The Affair of the Diamond Necklace

Last week, I delved into the recent sale of Marie Antoinette’s jewellery, but I didn’t have space to go into the bizarre tale known as The Affair of the Diamond Necklace. Strap in, everyone; this one’s a wild ride!

So, how exactly did a kerfuffle over a huge diamond harness contribute to the French Revolution? Yep, it was more of a harness than a necklace:

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Reproduction necklace based on sketches.

The necklace itself was actually commissioned several years earlier, in 1772, for the previous king, Louis XV’s, favourite mistress, the infamous Madame du Barry.

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Source: Wikipedia

Not one to believe that less is more, the king designed this monstrosity for du Barry, featuring a vast amount of diamonds, including 17 huge diamond drops:

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Original sketch of the necklace design. Source: Wikipedia.

Unfortunately for the jewellers who set about collecting the necessary stones, the king died of smallpox before they were done, leaving his debt unpaid. I know this may not have gone down well with an autocratic king, but this is a prime example of why you get money for custom orders up front, my fellow artists!

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Backed into a corner, the jewellers hoped that the famously lavish Marie Antoinette might want to buy the necklace off them instead. Unfortunately for them, the new queen was not one to wear someone’s sloppy seconds, especially if they were originally designed for a woman she despised and looked down upon.

In 1781, after trying to offload the necklace outside the country, the desperate jewellers once again tried to persuade Marie Antoinette to take it off their hands, but to no avail.

Enter con artist Jeanne de La Motte, who came up with a plan to further her status in court at the cost of the people around her. As you do.

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Source: Wikipedia

Her first play was to get into bed (literally) with the Cardinal de Rohan, a man Marie Antoinette happened to loathe because he’d been gossiping about her mother, naturally. Persuading de Rohan, who was presumably not too bright (or bothered about his vow of chastity), that she was cosy with the queen, La Motte promised to get him back into favour.

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Source: reactiongifs.com

Rohan began sending notes to the queen, with La Motte bringing him replies ‘from the queen herself’, and eventually setting up a meeting between the two at the cardinal’s request. Did this phase La Motte? Not one bit! She simply brought along a local sex worker with a striking resemblance to Marie Antoinette, and they all met in August 1794 in the rose garden at the Palace of Versailles.

Image source: By Kallgan - Unknown, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=336150

After La Motte’s friend had convinced Rohan that she (‘the queen’) had forgiven him, La Motte began borrowing large sums of money off the cardinal for ‘Marie Antoinette’s charity work’. She also started boasting about her relationship with the queen, which people seemed to believe.

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The enterprising jewellers, Boehmer and Bassenge, approached La Motte to try once more to sell the necklace to the queen, and she agreed. Following an incorrectly-signed note to Rohan instructing him to buy the necklace in secret so as not to raise tensions by buying lavish jewellery in a time of starvation.

Rohan merrily went on his way, and secured the necklace, after which La Motte and an accomplice merrily split it up and sold the stones on the black market!

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Unfortunately for them, it all came apart when the jewellers became suspicious of the lack of payment and notes ‘from the queen’, and went to Marie Antoinette herself to demand payment. The queen told them she had not ordered the necklace, had not received it, and most certainly would not be paying for it.

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With a flair for the dramatic, the king and queen resolved to arrest the Cardinal at one of the biggest religious celebrations of the year (presumably to make an example of him). When Rohan was ready to officiate the Assumption of Mary, on 15 August 1785, he was promptly arrested and brought before the court, then to the Bastille. Jeanne de La Motte, however, was not arrested until three days later, in which time she destroyed her papers relating to the fraud.

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Also arrested were Nicole Le Guay, the Marie Antoinette impersonator, and Rétaux de Villette, La Motte’s lover by whom she originally entered court society. Side note: Villette is described on Wikipedia as ‘French procurer, forger, blackmailer and prostitute’, which would make a pretty great Twitter bio…

Somehow, the feckless cardinal managed to worm his way out of punishment, but La Motte was whipped, branded with a V for ‘voleuse’ (‘thief’) on both shoulders (ew), and sent to prison at the Salpêtrière. Villette got off lightly, being merely banished, but La Motte’s unlucky husband was tried in absentia and sent to be a galley slave.

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But it’s not over yet! After a year’s imprisonment, La Motte escaped dressed as a boy, and fled to London, from where she published a savage memoir blaming everything on Marie Antoinette.

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So why did the queen take the fall despite the evidence acquitting her?

This all went down in 1784-5, just 4 years before the French Revolution broke out and the monarchy came to an end. The profligate, Austrian Marie Antoinette was already wildly unpopular, the subject of a lot of vicious political cartoons (seriously, the picture below was the cleanest one I could find…), and her reputation didn’t need much of a push to hit rock bottom.

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Source: Wikipedia

Unfortunately for her, public opinion sided roundly with La Motte, with some suggesting the queen had used her as a way to get some petty revenge on Rohan, or that she simply wanted some new jewels and was stealing from the public purse to get them. Following the affair, the pamphlets against her (read: political porn) began to be produced at an even greater rate, fuelling the anti-monarchy sentiment that eventually led to Marie Antoinette’s own beheading in 1793.

