Rock Crystal & Scottish Cairngorms in Scottish Pebble Jewellery

Leave a comment


Rock Crystal & Scottish Cairngorms in Scottish Pebble Jewellery

‘Cairngorm’ or smoky quartz is a crystalline material produced within granite rock, of which the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland (4 miles high) is a prime example.  When the granite was originally formed, masses from volcanic magma included material known as pegmatite which enclosed many gas cavities. It is in these fissures that quartz crystals grew.  Although this material can be found in other places in the world, it was in Scotland that Cairngorm collection and use in Scottish Pebble Jewellery was generally first associated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scottish quartz comprises crystals varying from completely colourless through light yellows and darker browns, to almost black and in some very rare cases, red.  Within the jewellery trade, the most commonly occurring colours are described thus; Light yellow are described as citrine, golden to darker brown are known as ‘Cairngorm’ and the darkest stones are known as ‘morion’.  These three are widely found through the Grampian and Cairngorm granites.   These three descriptions are thought to be relatively recently adopted and only came into widespread use in the early part of the 19th century.  The central crystal in the center of this brooch is clear rock crystal.  It is rare to see clear rock crystal and most of it seems to have been mined from the east side of  Loch Aven in the Grampian range of mountains in Scotland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prior to all this, all quartz material including smokey quartz and rock crystal was described simply as ‘crystal’.

The most effective way of establishing the presence of a genuine Cairngorm crystal within a specific piece of  Scottish Pebble Jewellery is to gain knowledge of where the other materials (agates) in the specific piece originated, since agates are fairly location specific in Scotland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although not completely definitive, it is a way to discover if the crystal (usually at the center of the piece) is of genuine Scottish origin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some collectors found fairly large Cairngorm crystal deposits.  The Rev. J Stewart in a letter dated 1858 stated that “Rock crystal is diffused throughout the central group of the Grampian range.  In one instance ten hundredweights were taken from one cavity in the granite alone.  The crystals found on the east side of Lock Aven are of a very light colour and very clear, whilst those found on the west side are a dark brown.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The effect of creased collecting activities during the early part of the 1800’s did seem to provide an increase in abundance of Cairngorm crystal.  But demand seems to have outstripped supply.  By the end of the 1800’s the collection of Cairngorms had once again been reduced to nothing more than a cottage industry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is a myth that collecting gemstones in Scotland only started only with the interest of Queen Victoria’s ascension to the English throne.  The use of crystals as ornaments goes back to at least the 14th century.  The brooch of Lorne, said to date back to 1306 comprises a central stone of crystal, surrounded by Scottish Agates.  The ‘Loch Buy’ brooch dated about 1500 “…….is set with crystals and river pearls in high collets.  The raw materials used in Scottish Pebble Jewellery have certainly been available and have been recognized for many centuries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By 1799 reports of crystal collecting were much more frequent. The Reverend  Charles McHardy reported that “……on Binn-na-Baird and Binn-na-Muick-duidh……are found pellucid stones of the nature of precious stones.  The most common are browns of different shades.”(Sinclair 1799).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Queen Victorians patronage, interest in all matters Scottish exploded and suddenly the jewellery became highly sought after and in very high demand.  She became Monarch in June 1837.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Facts courtesy of ‘Scottish Pebble Jewellery’ by Nick Crawford.)

Bohemian Czechoslovakian Bi-Colour Overlay Glass

Leave a comment


Generally speaking, the market for Bohemian blown and cut overlay glass came from a strong demand from the European market.  Please note, all the images in this blog are of the same necklace.  It is a bi-colour Czech necklace probably dating to the early 1900’s with an interior of anna-grun with a blue overlay over that.  Hence it glows with uranium under black (UV) light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marketing of this two colour glass was aimed largely at a novelty market and the craze for this type of Bohemian Crystal began in the 1820’s.  Muranese and Bohemian craftsmen had long perfected the art of combining two colours of glass using traditional techniques, rather than blowing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The early 1800’s drove the Bohemian bijouterie companies to strive to find a way to include this popular type of glass in their jewellery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are several ways to make this type of glass – firstly is by the addition of chemicals.  Another is to simply overlay a rod of an existing glass colour, with an outer coating of another clear colour glass.  Since both colours are transparent, it is difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advanced glass makers, like the artisans of Bohemia used another way to produce glass with two colours.  This method is called ‘striking’ and is achieved by reheating glass to a certain temperature, where its colour will change. When only a part of a piece of glass is reheated, then it produces two colours within once item.

