Ten jewellery stones that are totally cool (and not a diamond in sight!)

Bored of bling?

Fed up with playing it safe?

If it’s amazing character and a touch of the unusual you’re after in your jewellery, then check out these eye-catching stones  ..

 

Vintage Scottish agate and silver brooch with citrine gemstone jewellery deco

Citrine  is the official name bestowed upon orange to yellow colour quartz gemstone. When it’s this size, and bursts with this much fire, it blows other gems out of the water.

 

9k yellow gold blue topaz trilogy ring jewellery 9ct

If you want big statement rocks that ooze quality, but are also on budget, then topaz is your best friend! With its huge variety of colours and almost pure water like clarity (even in big stones – few inclusions with this baby!), topaz is the perfect go-to all rounder gemstone.

art deco foil backed glass opal pink paste ring vintage jewellery

Is it an opal? Is it a rare rock crystal? Nope, this beauty dates from the 1930s,  is made from good old glass.

vintage 60s butterfly wing earrings jewellery morpho

Though not everyone’s cup of tea, butterfly wing jewellery is made from yep, you’ve guessed it .. the real butterfly wings of the Morpho butterfly.  Before recoiling horror too much, the butterflies involved passed away naturally before being collected up and used to create stunning jewelry. There are surprising conservation aspects to this type of jewelry too – areas of South American rainforests have been saved and even re-planted for the sole purpose of encouraging the breeding of Morphos butterflies for jewellery.

Art Deco carved agate hardstone cameo ring in 9ct gold vintage jewellery

Cameos are one of the oldest forms of jewellery in the world. Get a good quality one, and it’ll be a talking point (and heirloom) for years to come.

Antique Victorian Pietra Dura micro mosaic brooch jewelry

Pietra Dura jewellery involves placing carefully selected thin slivers of real gemstone such as Malachite and Lapis Lazuli, and setting it into carved out onyx to create stunning pictures. Most examples date from the 1800s, like this exquisite Pietra Dura brooch, which originates from Italy, circa 1870s.

vintage art deco pools of light rock quartz crystal onyx gemstone undrilled bead necklace silver jewelry

Pools of Light necklaces are made from undrilled and highly polished natural water-clear rock crystal orbs wrapped in patterned sterling silver, and are sought after around the world, both by jewellery collectors and crystal healers. When one these beauties catches the light, you’ll know about it! The necklace shown has the added bonus of being made with an unusual mix of clear rock crystal and black onyx gemstone-  some crystal healers believe onyx enhances the effect of any gemstone it is placed with.

18ct gold alexandrite russian gemstone colour change jewellery 18k

Often called the stone of true gem connoisseurs, Alexandrite has a stunning quality which means it changes colour (from emerald green to ruby red) in different light conditions.  It is also very rare, and was the favourite gemstone of Russian aristocracy.

vintage blue john quartz silver drop earrings jewellery

Did you know that England has it’s very of internationally sought after gemstone? Deep in the hills of Derbyshire is a gemstone called ‘Blue John’, noted for it’s beautiful blue-purple colour and vivid golden veining.

Victorian Scottish Agate plaid pebble brooch, vintage antique jewellery

With its infinite variety of colours and one of a kind range of patterns, the humble yet beautiful agate is found all around the world. This antique Victorian brooch was made in Scotland circa 1870s, and displays the types of agate found around the Scottish coast – agate experts are able to immediately identify the exact part of Scotland each slice came from!

 

Further reading:

More info about butterfly farming and conservation:

Papillon Belle

Meet Me On The Bright Side

A blog post I wrote about about butterfly jewellery can be found here

 

The Blue John from Derbyshire, England:

Blue John on Wikipedia  – great article

Blue John mine tours can be found here and here

Here’s a past blog post I wrote about Blue John.

 

Advertisements

Quick tip! Find out the value of your jewellery… DIY valuations!

Do you have a piece of jewellery you think may be valuable?

Don’t know where to start, or wouldn’t know who to approach to get some guidance?

Fear not! Because in this post I’m going to show you how I find a basic valuation to vintage jewellery.

The main thing I do when I’m looking for a possible valuation, is to use the Ebay search facility. Ebay sells pretty much everything, and in my opinion, is the best place to research an up to date bottom price estimate of a vintage item (the up to date part is very important as vintage prices can fluctuate wildly from month to month). The following info is for Ebay.co.uk, as I’m in the UK, but I imagine other Ebay sites around the world are probably quite similar. So let’s get started!

