Instead Arts & Crafts jewellery exemplified the romanticism of the Arts & Crafts revival and personified the traditions of the movement in the love of detail, re-discovered skills and the importance of use and design. As Alan Crawford noted in his biography of Ashbee this is the one area of the movement where 'we find ourselves in a world in which ornament and display, luxury and the nuances of etiquette play the largest part'.

1.-This-charming-enamel-marsh-bird-decorated-with-moonstones-and-pearls-was-created-by-English-Arts-and-Crafts-designer-Charles-Robert-Ashbee-as-a-hair-ornament-that-was-later-converted-to-a-brooch C. R. Ashbee hair ornament depicting a marsh-bird in enamels decorated with moonstones and pearls.
Image via viola.bz

Image via Victoria and Albert Museum Ashbee, Charles Robert, brooch. Circa 1900.
Image via Victoria and Albert Museum

Ashbee was important as one of the first designers of this new form of jewellery (designs can be found as early as 1892) in influencing a whole generation and establishing principles that would be considered way beyond his lifetime.

However, in consideration of what had gone before Ashbee was scathing:
'Our modern ladies have little or no understanding of how jewellery should be worn, or what relation it should have to the person or costume. Their jewellery is vulgar and tawdry, showy or mean, and is usually treated as a fashionable adjunct rather than as the final point up to which the whole should lead; it is almost always a commercial article and scarcely ever a work of art. The ladies of the Cinquecento, or the men too, and the artists who painted them, knew better'.

Image via Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
Isabella of Portugal by Titian. This Renaissance portrait with central piece of jewellery intrinsic to the whole outfit exemplifies Ashbee's point.
Image via Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

He went on to write:

'We nowadays have lost all understanding of the colour of jewellery. We use certain conventional stones, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, white pearls, the stones that are in the market, and we set them uniformly in gold as the most expensive of metals; the rest are 'fancy stones', and don't concern us. To the Cinquecento jewellery no stones were fancy stones...'

Image via Heming Jewels A typical Victorian diamond star brooch exemplifying the centrality of valuable gemstones to pre-Arts & Crafts jewellery.
Image via Heming Jewels

By 1900 Ashbee had created a new form of fresh and informal jewellery, as could have been viewed in The Studio, Art Journal and Dekorative Kunst. It was simple and natural in form, adaptable and relatively cheap in comparison with what had gone before and he revelled in using coloured stones of all forms. The principles and tastes that Ashbee established became an important benchmark for all other Arts and Crafts jewellers, others adopting his values to create a whole range of Arts & Crafts styles. The main principles are as follows:

1. The importance of metalwork in jewellery
Silver became the metal of choice for most Arts & Crafts jewellery, as it was no-where near as costly as gold (gold would more likely be found as a trim). Silver was softer, as were other metals such as copper, brass and aluminium favoured by Arts & Crafts designers, making it easier to use and allowing designers to bend and conjoin wirework, set stones or enamel more easily and to create more elaborate and intricate designs. Furthermore, if it all went wrong it was not as costly!

b0f3d3fcf1dab78d221ec77b7d95a03a Arthur and Georgina Gaskin opal and silver pendant, decorated with wirework florets and leaves.
Image via Vandenbosch
Image via

2. Choice of stones

Gemstones were chosen for their aesthetic rather than their monetary value, particularly chosen for their colour and hue. Generally stones would be left en cabochon (un-faceted) with simple settings and similarly pearls were chosen that were not purely formed or of the usual creamy colour. This allowed for the jewellery to be more affordable, as well as giving the craftsmen greater freedom aesthetically allowing them to make the design of the utmost importance rather than a single gemstone.

C. R. Ashbee enamel, amethyst, garnet, pearl and silver pendant. Image via Courtbarn C. R. Ashbee enamel, amethyst, garnet, pearl and silver pendant.
Image via Courtbarn

3. Enamelling

A Renaissance practice, enamelling came back into fashion in the Arts & Crafts period and became one of the central and foremost features of the jewellery of this period. It could take a number of forms – champlevé, cloisonné, Limoges and slightly less often plique-a-jour producing vibrant colours that craftsmen could work with and playoff against each other.

19b950a106b5243899a13c84eee18293 Nelson and Edith Dawson silver and enamel 'Paradise' buckle.

4. Cost

Rather than just appealing to those at the very height of society with the greatest wealth, Arts & Crafts jewellery allowed those with more moderate means to buy pieces. This also allowed it to become closely associated with the women's suffrage movement and it was known that Emmeline Pankhurst, the suffragette leader supported Arts & Crafts jewellery.

Photograph of Christabel Pankhurst shown wearing two pieces of Ashbee jewellery. Image via spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk Photograph of Christabel Pankhurst shown wearing two pieces of Ashbee jewellery.
Image via spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk

C. R. Ashbee spiralling enamel, silver, amethyst and pearl brooch in the colours of the suffragette movement (green, white and violet) which can be seen in the previous photograph being worn by Christabel Pankhurst. C. R. Ashbee spiralling enamel, silver, amethyst and pearl brooch in the colours of the suffragette movement (green, white and violet) which can be seen in the previous photograph being worn by Christabel Pankhurst.

5. Pure Aesthetic Principles

Ashbee treasured the pure design element of each piece – the 'art' was of the utmost important and the visibility of the hand of the craftsman critical. The peacock and the galleon were both favourite motifs of Ashbee that harked back to the Medieval and Renaissance periods, and they became themes that reoccurred frequently in Arts & Crafts metalwork and jewellery, epitomising the revival of a pure art form.

930ef0fb644cf1284bf8753aa5ac6097 C. R. Ashbee silver, enamel, gold and turquoise galleon brooch.
Image via Victoria and Albert Museum

C. R. Ashbee Peacock brooch. Image via Tadema Gallery C. R. Ashbee Peacock brooch.
Image via Tadema Gallery

Josef Hoffmann silver and gold multi-stoned brooch showing the influence British Arts & Crafts jewellery had on the continent. Image via Venetian Red Josef Hoffmann silver and gold multi-stoned brooch showing the influence British Arts & Crafts jewellery had on the continent.
Image via Venetian Red

Finally, it was jewellery to be worn with the new free-flowing style of dress – pendants, clasps, bracelets and buckles – romantic and full of symbolism. Ashbee and the principles of Arts & Crafts jewellery was influential both within the national movement and internationally (the American Arts & Crafts Movement, Scandinavian Design and the Austrian Seccession including the Wiener Werkstatte all took inspiration) and it laid the foundations for the modern crafts movement today.

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