Ever seen a pendant or brooch detailed with a stunning azure blue shimmering background? If the answer is yes, then you may have been looking at a piece of jewellery made from ….. real butterfly wings.
Wowzer that’s blue!
Vintage 1960s butterfly wing brooch
Butterfly wing jewellery was popular from the art deco period up to the 1960s, and it involved using real butterfly wings (usually from South American Morpho butterfly) to create rich blue accents or focal points to jewellery. There were two popular designs; plain, to let the beauty and simplicity of the colour shine through (as seen in the above picture), or artwork, which involved reverse painting a glass cabochon with the outline of a picture, which was then placed on top of a butterfly wing to create beautiful scene. Butterfly wing jewellery was made into charms, brooches, bracelets, earrings and pendants.
ABOVE: A vintage crinoline lady butterfly wing brooch, which was a particularly popular subject in jewellery during the 1930s and 40s. To make this piece, a solid glass cover was reverse painted on the underside, and placed on top of a Morpho butterfly wing to create the blue dress effect.
ABOVE: Butterfly jewellery wasn’t just made from the Morpho butterfly – other species were used too. This art deco butterfly wing brooch is made with an unidentified silvery wing; although it’s rarer that blue Morpho butterfly wing jewellery, it is not as desirable.
In its heyday, butterfly wing jewelry was in demand around the world, with butterfly farms even being set up in Europe to meet demand. Common subjects of the period were:
- Dutch scenes (windmills, national costumes) from Europe
- ‘Crinoline’ dressed ladies, often from England.
- Cactus and deserts , from the USA
- Birds and animals, from Europe and South America
- Tropical and beach scenes from Europe and South America.
Above: An art deco butterfly wing bar brooch.
Butterfly wing jewelry is still being made today, using butterflies from butterfly farms. Specimens die naturally of old age (after around 130 days), and are then carefully collected for projects. There is also a fascinating aspect of creating butterfly farms as a form of much needed environmental protection of endangered rainforest, as explained by the butterfly specialists at Butterfly Utopia.
“Our butterflies come from butterfly farms and ranching projects from all over the world (mainly South America, Africa and South East Asia). These farms provide the natives of the countries with an excellent source of income and prevent them from destroying the rainforest to clear land for cattle raising, logging etc. Eggs laid on leaves in the wild rainforests are collected and hatched in the farms. In the wild, only a very small percentage (about 5%) of butterfly eggs survive to adulthood. Butterfly farms have much higher survival rates, approximately 80%. Habitat protection is also important because butterfly caterpillars will only eat certain plants from their habitat, so these plants are also collected. Most of the less colorful female butterflies hatched on farms are released into the wild to lay more eggs in a rainforest that would have been destroyed years ago if not for the protection of the farms.”
Above, quote from Butterfly Utopia.
Art deco butterfly wing earrings
A piece of Morpho butterfly wing, taken from an old brooch I was repairing. Butterfly wings must be handled with great care, as the moisture on skin can damage and discolour it if touched.
The big jewellery companies of the 1950s and 60s loved using butterfly wings in their jewellery. This brooch was made by the famous old UK designers ‘Exquisite’ during the 1960s – note how well the butterfly wing has lasted, compared with what’s left of the the faux pearls and marcasite which surround it.
Brand new butterfly wing jewellery has a stunning rich colour and vividness that takes your breath away, and with care it will last a lifetime. Be careful,when purchasing second hand butterfly wing jewellery as needs careful study before purchase – it occasionally suffers from colour fading or dark patches, which affect the value of the piece.
Dark patches on an art deco butterfly wing brooch – this is undesirable.
This vintage butterfly pendant shows a Dutch scene. Note the faded patches near the top of the sky, again this is not desirable to collectors.
Butterfly wing jewellery is easy to clean and take care of: store it safely away from direct sunlight if it’s not going to be worn for a while, and never wash nor soak it in water, as moisture will ruin the wing – simply wipe down the protective clear cover with a clean dry cloth.
Butterflies And Art has a fascinating article on how butterfly farms can help both the environment and the people living in it.