1.Go to Ebay.

2.Now, type into the search bar at the top of the page, your jewellery item. So for this example, let’s type in “vintage Trifari necklace” and click the search button.

3. So, having typed in our search term (eg, “vintage Trifari necklace”), a new page will appear, with lots of options and categories in the left hand column of this page. Slowly move and scroll down the page until you come to an option called “Sold Listings”, on the left hand column. Click on this link.

4. Having clicked the “Sold Listings” link, a new page should appear, showing all of the jewellery which has been sold in the past few months, that was in your search query, and most importantly for what price it sold for (the sold prices are written in green). So in this example, all of the “vintage Trifari necklaces” that have been sold will appear.

5. And that’s it! Average the prices out, and you have your very first valuation. From here, you can go onto other jewellery and vintage websites and see what they are selling their similar jewellery for. However, do keep in mind that there’s a world of difference between what people try and sell their jewellery for, and what customers actually end up paying for it! If an item is for sale on one website for £100, but the average selling price on Ebay is about £15, you need to use common sense and work out an average price.

One last thing. You’re best going into any valuation with the mindset that your item isn’t valuable. Old doesn’t mean expensive, and there is a chance that your 50 year old heirloom brooch is worth as much as a coffee + sandwich and not much else!

A day in the life of the Jewellery Muse: West Kirby in North West England

I love traveling around searching for the latest bargains, and if I can combine this with a beautiful walk in the outdoors then all the better! Last week I took a trip over to the gorgeous Wirral coast around the Dee Estuary – if you’re a nature lover it’s a must see.  Anyway, not much jewellery was found this particular day, but I did bag the possible bargain book of the year, called ‘7000 Years Of Jewellery’ for the grand price of £3.50 in a second hand shop (that’s my bedtime reading sorted for the next two years!)

Here’s a tip – if you’re planning to go to the Merseyside area then take advantage of the Merseyrail Day Saver ticket – less than a fiver will let you hop on and off trains all day – and yes, in the whole area (which covers Chester up to Southport, all round the Wirral and of course Liverpool. I’ve been known to visit 5 places in one day on that ticket!)

View from the beach to West Kirby Wirrel Merseyside

West Kirby, where I found my fab book. It has some great shopping, friendly atmosphere, a Morrison’s supermarket next to the beach (perfect for alfreso lunch supplies), miles of clean golden sands and beautiful nature walks close by. Love the place! Oh, and some of the best skies and sunsets in the UK.

West Kirby beach

I wasn’t joking when I said it has miles of sandy beach!

sunset west kirby wirrel merseyside (640x561)

I wasn’t joking about the stunning sunsets either 🙂

West Kirby beach, with view towards Hilbre Island Wirrel

Get the timing right with the tides, and you can walk out over the sands to Hilbre Island from West Kirby, which is nature reserve with a fascinating history and a great place to spend a few hours. Great for birdwatching, rock pool exploring, saying hello to the grey seals that live there (seriously!) and if you’re very, very lucky you might even see the odd dolphin or porpoise.

Brent geese birds, Hilbre island, West Kirby, Wirrel

Brent geese enjoying the sun on the beach, and letting everyone know about it (they are noisy dudes!)

Jewellery history book Jewellery Muse

Bargain book of the year 🙂

Cool Clip On Earrings

Add a dash of kook to your look with these adorable clip on earrings – piercings not required!

vintage 1950s turquoise glass bead clip earrings drop jewellery

These vintage 1950s turquoise glass bead clip earrings are a gorgeous mix of blue and brass colours

vintage chess board faceted carnival glass clip on stud earrings jewellery

Not sure what colour earrings to wear with your outfit? Try these vintage chess board faceted carnival glass clip on stud earrings, which have hues of rich purple, blue pink and even green sparkling in them.

vintage 1960s silver tone marcasite small clip on bridal earrings jewellery

Marcasites are perfect for those times when you want a glam finish, but don’t want the in-your-face dazzle og rhinestones, like these vintage 1960s silver tone marcasite clip on earrings

vintage blue & cream flower carved plastic clip on earrings jewellery

Beautifully cute without being too kitschy – loving these vintage blue & cream flower carved plastic clip on earrings

vintage 1960s blue large rhinestone paste clip on bridal spray earrings jewellery