 

What Does Swarovski Have To Do With Bohemia?

Leave a comment


The Swarovski company is now a global multi-national billion making enterprise.  Yet how many people know that the company’s founder, Daniel Swarovski  (born 1862, died 1956) would end up being such an outstanding scientist, humanitarian and visionary entrepreneur?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He grew up in a small village in Bohemia, a small town which is now fairly well known for its outstanding crystal, called Gablonz.  He worked there with his father, hand cutting crystal for the glass and fashion industry.  The Swarovski roots are deeply entangled in the roots of the late 19th century ‘Mittel Europa’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This phrase is the German equivalent to what we think of now as ‘Central Europe’.  The phrase holds political, geographical as well as cultural means.  It was a term coined by the Germans to describe a German dominated central European federation which was one of the aims of the second world war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Young Swarovski was fascinated by electricity and its potential applications to Crystal production, the material that he knew and loved so well.  Daniel Swarovski invented the first mechanical method for cutting and polishing crystal stones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1895 at the age of 33 he invented the first mechanical way of cutting and polishing crystal stones intended for jewellery.  At this time he moved his young family and his business to the Austrian Tirol, then a part of Bohemia and a town named Wattens, so not so strange, but primarily to keep the prying eyes of his competitors from sneaking looks at his unique solutions.  Being in the Alps gave Swarovski hydro-electric potential for driving the machines in the factory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With his fantastic new inventions he revolutionised the industry making new and valuable connections with Paris and other major fashion centers.  Swarovski was soon working closely with the best names in couture including Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli both of whom were frequent visitors to Wattens.  These are the young roots which have grown and grown into the giant monolith of excellence, all stemming from one young mans enthusiasm about crystals and his determination to achieve excellence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The connections made from that time continue today.

The Basics of Bakelite

Leave a comment


The chances are you have heard of this type of plastic (if not any other).  The name bakelite is used these days to mean any type of phenolic resin plastic.  The only other plastic which seems to have made it through to the collective consciousness is Lucite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The now famous Dr. Leo Heindrick Baekeland was the inventor of this plastic.  He was born in Belgium and became a professor of chemistry and physics.  In 1889 he emigrated to the USA. To support his family he worked with a photographic company.  He discovered a new type of photographic paper (which he patented) and then sold to the Kodak company.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wealthy but unemployed he took up experimenting at his home in Yonkers, New York. Basing his research upon carbolic acid (phenol) and formaldehyde; he discovered the first phenolic resin and started producing this material in his garage in Yonkers in 1907.

In 1909 he moved the manufacturing plant to New Jersey and by 1930 he was making and selling thousands of pounds of bakelite from a factory of almost 130 acres in Bound Brook, New Jersey.  He also had successful manufacturing plants in England and Germany.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phenolic resins can be cast or moulded.  Moulded phenolics came first and started being produced in large quantity about the beginning of World War 1 (July 1914).   The opaque marbled colours used in the early days of the discovery were made using ‘filler’ of saw dust (in America called ‘powdered wood’).  This caused the opaque or non-transparent look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is this type of Bakelite which was used in industry as electrical insulating material and also for telephones, hair brush backs, simple plastic boxes, condiment sets and early costume jewellery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other trade names of phenolic resin include ‘Catalin’, ‘Marblette’, ‘Agatine’,  ‘Durite’ and ‘Prystal’.  Catalin was probably the most popular trade-name in America as it was produced by the American Catalin Corporation of New York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cast phenolic stopped being produced by about 1945.  The manufacturing process was labour intensive because each item had to be individually cast in a lead mould and then carved, buffed and polished.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bakelite changes colour with age.  Items which were colourless are now called ‘apple juice’ – being the same colour as the clear juice.  White bakelite develops into the colour called ‘creamed corn’.  Flick the possible item with a fingernail; it should sound hollow, rather like bamboo, instead of the high pitched ‘clack’ made by later plastics.  Europeans did not use bakelite in jewellery in the same way as the North Americans.  Rather than use the material alone and carve it into wonderful patterns, they tend to mix it with some other matieral, as seen in the two bakelite and metal European bangles shown above.

