I’m guilty of about the longest gap in my blogging since I started blogging. I am always disappointed when I look at blogs I follow and see that there have been no new posts for weeks and months – and now I have become one of those bloggers. It’s unusual for me, but probably understandable. I’m nearing the end of my 2nd last semester of study and I have so much work to do. Well, it’s all done now but the past month has been very busy writing essays, researching case studies, doing tests, writing and giving presentations. I hope it all results in good marks!
I did have the idea to write a blog post about a topic, rather than just put up photos of what I’ve been making. I decided to write about old silver because I found myself wearing a lot of it lately, and I wondered what it was about old silver that is so appealing.
Some of my silver necklaces
There is something mystical about old silver. I’m not talking about teapots and grand tureens. I am talking about the sort of silver that was worn and cherished, given as a token of love and affection or valued as a memento of an important event. The dark patina of old silver hints at stories, journeys and adventures. Whether it was worn close to the heart or stored away for its intrinsic value, old silver is as coveted today as it was hundreds of years ago.
When I get a piece of old silver I look at how a slight polish might bring out some of the decorative detail. I will sand it lightly with the finest grade steel wool, then buff it with Renaissance Wax to ensure its present state of shine and patina will not change over time.
Marriage Medal Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette (front)
One of the oldest pieces of silver I have is very special indeed. It’s a 1770 marriage medal from France. I’ve seen plenty of marriage medals dating to the 19th century but few are available from the 18th century. This one is particularly special because it is the marriage medal for Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. Surprisingly, such medals are not overly valuable, and by that I mean you might find one for around 200-300 Euros. The solid gold versions are worth a lot more.
Marriage Medal Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette (back)
What I love about this particular medal is that in 1790 another couple by the name of Lefebvre were married and had their names and wedding date engraved around the rim of this medal. It seems significant to me as the French Revolution took place in 1789 and by the time this Lefebvre couple married, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI would have been incarcerated. I choose to interpret this act by the Lefebvre couple as a nod to royalty and a show of support for their King and Queen.
Side view showing engraving from 1790
Another piece of 18th century silver I have and love to wear is this English Georgian wax seal. Wax seals are very personal things, and often had the owner’s initials or symbol engraved into them. This one is simple, and the style of it is fairly common for wax seals of that era. I like the start simplicity of this piece and it wears particularly well on this antique French silver sautoir chain. It’s a great layering necklace, especially when worn with other silver pieces.
Something I had been coveting for many years, is a silver heart shaped vesta. Such pieces were usually part of a chatelaine and this one came with an ornate chatelaine hook, a silver and ivory aide de memoire and a sweet tiny silver pocket knife. Sometimes chatelaine adornments were decorative but more often they were practical. You might find a sewing chatelaine with thimble holder, pin holder and a little pair of scissors. I wear this heart vesta on a simple chain, also original to the chatelaine. I feel that such a decorative piece does not need any further embellishment, though I might make a nice black pearl choker for it in case I want to wear it out to a special event.
These earrings are in fact made from elements that came from a stunning 19th century French chatelaine. The chatelaine had a pocket watch case and these little pieces were originally for the watch key and a little tool used to prise the lid of the watch open. I sawed off the practical parts and was left with these absolutely stunning Neoclassical styled dangles that were just screaming out to be made into earrings.
Earrings made from silver decorative elements off a chatelaine
Old silver tassels are very collectible and increasingly, hard to find. Having a pair for earrings is on my current wish list, though a single tassel on a nice chain makes for a lovely necklace with a great antique vibe.
I’ve seen some amazing silver cuff bracelets come out of France over the past few years. Some are incredibly ornate, but this one appealed to me the most because the decoration is entirely hand chased. The maker would have hammered the patterns into the silver using different tools that were patterned or shaped to make a particular mark on the metal. It is a work of great skill and though not characterised by flourishes, swirls and other fancy decorations, this design seems somehow much more personal.
Antique French chased silver bangle (19th century)
Probably one of the most amazing elements I use in my designs is old silver chain. The workmanship in this old chain is unmatched in anything modern I have seen. Much of the chain was handmade and would have taken ages to make. It can be pricier than new chain, coming in at around $80 per 150cm, but the aesthetics of the intricate and rare designs is worth the cost. Here are some samples from chains that I have used for pieces in my private collection.
Antique silver chains and clasps
A surprising but delightful silver element to use in jewellery designs is old baby’s rattles. I am not sure why they were made from silver, but these rattles (which come in a startling array of designs, styles and patterns) make wonderful pendants and charms. The two pictured below are quite small, maybe only being 10-15mm across. One still has its rattle and it makes a delightful sing-song noise when you pick it up.
Antique silver baby rattles
Silver was very popular in the 18th century, and many clothing adornments were made with silver and paste stones. Paste stones are a leaded glass that was used to replicate diamonds for those who could not afford them, which was just about everyone in the 18th century. Jewellers of the time had many tricks to make the paste stones look more like diamonds, such as foiling the back of the stone or painting a black dot on the bottom of the stone so it looked like the cool centre of a real diamond. Buttons and buckles are very handy for repurposing into new designs, and this 18th century shoe buckle is no exception.
18th century French silver and paste shoe buckle
So there you have it, a journey through the centuries thanks to that everlasting metal – silver. There really is no substitute for old silver. Once you get to know it you can spot it a mile away, as you can a pretender. It takes a lot of care, and I am probably the worst at cleaning my old silver. I love the dark patina when it shows up detail and pattern, but otherwise a I will occasionally get out my fine steel wool and give my old silver a light polish. Hi-ho silver…and awaaaaaaaaay.