Category Archives: Jewellery

Women in Chains – Suffragette Jewellery; A Steampunk Feminist Perspective


Suffragette Chain Link Jewellery at its finest, as it also incorporates the three colours of the Suffragette Movement: Green, White and Violet (Give Women Votes).

It is a well known fact that suffragettes were targeted by their governments as troublemakers, and often spent time in jail, and they were subjected to some awful treatment. They were meant to be humiliated and silenced by this strategy. Instead, suffragettes saw jail time as a victory, that they were considered dangerous enough to incarcerate.


Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel, while in jail.

In previous blog articles, I have mentioned suffragette jewellery. Some people argue that the suffragettes were vocal, and would never stoop to subterfuge by wearing symbolic jewellery. I have to agree with this viewpoint. I believe suffragette jewellery was worn with pride, to support the cause, and I believe some suffragette jewellery supports this hypothesis: the Holloway Prison Pin, Chain Link Jewellery, and Edith Garrud’s Boadicea Brooch.


The Holloway Prison Pin, also known as the Holloway Brooch.

The Holloway Prison Pin  – designed by Sylvia Pankhurst, one of the daughters of Emmeline Pankhurst – was presented to members of the Women’s Social and Political Union who had suffered imprisonment. The first presentation of the brooches took place at a mass demonstration organised by the WSPU on the 29th of April, 1909. The broad arrow – the symbol of the convict – was enamelled in purple, white and green, the colours of the suffragette movement. Some of the brooches were marked with dates of imprisonment. The brooch was first mentioned in Votes for Women, the WSPU newspaper, in the issue published on the 16th of April, 1909, where it was described as ‘the Victoria Cross of the Union’.

The Jail Pin

Jail Door Pin

The Hunger Strike Medal.jpg

The Hunger Strike Medal

After the Holloway Prison pin, the suffragettes were inspired to issue pins and medals for other indignities suffered by the women when they were imprisoned for wanting equal rights. To my mind, it is the Hunger Strike Medal that represents the greatest sacrifices made by those imprisoned; hunger strikers were often force fed. Some of the women were also sent to mental asylums, because being vocal about wanting the vote is a sure sign of madness.


Image from the textbook – Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated History Study

Chain brooches didn’t just symbolise imprisonment. It also stood for the chains that held the women back in society. The chains that held them back from education and legal rights, as well as the right to vote. Mind you, the government was happy to tax women, but not so thrilled to give them a voice in parliament.

Chain brooches came in many shapes and forms. Some were more decorative than others, but even the most simple chain brooch was layered with meaning.


Of course, the suffragette movement was big on pins and brooches. They could be sold to raise funds, worn to show support, or awarded for outstanding sacrifices. It is a form of wearing your heart on your sleeve.



Edith Garrud’s Boudica brooch was also described as the Suffragette’s Victoria Cross.


A Woman in Chains

Chains are often part of a Steampunk cosplay outfit. Never was there a better reason to wear them than to celebrate the Suffragettes.


Filed under Fashion, History, Jewellery, Metaphors, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Suffragettes, Suffragists, Symbology, Uncategorized, Victorian-era Fashion

Hand-in-hand; Victorian-era Hand Jewellery


Turquoise and diamonds in the form of two hands clasping, circa 1835


In the Victorian era, jewellery was worn not just for ornamentation, it was often worn because it meant something to both the wearer and/or the people who saw her wearing the piece. Hands were a popular symbol. They could be clasped in love or friendship, or clasping items with their own symbology.

The ring below is an early Victorian-era  Betrothal Ring, circa 1840. The Clasped Hands, which have a male and female cuff, open to reveal a gold heart on the central band. An Early Victorian Gold Clasped Hands Betrothal Ring. The Clasped Hands, which have a male and female cuff, open to reveal a Gold Heart on the central band. Circa 1840.jpg

Flowers had a whole range of meanings, depending on the the types of flowers.


Ivory hand clasping roses – symbols of love – and forget-me-nots.


Ivory earrings clasping roses and forget-me-nots.

Snakes represented eternal love or wisdom.



Coral and gold pin

A hand grasping a rod was seeking guidance or comfort in time of need.


