With one exception, there are not many examples of insects being featured in or on jewellery until the 19th century. That exception was the use of the scarab beetle, a large dung beetle from the eastern Mediterranean area which was regarded as sacred in ancient Egypt. Representations of scarab beetles, carved from stone and glazed, usually blue of green, moulded out of ceramic faience or carved from gems, were used as seals, rings, or amulets.
Scarabs appeared again in the 19th and early 20th centuries, following Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt in 1798 and the excavation of graves in Egypt. There was a jewellery revival, reproducing Egyptian jewellery, including scarab jewellery, in the 1860s following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. A further Egyptian revival occurred in the 1920s after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. The 1920s revival in particular saw a focus on the vibrant colours of the Egyptian discoveries, represented in jewellery in emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds.
The Victorians seemed to be fascinated with nature, with jewellery in the form of bees, butterflies, dragonflies, beetles, spiders and cicardas being produced. Some of the pieces actually incorporated parts of the insects themselves, such as butterfly wings and dried iridescent green beetles imported from South America. Micromosaics and pietra dura pieces depicted colourful insects as did reverse intaglios.
The high end jewellers like Robert Phillips, Castellini, Lalique, Tiffany and Cartier produced gorgeous bejeweled insects but insect jewellery was also produced in less expensive forms, like the sweet little insect ring above, set with seed pearls and featuring a coral body,