Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Estate Jewelry: Bird Heads, Bridal Crowns, and an Eyeball

Some of you may want to sit down for this. This simple gold ring, set with a cabochon-cut blue stone that Sotheby’s believes to be odontalite (a 19th-century substitute for turquoise) comes with a note. Dated November 1869, it says: “My dear Caroline. The enclosed Ring once belonged to your Aunt Jane. It was given to me by your Aunt Cassandra as soon as she knew that I was engaged to your Uncle. I bequeath it to you. God bless you!” The note is signed by Eleanor Austen.

Yep, this ring belonged to Jane Austen. Simple and unostentatious (is that a word?), the ring is thought to be a good example of Jane’s taste (and budget); the auction catalogue cites a letter she wrote to her sister Cassandra, mentioning a locket that is “neat and plain.” After Jane’s death in 1817, the ring passed to Cassandra, who then gave it to her brother Thomas’s fiancée, Eleanor Jackson. Eleanor, as you read above, then left it to her niece Caroline Austen. Caroline never married, so the ring then passed on to her brother’s daughter Mary, and it continued to move through the family until today. 

The ring will be auctioned at Sotheby’s London next Tuesday (July 10), in their English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations” sale. The estimated price is $31,000 – 47,000.

Note: This auction is KILLING ME. Not only is there the Austen ring, there’s also one of the two silver cigarette cases that Agatha Christie gave to the two musicians who recognized her at the Hydro Hotel in Harrogate, bringing an end to her mysterious 11-day disappearance in 1926. There’s also stacks of original manuscripts by Dorothy Sayers and Graham Greene, an Arthur Rackham ink and watercolor illustration of the Cheshire Cat, a ton of letters written by Benjamin Disraeli and Alan Sillitoe, a beautiful bound and illuminated copy of the Magna Carta, and, and, and, and … Push some more of my buttons, Sotheby’s. Damn.

This piece is already sold, but I wanted to include it because it’s a great example of the work of contemporary goldsmith Michael Good. Good is renowned for developing a technique called “anticlastic raising,” in which a piece of metal is slowly and painstakingly manipulated so that it turns in upon itself, forming an open, hollow tube. It’s hard to describe — Good explained it to me himself once at a trade show, but I never really grasped it until I saw how it’s done in person. Someone has posted a bunch of videos from one of Good’s workshops on YouTube; check them out when you have a little time (some of them are long).

This particular bracelet is a double loop bangle in 18k yellow gold. A sliver of an open seam runs the length of the piece; watch the videos and marvel at how it’s done. Honestly, Good is a master of patience. I’m fairly certain that if I tried this, I’d immediately hit that thing too hard with the hammer and pierce the metal, and then hulk smash the entire workshop.

I love this. No, I think I love even more that someone actually MADE this. Circa 1970, this is a glass eye set in a 14k yellow gold band. It’s American, and, as the dealer states, “not for the faint of heart.”

Bridal crowns are a Scandinavian tradition that reaches back to the Middle Ages; there’s one from Middelfart (heh), Denmark, in the National Museum of Denmark that dates to around 1525. Symbols of purity and virginity, they were often passed down from generation to generation. The bride wears the crown during the wedding ceremony, after which the groom removes it from her head, signifying their union.

This crown, however, was made by the great Danish silversmith Georg Jensen for his friend Frederik Ferdinand Tillisch, who gave it as a gift to his wife in 1911. It’s an extremely rare Jensen item, made in silver, with five amber stones and five gilded leaves that hang loose from the piece. The design is an example of the Danish skønvirke style — pairing the natural motifs of Art Nouveau with the Arts and Crafts standard of using affordable materials to create exceptional, handcrafted work.

These are so neat! Circa 1860-1880, these 18k gold earrings pair actual gold nuggets from the California gold rush with a fantastic — and so modern-looking — split-arrow motif.

While there are other far more spectacular pieces available from this dealer (look at this dragonfly!), this little French Art Nouveau pin caught my attention. A wasp, a spider, and a beetle are all depicted as moving industriously around the top and sides of the piece, while at center bottom, a praying mantis gestures ferociously out at us. Around the edge are the words “souvenires entomologiques.”