Mourning jewellery often depicted crossed hands, hands in prayer, or hands clasped ‘across the divide between life and death’.


Victorian-era Whitby jet brooch depicting crossed hands.


Gold and hair mourning jewellery


A hand clasping a key was clasping the key to a lover’s hear.


This hand is clasping a key to a watch and was most likely worn as a watch fob. Note the use of tinted gold for the decoration.


Pointing hands were charms of protection.


It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this sort of jewellery could be used to intensify characterisation, or even become part of a plot point!


Filed under Fashion, History, Jewellery, Metaphors, Mourning, Steampunk, Symbology, Uncategorized, Victorian-era Fashion

The Fashion for Egyptian Revival

1920s Egyptian revival:

Egyptian Revival Jewelry:

Egyptian Revival Vulture Brooch

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Filed under Bling, Collectables, Fashion, Jewellery, Uncategorized, Victorian-era Fashion

Victorian Zoomorphic Jewellery; A Steampunk Perspective

Brooch made from gold and a taxidermy hummingbird head.

Brooch made with gold and a taxidermy hummingbird head.

This is one of the less endearing fashion trends of the Victorian era; the use of animal parts to create jewellery. The collection of hummingbirds for their feathers and for taxidermy decoration put some species of hummingbird at risk at the height of the practice. The use of hummingbirds to create fashion accessories is now illegal, and that is okay with me. I find the idea of hunting down tiny birds for ornithological jewellery rather distasteful, as well as the use of other animal parts for ornamentation.

Ruby-topaz hummingbird earrings  after conservation (Photography by Gates Sofer).

Ruby & topaz & gold hummingbird earrings (Photo by Gates Sofer)


In the late 19th century, craftsmen in India made Bengal tiger-claw jewelry, like this 22-claw demi-parure, for English tourists. (The Hairpin, via

Tiger Claw Parure 

Parure set consisting of tiara, earrings and necklace mounted with beetle wings, 1884-85

Parure set consisting of tiara, earrings and necklace mounted with beetle wings, circa 1884.

tortoise shell hair comb, circa 1860. Image from Pinterest.

Tortoiseshell hair comb, circa 1860

Victorian-era carved whalebone pen; image from the wbsite.

Whalebone pen


This is why I prefer modern Steampunk jewellery that uses resin models or metal casts of skulls for ornamentation. I find these items much less creepier and more ecologically sound than the Victorian version.



Filed under Bling, Collectables, Fashion, Jewellery, Steampunk Aesthetic, Uncategorized

It’s Only Words: Mourning Jewellery

Victorian Mourning pin

Talk in everlasting words
And dedicate them all to me
And I will give you all my life
I’m here if you should call to me
You think that I don’t even mean
A single word I say
It’s only words, and words are all
I have to take your heart away

From ‘Words’ by The Bee Gees

"The Spirit Hath Fled" - Victorian mourning locket with black and white enamel on 9k gold

I have previously written about different types of symbolism of mourning jewellery, how pearls represented tears; and ivy represented fidelity; locks of hair from the deceased were incorporated into jewellery; painted miniatures of single eye surrounded by clouds and tears were symbols of a lost love; and  – of course – there was jet carved into glittering brooches and beads for mourning jewellery. I haven’t even touched on the meanings of urns, angels, anchors and acorns (another day, perhaps). However, not every piece of mourning jewellery had to have a masked meaning. Some came right out with sentiments written onto the gems and jewels.

Victorian locket inscribed and containing a lock of hair. Momento Mori of Hannah Taylor who died in 1878.

VICTORIAN Mourning Locket - Vulcanite.

Lockets could contain messages, and often the messages were inscribed directly onto the item. The personalisation of the mourning jewellery meant it had greater sentimental value to the person wearing it. A necklace of ivy leaves might be pretty, but a locket with a picture – worn close to a broken heart – has an added emotional charge. I know for a fact that the real value in a piece of jewellery is what memories it evokes, rather than if it is made of gold and rubies.

