Scottish, Agate & Pebble Jewellery
There is much pleasure to be had in collecting Scottish Agate jewellery, simply because of the vast range of styles and form. Even if you collect just one style - say Anchor shaped brooches, there are so many different sizes and colours. Just by the very nature of agate, no two pieces will ever be identical.
Although Scottish Jewellery has virtually always had its own identity (the ring or annular style of brooches were worn from the 2nd century BC) it was three or four major events that popularised the wearing of Scottish jewellery during the Victorian period. Queen Victoria's purchase of Balmoral in 1848, the new railway connections that increased tourism to Scotland and a sweeping cult of Romanticism, brought about in part by the historically based novels of Walter Scott and others all contributed to a love of all things Scottish.
On a trip to Scotland, Prince Albert found a pebble and had it set into a piece of jewellery for his beloved Victoria, news of this spread fast and together with pictures of the couple wearing Scottish "folk" or pebble jewellery in full highland dress, they set a craze for Scottish Jewellery that was to last for over half a century.
For the most part, the pebbles came from Scotland, lacey grey Montrose Agate, pale pink Corennie, grey Aberdeen Granite, Carnelian and Bloodstone Jaspers to name it a few. Some brooches also are set with more unusual finds like fossils and Amber. At the height of the fashion, demand was such, that stones were sent to Idar-Oberstien in Germany for cutting and setting. This small town, split in two by the river had become one of Europe's most important gemstone cutting centres and employed some of the best stone cutters in the world - many from the diminished mining industry in Brazil. The Lapidaries or stone cutter would lay on their backs for hours in front of the huge grindstones to cut and polish agate stones for jewellery that would be finished thousands of miles away. If you are in the area and interested in Gemstones or Art Deco Jewellery, Idar Oberstein is certainly worth a visit, I took a trip there last year to see the fabulous Museum of Jakob Bengal and would also recommend the Gemstone Museum which has over 10,000 gems from around the world and also a good collection of jewellery.
Forms & Shapes
Pebble jewellery comes in many forms, bracelets, earrings, necklaces (very rare) and brooches.
Bracelets are usually made up of several panels of Agate some are silver (some gold) either unmounted or set into engraved frames decorated with elaborate foliate or scrolled engraved borders, hinged together or linked with chain. There are many variations in the panels - some have hexagonal rods or strapped boss's or both and there are some fantastically intricate carved ones, knots etc. to simple wired ones.
The fastenings vary from a strap and buckle design that is based upon Queen Victoria's Order of the Garter position (see motifs and meanings later) and box tongue designs to simple cross over loupes that fasten with a padlock. These beautiful padlocks are usually set with matching agate and can be heart shaped or padlock shaped both have romantic connotations meaning security and love. In earlier models, these padlocks have a needle sharp hasp that would have also passed through the cuff of the wearers sleeve for security pre-dating the safety chains of later dates.
Earrings, again in silver or gold followed the styles of other agate pieces and Victorian taste, many being elongated and pendulum style with matching tops. Necklaces are very rare, they were not as popular as other forms simply because they would not be seen under folds of the plaids worn over dresses. Brooches have, by far, the most varied forms and came in a wide variety of shapes. There were literally hundreds of different forms of brooches from butterflies and bees to keys & boats to name just a few – that’s the beauty of collecting Scottish Agate Jewellery – there are just hundreds of examples!! Some of the early ones, set with geometric shapes of different agates have slate backs so that the tiny pieces could be glued on and then give a good finish on the back.
Earlier brooches tend to have hinged pins that are longer than the actual brooch, this is so the pin can be threaded through the thick folds of dress fabrics of the Victorian period – many of the brooches were silver but had Steel pins as this was much stronger than the softer more malleable Silver which would bend.
Victorians were great romantics and loved Symbolism so it played a large part in their jewellery and Scottish jewellery was no exception. Anchor brooches were prolific and meant steadfastness, home and hope in adversity - you can often see an agate crucifix surmounted with a silver top and base to form an anchor with a twisted silver rope, denoting faith too. Bulls Eye Agate with the symbolic black with white striation making it look like an all seeing eye was a popular stone and used much in Memorial / Mourning Jewellery and hair lockets.
I hope I have inspired you to begin collecting this beautiful Jewellery and if want to read more, I can thoroughly recommend reading "Scottish Jewellery A Victorian Passion by Diana Scarisbrick" – it’s not only a beautiful coffee table book with fantastic photographs, it is also full of detailed information about the history of Scottish Jewellery.