June has two gemstones, the pearl and alexandrite. Alexandrites are members of the chrysoberyl family of gemstones and are  rare. They were discovered around 1830 in the Urals and named after Czar Alexander II of Russia. They are colour change stones, displaying green in daylight and red under incandescent light. Today, they are mined in small numbers in Brazil, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, and a few other countries. The majority of alexandrite stones seen in jewellery are synthetic. I don’t have any jewellery with alexandrites but I do have some with pearls.

When you look at most periods of antique jewellery, you will see that the pearl has been an important part of each of them. It doesn’t matter whether pearls are used as borders, as features or are just one of many gemstones in the piece, what is important is that they are there and have been there for hundreds of years.   However, up until the beginning of the 20th century,  round, natural pearls were expensive, only affordable by the wealthy. The 20th century, however, became the century of cultured pearls, accessible for most women.

I have written about the history of pearls in earlier blogs, particularly about the history of pearls, and about half pearls and seed pearls so I won’t do it again here. Rather, I will just focus on the use of small natural pearls, including seed pearls, in two types of 19th century jewellery. First, seed pearls set in gold jewellery were popular throughout Queen Victoria’s reign and up until WWI. Suitable for young women (pearls epitomised purity and innocence) and more affordable than similar necklaces set with diamonds, these are beautiful necklaces. Many had an a detachable pearl brooch/pendant, like the one below.

Vic foliate pendant necklace
Victorian/edwardian seed pearl necklet and pendant/brooch

Pearls were also used extensively in sentimental and mourning jewellery as they represented tears. Little lace pins, like the three below, were popular at the beginning of the 19th century up until the 1850s.  Normally rectangular in shape, with a central glazed panel under which was stored a braided or woven lock of hair, these pins have borders of pearls and half pearls.

3 mourning brooches AIMG_4645
Three antique lace pins, with pearl borders