Love after Death: The Beautiful, Macabre World of Mourning Jewelry

Sometimes a family would have mourning jewellery made up to hand out to chosen mourners at the funeral of the dearly departed, rather like party tokens, but with a much darker symbolism. Personally, I think the written mottoes and verses are sweeter than any other symbols, but it probably because I am a writer. It is more specific to wear a brooch stating ‘My Dear Father’ than be dripping with mourning jewellery that could refer to anyone.

Victorian gold metal/painted French jet IMO My Dear father mourning brooch

Victorian mourning brooch - it was fashionable amongst the middle and upper classes in particular to wear jewellery commemorating the dead. This would often include a lock of the hair of the lost loved one, a photograph, or both

Actually, this jewellery moves me much more than anything else I’ve shared before. I guess it is because I can relate better to a specific loss. I can understand the pain of the loss of a grandfather or a child. This is good thing to remember as a writer. If you want to touch your audience, they need specifics and not generalizations.


Filed under Bling, History, Jewellery, Mementos, Metaphors, Mourning, Victorian Era, writing

A Range of Decorative Hair Combs for the 19th Century Gentlewoman.

Tortoise shell hair comb, circa 1860.

Tortoise shell hair comb, circa 1860.

Victorian hair comb, circa 1860, decorated with high-karat gold and diamonds in fleur-de-lis pattern.

Victorian hair comb, circa 1860, decorated with high-karat gold and diamonds in fleur-de-lis pattern.

Victorian decorative hair comb, circa late 1800s, natural horn with a pressed design.

Victorian decorative hair comb, circa late 1800s, natural horn with a pressed design.

Dr Scott's Electric Hairbrush

Dr Scott’s Electric Hairbrush

Hair Comb with pearls

Jet Hair Comb for use during mourning.

Victorian Algerian comb.

Victorian hair comb

19th Century Tortoise shell carved cameos hair comb

19th Century tortoise shell hair comb with carved cameos

Antique Victorian Bohemian Garnets Crescent Shaped Hair Comb Tiara | eBay

Antique Victorian tortoiseshell hair comb with garnets

No article, just a bunch of pretty pictures for inspiration.


Filed under Bling, Fashion, Jewellery, Steampunk Genre, writing

Blonde, Brunette or Blazing Red: A Steampunk Perspective of Victorian-era Hair (Part Two)


Mary Ingalls

Her beautiful golden hair was gone. Pa had shaved it close because of the fever, and her poor shorn head looked like a boy’s. Her blue eyes were still beautiful, but they did not know what was before them, and Mary herself could never look through them again to tell Laura what she was thinking without saying a word. – Laura Ingalls Wilder “By the Shores of Silver Lake”

This image of a shorn Mary Ingalls stayed with me for years. In a lot of Victorian-era novels, you read of girls with a fever having their hair cut, as their hair was ‘draining their strength’. Anna Karenina has her hair cut while she has a fever, and it marks the change in her fortunes from respectable woman to ‘hysterical’ mad woman. There is the dramatic hair cutting scene in Jane Eyre, with poor Julia made to cut off her natural curls. The various types of symbology relating hair is a goldmine for a writer.

 This is how Alice should look.

Because long hair was the fashion for the 19th century, the cutting of a woman’s hair was a big deal. It was shocking to see a woman with short hair, as glorious long hair symbolised a woman’s youthfulness, femininity, and health. It would only be cut off for illness, including ‘brain fever’ or madness, or as a terrible punishment, because it was physically destroying her beauty and femininity. It could have a greater impact as seeing a woman today with her head shaved bald. This was why Anne Shirley, from Anne of Green Gables, was kept at home after she cut her hair after the dreadful dye experiment. This was why Jo from Little Women was making such a great sacrifice when she cut her hair to make money for her mother’s trip to see Jo’s father. Both Anne and Jo regretted the loss of their hair, their ‘one beauty’.


As she spoke, Jo took off her bonnet, and a general outcry arose, for all her abundant hair was cut short.

Your hair! Your beautiful hair! Oh, Jo, how could you? Your one beauty. My dear girl, there was no need of this. She doesn’t look like my Jo any more, but I love her dearly for it!