Bohemian Pyrope Garnets in Vintage Jewellery

Leave a comment


The deep dark red stone known as Bohemian Garnet (or pyrope garnet) was probably most popular during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Its deep dark venous blood colour fitted in with the trends of the time for dark hued stones.


It is translucent to transparent yet seems to hold a deep dark red fire within. This feature, when combined with the traditional way of mounting them – which is cramming as many stones into as small a space as possible – makes them a really intense and enchanting gemstone for jewellery. Bohemian garnets hardness on Moh’s scale is from 6.5-7.5 and this stone has great stability of colour being resistant to acid and heat.
Bohemian Pyrope Garnets were mined in the mountains in the old province of Bohemia for many years, as well as having been collected from river silt and grit for many centuries.

There are records of exports of Bohemian Garnets from Bohemia to other parts of Europe but it was not until the late 1400’s that Bohemian Garnets were used much more frequently as adornments on liturgical objects, particularly reliquary and chalices. In 1679 it is said that Bohuslav Balbin named the stone the Bohemian Garnet. After 1700 these stones, usually in the simple but stunning ‘rose cut’, were used widely in jewellery.
The Empress Marie Therese issued a complete ban on the export of Bohemian Garnets from the country as small stones came to the forefront of fashion in the 1750’s. In this way she managed to keep a monopoly on these sought after and popular gemstones. Stone cutters were kept hard at work in places such as Svetla nad Sazavou as well as Dlazkovice and Trebenice. The Bohemian Garnet was adopted as the mineral symbol of Bohemia at this time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bohemian Garnet enjoyed a renewed popularity after the World Exhibition in Brussels which took place in 1958. This enthusiasm translated into renewed interest in Bohemian Garnets, but most collectors favour the Victorian period as being the time when these under-rated stones were used to their very best effect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buyers should beware, there are many exceptionally good copies of Bohemian Garnets on the market. I have several brooches and one necklace and earring set for sale on my site made using Swarovski crystals in Bohemian Garnet colour. To the naked eye, they are extremely hard to differentiate from genuine Bohemian Garnets.

What Is Faturan?

1 Comment


What Is Faturan ?

Faturan has a very mixed history, even if half of what is written on the web is to be believed. Most concur that this type of plastic is of the Bakelite family, therefore a thermosetting phenol formaldehyde.

Depending on who you believe, Faturan was either invented by a German in Hamburg about the same time Dr. Baekeland developed Bakelite, (Dr. H. Traun), or it was a Middle Eastern mixture of amber shavings with ‘other matierals’ invented sometime between 1700 – 1900 by an Egyptian.

It is also said that the very first sight of Bakelite was when it was imported into Turkey (and most likely Istanbul or Constantinople as it was previously called), in the form of furniture handles and knobs. Turks are exceedingly bright in my experience and it is not long after these first imports that ‘Faturan’ started to appear on the open market in the form of prayer beads, or ‘komboloi’.

The Turks are given the credit for discovering the carving possibilities of this new material. In particular, they noticed that Faturan could be made to imitate natural amber. They made their own versions of this product some mixing it with dyes, amber powder and even incense. It is said that each master of the mixture had their own unique and secret recipe.

It seems that Faturan is often mistaken for amber. The demand for prayer beads (locally called komboloi or tesbah), has always been high and it is unknown how many people purchased these beads thinking they were amber when in fact they were Faturan. They are now highly sought after and collected worldwide as they are no longer produced in this material.

Other sources on the web claim that Faturan was invented by an Egyptian named Faturan and therefore the product he invented was named after him. The details are sketchy, and one source says “Faturan is a mixture of natural amber, incense and resins. The secret to turn this mix into a solid is highly guarded.”

Yet another source claims that this type of plastic was sheer invention since it was not mentioned in any early books on the subject of beads.  Every source seems to agree that Faturan was not made after 1940 and many think it only appeared after the arrival of Bakelite.

My own independent research would indicate that there are people out there who do believe this product exists and even collect it. Just to confuse the issue even further, Faturan does not test ‘positive’ for Bakelite or amber with all tests, including the terrible hot pin test. One website goes so far as to say that intact prayer beads are considered museum items. I am using a huge antique Ottoman komboloi which I believe is Faturan for illustrations in this article.