This silver and yellow-gold pin/pendant is a great example of why I love colored stones. LOOK AT THAT PINK. Two gorgeous cabochon-cut pink tourmalines are cradled by leaves that have been enameled in contrasting shades of green, and roughly 2 carats of old European-cut diamonds add a touch of fire to the design. The bottom drop detaches.

Taxidermy hummingbird jewelry was huge in England during the second half of the 19th century. As the world became more industrialized, it was a way for the wearer to maintain a connection with nature. (You know, by killing it.) There’s currently a suite of hummingbird jewelry in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as well as a pair of earrings at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. There’s also an article here, exploring the techniques used in the manufacture of those earrings.

Ick, I know, but should you want to buy your own, this brooch features a hummingbird head with a gold beak on a gold arrow-shaped brooch. Circa 1880s.

If you prefer your birds not dead (or, never alive), this sweet little Cartier 18k gold and platinum bird pendant dates to 1960. The little chick is primarily of coral and engraved gold, with carved emerald wings, a diamond throat, and a tiny emerald eye. The egg is agate, edged with gold. So cute!

Oh, wow. *drools*  This amazing snake bangle bracelet is French, from the Belle Époque period (generally, 1890-1914). It’s made of beautifully engraved gold, with green enameling, ruby eyes, and diamond accents. Look how it opens!

Previously: Egyptomania and the Tiniest Gold Coils of Rope.

Monica McLaughlin was so excited to hear that a 'Pinner bought the sarcophagus ring from the last installment (see the comments). Congratulations, Celeste!

106 Comments / Post A Comment




Disco Sheets

@anachronistique I legit started hyperventilating when I read about it. ALSO I LOVE IT.

Carrie Ann

@anachronistique And it is so completely perfect. Like, I saw the picture and thought, well, that's the most perfect ring ever, and then I saw that IT WAS JANE'S. Oh god, of course it was.

These are the times when I'm like, you know, I would be really good at being a rich person. I would totally spend all of my money on things like Jane Austen's perfect ring, and not on cars or yachts or whatever.


@anachronistique I screamed. Not just in my mind, out loud. The builders in my house wanted to know whether I was okay, but I wont be until it is mine. Now I'm off to find a millionaire to seduce so that I may own it.


Yes yes, LOVE!@t






Also I adore the snake bracelet!

Also also I looooooove that a Pinner got the sarcophagus ring!

Also also also holy shit that eyeball.


@PatatasBravas THAT EYE BALL!!!! When I was a kid my Dad, for some totally inexplicable reason, had his friend's glass eye. It randomly appeared around the house, in our oatmeal, etc. My sister and I used to make up scenarios that explained my father's possession of this eye. Like...his friend had an extra eye....my father was supposed to deliver the eye to his wife after the war, but could never find her...this was not the eye of a friend but of an ENEMY and he stole it...etc.


@Olivia2.0 This is an amazing story, and also, I would never trust oatmeal again if that had happened to me.

Maple, brown sugar, and EYEBALLLLLLLLZ.


@Olivia2.0 IS THIS NOT THE TWITS?!?!?

Cassie Alexander@twitter

I love the creepy details on the eyeball ring. You'd think they'd make them perfect, but instead it's so realistic, with tiny veins and discolorations. So amazing.


@Cassie Alexander@twitter I was thinking that too! I figure, if they were TOO perfect, the eye would fall into the eerie valley -- well, even more -- because it wouldn't mimic the verisimilitude of a real eye.
Still, the model for that one must have been hella hungover!



RK Fire

@Scandyhoovian: I feel like it should be some sort of Slytherin artifact.


@RK Fire It is.


@sniffadee ...Funny, I just had an encounter with an oddly dressed man, and I suddenly cannot remember why I thought the bracelet was Slytherin's... who is Slytherin, anyway? Funny name, that.

Judith Slutler



Judith Slutler

@Emmanuelle Cunt Also is there a website entirely about famous dead authors' jewelry? Please can that exist?


@Emmanuelle Cunt KEEP SAYING IT

Also someone cleverer than I should make jokes about entails and property leaving the family.


@Emmanuelle Cunt YES YES YES

Disco Sheets

@Emmanuelle Cunt Maybe... maybe... we can all chip in and buy it and it can be like Pinnerhood of the Traveling Jane Austen Ring. Please OMG I NEED THAT RING IN MY LIFE SOMEHOW EVEN IF ONLY FOR TWO SECONDS.


