Sunday, February 3, 2013

Mastery of Design: The Ashbee Peacock Necklace, 1902

The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the early 1900s, C.R. Ashbee, one of the earliest Arts and Crafts designers of jewelry, designed nearly one dozen peacock brooches and pendants. Ashbee began designing jewels in the 1890s and will forever be remembered for contributed one of the key points of the Edwardian middle-class jewelry trade--that the value of jewelry lay in its design, not in the monetary value of the materials used. Personally, I like the expensive materials and a good design both, but I’m more Victorian in my mind-set.

Ashbee strove to design jewels that could be affordable to those not in the aristocracy. Take this pendant for example. Though this peacock pendant is one of Ashbee’s more extravagant creations, it would have been quite modest in price when compared with the heavy diamond-set jewelry of the peerage, gentry and nobility.

Always an admirer of the Renaissance of the Fifteenth Century when the “arts and crafts were one and indivisible,” Ashbee looked to Renaissance artists who were goldsmiths as well as painters, sculptors or architects for inspiration. In 1898, in fact, Ashbee published a translation of the two treatises of Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571) on gold-smithing as well as sculpture.

For some reason, Ashbee had a weakness for peacocks. But, many of his period did. He wrote that, “the poor peacock of the Arts and Crafts with its proud tail exploding in fireworks” was a favorite subject because it was a bold, proud, bird which stood out against a drab and hostile world.  Here, he's rendered the bird in silver and gold, set with blister pearls, diamond sparks and a demantoid garnet for the eye, with three pendent pearls.

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