where the stones in this ring came from originally, or why the jewellery chose them for this piece? The ring itself has a story to tell, too: it’s engraved with the ‘Ann Colinnbell Feb 1757 an. 60’ – perhaps it was once a love token? Speaking of love tokens…
Gold love-knot ring, Tiding of Magpies
Couldn’t resist… The last of my five gold rings is my own design, which has a story of its own: I originally designed this gold love-knot ring to wear at my own wedding.
Lovingly handcrafted from 0.8mm 9 carat yellow gold, it forms a delicate, infinite knot around the finger of the wearer. The love knot is an age-old symbol of everlasting love, and this ring is a modern take on that ancient tradition, which makes it the perfect love token for your favourite human.
Tiding of Magpies
Tiding of Magpies
Tiding of Magpies
Photo by Suzy Wimbourne Photography
So, those are my five, chosen-at-random, gold rings for the winding-up of the festive period. Let me know your favourites in the comments, or any you’d have liked me to include!
As an attempt to combat wedding stress, I’ve recently been rereading some of my favourite Tintin stories.*
One of my all time top Tintin episodes is The Castafiore Emerald for several reasons, the most relevant being that it features magpies as ‘main characters’.
*Spoiler alert* The story takes place at Marlinspike Hall, home of Captain Haddock, the friend and adventuring partner of Tintin, boy reporter. Forceful Italian soprano Bianca Castafiore comes to stay in preparation for her performance in the opera La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie), and is promptly divested of her most prized possession: an enormous emerald. Suspicion falls on a number of people (including a Romani group, shocker), but eventually the culprit is revealed as (you guessed it) a thieving magpie…
There’s an amusing moment part-way through the tale where an insurance man, Mr. Wagg, explains that Castafiore was given this emerald by ‘Marjorie something or other’, and is quickly corrected; the emerald was a gift from the Maharajah of Gopal. (Interesting side-note, this is a bit of translator humour; the original plays on confusion between a word for ‘thingummybob’ – ‘marachinchouette’ – and ‘maharajah’. The guy is also called M. Lampion, which means ‘paper lamp’ – no idea on that one.) This made me wonder whether Hergé’s emerald was based on a real, giant, Indian gem.
A quick google suggests Hergé never specified any one stone as his inspiration, but India has long been a centre for the trade of emeralds, much beloved for their green colour (which is of course an extremely significant shade in Islam). The Muslim Mughal Empire, in which Maharajahs abounded, unsurprisingly had a particular fondness for emerald items. Some of the stunning Mughal jewellery I found during my search includes these beauties:
Source: M. S. Rau Antiques on Youtube
I also found one of the most famous Mughal emeralds, pleasingly called The Mogul Mughal Emerald (go on now, five times fast…). Whilst not an exact match for the fictional Castafiore Emerald, this rectangular-cut stone is a strong contender. Although the Mughal Empire fell in 1857, there were still plenty of Maharajahs knocking about by the time Tintin is set, so it’s feasible Castafiore’s Maharajah of Gopal could have been passing on an heirloom…
5 facts about the Mogul Mughal Emerald
1) The Mogul Mughal Emerald weighs in at a whopping 217.80 carats, measuring 5.2 x 4 x 1.2cm. For context, this chunky emerald ring is only 3.01 carats.
2) Similar in shape to the Castafiore Emerald, the MME is not faceted, and is just a touch more intricately decorated. One side is carved with Shi’a inscriptions, the other with a contemporary flower motif. The flowers have been identified as the poppies which fill the region around what is now Pakistan, and which was part of the Mughal Empire. The inscription is a prayer to Muhammed and the 12 Imams, and reads:
O Merciful One, O Compassionate One
God bless Muhammad and ‘Ali
and Fatima and al-Husain
and al-Hasan and ‘Ali
and Muhammad and Ja’far
and ‘Ali and Muhammad
and al-Husaini and the steadfast Mahdi
3) As you can see above, unusually for a historical artefact, the MME is self-dating. The inscription tells us it was carved in 1107 A.H. on the Islamic lunar calendar (1695-1696 CE in the Gregorian calendar), during the reign of Aurangzeb, the 6th Mughal Emperor. It’s the only surviving carved emerald from the classic Mughal period…as far as we know. Because of its near-unique accuracy in dating, it’s the yardstick by which all other carved Mughal emeralds are dated.
