This article is a book review of 2 books in the 1990 Spring issue of the Metalsmith Magazine including Victorian Jewelry: Unexplored Treasures by Ginny Redington Dawes and Corinne Davidov.


Victorian Jewelry: Unexplored Treasures
by Ginny Redington Dawes and Corinne Davidov
Photography by Tom Dawes
New York, Abbeville Press, 1991
Clothbound, $40.00

This beautifully photographed book focuses not on the overtly ornate splendors associated with the period but with what is called “secondary” jewelry. Produced to satisfy the great demand for inexpensive adornment that arose during Queen Victoria’s long reign, secondary jewelry was made from nonprecious materials such as stone, coal, hair, steel, papier-mâché, and aluminum.

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The book is quite small, with very little text. Of seven chapters, only four deal with the actual types of jewelry and their materials. Scattered through the four chapters, “Silver,” “Stone,” “Steel,” and “Sentiment,” there are, however, some valuable historical tidbits about the materials and processes that were used to create secondary jewelry.

The chapter on silver provides some interesting insights into the use of the metal. During the Industrial Revolution, the air was heavily polluted with sulfur dioxide, and many craftsmen rejected silver for its tarnishability. As a result, the majority of Victorian silver jewelry was made only in the last two decades of the century. The chapter concludes with a brief description of niello, a process in which a fusion of silver, copper, lead and sulfur was melted and poured into designs incised on low-grade silver. Many of the pieces illustrated in the color photographs reflect a remarkable modernity in design.

The most informative chapter is the one on steel. Jewelry made of unusual metals such as steel, iron, gunmetal and aluminum was in vogue from the eighteenth century up to the mid-nineteenth century. Cut steel and Berlin iron had a somewhat historical significance in both France and Germany: dating from 1759 wealthy people in France were asked to donate their jewels to the treasury and began wearing cut steel instead. The fashion swept the continent, and cut steel became big business by the late eighteenth century.

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In the mid-1800s aluminum jewelry made a brief but unforgettable appearance. Jewelers were fascinated by the lightness of the metal and the fact that it did not oxidize as silver did. Much of the aluminum jewelry from the period was combined with high-karat gold. It was so prized that both Queen Victoria and Empress Marie Louise owned suites of aluminum and gold jewelry. The chapter ends with a small section on gunmetal. Originally made of bronze and then of an alloy of copper and tin, by the end of the nineteenth century gunmetal was often made of iron, and the term was applied to any metal with that distinctive mat black color and smooth, silky finish.

The chapter on the stone jewelry popular in the mid-1800s provides a broad range of visual material on various types of jewelry also known as Scottish agate or Scottish pebble. The remaining chapter on “Sentiment” is a catch-all for the materials that could not easily be accommodated in the other three. It surveys the jewelry of mourning and half-mourning and includes sections on jet and its imitations (French jet, gutta-percha and bog oak) and on tortoiseshell and tortoiseshell pique.

Victorian Jewelry is not a historical or technical tome, nor is it meant to be. The authors are avid, knowledgeable collectors, not historians. The book’s strength lies in the superb four-color pictures that provide a visual time line of jewelry styles, many of which are as wearable today as they were a century ago.

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– Dorothy Spencer


Professional Goldsmithing A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Jewelry Techniques
by Alan Revere, Founder: Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts
New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1991
Clothbound, $59.95

The books that we place in our libraries serve a number of purposes, from documenting the history of jewelry, its objects and its various roles in diverse cultures, to serving as references for information on materials and technology. The former often contain beautiful photographs which represent the finest examples of a given object. The reference book, by definition, is filled with information and is usually organized by material and process.

A third and less common format would be the tutorial. Professional Goldsmithing is a very handsome book, beautifully designed and laid out, presented as a graduated course of study. The over 400 color photographs, many of which are macro 1:1 scale, are exceptionally sharp and informative. The text is organized in three sections: “Getting Started,” “Basic Projects” and “Further Projects.” It includes a fine set of appendices, glossary and thorough index.

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“Getting Started” is somewhat of a well-designed crash course. In the first 48 pages of the book, the foundation is laid to allow the reader to approach the projects with an understanding of precious metals, procedures, tools, alloying and working with platinum. The text jumps from point to point in this section in an effort to quickly cover a lot of ground. Safe practices and health hazards are frequently mentioned throughout the book.

Thirty projects serve as lessons to be followed in the creation of a series of progressively more sophisticated jewelry and mechanisms. Many of the objects are generic, with good reason, as they are intended to emphasize the working skills rather than a discussion of design concepts. Each project is succinctly presented in step-by-step fashion, almost all steps being accompanied by an exemplary photograph. Projects range from the most basic forged bangle bracelet to more complex linkages and a cluster ring. All are initially presented to inform the reader/student of the new skills to be exercised through the making of the object. These introductory statements are an outstanding feature of the book in their ability to present the significance of both the procedure and the resultant object or mechanism.

AIan Revere has succeeded in his desire to document the classical goldsmithing course of study and to create a book which encourages its reader to learn the material through experience. Although it is filled with useful information, I would not recommend this as a reference book but rather as a bedside reader. Professional Goldsmithing is a book to be read, as I have done for the past few nights, then referred back to. Of course it is first intended as a course of study and would elicit greater participation as a series of lessons at the bench. While it might not be my recommendation as a first book on jewelry, it would be a valuable addition to the library of anyone in the field. Two gold thumbs up.

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– Matthew Hollern