As seen on BBC TV's 'Great Antiques Hunt'
 Winner, 1996

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Relax!  I haven't written another sequel to War and Peace.  This newsletter is a short one for a change -- devoted to my latest jewelry passion, plus some thoughts on the collecting passion we share.  As always, I'd love to have your comments on these subjects, so please reply to, if you feel inspired.

An Introduction to Suffragette Jewels

Through many decades before women got the right to vote, feminists in the United States and England signaled their desire for it by wearing jewelry that incorporated three colors:  green for hope, white for the purity of their intentions and violet for dignity.  As with "regard" jewelry introduced in Georgian times, the first letter of a gemstone's name was short for something -- in this instance, Give Women (the) Vote.

The wealthiest ladies could make their advanced views known via emeralds, amethysts and pearls or clear diamonds, but it didn't matter what the stones were.  Other suitable choices included lavender, green and white jade, chrysoprase, peridot and green agate, white sapphire and opal, ivory and bone.  Glass and early plastic stones were also widely used, as were enamelwork and needlework in the right shades. 

Obviously this isn't a combination of colors that people would just happen to choose.  That's the main reason why so little Suffragette jewelry remains.  Once women's suffrage became a non-issue, many original owners and even more of their heirs had other stones installed to suit their tastes and wardrobes -- never dreaming there would be value in leaving these fascinating jewels in their original state.

It took nearly a century for Suffragette jewelry to be "discovered".  Buzz surrounding the 2004 film Iron-Jawed Angels did the trick -- just as the recent spate of World War II movies gave impetus to collecting jewels and other items associated with the war, and as Pirates of the Caribbean sparked interest in maritime themes. As you know if you saw the film, vast suffering was associated with gaining suffrage:  Women were run down by horses while protesting, arrested, jailed, beaten and forcibly fed when they declared hunger strikes.

Along with greater knowledge of their sacrifices came the desire to own pieces of the Suffragettes' history, especially those that could be worn with gratitude and pride (or bestowed as gifts on the heroines in our own lives).  Hence, an avant-garde has already made quite an impact on prices.  However, because plenty of people haven't caught up with what Suffragette jewels are, we still have an opportunity to make wonderful finds at local sales, thrift stores and even some antique shops.  It could really pay to keep your eyes open for these.

The majority of Suffragette jewelry is Victorian, because the movement -- after seething underground for a while in women's colleges -- took off in the 1840s.  It continued to be produced in the Edwardian era, in the transitional period that preceded Art Deco and also through most of the Deco years.  Although all American women were enfranchised in 1920, British women without property didn't attain the vote until 1928, so the last celebratory pieces honoring that achievement were made around 1930.

By that time, a global economic depression was underway -- which strengthened the impulse to update old jewelry, as did the subsequent years of World War II  rationing, when "make do and mend" was not only a patriotic motto but an utter necessity.  By the time the war ended, there had been 15 long years of hardship and people understandably wanted everything to be brand-new.  The small amount of Suffragette jewelry that was still intact was tucked away and forgotten, as Rosie the Riveter morphed into Donna Reed.

Then came my generation and the next -- raised without a clue that Suffragette jewelry had ever existed.  Until a couple of years ago, if we saw purple and green together, we automatically thought "Mardi Gras" and expected to see yellow with them!  Obviously, we must beware of clowns, masks and other motifs related to Mardi Gras, when searching now for Suffragette jewels. I have similar doubts about designs that include purple flowers like violets and lilacs.  As prices keep rising, we'll also need to beware of fakery in the form of altered stones or beads, since it would be easy for the dishonest to introduce a color or two to complete the Suffragette palette.

