Scottish Pebble Jewellery
A mosaic of bright agate in the shape of a shield, a silver anchor set with pink and grey granite, a sparkling faceted bar of smoky crystal banded with gold, bloodstone, carnelian, banded agate, interlocking arcs of jasper and simple bands of silver encircling polished slabs of earth coloured stones……..these are only a few of the traditional forms of what is known as Scottish pebble jewellery. Also known as Scottish agate jewellery the brooches and bracelets have been made in Scotland since before the 19th century.
Brooches found in Scotland date back to the second century BC and simple ring brooches were valued in the Middle Ages as talismans. From the 16th century large brooches mounted with crystals and containing a reliquary compartment recalled a pre-Christian tradition of charm stones used to heal the sick, thus provided a prototype for the pebble jewellery.
In 1782 an enamelled gold suite of necklace, pendant and buckles set with Scottish agate was presented to the National Museum of Antiquity in Edinburgh. It was not, however, until Queen Victoria’s love for all things Scottish that this jewellery became much more popular and fashionable.
Lapidaries working mainly in the back streets of "Edinburgh new town" made most of the pebble jewellery. They would obtain their raw material from collectors who visiting such localities as Usan near Montrose, Kinnoull Hill near Perth, the Campsie Hills north of Glasgow and the island of Rhum. It has been estimated that in 1870 the number of people working gold, silver and agates in Scotland was about two thousand.
Some of the jewellery was produced following the ancient annular (ring-shaped) and penannular (nearly ring shaped) forms but eventually a lot of the motifs were common elements of Victoriana deemed Scottish because of the characteristic use of Scottish stones. Banded grey and pink agates, onyx, carnelian and moss agates, red and yellow jaspers, bloodstone and pink and grey granites were favoured by the lapidaries. Silver mounts are much more common than gold. It is said that the quality of workmanship was better with the gold pieces but the agate itself looks better with silver. Very few pieces were signed before 1883 and hallmarking is a rarity making some of the pieces very difficult to date.
The popularity of this Pebble Jewellery declined before the 1st War and never really picked up until recently. Collectors of antique jewellery in America and in Europe have recently started to take an interest in this 19th century art work and good pieces can command a high price. Subtle colours, strong design and purity of form characterise the best pieces as shown here.