If you prefer some bright sparkle then these large vintage 1960s blue large rhinestone spray clip on earrings are perfect!

vintage 60s purple glass AB rhinestone paste screw clip on flower earrings jewellery

Clip on earrings come in some gorgeous ‘stud’ styles, like these vintage 60s purple glass AB rhinestone paste clip on flower earrings

vintage 1960s turquoise blue white glass rhinestone paste clip on earrings jewellery

More stud styles – vintage 1960s turquoise blue white glass rhinestone paste clip on earrings jewellery

vintage 1970s pearl drop glass paste filigree gold tone clip on earrings jewellery

While antique in style, these vintage pearl & glass paste filigree clip on earrings date from circa 1970s. Clip ons were invented in around the 1920s; before that people wore pierced earrings only.

vintage Scottish thistle purple glass paste stone clip on earrings Celtic jewellery

Vintage Scottish thistle purple glass paste stone clip on earrings. Thistle jewellery is always popular as it is the emblem of the country of Scotland.

vintage 1960s faux Lucite pearl bridal wedding spray clip on earrings diamante jewellery

Perfect for brides! Loving these vintage 1960s faux Lucite pearl bridal wedding spray clip on earrings

vintage 1980s cream enamel rivoli rhinestone clip earrings statement jewellery

Vintage 1980s cream enamel rivoli rhinestone clip earrings

vintage faux marcasite rose pink gold tone leaf clip earrings 1960s jewellery

Rose gold jewellery has made a huge (and expensive!) comeback these past couple of years, but if you’re on a budget then vintage rose gold costume jewellery is out there waiting to be re-discovered, like these fab faux marcasite rose pink gold tone leaf clip earrings 1960s jewellery

Vintage and Antique Scottish agate jewellery info guide

Antique scottish agate brooch jewellery

A brief history

Agate jewellery has been produced in Scotland for hundreds of years, though it was Queen Victoria’s love affair with all things Scottish (culminating in the purchase of Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire around the 1850s) which propelled this distinctive type of jewellery to public view. Back in the 19th Century, the aristocracy were a major influence on fashion, and soon people began following the Queen style, which included wearing Scottish jewellery. Popular designs were ‘plaid’ brooches (ie agates laid together in a kind of mosaic), and carved agates set into silver bracelets, complete with carved agate buckles, heart clasps and charms.

 

antique jewelry Scottish agate dirk pin, with Scottish amethyst gemstone detail.

ABOVE: An antique Scottish agate dirk pin, with Scottish amethyst gemstone detail.

 

Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 signaled a general decline in the popularity of Scottish agate jewellery. However, it became fashionable once again in the 1950s – 1970s when the old Scottish designs were re-created in bold costume jewellery, which used cheaper glass instead of real agates. Famous companies who made this type of jewellery include Miracle, Jacobite and Jem. By the later 20th Century, the beauty of genuine old antique Scottish jewellery was being quietly being rediscovered. Nowadays it is incredible sought after, and antique Scottish agate work can command high prices.

 

antique victorian edwardian scottish agate locket jewellery

What Is Scottish Agate Jewellery?

The beautiful country of Scotland is home to an amazing array of chalcedony quartz gemstone, also known as agate, which comes in a huge variety of colours and patterns. It was this quality that attracted the skilled craftsmen of the ancient past to experiment with slicing and placing them together to form colourful mosaic patterns. This agate work was then set into metal (usually solid silver, though occasionally solid gold too). The best antique Scottish jewellery often shows different slices of agate which have been slotted, plaided and polished together into patterns to almost form one stone – some jewellery even resembled multi-coloured tartan patterns.
When it came to wearing Scottish agates, it was the brooches which were the most commonly worn as they were both beautiful and functional, holding those heavy Victorian garments, capes and kilts in place. Bracelets, earrings and rings were slightly more unusual. Occasionally Scottish agate necklaces were made, though these are rare and generally only seen in museums or specialist collections.

ABOVE: This circa 1870s brooch is a fine example of old Victorian Scottish agate jewellery. Note the flush setting, and high polish finish. Each of these agates came from a different part of Scotland.