4) Interestingly, despite being carved in the heart of the Mughal Empire for what must have been an exceptionally wealthy owner, it’s not believed that this emerald was a gift for the zealously Sunni ruling family. Rather, historians suggest that the talisman was instead embellished for an officer or a Deccani or Persian nobleman.
5) It’s had quite the cosmopolitan life: from its mine in Colombia it travelled to India to be carved. After stints on display at a range of museums across North America, in December 2008 it was acquired by the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, where it currently resides.
*Obviously I know Tintin is problematic on a ton of levels, but I still love it.
My dad came to stay at the weekend, and we, of course went to the city museum, as we often dowith guests. At the end of the Birmingham history gallery, he asked ‘so why did Birmingham become a jewellery-making centre if it was such a minor medieval town?’. The answer to that was ‘I have no idea, but I’d like to’, so I did some snooping…
There’s a standard UK city history: a settlement is placed on an easily-defendable location (usually a hill) beside a navigable river (for transport and water supply), and grows following the introduction of a market. At 130m above sea level and with a market appearing in 1166, Birmingham hits two of these criteria, but it’s noticeably lacking on the third. So, why were settlers drawn to this essentially riverless location? And how, over the following centuries, did Birmingham become a metalworking powerhouse?
Despite its lack of a major river and out-of-the-way location, early Birmingham did have a decent water supply from the much smaller ‘rivers’ Rea, Tame and Cole, as well as Bourn Brook. Because of its height, it was also nice and dry (i.e. not marshy), and timber, iron, and coal were all easily available. Birmingham’s plentiful supply of both raw materials (base metals, timber, coal) and of other tradesmen meant the medieval jeweller could easily get hold of local pottery vessels and iron tools, as well as sheets of base metal for practice and working.The veins of gold discovered in nearby Shropshire probably didn’t hurt the city’s jewellery trade, either.
So far, so good, but how does a village with 9 houses and a value of £1 in the Domesday Book host multiple goldsmiths just three centuries later? Well, it owes a lot to the local ruling family, the de Birminghams, who held the manor in the town for 400 years from 1150. The second lord, Peter de Birmingham, was the person granted a market charter by King Henry II. By the time Peter’s son, William, sought confirmation of the charter from Richard I, just two decades later, the location had changed from the ‘manor at Birmingham’ to the ‘town of Birmingham’.
More importantly, the de Birminghams preferred a hands-off approach to trade regulations, just charging a toll on market traffic, and it was mainly this which attracted craftsmen to the growing market town over the next couple of centuries. By 1327, craftsmen were listed amongst taxpayers in Birmingham. In 1308, seized effects of a Knight Templar included 22 ‘Birmingham Pieces’. There’s also no specification of what exactly the ‘Birmingham Pieces’ were, but they were precious metal objects small enough to be taken into prison, and also well-known enough to need no further explanation. This was in London, meaning that gold- and silversmithing wasn’t just happening on a local level; the trade had already expanded beyond Birmingham.
Fast forward to Birmingham’s Industrial Revolution, and the real growth started as early as 1680. The population exploded shortly after, quadrupling between 1700 and 1750. It was during this time that the Jewellery Quarter rapidly developed, becoming known as its own manufacturing area by the early nineteenth century.
With the creation of Birmingham’s canals (the first was opened in 1769), the large amount of iron available in the area could now be easily transported in and out of the city. Birmingham’s iron supply allowed tradesmen to diversify and specialise in their metalworking efforts, practising everything from buckle-making to locksmithing. On the other hand, although Birmingham was at the front of the canal-building trend, it actually remained relatively difficult to access, meaning that the metalworking of small, valuable objects became the obvious trade to pursue. Hello, jewellery… Perhaps most importantly of all, Birmingham’s lack of guilds meant tradesmen were much freer to change occupation or practise more than one trade here than they were in other cities, since they didn’t have to pay expensive membership rates and belong to just one guild.
Birmingham’s adaptability carried its jewellery trade through periods of depression and both world wars. Today, the Jewellery Quarter still produces 40% of all jewellery created in the UK (mine included!), and boasts both the world’s largest Assay Office and the oldest independent mint in the world. Not bad for a city which was a tiny, wooded backwater only a millenium ago…
And there we have it: good local supplies + lack of trade restrictions = an influx of tradespeople. Throw in the Industrial Revolution for good measure and you’ve got Birmingham as the UK centre of jewellery-making. So, Dad, now we know!