What Is The Difference Between Goldstone and Aventurine?

Leave a comment


There is absolutely no difference between what was often called ‘goldstone’ with the glass which is actually mostly called ‘aventurine’.  Before a German scientist discovered the flecks inside the glass were made of a type of copper, it was assumed that the flecks were of gold, hence the name ‘goldstone’.

All through the 1800’s glass makers in Bohemia were striving to produce unusual, unique and beautiful glass.  Goldstone, or more correctly,  Aventurine produced the most challengers for these determined glass artisans.
The first record of this glass was associated with the Muranese and Venetian glass experts.  There is documentary proof that they had been creating this glass since the 1600’s.

 

The very first mention of this type of glass is seen in 1644 by Giovanni Darduin.  He had written down glass recipes handed to him by his father and other unknown glass artisans.  His aim to was improve upon the recipes and he was the first recorded maker to voice his annoyance at how unpredictable this glass was in manufacture.

The name for this unpredictable glass was decided upon by this gentleman   “…the maker can never be sure to succeed with this glass and thus it is justified to call it (a)venturine.”  “Aventura” means to take a risk or a chance and ‘avventurarsi’ means literally to take a risk and what is obtained is gained by luck rather than any specific knowledge.

There were many other Muranese glass makers who attempted to recreate his formula but the first recipes for Aventurine stayed within the Miotti family who kept their recipes secret until the end of the 1700’s.
At the time Bohemian coloured glass and English cut lead crystal became fashionable (around 1833), Aventurine and other Venetian/Muranese glass took a back seat and were quite unpopular.  The previously mighty influence of these glass makers declined dramatically.

There was a dramatic turnaround which was caused mostly by the exhibition in Vienna in 1845.  Muranese glass (and in particular Aventurine) made an amazing and instant comeback.
Most of the international visitors to the exhibition had come to scrutinize Bohemian glass manufacture in the hope of equalling their success.  They were distracted by the Muranese accomplishments, including Aventurine. The revival in Muranese glass products had started much earlier on the island of Murano more than 25 years earlier.  Medals were awarded to the Muranese in 1825 and 1826 for the production of huge quantities of Aventurine which was exported mostly to America and the Pacific Islands.  Most of the Aventurine produced was used in small quantities in beautiful jewellery.

Records tell us that the first non-Venetian to own a patent for Aventurine glass was issued in 1835 was Joseph Jackel from Neudorf, Bohemia.  It was in 1842 when the German chemist Herr Wohler was the very first scientist to analyse this type of glass.  He understood that the glittering appearance within the glass are in fact tiny pieces of metallic copper, rather than gold.  After the Viennese exhibition in 1845 the French also tried to exploit this suddenly popular glass – they evidently did not succeed as records show them visiting Venice repeatedly to acquire this highly sought after glass.  About the same time European glass makers tried to perfect Aventurine the Muranese discovered that this glass could be reheated and mixed together with other glass.  When re-heated the glittering copper disappears.    There are many other mercurial results when using copper – including a deep transparent red used in many churches.

In the early 1850’s an intense attempt to unravel the mysteries of this glass was undertaken by Herr Pettenkofer in Munich.  These attempts ended c1875 with the definitive discoveries of glass scientist Ebell in Germany.
Despite all this exploration, Northern Europeans still had difficulty in producing goldstone to rival that of the Muranese.  More surprises were in store for those experimenting with copper as an addition to glass.  It was discovered that when cooled quickly the glass turned completely colourless.   But luck could swing the other way and the glassmaker could end up with a batch of very dull dirty brick colour glass which was good for nothing.

The definitive discovery of the precise composition came in the 1870’s when Paul Ebell absolutely proved (what Wohler had assumed in 1842)  that the colour of aventurine is due to crystals of what is known as ‘elementary copper’ rather than crystals of copper oxide. Despite all this new found knowledge, the Muranese still produce the most beautiful and best quality Aventurine glass available.  It is to be admired that despite all the modern scientific experiments, their ancient knowledge remains superior.

Scottish Pebble Jewellery

Leave a comment


This type of jewellery was in production from c1840 and lasted a good way into the 1900’s.  The start of what was known as ‘The Great War’ (World War I which started in 1914) saw a lack of interest in general in this type of jewellery.