ABOVE: This circa 1870s brooch is a fine example of old Victorian Scottish agate jewellery. Note the flush setting, and high polish finish. Each of these agates came from a different part of Scotland.

Vintage Victorian edwardian scottish agate brooch jewellery, with stunning metal scroll patterns

ABOVE: A simple Victorian Scottish Agate jewellery ‘slab agate’ brooch, so call named as it is made from only one solid piece of agate. Also, notice the metalwork patterns – Victorians used fine scroll work on their jewellery, not Celtic knotwork patterns.

 

Jewellery symbolism played an important part of Victorian life. Certain motifs were popular, such as horseshoes, anchors, axes, flowers, thistles, daggers, shields and knots. Buckle motifs were especially loved by the Victorians, and jewellery which displays a buckle piece in its design is still sought after today. Occasionally you’ll see household objects such as kettles, or musical instruments like harps and violins, as canny Victorian jewelers sought to tap into more sentimental designs.

 

Vintage victorian edwardian scottish agate brooch jewellery, with articulated buckle

ABOVE: Buckle motifs were popular in the Victorian era. This fine example of Scottish agate jewellery dates from circa 1870s, and the buckle is even movable.

It’s the simple beauty, variety of designs, exquisite workmanship and of course the amazing colours of Scottish jewellery which makes it so desirable. It’s still made today, though in general it tends to be quite different from its ancestors, with greater emphasis on modern metal-work Celtic knot-work patterns rather than creating a mosaic of agate stones.

 

ABOVE: A 20th Century reproduction Scottish jewellery brooch, made with real Scottish agates and a centre citrine quartz gemstone. A quick note - antique and vintage 'Scottish' agate jewellery wasn't always actually made in Scotland. England was a producer too, and the silver work was often assayed in Chester and Birmingham. A lot of genuinely Scottish made jewellery was not assayed at all.

ABOVE: A 20th Century reproduction Scottish jewellery brooch, made with real Scottish agates and a centre citrine quartz gemstone. A quick note – antique and vintage ‘Scottish’ agate jewellery wasn’t always actually made in Scotland. England was a producer too, and the silver work was often assayed in Chester and Birmingham. A lot of genuinely Scottish made jewellery was not assayed at all.

Scottish Costume Jewellery Reproductions

As with most fine antique jewellery, you will come across modern and more affordable takes on this old genre. The skill that was involved in creating the real Victorian Scottish agate work was huge, so nowadays it’s too time consuming to recreate accurately. Therefore modern ‘Scottishinspired’ jewelry is quite easy to spot with a little practice. Collecting Scottish costume jewellery is a hobby in it’s own right.

Vintage Scottish Celtic glass agate brooch signed Miracle

ABOVE: A reproduction Scottish style glass agate brooch, signed Miracle. This jewellery design company specializes in reproduction Scottish agate jewellery, and has a dazzling array of beautiful designs. Even though most Miracle jewellery is classed as costume jewellery, it is collected throughout the world.

 

The most common indication of a modern reproduction is glass being used instead of agate. This can be difficult to identify at first, because they both are hard, cold materials. However, the modern stones tend to be set into much chunkier metal than agates, and the metal work will often show crude patterns. A good magnifying glass or jewelers loupe is a must – agates often have bits of natural surface wear and some can be slightly matte, while glass is usually ice smooth and more reflective.

I’ve set up two Pinterest Boards which show what antique Scottish jewellery and then modern Scottish jewellery looks like:

Antique Scottish agate jewellery (dating 1850s to 1900s)

Later vintage/ modern Celtic and Scottish glass costume jewellery (dating 1960s to 2000s)

Collecting modern Scottish inspired costume jewellery is a popular hobby in itself, but occasionally even second-hand jewellery sellers and antique dealers can’t seem to tell the difference between the modern costume jewellery copies and genuine antique agate work! Always ask sellers friendly questions before you buy if you’re unsure of a piece, and make sure they accept returns if you are unhappy with your purchase.

ABOVE: A modern reproduction Celtic style ring, with purple glass imitation agate. Notice how the metal work is the focus of the jewellery, not the stone. In genuine antique Scottish jewellery it is the other way round - the focus is on the stone work, not the metal.

