The title of Paul Scott's novel, The Jewel in the Crown, set in the period of the British rule in India, was derived from an allegorical painting depicting Queen Victoria, sitting regally on the throne of India, and receiving the Kohinoor, which was considered the largest diamond in the world once, as homage, representing India itself.
The diamond was later set into Queen Elizabeth's crown, and is still part of the British crown jewel, which is worn on formal occasions.
Imbued with unique character, displaying exquisite craftsmanship, and often surrounded by a whimsical aura, antique jewelry stands out from its modern counterparts, irrespective of how expensive or beautiful they may be. In fact, it is prized mostly for the classic understated elegance that is inherent in their styling and design.
For instance, the turn of the century - from 1890 to 1910 -, was an era of great innovation and change. After about 65 years of the reign of Queen Victoria, even the Victorians, who loved tradition, were ready for new things and in the realm of jewelry, this pursuit for novelty gave rise to 2 beautiful different schools of design - Art Nouveau and Edwardian.
Art Nouveau, for example, explored the world of fantasy and nature. The top jewelers of that time - Karl Faberge, Georges Fouquet, Rene Lalique, and Louis Comfort Tiffany - designed exceptionally beautiful and original pieces inspired by mythological and natural themes.
The common motifs were mythical beasts, dragonflies, exotic flowers, and enchanted damsels set amongst sinuously winding, vine-like creepers.
These jewelers also tried out new materials, like gems. Horn, tortoise shell, demantoid garnets, moonstones, baroque pearls, and marvelous enameling, were included in the palette of the Art Nouveau jewelers. The intrinsic value of the materials did not matter, rather the emphasis was on the beauty and the originality of the jewelry they created.
While the avant-garde favored the style of Art Nouveau, Edwardian pieces were a reflection of the elegant and refined tastes of the moneyed American industrialists and English aristocracy.
From Edwardian brooches with flowing leaves, tendrils of platinum set with diamonds, Victorian gold bracelets, intricately crafted sword handles, enamel encrusted belt buckles and pendants to engraved art deco lockets, designed with concentric rings of white and blue enamel... this cannot be bought off the counter from any jewelry shop or departmental store.
It is usually available at exclusive boutiques, antique dealer's stores, big auction houses, and niche show rooms, which, in fact are the reliable sources to buy antique pieces.
Besides, you could end up paying an exorbitant price for a piece of that may not be worth that much. Unless you are knowledgeable and have a trained eye, it can be difficult to sort out the authentic from the fake.
However, the main reason to own a piece of this jewelry, is the intrinsic joy that they are imbued with.
The word 'jewel', means joy. Jewelry has no practical reason for its creation, except for the beauty and joy that it brings into our lives. Precious metals and gemstones are not jewelry until the skillful hands of the jeweler puts life into them.