@Disco Sheets LET'S DO IT. PIN POWER!


@Megano! I would be inolved in this, happily.


That hummingbird, I'm just amazed! Taxidermy is so fragile, especially birds! I'm surprised he survived!


@bocadelperro The taxidermy hummingbird is so beautiful. It's the most ridiculous decadent thing.

Judith Slutler

@bocadelperro I am totally plotting a way to reproduce that except like... with a flat embroidered felt hummingbird head


@Emmanuelle Cunt my train of thought was "oh my goodness that's beautiful. Is that, like, foil under glass or something? It looks so real...oh."


@bocadelperro I went to the Boston MFA last week FOR THE FIRST TIME and saw the hummingbirds they have there! WHAT ARE THE CHANCES! Also I don't know if anyone mentioned it, but that ring once belonged to Jane Austen. ZOUNDS.


@bocadelperro Same here! "Wow, that's so gorgeous! I wonder how they made- oh, it's an actual hummingbird."


I am hoping some industrious person rips off that Jane Austen ring and makes it at a price I can afford.
Also a bridal crown is a waaaaaaaayyy cooler tradition than a white dress. ALL OF THE BRIDAL CROWNS PLEASE.


@Megano! YES AND YES!


@Megano! I know, right? I actually saved the image of the bridal crown to my desktop, even though I have no intention of ever getting married.


@Megano! Let's all go read Kristin Lavransdatter and think about her bridal crown! (Am I the only one obsessed with Kristin Lavransdatter?)


@Megano! I'm currently reading Kristen Lavransdatter (She just went on the pilgrimage). Despite her seeing it as a symbol of her guilt and all that, it made me totally want a bridal crown.


@hungrybee No, no you're not! Kristin Lavransdatter was the first thing I thought of when I saw it....


*vomits over eyeball ring* Everything else is a-ok by me! Especially those gold bracelets.

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

@beeline96 Yep! That one just made me go "what is this, Etsy?" (But I love everything else and I love these posts no disrespect Hairpin/Monica)


Monica, we love you. Please keep doing your thang. Seeing a post from you is like... finding out JANE'S RING IS IN THE WORLD AND I CAN LOOK AT PICTURES OF IT WAHHHHHHHHHHHT


@okaycrochet When I saw the post, my first reaction was "New Estate Jewelry post!!!" and then squealing. Because I am a grown-ass woman.


@okaycrochet perfect description

now i'm imagining an scenario where a hairpin editor is gifted this ring as a promotional item (hahah what okay just bear with me) and then, basically the endpoint of this thought process is me standing over a pile of bloody pinners (ex-pinners) holding it triumphantly in my hand


@redheaded&crazie it may not EXACTLY be in the austen spirit, but, something something, women will not be held back by their circumstances in life


@redheaded&crazie Not in the Austen spirit? I beg to differ.



@okaycrochet I was actually about to leave, saw it in my twitter feed, and stayed to read it.


@all Awwww YOU GUYS.


If I help you cut them down, can I have the snake bangle and eyeball ring? Kthanks


@anachronistique That is the best thing I have seen today. Extra points for the string quartet take on the PIxies "Where Is My Mind"


Oh good, no one calls the arrow gold rush earrings? THEY'RE MINE!


@thisisunclear If still had pierced ears, I would be all about those. Instead, I will imagine that snake bracelet bangle.


@thisisunclear They're even kind of affordable (at least a lot more affordable than the tourmaline broach, YIKES)?


@phipsi well shoot, I was going to call them. (arrows are a thing with me, comes from being a Sag.) I guess I'll call the pink cabochons then.


First of all, JANE AUSTEN'S RING (as has been said previously). That shit is blowing my mind.

Secondly, who else thinks that that eyeball ring would have been worn by Dolores Umbridge herself, only with Mad-Eye Moody's eye?




Judith Slutler

Also, Someone Is Going To Get Me That Snake Bracelet Or I'm Going To Cut Your Fucking Throat???

Edith Zimmerman

@Emmanuelle Cunt THANK YOU and yes

Judith Slutler

@Edith Zimmerman Look, I don't think you understand - someone is going to get me that snake bracelet. or else


Can we just reiterate JANE AUSTEN'S ring?

I saw it and thought, "Oh, I really want that ring." AND THEN IT WAS JANE'S! That is the closest I've ever been to crying over jewelry. Or even REALLY wanting any.


