All manner of creatures have been immortalised in precious metals across the ages, from birds and snakes to dogs, but some of the most spectacular antique jewellery is formed in the shape of more unlikely creatures.
It is not surprising that butterflies are overwhelmingly represented in antique insect jewellery. Their natural beauty is self-evident, and their brief lifespan and fragility has inspired many jewellers to take them as their muse.
As butterflies live for only a short time those who care for them often collect their bodies after they die and mount them as decoration, but they must be kept behind glass to survive. Some Victorian jewellery attempted to do the same, preserving the wings within a piece of wearable art, however very few of these attempts remain - the wings would simply fall apart over time. Jewellers experimented with a great variety of materials to try and capture the butterfly’s beauty in a more permanent form, and the result is a spectacular array of different pieces, all with their own specific charms.
This Victorian piece has been crafted entirely in ornate golden threads, each intricately interwoven with one another to create a dazzling array of patterns and forms.
In these pieces coloured enamel has been delicately worked into silver or gold settings to give the butterflies’ wings texture and a shimmering coloured effect.
Paste stones are a form of heavy flint glass which has been cut and polished to create a new gemstone. These beautiful stones have been made for millennia, and you can read more about them here. The jeweller who created this piece has used brightly coloured paste stones to pick out key details, and has surrounded them with bright white paste stones, which sparkle like diamonds in their silver settings.
This wonderful Victorian butterfly has been created from silver and slices of brightly coloured agate. Agate is often known as “the earth rainbow” for the tremendous variety of colours it can exhibit, and no two pieces are the same.
This vintage piece, crafted in Norway in 1950, shows how jewellers continued to innovate with the use of enamel after the Victorians led the way. This technique of layering metalwork and a translucent layer of enamel, allows both the engraving and the texture of the enamel to blend together and create a rich, deep effect.
Whilst they may not be as universally loved as butterflies, spiders have been a particular focus for antique jewellers. Spiders are creature which build traps, and are rewarded by the efficiency of their webs. In this way they represent craftsmen and artists profiting from their talent and skill. This was very much in keeping with the industrious nature of the Victorian period, and a great number of different approaches to spider jewellery have been attempted.
This Victorian brooch shows an understated spider, around 2cm wide, fashioned in gold and set with two bright green peridots.
This spider pendant has been realised in rose gold, each leg reaching outwards from bright blue paste stone body and pearl head.
The jeweller who created this silver brooch did so with incredible realism, using stunning engraving to texture the body of this surprisingly lifelike creation.
Dragonflies are large, predatory insects which hunt on the banks of rivers. Their wingspans can reach 7.5 inches across, and their bodies are comprised of interlocking plates of bright metallic hues that can rival butterflies for sheer beauty.
Whilst both creatures are relatively fragile the dragonfly’s impressive size meant that it took on connotations of strength, even ferocity, making it a more active and dynamic gift than the passive butterfly.
This piece has been crafted in green enamel, delicately applies to the silver beneath to create a lifelike metallic shading. Bright orange coral has been set for the creature’s eyes, giving it a stark contrast.
This piece, in sharp contrast to the last, has been beautifully made with cleverly patterned silver and cut marcasites to create a flowing, segmented body and stunning waves which flow out along its patterned wings.
Bees are communal insects who survive through cooperation and shared work, and their use in jewellery is in many ways a celebration of what can be achieved through working together.
Where a bee is represented on its own as a pendant, or in the above case a brooch, it often contains a union of many different precious materials, underscoring the idea that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Here the insect’s eyes are twin pink rubies, the thorax is a single bright pearl and its body, antennae and wings are dusted with an array of old cut diamonds all set into 18ct white gold.
Often bees are depicted with others of their kind, as in the above vintage bracelet. Each bee has been crafted in shining gold, with intricate engraving picking out details on each individual wing.
Other Insect Jewellery
Other types of flying insect have been made into beautiful pieces of jewellery. This brooch depicts a mayfly, a creature which lives for only a single day. This is linked to the memento mori style in Victorian antique jewellery where one was reminded to enjoy one’s life, for it would one day end.
The Scarab, or dung beetle, was sacred to the Ancient Egyptian people, who held that it was a celestial version of the scarab who rolled the sun across the sky each day. Victorians were fascinated by these dead civilisations, and sought to recreate some of the pieces of jewellery unearthed in early archaeological digs, as they have with the above piece.
Despite, or perhaps because of their terrifying nature many jewellers also chose to depict scorpions in jewellery form. This Victorian piece is crafted in rose gold and set with white and blue sapphires which alternate along the length of its body and up its arms.
At Laurelle Antique Jewellery we are constantly updating our inventory, and discovering new pieces of insect jewellery all the time. You can browse our full collection here. See something you like that isn’t in stock? We may be able to find what you are looking for. Get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org or via telephone on England: 0333 700 4500.