My Personal Collection: The Family Jewels

There’s been a brilliant tag doing the rounds on instagram this past week; #showmeyourdreamearrings, and there are some real drool-drippers to be seen!

Whilst rings are currently enjoying their fashion moment in the sun, earrings too have enjoyed thousands of years of popularity, from ancient Persia through the Bible and Renaissance via the Victorian era to today.

all3.JPG

I wear the same studs pretty much day in day out. The four holes in my ears - three in the left and one in the right - are generally adorned by four handmade tiny freeform blob studs which I make from recycled 9ct yellow gold. 

They always look great, there is no pressure on styling my hair properly or putting on makeup to do them justice. They're the perfect throw-on-and-forget-about-them earrings. 

 Available in 9ct yellow gold, 9ct white gold and sterling silver, direct from my Etsy shop  HERE

Available in 9ct yellow gold, 9ct white gold and sterling silver, direct from my Etsy shop HERE

But - and here's the thing - this doesn't mean that I don't have a yearning for some serious jewels from time to time!

The #showmeyourdreamearrings tag reminded me of the most precious things in my jewellery box, even above my wedding ring.  I’ve only worn them once or twice because I’m so afraid of losing them.  And they’re a pair of earrings.

Β 

Dating from around 1870-1880, and made from high-carat yellow gold and rock crystal, they’re a masterpiece in late Victorian design. The curve of the ear wires is languorous and elegant; not too short to be economical, but not too long as to be overgenerous.  If you look closely, you can see that their front-facing finials are tall stylised solid gold hearts.

The central drops of the earrings are made from flawless, clear quartz, which has been carefully cut and polished to form a perfect twins of matching pears!

The rock crystal is not drilled or glued, but is rather held in place by a three-barred cage of the same high carat gold used in the rest of the earrings. The cage is so snug to the surface of the stone, there isn't a gap anywhere - a masterclass in burnishing! The crystal reflects light in such a way that when you look into them from the front, the third bar at the back can't be seen.

The bottom of each three-barred cage is adorned with three trembling tiny fat arrowheads of solid gold.

They might not be dripping in diamonds or even particularly old (in the scale of things), but they are the most wonderful examples of paired-down, almost modernist, Victorian design. They also have more than just a slight nod towards Pre-Raphaelite jewellery and the Aesthetic Movement. 

Aside from being a very unusual (and damn gorgeous) pair of earrings, they have spooky family collection, especially given my own choice of career. They were made by James Cameron Threlkeld, my great great grandfather. Here he is at his daughters' wedding in 1901.

 James is sitting on front row on the far right, and standing behind him is his wife Emma. The bride is my great grandma, James' daughter Emma Evans Threlkeld, and the groom is my great grandpa, John Way. I love the rakish angle of his hat! This photograph was taken on 15th September 1901. In two days' time it will be their 144th wedding anniversary.

James is sitting on front row on the far right, and standing behind him is his wife Emma. The bride is my great grandma, James' daughter Emma Evans Threlkeld, and the groom is my great grandpa, John Way. I love the rakish angle of his hat! This photograph was taken on 15th September 1901. In two days' time it will be their 144th wedding anniversary.

My great great grandpa was a jeweller too, a lapidarist involved in the cutting and polishing of precious stones.  He was born in 1850 in Edinburgh, moving to London in his late 30s to take up residence in Chelsea and continue his work as an "oriental stone cutter".  He died in Paddington at the age of 62 in April 1912.  It is known that he died from lung disease, possibly caused by breathing in dust from gemstones as he cut and polished them.  And he must have polished these crystals too.

I was bequeathed these earrings by my great aunt Jo when she died. I was only nine, and had no idea what my future career was to be. It wasn't until many years later - after I had become a jeweller - when my mother was looking into our family history that she discovered the amazing story of these earrings.  

One of the things I love about antique jewellery - as I'm sure I've said before - is the stories they could tell. I wish we could always know who they belonged to, why they were bought and when they were worn: Did they celebrate a wedding? Were they given as a birthday gift? Did they commemorate a birth? Or perhaps their stories are sadder ones: Were the jewels stolen or lost? Did the marriage break up? Did the child die young? Was the man in the locket photograph killed in the war? 

It's so rare to know the history of a piece of jewellery, and normally we can only suppose or guess.  In being the new custodian of these earrings, I also like to think who might be their new owners in the future. One thing is certain; they will be staying in the family.

 My great great grandma Emma in a late Victorian studio portrait, showing her great taste in jewellery.  Definitive proof that traits, talents and obsessions must be genetic!

My great great grandma Emma in a late Victorian studio portrait, showing her great taste in jewellery.  Definitive proof that traits, talents and obsessions must be genetic!