Oh oh OH! My heart rate actually increased at Jane's ring. Now going to kill myself over the auction.

Bibo Designs@twitter

Best Halloween Costume 2012:
Mom from "We Need to Talk About Kevin." Wear that glass eye ring.


Much as I loathe Sotheby's and their shady, shady dealings (the London antiquities branch was shut down after a huge laundering scandal broke in 1997) I would fly out there in a second to bid on those English Civil War letters. Abolishing the Kingship!


Taxidermy hummingbird jewelry was huge in England during the second half of the 19th century.


On the other hand, I'd totally wear the glass eye ring.


@Brigdh's@twitter That was the best sentence in this entire post.


@Brigdh's@twitter Hummingbirds, noooooooo. :( I am hummer-obsessed, but I don't want their dead bodies! (Although I have been lusting after a pendant cast from a hummingbird skull since, like, two years ago.)

Time Platypus

@Brigdh's@twitter It kind of reminds me of Mockingjay pins.... but creepified.


@Brigdh's@twitter Victorians were SO WEIRD, you guys.


@SarcasticFringehead There is a tree in the Natural History Museum in London that some weird Victorian covered in tiny birds, and it's so distressing and creepy and...and...*goes off to hide in the wardrobe away from the tiny dead birds*

This is worse though. Actually those earrings are even worse, NO ONE CLICK ON THE LINK TO THEM


This is just pure delight and the best kind of window shopping.

I recently decided to stop being lame with my vacation purchases, thus ending my habit of buying t-shirts and refrigerator magnets as souvenirs and replacing it with jewelry purchases. It also helps that I have a Real Job now.

(Although my jewelry purchases are still quite modest - I could not bring myself to buy a really neat 300 Euro cameo/locket that I saw at a flea market in Paris)


@phipsi I do this too - nothing fancy, but nice costume jewelery quality. My biggest splurge has been an amethyst and silver pendant and an amethyst and garnet bracelet that I picked up in India. The guy I bought them from sold them as "tribal design, antiques", but I have no idea if that's true or not. I do know that I never saw anything like them anywhere else we went.

Exception to the rule is Belgium. In Belgium I cannot afford the jewelry, so I buy ridiculous amounts of chocolate.


@phipsi It may be weird to think of it like this, but trust me: your heirs will thank you! Signed, A Girl Who Got a Bunch of Awesome Jewelry from her Globe-Trotting Grandmother


That snake bracelet is required by me in order to live out a fantasy of being ancient Egyptian royalty. Nefertiti, holla!


I find consolation in knowing that my fingers are almost certainly too big to fit Jane Austen's ring (which is lovely in its own right) and thus there would be no point in me owning it.


Tourmaline! Tourmaline tourmaline tourmaline. I love it and want it. Tourmaline. (Especially watermelon tourmaline, but that pink is faboo too.)


This seems like an appropriate place to ask-- does anybody have experience working with an appraiser of antique (like seriously antique, early-19th century or earlier) jewelry? I will soon take possession of a mysterious but potentially very old piece of jewelry (sans gems) and will need to insure it.


@Olivia2.0 IS THIS NOT THE TWITS?!?!?

Disco Sheets

Okay, that eyeball ring brought me back down to earth. I HATE eyeballs.


http://www.sothebys.com/en/catalogues/ecatalogue.html/2012/english-literature-history-childrens-books-and-illustrations#/r=/en/ecat.fhtml.L12404.html+r.m=/en/ecat.lot.L12404.html/104/ Oh, god, DOROTHY SAYERS MANUSCRIPTS, I want them SO much.


@missupright One of them has a "jocular pencil sketch"! Why do I not have £10,000 to spend on manuscripts?


@Verity Do you think if I asked them real nice, they would break up the lot, and I could just buy, like, a page?


@Verity YES. And an extra 10,000 pounds for that silver cigarette case from Aunt Agatha.

you're a kitty!


ps verity is name by any chance a To Say Nothing of the Dog reference please say yes, also I want to name a kid that.


@you're a kitty! Nope, it's my real name! I love To Say Nothing of the Dog, though.


I want the eyeball ring. I've already got specimens in ethanol in my room from when I worked river crew. (I like to make sure guys can handle my lack of girliness from the get go. That ring would help immensely.)