As I said earlier…

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If you’re interested in learning more about the scandal, the chapter on it in Aja Raden’s Stoned has a lot of great detail and is also a really fun book. And if you just can’t get enough, Jonathan Beckman has written an entire book on the subject. Enjoy!

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Spotlight on: rose quartz

It’s getting dark and autumnal and I love the knitwear-boots-hot-drinks vibe but I’m less keen on the greyness, so today I’m looking at things through rose-tinted glasses – or rather, rose-quartz-tinted glasses…

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Source: giphy

Sorry… But really, though, a bit of blush pink crystal is a nice way to brighten up a rainy day, so let’s take a look.

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Source: gfycat.com

What even is rose quartz?

  • It’s a type of oxide mineral.
  • It’s the second most abundant mineral in the Earth’s crust.
  • The name ‘quartz’ comes from the German for ‘hard’ (snigger snigger), and the ‘rose’ part is, of course, a reference to its pale pink hue.
  • It’s generally thought that rose quartz’s pink colour is due to trace amounts of titanium, iron, or manganese.
  • The colour is also photosensitive, so don’t leave your rose quartz pieces in direct sunlight for long periods of time if you want them to stay pink!

Myths, legends, and hidden meanings

From Ancient Egypt to modern crystal enthusiasts, rose quartz’s pretty pink colour and association with romance has created mystical ideas aplenty, but Ancient Greek and Roman myths are the most romantic.

The first is that rose quartz was the physical gift of love bestowed upon humans by Cupid/Eros, the Ancient Greek/Roman god of love. Alternatively, another Greek myth told that rose quartz gained its colour from the blood Aphrodite spilt trying to save her one true love, Adonis. Both lovers bled onto the stone, and this was meant to represent true love. Kinda gross, kinda romantic…

Either way, rose quartz has also been said over the years to have the properties of:

  • Resolving arguments
  • Preventing wrinkles
  • Bringing love into loveless situations
  • Signifying that a deal had been completed
  • Fostering compassion

Whether or not you believe in its special qualities, one thing that’s undeniable is rose quartz’s gorgeous blush pink colour, which has made it popular in designs throughout the centuries…

© 2008 GIA
Ancient Egyptian necklace made from rose quartz, emerald & ceramic. Royal Ontario Museum. Image by Robert Weldon.
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Sketch of a rose quartz earring by Charlotte Isabella Newman, 1860s. Image (c) Victoria & Albert Museum.

Not just a ‘shiny piece of coal’ – the jewellery of Hamilton

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).giphy (3).gif

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.

 

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.

 

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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.

 

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.

 

However, from their portraits, it seems the real-life Schuyler sisters were even simpler in their tastes than the styles of the time:

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Angelica (by John Trumbull)
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Eliza (by Ralph Earl)
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And Peggy! (by James Peale)

I, of course, made myself some Hamilton-themed gems to wear to the show, focusing on the star motif….

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These may make their way into the Tiding of Magpies store one day…
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Loving wearing my long threader earrings through multiple piercings at the moment for a different look…

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…

 

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Some interesting articles on the costume design process:

http://tyrannyofstyle.com/costume-design-hamilton-broadway

https://www.thecut.com/2016/06/see-the-original-sketches-of-hamilton-costumes/slideshow/2016/06/09/hamilton_sketches/

Also, shout out to this blog for providing endless portraits of 18th and 19th century American women – https://b-womeninamericanhistory18.blogspot.co.uk/

 

*Maria Reynolds aside, because, come on now, this show is better than that stereotypical ‘vampy’ red…

 

“A little something from Fabergé”

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.

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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…

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Source: royalcollection.org.uk

 

 

 

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Source: viola.bz

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).

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Source: Pinterest

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.

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Source: Pinterest
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Source: Pinterest
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Source: Pinterest

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.

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Source: Pinterest

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.

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Source: Pinterest

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.

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Source: Pinterest

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.

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Source: Wikipedia

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!

Brummie Buttons

I really like buttons. I mean really like them. Like this much:

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p027b3t8/player

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.

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And now it’s the home of bars with roof terraces and delicious food

So, Birmingham was originally the centre of the buckle-making trade:

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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.

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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.’

[All designs available at Tiding of Magpies]

Sources:

 

Disney Designs 3: Mulanniversary

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…

Source: Giphy

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.

Source: Giphy

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…

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Sources/further reading:

For hours of looking through pretty comb pics, check out Creative Museum’s website.

For further reading on Chinese hair combs through history, get stuck into this comprehensive article by Huang Jin-Sui.

For another strong female leader from the Wei period, try this article on Empress Feng (442-490).

Five Go-oooold Riiiiiings…

“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…

Lovely Lapis

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!

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.

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Source: Ashok Varma via emirates247.com

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.

Gorgeous Georgian

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Source: timelineauctions.com

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.

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!

Sources

http://www.businessinsider.com/worlds-largest-gold-ring-taiba-dubai-2011-05?IR=T

http://romanovrussia.com/antique/art-nouveau-russian-mens-ring/

https://www.timelineauctions.com/lot/georgian-gold-inscribed-ring-with-rare-blue-diamond/31538/