Monday, 30 March 2015

History of Jewellery - Part II

Continuing (Part I) with our lecture by Susan Rumfitt on the History of Jewellery in the 20th Century, we'll talk about tiaras. Of course we got to see loads of photos, but a) the lighting washed out the screen, b) I was sitting nearly under the screen and c) I could either take notes or take photos. I opted for the former.

Accepted practice in the Victorian era about tiaras was that only nobility could wear them, only married ladies and only after 3pm. However, the Astors and the Vanderbilts began wearing tiaras in spite of these 'rules' and the tiara 'laws' began to change. Of course both these wealthy families were American, but off the top of my head I can name Waldorf Astor (married to Nancy Astor, first woman elected to the British Parliament) and Consuelo Vanderbilt (who married the 9th Duke of Marlborough);  these Astors and Vanderbilts lived here in Britain during the reign of George V and Mary.

My notes are a bit scribbled here...'garland style...with swags, pendant...delicate'. I think we may be talking about the Delhi Durbar Tiara owned by Queen Mary. I don't think that much was said about this, but in searching for a photo I found it has had several incarnations. 

It was originally presented to Queen Mary by the Maharni of Patiala on behalf of the ladies of India (!) on the advent of the Queen's first visit to their country in 1911. At her request it included ten of the Cambridge emeralds, more about which later.  In 1922 the emeralds were removed and the following year the tiara was remodeled to include two enormous diamonds. 

One was called Cullinan III (pear cut, 94.4 carots) and the other Cullinan IV (square cut, 63.3 carots). One of my notes might say 'convertable'; the Cullinan diamonds are now most often worn as brooches. It would appear that Cullinan III had been removed by 1947 when the tiara was loaned to the woman we now know as the Queen Mother; she wore it to a tour of South Africa, which was fitting as the Cullinan diamonds are known as the 'lesser' Stars of Africa. More about them later.

The most recent appearance of this particular tiara was in 2005 when it was loaned to Camilla, which was apparently a bit controversial.

In looking up some of the history I discovered that there are a bunch of people who are fascinated by the subject of tiaras! Who knew? If you are one of these people, you might be interested these links:

Moving on from tiaras, Susan showed us a photo of a lovely American brooch in the shape of a ribbon tied in a bow. Between the 'ribbon' ends was a pendant. I sketched it, but you'll just have to imagine it in a honeycomb of platinum studded with diamonds and pearls. I looked, but didn't find anything just like it, but this Pinterest site may give you some ideas!

Platinum was first discovered in the 17th century, but jewellers didn't know how to work with it until after the industrial revolution. She said that platinum as a metal costs less than gold (and a quick look on the internet suggests this may be true); however, it is more difficult to work and so takes longer and therein lies the higher cost of platinum jewellery. 

I found some interesting websites that discuss platinum vs. gold:


Friday, 27 March 2015

History of Jewellery in the 20th Century - Part I

First of all, I never can decide how to spell jewellery / jewelry / jewelery and now that I've looked that up, turns out it's yet another Brit / Yank thing; I'd not realised this before. I live in England, so English spelling wins: I'll use the long version.

I was lucky enough to attend a lecture this week on the history of jewellery. It was given by Susan Rumfitt of Antiques Roadshow fame as part of the Women's Institute Centenary Celebration by the Northumberland Federation. Susan has a business in Harrogate, which is a fabulous place not far from York and a pleasant enough journey on the train. I can see us having a day out at Harrogate sometime this year! Anyhow, let's see if I can make any sense of my notes... She began by explaining that

Victorian [generally most of the 1800's when Queen Victoria was on the throne (1837-1901)] clothing was big and very grand. Jewellery was designed to blend in with the clothing itself, sometimes even stitched to the front of an outfit.  

Victoria, Princess Royal by Franz Xavier Winterhalter, 1876
(Queen Victoria's eldest daughter)

In contrast, 20th century jewellery was meant to complement the clothes and to stand out.  In the post-industrial revolution period mass production techniques were applied to the manufacture of jewellery, bringing down the cost so that most everyone could afford some piece of jewellery. Also, this time period saw costume jewellery rise in popularity.

Queen Mary (1867-1953) (the present Queen's grandmother) owned a vast amount of jewellery, probably the largest collection in the royal family since Queen Charlotte. Her eldest daughter, also called Mary, married the Earl of Harewood whose family was based in North Yorkshire. This meant that Queen Mary often visited in the area of York, Leeds and Harrogate. Her visits were potentially disasterous for shop owners and upper class families alike. It seems that Queen Mary had the habit of examining the goods in the shop/home and if she found something really special she commented "I rather like that." And then sat in silence, waiting. Apparently the only acceptable reply was to give it to her, even if one really didn't want to (yet another reason to love democracy!). This explains at least some portion of her jewellery collection.

In the Edwardian period (roughly 1901-1910) lace fronted gowns were popular, a revival of the rococo style of the 18th century. Jewels were sewn on to clothes in rows: rows of diamonds and rows of pearls were fashionable. The Arts and Crafts movement was around at this time and that look was very rustic, the movement being a rebellion against industrial manufacture. The Art Nouveau style, which embraced industrialism but also imitated nature, used high quality gold and a distinctive 'plique-à-jour' enamel (the term being French for letting-in-daylight), which resembles stained glass. Some of this may well find itself on my birthday wishlist! 

Another reason Queen Mary had so much jewellery is because she and her husband were Emperor and Empress of India. Part of this role involved attending durbars in India, gatherings of the princes of India and of the British Raj, everyone putting on their richest attire in order to impress each other. 

Mary of Teck, wife of George V.

At it happened an Act of Parliament forbade the crown jewels being taken out of the country, so she had to have other jewels made for this purpose. Somehow, upon her return to Britain the jewels seemingly became her own property. Neat trick, eh?

