Bonne Annee

Gentle Light

It’s a New Year and I get to welcome the first week of the year with sweltering heat. It will be 41 degrees (celsius) today, it was close to that yesterday and the next few days will bring little respite from the heat. Other than an early morning walk with Serge, the hot days keep me inside and creating.

The bright sun shines through some antique stained glass I have near my studio window.

I’m inspired by many things at the start of 2013. There are cameos and faces watching me from shabby antique velvet boxes dotted around my studio.


My collection comprises Lava Cameos, Pressed French Jet (Black Glass), Art Nouveau silver and two stunning, rare shell cameos. These are such amazing pieces but my most treasured are the two shell cameos I got from France. They are incredibly high relief and of such exceptional workmanship. I was a bit dubious about them as the price did not equate with what I thought they were but when they arrived I was relieved to learn that they were the real thing – early 19th century (Empire Era) works of art. I have no idea what I will do with them yet. Most likely I’ll commission a jeweller to set them for me, as I would not dare to try anything with them myself. Here they are in more detail.

Stunning Cameos

I mentioned in a blog post last year that I had made molds from some of my Empire Era French cameo brooches for casting with silver clay. Here is one of the original brooches. Isn’t it beautiful?

Early 19th C Cameo Brooch

Ever since seeing the Napoleon Exhibition last year I’ve been collecting Napoleon pieces for use in some new Assemblage designs. I still have not had a chance to make anything with these but they are sitting there…waiting.

Napoleon Invasion

I’m always on the lookout for antique coral. It is one of the most precious materials you can work with, and because coral harvesting is now a banned or controlled activity, it is increasing in value. The deep red Mediterranean coral is most sought after, and I am fortunate to have a few humble pieces in my collection. I have a batch of beads that I harvested from a 200-year old French Empire tiara. The tiara was broken but I might be able to salvage some parts of it for use in some jewellery designs. The beads are what I was after anyway.

In the early 1800s, the tiaras were the height of fashion – a trend started by Empress Josephine. This miniature portrait I own shows a lady wearing a pearl and gilt tiara. The picture is dated 1813.

Miniature Portrait 1813

These are the frames I harvested my beads from. I am sure I can easily use one piece for a collar-type necklace. The other one I am not too sure. They are made from gilded brass.

Empire Tiaras

And my little collection of very old coral grows slowly. I have two cuff links in various states of repair and the loose beads off the tiara. I’ve seen beautiful antique buckles made in a style similar to the cuff links, and these are worth at least $5,000 +. I’m not suggesting my little pieces are worth anywhere near this amount, but if you ever see something like these and they are reasonably priced – grab them!

Antique Coral

Buttons are always a great source of inspiration for designs. I use them for so many things and not just incorporating them into a design. I also use them to make molds for my silver clay work. Here is one of a pair of buttons I got from France. The buttons (the other is a gentleman in period dress) were originally set into a brooch. They date to the 18th century, so I am told, and were made in Paris (marked on the back). They had already been altered to be made into a brooch, and now I am deciding what I will use them for. I think they need to be in a nice setting and used either as a pendant or earrings.

French button

Mourning jewellery is always something I look for. Prices are getting higher and higher each year, so whatever you can afford to buy, get it because it will always be collectible. Whitby Jet in particular is very collectible, but its less expensive cousin, Vulcanite, is more readily available and just as beautiful. I was thrilled when I found this Vulcanite locket in excellent condition. The interior is just as beautiful as the exterior. It is pristine – I would not be surprised if it has never been used.

Forget Me Not Locket

Mourning Locket Inside

Another thing becoming rarer and harder to find are book lockets. A nice book locket was already fetching over US$100 last year, and I expect the prices will stay as high this year. There is an abundance of religious souvenir lockets from France, but the more collectible pieces are such as these pictured below – unusual pieces such as calendars, purse lockets and solid silver lockets.

Book Lockets

I’ve been so busy exploring new techniques such as silver clay, etching and soldering that I have neglected making antique assemblage pieces. More designs are coming very soon. The pre-Christmas markets were very busy for me and I sold a lot of my assemblage designs to new customers. This is a great thing, and I am inspired to make more and more, but I am also loving learning new techniques, so it’s a Catch-22 in a way. In the end I just have to do what I enjoy most and trust that things will work out fine. I’m hoarding this lovely pocket watch and chains to make myself a nice necklace. The pocket watch is French, as are the chains, and it is beautifully decorated with a chased design on the back and an enameled face. I got it for a fair price because of a hairline crack in the face – this sort of thing does not bother me, but it meant that the serious watch collectors overlooked it for other pieces.

Pocket Watch and Chains

Lastly, here is the culprit that has been taking up most of my designing time – etching. I am still working out the best method for image transfer onto metal, without spending a fortune. Rubber stamps work best but I really want to use my own designs. I’m determined to make it work. Here are some necklaces I made this week.


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