In the footsteps of a queen

On 05 February 2020, by Anne Doridou-Heim

Victoria's passion for Scotland revived its traditions and started a new fashion for silver jewellery. An anonymous enthusiast has gathered some fine examples together, now ripe for the plucking at Drouot.

19th century Scottish work: silver jewellery items, Luckenbooth brooch, kilt brooch in the form of a dirk, round pendant, earrings and brooch in the form of a leaf; all embellished with agate and jasper, some with coloured glass paste, amethysts and citrines.
Estimate: from €200 to 350 €, depending on the model

Scotland slumbered, wreathed in mist, at the beginning of the 19th century, and it was not until the appearance of Sir Walter Scott's historical novels and Queen Victoria's purchase of Balmoral Castle in 1848 (which became the family home for her tribe) that the land of legend returned to the forefront. The sovereign frequently stayed in her new residence, noting in her diary that here she could "forget the world and its sad turmoils." She restored what its worthy forefathers had forbidden: the castle was now decked out in tartan and thistle motifs, the prince began to wear the kilt, and dinner was played in to the sound of bagpipes. Her enthusiasm set a trend for visiting the Highlands and as a result, the railway line was extended from Aberdeen to Ballater in 1861.

Jewellery was a firm part of Scotland's ancient past, as its craftsmen produced special brooches for holding the plaid on the shoulder and fastening the kilt. Mounted on pins, these were shaped like miniature daggers (dirks), swords (claymores) or traditional Celtic emblems. Jewellers, as excellent salespeople, were quick to see the appeal of these little symbols for tourists, and began making copies designed as travel gifts, embellishing them with hardstones from regional deposits full of amethysts, citrines, jasper and agate. Demand was so high that Edinburgh couldn't keep pace. The production centre was moved to Birmingham, and jewellery was even sent to Germany to be set with various stones and coloured glass paste before returning to Britain for sale. A real fashion was established. Such pieces are rare in the French market, but Madame X assiduously tracked them down and managed to assemble a splendid collection. It won't reach the stratospheric heights of great jewellery, but fans will savour the charm of a tradition mingled with the history of a proud land. Brooches, pins, pendants, earrings and bracelets are all expected to make a few hundred euros each. The pieces revive the memory of Queen Victoria – for in 1843, for their third wedding anniversary, Prince Albert gave his young wife a gold brooch in the shape of a crowned heart decorated with garnets, amethysts and fine pearls from Scotland: a "Luckenbooth", or love token. This comes from a very old word combining "lock" and "booth", a 16th century name describing the small shops run by Edinburgh jewelers. There is a model of one in this collector's trove. She certainly nurtured a taste for things with a difference, and was also interested in faceted steel jewellery imitating marcasite: another source of highly original pieces.

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