As everyone exclaimed, and Beth hugged the cropped head tenderly, Jo assumed an indifferent air, which did not deceive anyone a particle, and said, rumpling up the brown bush and trying to look as if she liked it, “It doesn’t affect the fate of the nation, so don’t wail, Beth. It will be good for my vanity, I getting too proud of my wig. It will do my brains good to have that mop taken off. My head feels deliciously light and cool, and the barber said I could soon have a curly crop, which will be boyish, becoming, and easy to keep in order. I’m satisfied, so please take the money and let’s have supper.”

“Tell me all about it, Jo. I am not quite satisfied, but I can’t blame you, for I know how willingly you sacrificed your vanity, as you call it, to your love. But, my dear, it was not necessary, and I’m afraid you will regret it one of these days,” said Mrs. March. – Louisa May Alcott

With hair seen as a woman’s ‘crowning glory, it isn’t hard to imagine that hair was something of a Victorian obsession. I’ve mentioned hair jewellery before, but it is worth mentioning again. Hair was often used to create keepsakes, particularly of the deceased. Locks of hair were given out for friends and family to treasure, often at the request of the dearly departed. Or the living would give up a precious lock to create a love token.

Woven Hair Jewellery

Woven Hair Jewellery

Mourning locket, gold,  hairwork, seed pearls, made by John Wilkinson Jeweller & Silversmith, Leeds, England, circa 1826. In the collection of the Powerhouse Museum.

Mourning locket, gold, hairwork, seed pearls, made by John Wilkinson Jeweller & Silversmith, Leeds, England, circa 1826. In the collection of the Powerhouse Museum.

Bouquet Brooch made with the hair of 15 individuals including 2 men and 7 children.

Bouquet Brooch made with the hair of 15 individuals including 2 men and 7 children.

Hair was a large part of a woman’s public persona, which was another reason why cutting it short was so shocking. When women started bobbing their hair in the 1920s, it was a public signal of their freedom from the restrictions society had placed them in. When Victorian women criminals entered prison, their hair was shorn, it was claimed for reasons of ‘cleanliness’, but it was also the quickest way of shearing away a woman’s confidence, making her docile and compliant to the prison’s discipline. Women fraternizing with the enemy had their head shorn as punishment, ruining their allure and making their shame public. Shorn hair was a very public way of highlighting a statement (or showing you were a bit over enthusiastic with the curling iron and have burnt off all your hair).

Long hair

In my own Steampunk narrative, my main character has unfashionable red hair … and a calm and rational temperament. Alice is a deliberate break from the stereotype of the short-fused Scottish redhead, but her hair is long and glossy. I am toying with the idea of her deliberately cutting her own hair as part of a disguise. It will need to be a much more emotional scene than if a girl was to cut her hair today. But I can use the cutting of her hair as a symbol of cutting away her restrictions within a Patriarchal society. 

If you are a Steampunk Enthusiast, I also have a site on Facebook where I share articles and images:


Filed under Analogy, Author, Fashion, Historical Personage, History, Jewellery, Metaphors, Steampunk

The Skirt Lifter: a Steampunk Feminist’s Perspective

A Victorian-era Skirt Lifter

Anne’s Victorian-era Skirt-Lifter

Now, before we go any further, a Victorian skirt-lifter was an item of apparel and NOT a man with wandering hands. They were  decorative and fashionable, but they were a functional item as well, lifting hems out of the dirt. The hem wasn’t meant to be lifted permanently, and so a proper skirt-lifter was an actual gadget. My friend Anne showed me one today, that belonged to her great-grandmother (GGM). Her device hooked into the waistband or belt and at the end of the chain was heart-shaped clip that gripped the hem of the skirt. The chain ran through the decorative loop at the waistband, and had two silver balls that were used to lift the hem up and down. It was quite beautiful, and utter perfection because it had a lovely story to go with it.

Her GGM acted as a lady’s maid for a fine family in Suffolk. This family were friends with the royal family, and one of princesses used to visit with her family. Anne’s GGM received the skirt-lifter as a gift from the princess at the end of a visit. I think this is a wonderful piece of history. I always feel that an item means so much more when it has a story.

