• Open the museum's jewellery box and find out about the fascinating stories these objects tell.

Wedgwood and jewellery

  • by Rebecca Klarner

Cut steel bracelet

Theme

This bracelet consists of ten linked settings containing tri-colour jasper cameos depicting little Cupids in different postures in a daisy petal-shaped frame, one of these cameos is now lost. The settings are decorated with studs of cut steel.

Cut steel became very popular in eighteenth century England. It imitates the shine and brilliance of diamonds and it can easily be mistaken with faceted marcasite which was used in a very similar way at that time. Though it was obviously more affordable than real diamonds, it was not only worn by people who could not afford the 'King of Gems'. Another important factor that contributed to its popularity was that cut steel matched the demands of Victorian dressing rules even in times of mourning.

To decorate a piece of jewellery with this technique studs of steel were cut, or faceted, and subsequently polished. As steel is an extremely hard metal, the surface becomes very shiny and remains like this, reflecting the light like the facets of a diamond. The setting has to be decorated with these studs before an actual gem can be set. Items like this bracelet were then pierced very intricately, the faceted studs inserted and riveted on the rear to fasten them. This process would have damaged the gem if it were set before.

This bracelet is a perfect example for the collaboration of Josiah Wedgwood and Matthew Boulton, fellow members of the Lunar Society of Birmingham. Matthew Boulton owned a manufactory for metal works in Soho on the outskirts of Birmingham; he was one of the main suppliers of steel and ormolu trinkets in England. During one of their monthly Society meetings they decided to join forces and Boulton supplied Wedgwood with steel mounts such as these, but as well with mounts made of ormolu and Josiah was able to meet the increased demand for items such as buckles, buttons, medallions or even more elaborate jewellery like this bracelet.

Catalogue

Cut steel bracelet with Cupid ornaments, tri-colour jasper of blue, lilac and white. C.1790