Kalmar. Published in Carters "The Antique and Collectable Fact Finder" Volume 3, 2009
Australian jewellery and its makers has been an important area for collectors
for a number of years. This chapter on Australian jewellery will attempt to
explain why it is that early Australiana is so sought after.
Most people would assume that all of the early jewellers came from and/or were
influenced by the styles and designs from England, Ireland and Scotland, and
this is true to an extent. However, many of the early jewellers also came from
Europe, as well as being ‘free’ immigrants or convicts. This combination of
cultures, plus our own unique flora and fauna, resulted in a style that is both
distinctive and individual.
The discovery of gold near Bathurst in New South Wales in 1851, and later that
year in places such as Ballarat and Buninyong in Victoria, naturally started a
gold rush that resulted in many men either striking it rich or losing it all.
It also resulted in the use of quite a lot of gold in the making of Australian
jewellery, an influence that separates it from the styles of the UK and Europe.
This is particularly evident when you look at brooches, for example, where the
stone content may be small or even non-existent, but the brooch itself may
measure over 8cm in diameter.
Most of us
are probably aware of the habit of European jewellers stamping and/or
hallmarking their pieces; for example, the British hallmarking stamp to
determine origin and date, or the very discreet markings of pieces made in
France. In Australia, however, many of the early jewellers did not stamp their
Determining Australian origin:
a mark, how can we determine that it is an Australian piece? Many of the items
will include the flora and fauna of Australia, the depiction of which created a
whole new genre of designs and motifs for the jewellers. It will always be a
safe bet, even for the novice, to state that the piece originates from
Australia by it perhaps having a kangaroo or emu (or both) or a kookaburra as
an integral part of the design.
In her book
Australian Jewellery of the 19th and 20th Century, author
Anne Schofield writes that the nineteenth century jewellers were ‘obsessed with
the idea of finding symbols or emblems to express their newly acquired
Australian identity. They used Australian flora such as native pear, banksia
and fern as decorative motifs and Australian fauna, particularly the kangaroo
The gemstones used in the piece can sometimes be a huge giveaway that it is
Australian. Opals were widely used in the late nineteenth century in Australia
(although they were sometimes also found in Europe). Agates and quartz from
places such as Northern Queensland, and Australian blue and yellow sapphires,
may also be used, as well as zircon.
Another theme that was quite commonly used during the Victorian era (again
going back to the flora of Australia) was the use of leaf designs surrounding
the brooch. If you manage to see perhaps 20 Australian mid- to late Victorian
era brooches, it is quite safe to say that over half will have used the leaf
design as a border. A brooch made with a map of Tasmania, or a brooch
incorporating the Southern Cross, is of course another indication that it is
At the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth century, the styles followed
the trends of Europe. With a bit of searching you may be lucky enough to
uncover some of the stunning Australian Arts & Crafts pieces that were made
in silver and enamel, and sometimes set with pearls.
& Crafts era in general produced some wonderful pieces that even today are
fantastic value for money, as it has only been in recent years that this style
has received the attention it so rightly deserves.
Art Deco designs of the 1920s have been consistently popular worldwide, and
again, some truly beautiful pieces have been produced. These were often made
using materials such as platinum and diamonds.
Miner’s brooches have always been sought after by collectors of Australian
jewellery. These are often in the design of a pick, shovel and bucket, with
perhaps a gold nugget incorporated into the design. Miner’s brooches were also
made in South Africa, so try to make sure the one you have/get is an Australian
one. If you do have one from South Africa, it is by no means any less of a piece.
Some of the
more notable jewellers to keep an eye out for include: Aronson & Co, which
was founded in 1899 by Frederick Aronson of Woollahra in Sydney. Initially a
wholesale jeweller and importer, within two years Aronson had already opened a
branch in Melbourne. His jewellery was marked with a flag; Duggin, Shappere
& Co (marked with an anchor); Willis and Sons, first established in 1858 by
Richard and Thomas Willis, who were jewellery importers and wholesalers. By the
turn of the century the firm had become Australia’s leading gold jewellery
manufacturer. Their pieces are marked with a unicorn; Flavelle Bros Ltd (marked
with a FB & Co, Flavelle or Flavelles), established by John Flavelle, who
was originally a professional photographer, and then an optician, before
becoming jeweller and watchmaker; and perhaps the most famous of them all,
Wendts Jewellers Pty Ltd, whose wares were marked with the word WENDT, J.M.W,
J.M. WENDT, and sometimes with a monarch’s head and a crown. Jaochim Wendt was
Danish-born, but emigrated to Port Adelaide in 1854. Within a year he had
become a naturalised Briton, and he soon became well-known as a quality
watchmaker, gold and silver smith and jeweller. In 1867 he was appointed
jeweller to HRH the Duke of Edinburgh; by this time his staff included 12
silversmiths, along with watch makers, jewellers and shop assistants.
also some jewellery firms of years gone by that are still around today, for
example: Fairfax & Roberts (marked with F & R and a beaver); Catanach's
Jewellers Pty Ltd (marked with a CATANACH) and Angus & Coote Pty Ltd
(marked with A&C, ANGUS & COOTE).
This is of
course a very short list of the early makers, and needless to say there are
many others out there who created some stunning pieces.
question that often comes up is: what's hot and what to collect? This can be
easily answered by saying that if you have or want a piece of Australian
jewellery, as long as it is in good condition, you really can't go wrong. This
may well be a broad statement; it is, however, quite true. As an investment,
Australian jewellery has always been on the up and up, and it’s a trend that
doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
On a final note, there was of course jewellery made by the Aborigines before
and during the early settlement of Australia, but as this is a large topic in
itself, it has not been covered here.