 

Some people believe that the earlier a piece is made, the better quality and craftsmanship was lavished upon it. The older examples do tend to be most favoured with collectors of this type of jewellery.
The English Queen Victoria (1837-1901) loved all things Scottish and it was largely her delight in this Scottish Pebble Brooch Jewellery that prompted ordinary people to follow her taste.

 

Souvenir jewellery was made in Scotland from agates found there in abundance so the earlier the piece, the more likely it is to have been made in Scotland.
Edinburgh was the heart of the manufacture of this type of jewellery and documentary evidence exists to show that in around 1870 almost 1000 local people were employed in its production.

At the height of its popularity, Scotland simply could not keep up with demand so production of Scottish Pebble Jewellery was also made in the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter in England.
Pieces made in Birmingham often include different types of materials and stones than those produced in Scotland. Some stones were imported from Germany, Africa and India to try to keep up with demand.

 

Because most of this type of jewellery was made without hallmarks, it is often rather difficult to be precise as to where a piece was made.
Just some of the beautiful natural stones used in Pebble jewellery include carnelian, malachite, jaspers in both reds and browns, as well as sardonyx.

Quartz was used in the form of amethysts and citrines as well as the very traditional cairngorms. Towards the end of the popularity of this type of adornment, simulated amethyst and citrines were often used. Stones were also dyed to increase the intensity of colour as well as being heat treated.
Interestingly, early and traditionally made Scottish Pebble jewellery had their stones fitted and held in place only by the use of shellac alone. It is common to see these early pieces with one piece missing and as they were often of unusual shapes, they can be difficult to replace.

Whilst the body of the brooches were usually made from silver, the actual pin which pierced the fabric to hold it in place, was often made from steel (see orange agate gold framed brooch above with steel pin).
Designers drew upon traditional Scottish dress for the inspirations of their designs so it is common to see the St. Andrew’s Cross, Shields, Knots, Crests and Dirks (daggers worn on kilts).

Production from Birmingham tended to move away from the typical Scottish symbols and included more English themes such as serpents, horseshoes, anchors, arrows, leaves and shells.
This type of jewellery is often beautifully engraved and it is often very intricate and detailed. All of the work was done by hand with great craftsmanship and dedication.

All kinds of Scottish Pebble jewellery may be found, but by far the most produced of all items was the brooch. More difficult to find are bracelets, earrings, belt buckles, as well as cufflinks. Necklaces were also made but are very rare indeed.

 

 

Another Bohemian First – Uranium Glowing Glass Jewellery

Leave a comment


In the 21st Century the ‘big boogie man’ is some far off ancient granny-like old man from a totally alien culture.  The bombs he hoads will contain uranium – an additive to Bohemian glass as far back as the 1930’s.  To comprehend the foresight and creativity involved in the craftsmen of Gablonz in Bohemia, using tiny amounts of this material to make their glass glow in the dark as far back as 1890 is quite an achievement.  Who knows what illnesses these people endured to keep up fashion products for the North Americans and English?

The image shown above this text is of the same necklace as shown below.  The top one is taken in black light, with no natural or artificial light.  The second is taken in natural daylight.  In societies who were still dependent upon the sun and the moon for lighting, these uranium enriched beauties must have seemed very strange indeed.  Even the light flicker of candle-light would suffuse the beads with a green (or yellow) glow.

But it is true – the addition of uranium (in particular) dates back decades. In the 1920’s what was thought to be a new and previously unknown range of sparkling glass was created for glass beads by those well known glass innovators: The Bohemians.

Bohemian Rosalin Covered Trinket Pot c1930

Selenium Glass, that beautiful peach rose crystal, as shown above in this superb Art Deco trinket pot, was invented later, around 1891 by F. Welz of Klostergrab in Bohemia. If it was not for the enthusiasms of the educated American and English markets, this colour of enriched glass would not have become such a commercial success.  The Contintals looked down their noses at it, along with other ‘fake’ jewellery.  They never accepted that the intrinsic value was little compared to the style, design and beauty.

Exceptionally Rare Rosalin & Blue Divided Crystals Bohemian

The Continentals (including French and Germans) were never partial to this coloured glass, so production was limited to exports to America and England. Dressing table sets of this superb crystal were produced, but only in limited quantities. The most famous of producers of this now rare crystal were Siebert and Marquardt, Gorlitz, 1930. Crystal beads of this colour are exceptionally rare.

