Good reference books on antique jewellery and gemstones are hard to find. While new books are released every year (and some are beautiful, with gorgeous photos), not many of them contain much in depth information about the jewellery pieces pictured. I always have questions – how was the piece made, was it handmade, machine made or a mixture, why was that particular stone used, why that shape, when was it made, how would it have been worn, and so on. One can learn a lot by looking at books covering particular eras, but it is still hard to find out more about the construction of pieces. I have found some books, though, that I refer to constantly when I am looking at jewellery auction catalogues for potential purchases or when writing pieces for the blog.

Antique Jewellery: Its manufacture, materials and design, Duncan James, 2007

This little book is the only one I have found that has a main focus on how antique jewellery was made. I just wish it was five times as long (it’s only 120 pages). It is available for sale as a second hand book through Amazon.

  • Jewellery, 1789-1910, The International Era, Shirley Bury, 1991 (2 volume set)

This two volume set is a bit of an investment and is only rarely available through second hand dealers but it is worth the money. They have excellent sections on the introduction of manufacturing and on when and why certain styles were introduced.

  • An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewelry, Harold Newman, 1990
  • An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewellery, Anita Mason & Diane Parker, 1994

I couldn’t choose between these two Dictionaries. If the bit of information I am seeking is not in one, it will usually be in the other.

I know there is a problem with these books as they are out of print but they can often be purchased through second hand dealers. In my next post, though, I will talk about some good reference books that are still in print, particularly those that deal with specific types of jewellery, like necklaces, or about a certain era.