The "Is It Really Suffragette" Checklist

Here's a quick checklist you can use along with the circa-dating charts in our newsletters on particular forms of jewelry (necklaces, earrings, bracelets, brooches, rings, etc.), archived for permanent reference at

1.  Does the piece feature white or near-white along with some shade(s) of green and some shade(s) of purple  -- and, if the colors come from stones or beads, do they appear original?  No additional colors should be present, except for metal (if used).
2.  Does the style indicate a dating between 1840 and 1930?
3.  Are the findings, if not later replacements, of types made before 1930?
4.  If the item is of marked silver, is it stamped Sterling (rather than the later 925) or with another known purity mark of early date?
5.  Can you rule out any obvious connection to Mardi Gras? 
6.  Is the design something other than a naturalistic portrayal of such flowers as violets and lilacs?
7.  Do you observe age-appropriate surface wear? (There are exceptions to this, since some Suffragette jewels were little worn.)

Photos shown are from our array of Suffragette Jewels -- from which items have been disappearing almost as fast as we can get them.

And What's It All About?

Especially when caught up in a new collecting enthusiasm, I'm drawn to reflect on jewelry collecting as a whole.  I can't help puzzling over what we're doing, when we do it, and why (possibly because one of my degrees is in philosophy).  Here are my latest thoughts on the topic and, again, I invite you to share yours.  It would be fun to send out a newsletter sharing various responses.

It seems to me that there are three things going on:  first, an appreciation of what historic jewelry is intrinsically; second, what owning it represents objectively; and, finally, how it makes us feel.

On the first subject, of course its quality exceeds that of modern jewelry.  Artisans today can be very creative, but they just don't have the skills necessary to attain the same level of detail and general fineness.  Value goes right along with that, because no amount of money would allow a good piece of Victorian, Edwardian or early Art Deco jewelry to be reproduced today; it simply couldn't be done, regardless of how much we might be willing to pay.  There's also the glamor  of the designs, compared to "clunkier" modern creations.  Very little contemporary jewelry has real grace.  And then there's rarity.  When only one or a few items of a certain form survive, having been made to last and cherished through time, each is a very special treasure -- much more special than modern things available to everyone able to pay the price.

Objectively, owning jewelry with all of these intrinsic merits provides great investment potential. Barring a global depression, they can't do anything but keep appreciating.  And wearing historic jewelry connects us with others; it's is an instant generator of  compliments and questions, inviting us to share our knowledge of these fascinating pieces.  They reflect an aristocracy of taste that isn't a bit snobbish, because you don't have to born into it; membership is open to everyone who wants to learn (and there's always more for us to learn).

Moving on to the subjective level, of course there's the thrill of the hunt, but that can be only part of the picture, since it applies to every form of collecting.  Of course the continual learning required for doing that well keeps our minds lively, fostering intellectual health.  There's also emotional health in surrounding ourselves with rare beauty, in experiencing ourselves as part of a perspective larger than today's triumphs and troubles and in developing satisfying "signature styles" that express identity. When jewels of a certain type or period speak to us, I believe there's an underlying reason that goes to the core of who we are -- and our reasons can change as we do.  Through adornments, we "brand" and re-"brand" ourselves as we grow and our lives undergo alteration.  As Carrie said in Sex and the City, "Breakups:  bad for the heart, good for the economy."  Like her Manolos and Moschinos, our historic jewels are rewards and consolations, but Carrie's fashionista fetishes weren't also destined to become a lasting legacy, as heirloom jewels will surely be.  Just as they link us to the past in meaningful ways, they project our inner being forward for generations. Assuming our collections stay together, people not yet born will someday strive to understand us -- and do not badly at it -- based on considering the selective eye that chose those particular jewels. 

Likewise, when we choose historic jewels as gifts for others, it reflects a connection far deeper their obvious suitability for celebrating landmark occasions with due regard.  They say, in a very important sense, "I see you," and perhaps in an even more important sense, "I see what you will be."  I was enormously moved recently when a customer in Ireland ordered a pair of Victorian shamrock cufflinks -- and told me they were a christening present.  Imagine how proud that boy will be, when old enough to wear them, and what esteem he'll feel for the person who picked them, instead of a long forgotten "baby" gift.