Joseph Riedel was one of the very earliest Bohemian dynasties to create the unusual radioactive crystals (1816-1894). His ancestors referred to him as the ‘Glass King of the Iser Mountains” (as quoted in 1726-1800).The Riedels had owned and worked several glass producing furnaces and supplied quality and rare canes and tubes to their customers for many years, with which to make fancy beads. This dynasty are the first to be documented as makers of Alabaster glass and they probably were the first to introduce uranium enriched crystals to the market.

It is said the naming of the yellow variety of uranium called ‘annagelb’ and the green version ‘annagreen’ were a tribute to Mrs. Riedel by Mr. Riedel.

Nerves jangle when one considers that these fabulous jewels contain a well known threat to health. Such microscopic amounts were used in the making that these items are most likely safe – but as we all know – nothing in life is absolutely safe. There is always an element of risk however small. If it were considered today in the 21st century, there is very little chance that ‘the nanny state’ would permit such experimentation with original ground-breaking products.

But back in the 1800’s the enrichment of the glass melt with uranium or selenium gave the glass makers a plethora of new possibilities. Until the relaxation of this overly careful supervision, it seems unlikely that any other new discoveries will survive the strict ‘nanny state’ designed to improve our health but which actually restricts our world in ways we cannot even imagine.

New glass products including ‘Annagelb and Annagreen’ from Bohemia, not to mention the ‘Topaz’ being produced in England, were the talk of the town, in most international non-provincial cities.

This successful experimental colours doubtless lead on to other possibilities including ivory, amber, turquoise and Burmese glass.The popularity of these glowing glasses is probably explained in as much during the time of their production, when mankind was entirely dependent upon the light from the sun and moon, supplemented by candle light for their activities.To see Annagrun and Annayellow glowing in the moonlight in a dim candlelite room must have been an incredibly amazing sight. Hence its popularity.

During the pre-electric days, people would sit in their living rooms or parlours with curtains wide open utilizing the very last of the suns rays and the light offered from the moon and sparse candlelight. Under such conditions the light glow given off from these trinkets would cause huge and incredible interest.

To scientists it seems that use of these materials were probably not the first. The glassworks of Whitefriars of London, England used uranium colourings during the 1830’s. There is very good circumstantial evidence that the Englishman William Vernon Harcourt started experimenting with the inclusion of uranium in 1834.

Another validation that the English were using uranium to enrich their glass and crystal products comes from C. S. Gilberts Historical Survey of Cornwall in 1817. He gives more than thirty pages and mentions several interesting additions to glass manufacturers using uranium.

He specifically mentions that with uranium enriched glass, “It oxidization impact the brightest colours to glass, which results according to proportion are brown, apple green or emerald green.”

We in the 21st century can conclude that the colouring of glass was known as early as the 1800’s but that it was not until the 1825 that is was marketed by those masters of entrepreneurialism glass works – those unsung heroes of vintage costume jewellery, The Bohemians !

Pioneers of Glowing Glass – The Bohemians!

Leave a comment


In the 21st Century where the ‘big boogie man’ is some far off ancient granny-looking old man – the Far Eastern leader setting off World War III with the use of nuclear bombs it is hard to accept the facts. 

It seems incredible to collectors of vintage costume jewellery that almost 100 years ago, glass artisans in Bohemia were adding uranium and other radioactive ingredients in limited quantities to their glass melt, to try to increase demand for their rare and unique items of (now vintage) costume jewellery.

But it is true – the addition of uranium (in particular) dates back decades.  In the 1920’s what was thought to be a new and previously unknown range of sparkling glass was created for glass beads by those well known glass innovators: The Bohemians.

There are two colours of exceptional importance – the first a fluorescent green (achieved with the addition of low quantities of uranium) and yellow which created a glowing yellow which glows under dark conditions.

  

Another little known radioactive ingredient was selenium which produces the rare and incredibly beautiful pale peach orange rosalin  another Bohemian crystal.  Rosalin was produced in very limited quantities and of course, its demand would have been much higher, if only collectors of Bohemian glass were aware of the full story!  