ABOVE: A modern reproduction Celtic style ring, with purple glass imitation agate. Notice how the metal work is the focus of the jewellery, not the stone. In genuine antique Scottish jewellery it is the other way round – the focus is on the stone work, not the metal.

ABOVE: A modern (circa 1980s) Scottish Celtic bracelet, with glass imitation agates. Compare this bracelet, and the above ring with the Victorian brooches. Notice how the patterns and scroll work are chunkier and more crude in modern items - this helps when trying to date Scottish jewellery.

ABOVE: A modern (circa 1980s) Scottish Celtic bracelet, with glass imitation agates. Compare this bracelet, and the above ring with the Victorian brooches. Notice how the patterns and scroll work are chunkier and more crude in modern items – this helps when trying to date Scottish jewellery.

 

Buying tips for Scottish all types of jewellery (modern and antique):

 

~Signatures: Costume jewellery from the 1950s onwards often had company name stamps (aka ‘signatures’) on them. These signatures can be hard to find at first – study the back carefully with a magnifying glass, and if you see words such as ‘Miracle’…’Jem’….’Jewelcraft’….’Hollywood’ you have a mid to late 20th Century Scottish inspired costume jewellery piece.

vintage jacobite glass stone agate celtic trifoil brooch

The back of a modern (circa 1970s) glass stone Scottish costume jewellery brooch. It is signed/ stamped ‘Jacobite’, meaning it was made by the company of that name.

~Workmanship: Modern Scottish brooches tend to have ‘chunky’ metal frames (almost always with crude engravings or thick Celtic patterns), thick prongs, and chunky raised ‘stones’. Antique Scottish jewellery usually has superb fine workmanship, flush flat stones,exquisite prong settings and occasionally delicate engraved Victorian scroll work on the metal (but no Celtic patterns).

~ Condition Condition Condition: In all cases, these should be no stones missing – these are almost impossible to replace. Also avoid cracked and badly chipped stones, unless you are genuinely in love with the piece of jewellery. Tiny nibbles (also called ‘flea bites’) to the stones are generally acceptable in antique jewellery. Check all clasps work, and there is no rust, verdigris or damage to the metal work.

malachite scottish agate brooch antique broken

The pin has broken off this old antique Scottish agate brooch – fixing it is very difficult unless your a proper jeweler.

~Does it have a two-tone mix of coral red and green malachite style stones? Watch out – I’ve witnessed some well known antiques dealers fall for this one! You may occasionally come across some Scottish style brooches which at first look to be genuine antiques – usually round brooches, or occasionally 3-leaf clovers or a horseshoe. However they are not old – they are modern mid to late 20th Century reproductions. These brooches are set into solid silver (stamped plain ‘925’), closed at the back (ie full silver backdrops rather than open or slate backed), and have small ‘agate’ tiles of malachite and coral red. But these stones are not agates – they are very good glass copies.

~ Other tips: A good way to identify these modern repros is that they usually have roll over clasps rather than the old ‘c’ style clasp (you can learn more about dating brooches by their clasp type in my Five Tips For Vintage Dating Brooches guide.)

 

Looking after your antique Scottish Agate Jewellery

A simple and very occasional light clean in mild soapy water is all you need to do to keep you jewellery clean and bright. Dry immediately and very thoroughly so the water doesn’t affect any cement which may be holding in the agates .

Top ten no-nonsense tips for vintage jewellery shopping ..

I love shopping for vintage costume jewellery, but looking back I remember being really intimidated by it all when I first started out back in the 1990s. Over the years I’ve found some bargains, made some awful mistakes, and had the chance to discover towns and cities I’d never consider going to if I weren’t for my treasure hunting passion!

So here are my top tips for vintage costume jewellery shopping ..

1. Vintage jewellery is uncommon to find in ‘real life’ shops, unless it’s a specific vintage shop.  Charity and thrift shops do sell it occasionally (I absolutely LOVE charity shopping for vintage and make a day of it), but you have to search them out to find the best places, and even then they’re not consistent; a town bursting with unbelievable retro treasures in January may not produce anything else vintage jewellery-wise for the rest of the year. I actually keep a little calendar log of the towns I’ve visited, and don’t visit the charity shops there more than four times a year – yes, I’m that dedicated about it!

formby sefton coast beach merseyside pine trees free photos images beach sea (50)

When vintage and thrift shopping, always have a fun plan B if it’s one of those days where nothing is showing up. If I go to Merseyside, I make time to go to the lovely sandy beaches there on the Sefton coast (above), or a trip to rural towns normally means a countryside amble too. I  always shop in sturdy shoes, so I’m prepared for those unexpected detours!