Apparently bangles originated in India, and particularly pairs of matching bangles were hugely fashionable in Victorian and Edwardian times and some . We were told that it sometimes happened that if a family had two daughters, they would each be given one of the pair, which seems fair enough. However, we were told that this dropped the value by 70%.  Seems excessive, but clearly they were meant to stay together! 

In the 1930s, bangles were worn even more, sometimes all the way up the arm. 

Nancy Cunard (1896-1965) took to extreme bangles.

We'll pick this up next time, with tiaras!

Saturday, 14 March 2015


To say that Bill has a specific habit at breakfast time doesn't begin to describe how predictable he is: if it's there, he'll have toast with a thick layer of margarine and an even thicker layer of marmalade. But not just any marmalade. Contrary to his usual sweet tooth, he prefers reduced-sugar marmalade. Which of course costs four times the cheapest option, but I have looked for sales and stocked up and just lived with his habit. Until Vivien told me that Lakeland had tins of Seville oranges. So I bought some. That tin sat in my cupboard for a very long time waiting for me to gather time, jars and patience with the whole 'setting' process.

Disappearing fast!

Then I discovered pectin-free jam making and I was away. I think I used some jam-making sugar I already had on hand (which does have some pectin in it) and I did the test-for-wrinkling-on-a-cold-plate thing, but really the whole process took no time at all and was dead easy. The only disappointing thing is that I only got five (six?) jars from the tin, less than I expected. Because - duh - I used half the sugar the recipe called for. I can live with that. 

I really don't like marmalade, but even I like this stuff: not too sweet, not too bitter, a little of each. These days my morning toast has half covered with marmalade and half with my plum jam: heaven. I laughed at a mention in a Phryne Fisher book I read recently: the two options at her table were marmalade and plum jams. We are silly that way.

I've not done a cost analysis, but the fact that it's now something I can eat has to count for something. Also, I have another idea for which we've bought another two tins of Seville oranges. I want to see what happens if you buy the really cheap stuff (27p), boil it up and mix it with a tin of oranges. I figure the cheap marmalade is mostly sugar and's an experiment I think is worth trying at least. Erica, from Northwest Edible Life has opened my mind on this. 

Even sillier than Phryne Fisher books, I was "inspired" to look up this video of one of my favourites, Lady Marmalade by these amazing ladies. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

National Unplug Day: Sundown March 6th to Sundown March 7th

I grabbed a link several years ago that I've just recently rediscovered. It was about something called the Sabbath Manifesto, something to do with some Jewish organisation and something called 'Reboot', which is basically about slowing life down.  The original thing that attracted me was their "Ten Principles" for observing a weekly day of rest:

  • Avoid technology
  • Connect with loved ones
  • Nurture your health
  • Get outside
  • Avoid commerce
  • Light candles
  • Drink wine
  • Eat bread
  • Find silence
  • Give back
What's not to love?

I spend a fair amount of time on my computer, but it's been several years since I carried a functional mobile phone. I keep meaning to get that taken care of, just for emergencies, but it's clearly not a high priority for me.  I am appalled when I see the behaviour of a lot of people who carry these 'smart phone' things, particularly when they are supposedly in social settings. It is so incredibly rude to ignore someone you're out with and I can't imagine how hurtful it must be to feel you have to compete with a little box for someone's attention. They are both wonderful gadgets and horrible, foul things, these screens that hold us prisoner. The National Day of Unplugging has this brilliant / funny / sad video that shows just what we are doing when we stare at a screen instead of engaging with a person. 

Selfies: don't even get me started - I just don't get them!

I have lately been less on Facebook or blog-reading than at my sewing machine / out running / reading a book, which is good, but I could certainly improve a lot more. I may give this 6-7 March thing a go and see how that feels. 

Monday, 2 March 2015


My bookshelves are positively groaning with the addition of my Christmas gifts (and a few other purchases of items not received). I recently read a blog post that talked about 'how to unclutter your book case'. She said to decide first how many books you would like to own. She came up with 60; I thought somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000...which doesn't sound very helpful except that I wouldn't necessarily own all the books I currently have. And of course I've not that much space for bookshelves, so I'm not really in any danger.

Anyhow when I noticed that the Marsden Boy Scouts were having a book sale of course I dropped in for a look as I was passing. I headed straight for the craft section, then the biographies and other non-fiction and then only lightly perused the novels for Veronica Roth's trilogy. No such luck.

But I did find a few other books of interest: The Viceroy's Daughters I have read before and know I will enjoy it again. It is largely set in the inter-war period and is about the three daughters of George Curzon.  It also has a lot to say about the Mitfords (one of whom who married Oswald Mosley, the ex-husband of the eldest Curzon daughter) and about Duke and Duchess of Windsor (AKA Edward VIII who abdicated to marry Mrs. Simpson).

The foodie book is rather silly and full of ideas I'm not likely to take up both for the health of my body and of my pocketbook, but I shall no doubt learn a term or two.

The Historian was selected mainly because of its title and the nice thickness, but it turned out to be about vampires, something I'd not realised. Fortunately it was nothing like Twilight, read more like a mystery and gave some wonderful descriptions of old cities in Eastern Europe, where we are headed this summer. 

I thought How to Shop and Why We Buy sounded intriguingly yin and yang. The former turns out to be a list of recommended outlets and boutiques across Britain whilst the latter seems to be an insight into how social psychologists study the habits of shoppers and make recommendations to stores. I'd hoped it would be more along the lines of 'how not to buy'; then again, I know quite a bit about that already.

Finally, the book about economics may well prove to be over my head, but I have enjoyed Freakonomics and The Undercover Economist, so we'll see.

I think six books for £4.50 to a good cause was a brilliant deal, don't you?