What with all the ‘Frankenstein Fakes’ coming out of what is now the Czech Republic, it is often difficult to tell what is genuine Bohemian or what is a genuine Bohemian craftsman’s worst nightmare (as seen regularly on eBay throughout the world).

 Uranium enriched glass started to be used around 1840 by major manufacturers.  Another resurgence of interest happened in around 1880 with the production of fancy Victorian ‘Vaseline Glass’ as it is now often called by collectors worldwide.  As usual, the Brits were at the forefront of this trend.  The products were highly sought after by the English and North American markets, who were, as usual, streets ahead of the continental markets.

These latest fashion was limited mostly to the English and American markets.  The Continentals were slow to catch on to the beauty of these enriched glass products.

Selenium Glass, that beautiful peach rose crystal, was invented later, around 1891 by F. Welz of Klostergrab in Bohemia.  If it was not for the enthusiasms of the educated American and English markets, this colour of enriched glass would not have become such a commercial success. 

 

The Continentals (including French and Germans) were never partial to this coloured glass, so production was limited to exports to America and England.  Dressing table sets of this superb crystal were produced, but only in limited quantities.  The most famous of producers of this now rare crystal were Siebert and Marquardt, Gorlitz, 1930.  Crystal beads of this colour are exceptionally rare.

Joseph Riedel was one of the very earliest Bohemian dynasties to create the  unusual radioactive crystals (1816-1894).  His ancestors referred to him as the ‘Glass King of the Iser Mountains” (as quoted in 1726-1800).

 The Riedels had owned and worked several glass producing furnaces and supplied quality and rare canes and tubes to their customers for many years, with which to make fancy beads.  This dynasty are the first to be documented as makers of Alabaster glass and they probably were the first to introduce uranium enriched crystals to the market.

It is said the naming of the yellow variety of uranium called ‘annagelb’ and the green version ‘annagreen’ were a tribute to Mrs. Riedel by Mr. Riedel.

 Nerves jangle when one considers that these fabulous jewels contain a well known threat to health.  Such microscopic amounts were used in the making that these items are most likely safe  –  but as we all know – nothing in life is absolutely safe.  There is always an element of risk however small.  If it were considered today in the 21st century, there is very little chance that ‘the nanny state’ would permit such experimentation with original ground-breaking products.

 But back in the 1800’s the enrichment of the glass melt with uranium or selenium gave the glass makers a plethora of new possibilities.  Until the relaxation of this overly careful supervision, it seems unlikely that any other new discoveries will survive the strict ‘nanny state’ designed to improve our health but which actually restricts our world in ways we cannot even imagine.

 New glass products including ‘Annagelb and Annagreen’ from Bohemia, not to mention the ‘Topaz’ being produced in England, were the talk of the town, in most international non-provincial cities.

 This successful experimental colours doubtless lead on to other possibilities including ivory, amber, turquoise and Burmese glass.#

 The popularity of these glowing glasses is probably explained in as much during the time of their production, when mankind was entirely dependent upon the light from the sun and moon, supplemented by candle light for their activities.  

To see Annagrun and Annayellow glowing in the moonlight in a dim candlelite room must have been an incredibly amazing sight.  Hence its popularity.

During the pre-electric days, people would sit in their living rooms or parlours with curtains wide open utilizing the very last of the suns rays and the light offered from the moon and sparse candlelight.  Under such conditions the light glow given off from these trinkets would cause huge and incredible interest.

 To scientists it seems that  use of these materials were probably not the first.  The glassworks of Whitefriars of London, England used uranium colourings during the 1830’s.  There is very good circumstantial evidence that the Englishman William Vernon Harcourt started experimenting with the inclusion of uranium in 1834.

 Another validation that the English were using uranium to enrich their glass and crystal products comes from C. S. Gilberts Historical Survey of Cornwall in 1817.  He gives more than thirty pages and mentions several interesting additions to glass manufacturers using uranium.

He specifically mentions that with uranium enriched glass, “It oxidization impact the brightest colours to glass, which results according to proportion are brown, apple green or emerald green.”

 We in the 21st century can conclude that the colouring of glass was known as early as the 1800’s but that it was not until the 1825 that is was marketed by those masters of entrepreneurialism glass works – those unsung heroes of vintage costume jewellery, The Bohemians !

Older Entries