2. Not everyone like treasure hunting, so if you want to buy a vintage jewellery without the hours of rummaging through crappy stuff, then a good bet is to head for areas in cities which have a cluster of dedicated vintage shops in one road (often in student areas). A concentration of shops means competition, which often equals better quality goods at lower prices. A single vintage shop in a town or district can sometimes mean higher prices for a more limited range of items.

3. Have some background knowledge to what you want to buy if possible, especially when it comes to dating vintage stuff, or looking out for fakes. Ask your seller questions about an item, and trust your instincts. I’ve written some guides to dating vintage jewellery which can be found on this blog, or ask away here!

4. Quick vintage jewellery dating tips: Any necklace that has a lobster clasp is generally modern.  T-bar hinges on brooches mean very old antique jewellery (yay!). Gloopy pearlized enamel is generally modern. Aurora borealis (also known as ‘AB’) is a special type of rainbow lustre found coated on glass stones and beads, and was invented in the 1950s; therefore it’s never found on art deco nor antique jewellery.

Tips on shopping for vintage fashion costume retro shop jewellery

MAIN: a T-hinge brooch, only found on real antique jewellery
TOP RIGHT: glass beads/ stones coated with Aurora Borealis lustre, which is a guarantee the beads or stones were made after the 1950s.
BOTTOM RIGHT: Gloopy pearlized enamel (as seen on this bracelet) is generally modern.

5. Try not to buy vintage jewelry which is damaged – things like flaking pearls and damaged enamel are not fixable and will only get worse, and definitely avoid metal that has little green patches (called verdigris) which will only get worse no matter how you try and clean it, and it will spread to other jewellery it touches too).

6. You may hear people talking about ‘signed jewellery’. This means that the company which made the piece has had it’s name stamped on the back (eg Trifari, Napier, Hollywood, Exquisite). Unless you specifically collect vintage costume jewellery (which is a big passion for many people, but a subject for a different blog post), I wouldn’t be too concerned about this, and certainly don’t pay over the odds for something your not 100% in love with just because it has a stamped ‘name’ on it. Some of the most stunning vintage jewellery I’ve come across has been ‘unsigned’ (ie, no stamp), and it’s been whole lot cheaper too (WINS all round :))

7. If you fall in love with jewellery which is damaged and you know how fix it (eg, replace missing stones) then have a go at (nicely and respectfully) haggling the price down if you feel it’s too high. While vintage will show signs of light wear (eg, gold tone metal fading, slightly dull rhinestones), don’t fall for some dealers sale speak of damage being a ‘natural’ part of owning a piece of vintage –  it isn’t.  If you want your items to last (or sell on at a later date) then the jewellery should be good condition.

vintage 5 row pearl glass bead necklace repair (2)

This broken vintage faux pearl necklace was on offer for almost the same price as a good condition one. Use common sense, and only buy things which are in good condition (or if your crafty, fixable and at a discounted price).

8. You can find some real bargains at auctioneers – not the famous Internet ones, I mean the real life ones, with humans and hammers and dodgy winks and head shakes. In my experience,  they’re great for buying vintage costume jewellery in bulk, or individual items of vintage fine jewellery (ie gold or gemstones) at a bargain.

9. You never know what lies inside that town or small city your innocently passing through. My best finds have been: a pile of art deco Bohemian glass necklaces in Accrington (£1 each), a huge 1950s rhinestone brooch from Carlisle (£3), an antique Victorian Whitby Jet necklace from Knutsford (£4), a carved 1950s mother of pearl powder compact from Kendal (£5), a carved art deco Bakelite bangle from Chorley (£1), some 1940s reverse carved Lucite jewellery from Altringham (£3 each), and an art deco glass paste bracelet from Caernarfon (£4).  BTW, in the interest of balance and honesty, I usually don’t find one single thing when I’m out on a treasure hunt!

