Victorian Arts & Crafts Silver Butterfly Wing Brooch
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Directory: Archives: Estate Jewelry: Silver: Victorian: Pre 1900: Item # 471889
GlitzQueen History and Art to Wear
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Sometimes you just can't improve on nature. Garden-loving Victorians knew this well and featured the jewel-like colors of butterfly wings in jewelry, particularly in the Aesthetic Period. That era is usually dated from 1880 or 1885 until Queen Victoria's death, but change was afoot *far* earlier. Rejecting mass production and ostentation in favor of simpler jewels made by hand, the Arts and Crafts movement emerged in the 1860s. I believe this wonderful antique brooch dates from around 1870, for several reasons.
First, it shows the purity of an original concept. It's nothing like the wildly stylized "pictures" made from wings of various colors in the early 20th century. Instead, it forever preserves the flight of one gorgeous blue butterfly behind domed crystal, its iridescent colors changing with the light from shades of aquamarine to deep sapphire.
There's also the way in which it's framed, set in a hand-wrought bezel on an unelaborated bar pin with an early safety pin-type clasp of the type introduced in the 1850s. The bar pin is a form popularized by Alexandra, who became Princess of Wales in 1863 and was the trend-setting Di of her day. She favored high collars to hide a scar on her neck (and wore wide "dog collar" chokers with lower evening necklines) and was also a patroness of the Arts & Crafts spirit, in reaction to her mother-in-law's formality.
Another thing that helps date the jewel is the fact that marks of silver fineness were introduced in America around 1870, due to the new prevalence of plating. There were no U.S. government requirements until 1906, but jewelers felt the need and began stamping on their own. Had this item been made in England, where marking had long been mandatory for high-quality silver and gold, it would've had four or five stamps. But there's only a single, curious one, unlike anything then being used in Europe. Normally we see "sterling" on 19th century American jewelry, if it's marked at all (the 925 mark with no decimal point being a later variation). However, this mark is .925 -- a technical notation that would've been valued here, where the usual standard was just .900 and sometimes even .800. Since the jewel absolutely can't date from a time when 925 appeared without the decimal point, it can be attributed only to the days when silver-marking in America was at its most idiosyncratic.
Despite great age, this brooch is in lovely condition, measuring 2 1/4" across. We've left most of the rich patina of age in place, but it will of course polish off if you prefer a brighter look.
Thanks for looking!