Vintage Jewellery, As Unique As The Woman That Wears It.

March 5, 2018

When you buy a vintage piece, you are not just buying jewellery, you are buying the past life of your jewellery. This gives your brooch, bracelet, necklace or ring an identity all of its own. As you receive compliments about what is on your person, it becomes a talking point as you can say “Oh yes, it’s Georgian or these were all the rage during the late Victorian period. To give you some idea of what I’m talking about, I’ve taken a few choice stories for your interest.


Jewellery That's Been Owned By A Famous Person


On January 7th 1944, the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail ran an advertisement that Christie’s Auction House had sold a diamond double row horseshoe brooch for £365. The brooch formerly belonged to the then famous opera singer, Madame Patti. Unless you are an opera buff, you may not have heard of her but back in her day she was famous enough to have a naughty rumour circulated about a member of the royal family and herself.  

Adelina Patti had bought Craig-y-nos Castle in Powys, Wales.  She was a regular singer for Queen Victoria and would have been known personally by the other members of the Royal Family.  It is alleged that Edward VII visited Craig-y-nos while he was still Prince of Wales. The rumour suggests that Edward was travelling to the castle by train. It was delayed and so he arrived in the dead of night.  The noise of the royal party arriving awoke the servants but Adelina ordered them to go back to bed. In the morning, the staff spotted the Prince of Wales and guessed why Madame Patti had not spent the night in her own bed. You can bet that whatever happened, her jewellery would have a riveting story to tell.


Jewellery That's Been Involved In A Crime

 If you trawl the old newspapers for pieces of jewellery that have been involved in a crime, you soon discover that the amount is overwhelming. Basically, jewellery has always been nicked due to its value and because it is easy to conceal and carry away. Some stories have slightly more character to them than the usual and I found one such one that conjured up some strong images in my mind.

In November 1895, the Illustrated Police News reported that William Bernard Mainstone was in the dock at Westminster charged with stealing a gold bracelet set with diamonds and valued at £100. It belonged to Alice Franklin of Sussex Street, Pimlico.  Mainstone was described as tall and well-dressed but with no occupation.  He was also charged with violently attacking Detective Barratt when he tried to question him at Piccadilly Circus.

Apparently, Miss Franklin had been at the Aquarium in the following week when Mainstone approached her and suggested that he had friends that knew her. We don’t know whether it was this that lowered Miss Franklin’s guard or simply that she found him rather dashing. Anyway, they had tea together and during this time, Miss Franklin probably boasted of her musical accomplishments. Mainstone obviously recognised a way to worm his way into her good books by stating that he was particularly fond of music. Quick worker or what? The next thing is that she’s invited him home.

Picture this – Miss Franklin is playing her banjo in the drawing room and Mainstone whilst probably flattering her to high heaven is singing along. She enjoys being in his limelight and so wants to impress him further so off she takes him to her bedroom to brag about her sparklers. One of the items that she dazzled him with was the diamond bracelet that he is accused of thieving.  The accused then left the house very suddenly and Miss Franklin noticed that her jewellery was gone and also four sovereigns.

When Detective Barrett tried to arrest Mainstone, he kicked him and five members of the public has to join in to restrain him from further violence.  He used foul language as he was driven away in a cab to the police station.

A witness, Fred Lark, was called to give evidence over the theft of the bracelet. He told the court that Mainstone had brought it into the jewellers where he worked and said that he was selling it for a lady friend in need of money. He went away with £45 for the diamond bracelet.  He was remanded in custody.



Jewellery That's Been Used As A Scapegoat  


If we travel to St Helen’s near Liverpool during World War I, we discover a wristwatch being blamed for breaking the law. On January 19th 1917, the Liverpool Echo tells how Thomas Middlehurst, a confectioner, was up before the courts for serving sweets after 9 p.m.  Mr Morrison, a confectioner’s assistant and Mr Glover were charged with being parties to the transaction.  The local policeman, Constable Johnson saw Glover go and buy chocolate after 9 p.m.  However, Middlehurst had a killer defence. He swore that he had given strict orders that nothing was to be sold after 9 p.m. His assistant’s watch had stopped and therefore the watch was the guilty party.  Obviously, the magistrate wasn’t impressed. Middlehurst was fined 20 shillings and the other two were fined 5 shillings each.


Jewellery That’s Disappeared

There are times when jewellery seems to have a life of its own. This certainly seems to be the case with this lost wedding ring from 1950. In 1946, Major Ronald Colville, son of Lord and Lady Clydesmuir got married. In 1947, the bride, Mrs Colville was visiting Bushelhead Farm, Braidwood. She had been petting some calves to the extent that one of them was suckling her finger. Later, she discovered that her wedding ring had disappeared and it was assumed that the calf had swallowed it. I think trying to catch all the calf’s waste deposits was out of the question and so they believed that the beloved ring was lost for good.

Two and half years later, William Dempster was turning his garden over at Thornice, Braidwood when he spotted a little ring that he assumed was copper. He popped it on his finger and forgot about it.  As he washed his hands later, the ring fell in the sink and his wife noticed that it was someone’s gold wedding ring.  Quite amused by his find, Mr Dempster told his tale to a local farmer who remembered Mrs Colville losing her ring.

As they say – the rest is history – the ring was taken to the family and immediately recognised. If this had happened in fiction, we wouldn’t have believed it because the chances of the ring being both found and returned are very slim indeed.



Jewellery That’s A Mystery


 When we buy a piece of vintage jewellery unless the piece has got provenance, half the time we don’t know about its past whether lively or dull. Half of the fun is becoming a detective and finding out more about the piece we own.

I got the above brooch in a box from an auction. I wouldn’t say it is a particularly attractive piece, neither is it that old or indeed worth much but I’ve kept hold of it because it is quite fascinating.  The front of it looks like a female warrior or goddess from long ago. It has CM 120 on the front of it that suggests that it is depicting something Roman.

When we turn the piece over it reads Ballard, 77 Combs la Ville. This is the maker and the address. It is a French company that makes military insignia badges etc. What is interesting about my piece is that it doesn’t fit in with the other pieces that I have seen on the internet – they all seem to be more modern military insignia. Furthermore, I can’t find anything that is quite like it.  This means that although I know quite a bit about my brooch, there is still quite a lot that I don’t know about it.   I’ve still got a mystery on my hands.


Jewellery That’s Haunted


A lady who lives in Greece bought a Victorian ring from a jeweller in England and was very happy with it. However, one day, while she was wearing it one of the stones fell out. The jeweller that she bought it from suggested that she should send the piece back and he would put a new stone in the ring.  The lady then sent the ring from where she lives. However, instead of going the usual route it travelled all around Greece and then went to the USA before arriving in England. As the jeweller always use a tracker he could see what adventures the ring had. All in all, the ring travelled around for over a month.

A new stone was put into the ring and the jeweller sent it from the United Kingdom back to Greece. This time it has disappeared. The tracker does not seem to know where it has gone.  The lady who owns the ring has suggested that it is haunted. In all probability, it will turn up as the jeweller filled in a form for an inquiry to be launched into its disappearance. It may be sitting in customs. This is a most unusual occurrence and it does make us wonder why this certain piece keeps going on walkabouts.


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