10.  It’s what you’ve been hoping for all blog post – where to shop (ie, outside London, as that’s a blog post for someone who actually knows London well and who isn’t an odd day tripper like me). I’m not going to give away all my favourite places, but here’s a random 5 to get you started. In no particular order:

  • Glasgow: Byres Road area, which is near Glasgow University. A treasure trove of good quality vintage shops at proper prices (hint – don’t forget to investigate the cobbled side streets off it too – some of the best shops are found down there).
  • The cities of York and Chester – different counties but similar in enchanting olde world feel, and both a treasure trove of good quality second hand shops that don’t overcharge. If in Chester and you’ve got time, nip over to Wrexham too.
  • If you want proper couture and luxury designers such as Chanel, then head over to Alderley Edge in Cheshire (apparently the town with the highest concentration of millionaires or something). As seen with my very own eyes when I decided to have a quick nosy in while passing through on other business, the charity shops there are rightly the stuff of legend.
  • Ramsbottom in Lancashire has some great charity shops, and for the full vintage experience you can even catch an old  vintage train there too. It’s also home to the incredible ‘Memories Antiques’ vintage emporium centre, which is bursting at the seams with stalls selling vintage clothes and vintage jewellery from floor to ceiling, all at very reasonable prices too. Even thinking about it brings a warm smile to my face and song to my heart.
  • And last but not least, take a day out along the lovely North Wales coast, from Prestatyn to Colwyn Bay and ending in Llandudno. All three are packed with charity shops and the odd old fashioned antique curiosity shop (the one in Prestatyn is legendary), and what the heck, ambling along these neighbouring seaside towns is just lovely way to spend a day.
views from great orme llandudno wales

Vintage shopping along the North Wales coast, Jewellery Muse style (be sure to pack those walking boots to take in the view from the top of Great Orme!)

Beginner’s Guide & Info On Victorian Mourning Jewellery

One of the most fascinating areas of vintage jewellery is the genre known as mourning jewellery. When Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert died at the early age 42, she was consumed with grief for many years. One of the ways she expressed this was to wear tokens of her mourning in the shape of jewellery. Whilst ‘mourning jewellery’ has been around for hundreds of years, it was the influential Queen Victoria who started the mourning fashion craze, which quickly spread amongst the masses. It was to last until her own death 40 years later.

antique victorian coral mourning brooch with weaved hair

ABOVE: an example of an early Victorian mourning brooch, made from coral and intricately weaved human hair.

What is mourning jewellery?

In times gone by, many people died at a young age because of poor diet and unhygienic lifestyles. Deadly disease was rife, and child birth was a major risk which put both mother and baby in life-threatening danger; death played a sad yet normal part of every day life. For the status obsessed and crushingly polite 19th century Victorians, mourning jewellery was a clever way of showing people what your status was (eg newly widowed or just lost a child) without the potential embarrassment of telling them. It was also worn as a sentimental reminder of the person who’d actually passed away.

The secret Language of Flowers, and hidden symbolism in Victorian mourning jewellery

The Victorians had strict codes of behavior and etiquette. Even expressing a personal feeling was often considered rude, so when someone needed to convey a message, they did so using silent symbolism, which involved giving gifts which symbolized words. For example, floral bouquets called ‘Tussie Mussie’s’ were popular during this period. They worked by letting the sender spell out a whole sentence in flowers (eg bell flowers meant “thinking of you“) to a desired recipient. Jewellery was often given for the same reason too – forget-me-not flower jewellery was especially popular as it meant ‘true love’.

ABOVE: a Victorian mourning flower brooch made from Vulcanite. The types of flowers shown here would have had great meaning to the original owner.

ABOVE: a 19th Century Victorian mourning flower brooch made from Vulcanite, which is a type of rubber material. The types of flowers shown here would have had great meaning to the original owner.

Materials used to make mourning jewellery

Natural Whitby jet from Yorkshire was one of the most sought after materials for mourning jewellery due to the natural high quality finish which could be achieved. However, it quickly became scarce and expensive due to demand, so ‘fake’ jets such as black glass (romantically called French Jet) became a cheaper alternative, as did dyed black horn, early rubberized materials (such as Vulcanite), and bog oak from Ireland.

The Victorian era was a period of immense change and fast moving innovation. Up until the 19th Century, jewellery was individually hand made, usually with precious metals, gemstones and glass (a.k.a ‘paste’ which was an expensive luxury), and was the preserve of the rich upper classes. Mourning jewellery was one of the first type of jewellery that was mass produced in large numbers, and was so low priced it could be worn by the general population, not just the aristocracy.

