It was Australia Day on the 26th January, acknowledging the date the First Fleet arrived in Port Jackson and then landed in Sydney Cove in 1788. A number of other dates have been suggested as better representing the birth of Australia, including the date on which the Australian Constitution was passed. In terms of jewellery, though, it was the discovery of gold in 1851 in Victoria that had the most significant impact on the Australian colonies’ society. Between 1850 and 1860, the population increased by about 500,000 and had tripled by 1871. In Victoria alone, the population increased from approximately 80,000 to 323,000 in ten years. The increased population and huge influxes of money led to a desire for the good things in life, including jewellery. The number of jewellers increased significantly and by 1853, there were 30 goldsmiths and jewellers in Victoria alone. Melbourne became the centre of jewellery manufacture.
Prior to the gold rush in the 1850s, jewellery sold in Australia was imported from the UK and Europe. The influx of manufacturing jewellers meant that they produced not only the jewellery they had been making overseas but many started to produce pieces that reflected Australia, incorporating designs of Australian fauna and flora.
Goldfield brooches, comprising crossed picks and shovels, or little buckets and other tools, also with gold nuggets, were produced in the Victorian goldfields in the 1850s, then later in NSW and Western Australia. Such brooches also spread to South Africa in the 1890s and to the American Klondike gold rush in the late 1890s.
Other gold jewellery in the 1850s and 60s, though, had a botanical theme, with ornate borders of grapes, tendrils and vine leaves, sometimes incorporating kangaroos and emus or with scrolled and ribboned borders, and hanging tassels. They contained a lot of gold, often being very ornate and heavy, as there was plenty of it. In the 1850s, Victoria was the world’s third largest exporter of gold. Australian gems such as opals, pearls and sapphires were showcased together with an enormous numbers of other gems found in Australia, such as malachite, agate, quartz, and chrysophase.
The next time that Australian flora and fauna was to strongly feature in jewellery was after 1901. Patriotic jewellery became popular after the Federation of Australia in 1901, depicting the Australian continent, kangaroos, emus, kookaburras, flags, boomerangs or gum leaves, and again during and after the WWI. It was often inexpensive.