I wanted to show you Anne’s skirt-lifter in action, I couldn’t find one like Anne’s online, but I did find one very like it. Anne’s is much prettier than this one. Modern cosplayers often devise skirt-lifters of their own, and usually leave their hem ‘up’ to display pretty underclothing and stockings. Alas, most of these lifters look more like suspenders clips than actual Victorian-era skirt-lifters. They are pretty in their own way, but don’t have the same functionality and charm of the originals. As well, those clips would tear or fray delicate fabrics.

As a writer, I like to get the details right. Now that I know what a real skirt-lifter looked like, I can write about it with confidence. I know they were at their most popular from the 1870s to the 1890s, which is right in the era when my own Steampunk novel is set.


Filed under Bling, Gadgets, History, Jewellery, Steampunk Feminist

Dead Serious – Part Two: Memento Jewellery

1800-1820 Mourning miniature, an eye portrait with a tear and clouds, with pearls to symbolise more tears.

1800-1820 Mourning miniature, an eye portrait with a tear and clouds, with pearls to symbolise more tears.

Mourning jewellery was big business during the Victorian era. It wasn’t only jet jewellery that was all the craze, there was a whole range of different types of memento jewellery. These items were full of symbolism, which makes them perfect for writers to use as metaphors and analogies.

Miniature painted on ivory of a child's eye in the clouds. Most likely a mourning brooch.

Miniature painted on ivory of a child’s eye in the clouds. Most likely a mourning brooch.

Eye Portrait Jewellery: This type of memento wasn’t limited to the Victorian era, but it was a popular trend. The eye surrounded with pearls (symbolising tears), the eye surrounded by clouds (in Heaven), or an eye with a single tear, all pointed to the eye belonging to someone who was deceased. When this jewellery was worn as a memento of a secret love, those details were not included. These miniatures were usually framed in lockets or brooches, but they could be incorporated into bracelets as well. These are potent little packets of significance – a great treasure to a writer wanting to layer a characterization with extra meaning.

Mourning locket, made of gold, hair work, seed pearls, made by John Wilkinson Jeweller & Silversmith, Leeds, England,circa 1826. In the  Collection of the Powerhouse Museum.

Mourning locket, made of gold, hair work, seed pearls, made by John Wilkinson Jeweller; Silversmith, Leeds, England, circa 1826. In the Collection of the Powerhouse Museum.

Hair Bracelet

Woven Hair Bracelet

Hair Jewellery: This is something that seems very strange to modern eyes, but in the Vicotrian era, hair jewellery was all the rage. Women kept special containers on their dressing tables to collect their hair. People gave each other lockets of hair as mementoes. When a person died, lockets of hair were distributed to their friends and family as keepsakes. Often this hair was used to create all types of accessories. I can’t help but wonder if woven hair bracelets were itchy. If you have read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, you will see the evidence of hair as keepsakes; Beth wants to cut her hair and give it away when she thought she was dying, and the mother treasures a Christmas gift of a brooch made from hair from every member of her family.

Human hair has a huge significance in witchcraft and fairy tales; it nearly has as much cultural significance as blood. In Victorian era narratives, Jo from Little Women sells her hair, as does Della from O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, and they sacrifice their ‘beauty’ for love. Long hair was much admired as a feminine trait, so the cutting of hair was considered quite a big deal. It doesn’t take much for a writer to see that the cutting of hair can also be considered a metaphor for cutting links or chains.

Long hair

Jewellery is highly personal. When you are ‘cooking up’ a character, particularly a female character (though Victorian men did wear jewellery), you should try to visualise what sort of jewellery she is wearing. Why is she wearing it? It might simply be for show, but it is more interesting if the jewellery is worn for sentimental reasons. It can tell you a lot about that character, straight up. That ring was a gift from her beloved grandmother, just before the old woman died; when she feels discouraged, she rubs it for luck and strength. For a male character, that tiepin was his first purchase with his first pay cheque, as a promise to himself to try for better things.

Keepsakes are just that … so what do they mean? That is the real question you need to answer for your audience.


Filed under Bling, Characterization, History, Jewellery, Mementos, Mourning, Steampunk