ABOVE: This necklace is made from Vulcanite (aka Ebonite), a 19th Century hard rubberized man-made material which could be mass produced. These chunky chain links were the height of fashion for Victorian ladies.

ABOVE: This Victorian antique necklace is made from Vulcanite, a 19th Century hard rubberized man-made material which could be mass produced. These chunky chain links were the height of fashion for Victorian ladies.

ABOVE: a Victorian antique Vulcanite morning brooch, depicting ivy (which means true love).

ABOVE: a Victorian antique Vulcanite morning brooch, depicting ivy (which often means true love).

ABOVE: This Victorian pendant is made from a Vulcanite base, while the grapes are made from French Jet, which is a fancy term for black glass. Grapes symbolise charity.

ABOVE: This antique Victorian pendant is made from a Vulcanite base, while the grapes are made from French Jet, which is a fancy term for black glass.

ABOVE: a typical hand carved Whitby jet mourning brooch.

ABOVE: a typical hand carved antique Victorian Whitby jet mourning brooch.

PhotobuckABOVE: a rare 19th Century Whitby Jet mourning necklace, made from hand faceted beads. Whitby Jet was believed to be the finest of all the jet gemstones, and was prized by the Victorians. It's still highly desirable today.et

ABOVE: a rare 19th Century antique Whitby Jet mourning necklace, made from hand faceted beads. Whitby Jet was believed to be the finest of all the jet gemstones, and was prized by the Victorians. It is still highly desirable today.

ABOVE: A Victorian mourning necklace, made from French Jet (aka black glass). Real jet jewellery was expensive and rare - French Jet was an affordable alternative for Victorian fashion lovers.

ABOVE: An antique Victorian mourning necklace, made from French Jet (aka black glass). Real jet jewellery was expensive and rare – French Jet was an affordable alternative for Victorian fashion lovers.

ABOVE: a black enamel and woven hair Victorian mourning brooch, made from two tones of human hair - probably the hair of the deceased and their widowed partner, woven together.

ABOVE: a black enamel and woven hair antique Victorian mourning brooch, made from two tones of human hair – possibly the hair of the deceased and their widowed partner, woven together.

ABOVE: a black enamel and blond woven human hair Victorian mourning brooch. This is a basic example of Victorian hair weaving - the more elaborate ones are breathtaking in their creation and impossibly intricate weaving.

ABOVE: a black enamel and blond woven human hair antique Victorian mourning brooch. This is a basic example of Victorian hair weaving – the more elaborate ones are breathtaking in their creation and impossibly intricate weaving.

ABOVE: a woven hair (horse tail) Victorian pocket watch chain

ABOVE: horses were highly prized in Victorian times, and this a antique Victorian pocket watch chain has been woven with the hair tail of a much loved horse. This is the only type of mourning jewellery that is still popular today,with many companies still specializing in sentimental horse hair jewellery.

ABOVE: a Victorian Whitby jet mourning bracelet, which looks and feels as new today as it did when it was first made over 120 years ago.

ABOVE: a Victorian Whitby jet mourning bracelet, which looks and feels as new today as it did when it was first made over 120 years ago.


You can learn how to identify jewellery materials such as Vulcanite and Whitby Jet in this blog post.

Collecting mourning jewellery

Original jewellery from the Victorian period was made to last, and can still be found quite easily today. Vulcanite, horn, Whitby Jet and bog oak brooches are common, though necklaces, rings and bracelets are rare and command much higher prices. The most sought after antique mourning jewellery is made from enameled precious metals and includes impossibly intricate hair weaving.

Finally, a type of jewellery called ‘Memento Mori’ (which is Latin for ‘Remember you will die’), at first looks quite similar to mourning jewellery. However, it dates back to around the 1600s, and was slightly different in that it was generally worn as a reminder of one’s own mortality and fleeting time on earth, rather than an actual mourning trinket of someone else’s death. You can recognize antique Memento Mori items straight away due to their disturbing imagery, which includes brooches depicting miniature paintings of coffins, rings set with tiny carved skulls instead of gemstones, and even pictures of rotting corpses on bracelets.