At AC Silver we have a fine collection of vintage and antique insect jewellery, including gemstone encrusted dragonfly brooches to unique Victorian examples, as part of our Victorian insect jewellery collection.
Insect jewellery has become increasingly popular in recent years as people are drawn to the intricate details and unique beauty of these creatures.
Andrew Campbell, using his 40 years’ experience within the antique industry, handpicks all vintage and antique insect jewellery for sale.
All of our antique and vintage insect jewellery featuring gemstones and/or diamonds are accompanied with an independent gemstone and diamond grading report card and/or certificate in addition to free, insured, global shipping.
At its origins, insect jewellery quite literally crawled all over the wearer. Many ancient civilisations wore live insects as fashion accessories. Soldiers in Ancient Egypt utilised scarab beetles as a form of mythic protection, as the beetles were believed to possess supernatural properties that would protect the wearer from harm.
Anceint Maya culture made use of the Mexican subspecies of the zopherus beetle. These large, docile beetles have been made into living brooches called ma’kechs at various points in time.
The beetle is attached to a decorative chain, which acts as a lead to ensure that the insect doesn’t wander too far afield when being worn. Additionally, it is ornamented with gold and semi-precious gemstones.
The ethical debate around live brooches is ongoing; some believe that the beetles involved become victims of human vanity, while others cite the cultural history and significance of beetle brooches to be validation for their existence.
The Maya folklore surrounding the wearing of beetles is a bittersweet tale of a princess in love with a member of a rival clan. Rather than go on existing, she stops eating and drinking.
A sympathetic healer of some kind witnesses the princess’ devotion and transforms her into an insect that can then be worn by the one she loves, keeping the lovers close. Whether or not there is any semblance of truth to the tale, or if its sole purpose is to convince tourists to invest in jewellery is unclear.
During the Victorian era, a romantic fascination with nature resulted in swarms of insect-adorned jewellery. Like many, the Victorians were inspired by older cultural traditions; it wouldn’t have been a shock, for example, to see respectable Victorian socialites wearing live beetle brooches.
They are so populous in fact, that dragonflies can be found in varied species on every continent in the world, a rare claim in the animal kingdom. Due to their relatively large size, sturdy body, and unique wings, dragonflies lend themselves to jewellery designs quite easily. The unique structure of dragonflies, however, meant that capturing their image in the form of jewellery was a difficult task. The first pieces of jewellery featuring dragonflies that can be identified as such came out of the late Victorian and early Art Nouveau periods.
Japonism – from the French ‘Japonisme’ – is a term for the phenomenon of Western art and design taking influence from Japan. In 1858, trade was reopened between Japan and the West, and this is where the advent of Japonism can first be found. Everything from architecture to jewellery can be found being influenced by Japonism. The dragonfly had been a common motif in Japanese design since the 8th century, and it transferred to the Western world largely through the use of cloissoné enamel. Japanese cloissoné enamel was at its peak at the turn of the 20th century, allowing for more detailed and innovative designs that had previously been possible.
Dragonfly jewellery had been made in Britain during the Victorian period, usually from gold and heavy-set with gemstones. These designs have great beauty, but do not accurately convey the true movement of the insect. With Japonism involved, however, enamelling was used during the Art Nouveau period to create intricate, more delicate designs that celebrated the agility and dexterity of dragonflies. At a time when sweeping, curving shapes were the epitome of fashion and grace, dragonflies became a highly popular element of jewellery.
Plique-á-Jour enamelling advanced jeweller’s abilities to properly depict the dragonfly, and allowed for the delicate veins and subtle details of dragonfly wings to be created with a high level of precision. The way in which the wings were attached to the body of the piece evolved also, allowing it to appear as though the dragonfly was merely hovering nearby for a moment or two, before they would be sure to move along. The dragonfly motif had nature and metamorphosis in its image, making it potentially the epitome of design in the Art Nouveau period.
After Art Nouveau fell out of fashion, Art Deco took its place. A stark contrast was created between the elongated, sweeping movements of Art Nouveau, which took its inspiration from nature, Art Deco was oriented around sharp, geometric lines and symmetrical patterns. As could be predicted, dragonfly jewellery – as well as most other insect jewellery – was largely left at the wayside from this point onwards. Today, insect jewellery is mostly admired by collectors, although it is seeing a gradual rise in popularity thanks to influences like Lady Hale and her infamous spider brooch.
In 8th century Japan, the dragonfly was linked in myth to the rice plant, considered a bringer of rich harvests. Perhaps these ancient origins are why dragonflies were such a popular option for insect jewellery, closely linked to power and prosperity, they were almost destined for greatness.
Like many insects, dragonflies undergo a significant change over the course of their lives, and only exist as we picture them for a small period in their lifetime. For this reason, dragonflies are viewed in many cultures around the world as a symbol for change, as well as an icon of embracing change, making change into a positive thing that one can face. Perhaps due to their size and speed, dragonflies are also often linked to strength. They are powerful insects with a bold appearance, making them a logical motif for those looking to epitomise power also.
For some, dragonflies symbolise a powerful determination also. Not only are they large and intimidating as far as the insect world, but they also have the capability to bite humans. Although dragonflies are not venomous, and so pose no similar threat to similar creatures such as some spiders, their general ferocity is commendable and makes them a desirable design for many.