@The Kendragon "I've already got specimens in ethanol in my room from when I worked river crew." ... eyeball specimens? HUMAN eyeball specimens? River? What??? EXPLAIN.


@che Fish, crawdad, and dragonfly larvae. I was a fisheries bio tech


@The Kendragon Ahhh. I was trying to figure out how you would acquire eyeballs on a river crew. (My worst nightmare is going swimming in water where I can't see my feet and coming upon a dead bodyl. Thank you, Are You Afraid of the Dark / What Lies Beneath.)


OH! I always mean to tell you guys on these posts: I have a tiny, perfect Armadillo necklace that my dad bought for me. It is a detailed, 3d Armadillo that is about 1/4 of an inch tall by 1/2 of an inch long. It even has textured skin. I knew you guys would truly appreciate the awesomeness.


@The Kendragon : If it goes missing, I *totally* didn't steal it.


And I have a skinning knife. Grr.


@The Kendragon : *runs*


@OxfordComma http://www.enchantedleaves.com/product_info.php?products_id=191
I FOUND YOU ONE! Mine is silver and a little more detailed. But this one is pretty cute, and way cheap! :)


@The Kendragon : Eet's sooo CUTE.


I know! My dad has awesome taste, yo.


I actually squealed when I saw another estate jewelry post.


...Pretty please?


I Want, besides Jane Austen ring, the gold bracelet so I could say, "Oh, this? Yeah. I call it my möbius strip. Anyway..."

I'm all off-handed about things in my jewelry fantasies.


Just hand over Ms. Austen's ring and allll the Sayers manuscripts and nobody gets hurt!


I cannot TELL you how happy I was to scroll down and learn that the eyeball ring is a GLASS EYE and not a real one.


I DESERVE THE SNAKE BRACELET! you know, as a commemoration/reward for when I caught the wild baby boa constrictor in my house last week! I'm still a bit peeved that my only reward was the thanks of a bunch of snake people...


@Carrie Ann These are the times that I'm glad I haven't been putting money into a retirement fund for years because I would certainly cash out and blow it all on JANE AUSTEN'S RING!!!!


So when I started reading and it said, "Some of you may want to sit down for this," I was like, "Huh? What is this going to turn out to be?" When the big reveal came, I literally teared up. Jane gets me every time.

If I were a wealthy person, I'd be all over that auction.


You all can have the snake bracelet, I want the amazing gold loop one up top.
Perfect, sleek, elegant simplicity.

Also, I totally thought the bird nest necklace was a bowl of fruit at first glance. I liked it better that way.


Hooray, no one called the Cartier coral bird pendant so it is MINE.


As a Scandinavian, I feel the need to point out that my father's home village has two bridal crowns: a metal one for maids, and a cloth one for "be-slept" brides. The area also boasts a traditional local women's costume which simultaneously a) is made up of meters and meters of wool, b) sports features which make it surprisingly easy to spot who's single, and c) is surprisingly easy-access for fooling around.

And that, ladies, is how they used to facilitate keepin' warm during -40 Celsius winters in the olden times.


Don't you mean:
"Simple and unAusten-tatious"?
I'll show myself out


Update: Jane Austen's ring sold for £152,450/$236,557; five times the estimate.

andrea kennington

Hekki Seppa invented anticlastic raising. Not Michael Good. Please correct this error.


@andrea kennington I apologise - by saying "developed," I don't mean "invented," I mean "evolved." I know Good studied with Seppa back in the '70s, and since then he has continued to explore and develop the technique, and become an acknowledged master. As was Seppa, and if I had come across one of his pieces on the secondary market to talk about this month instead of Good's, I would have. I certainly don't mean to slight anyone here. I'll try to use less ambiguous words in the future.

But in an interesting side note - Seppa might not be the inventor, either! The Irish silversmith Brian Clarke has done a lot of work with the National Museum in Dublin, and he believes the ancient Celts used the anticlastic technique to create some of their torcs. He has actually remade them, using only deer antlers as tools! It's a fascinating idea, and if he's right, it certainly wouldn't be the first time we've been beaten to the punch by ancient cultures.


If your intrigued with these types of unusual objects, take a look at this website call
" Soulful Adornment Gallery" http://loriepricebischoff.typepad.com/lorie_price_bishoff_soulf/2007/08/1890s-humming-b.html

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