Although here at Lillicoco, we are partial to glittering antique jewels, antique jewellery gift boxes are in an entire league of their own. Rich in both charm and enchantment, antique jewellery boxes are beautiful collectable pieces that many antique aficionados love to have and to hold their jewels inside.
Gift boxes have their own world of fascination and intrigue, from musical boxes with twirling ballerinas inside to sumptuous velvet-inlaid pieces, these treasure troves are a cornucopia of delight. Popular culture and clever-marketing has even fed into this fascination with gift boxes generally. For instance, one of the most famous jewellery brands in the world, Tiffany and Co shroud their sparkling creations in their signature Tiffany blue jewellery boxes, a marker of prestige, the boxes themselves are as elegant and sought after as the pieces inside!
Throughout history, antique jewellery boxes were created to be as rich and detailed as the jewellery themselves, whether a heart-shaped leather piece or a tortoiseshell case, when an antique jewel comes complete with its original box, it is a signifier of where this piece was made and also, potentially, by whom - a greater hallmark of prestigious craftsmanship.
With Christmas tentatively tiptoeing ever closer, beautifully wrapping gifts are all part of the exciting build-up of intrigue and Christmas in itself. Jewellery boxes are not only easy to wrap, but they further add to the mystery and majesty of gift-giving. Hiding something extraordinary inside, fiercely unwrapping the paper and tenderly opening a jewellery box helps build up the momentum.
It is not just the excitement and intrigue that has culminated in the popularity of jewellery boxes, but of course for their practical qualities too. Their original intention is the safekeeping of these precious gems, away from the prying fingers of opportunistic thieves, and also to preserve their quality. In fact, perhaps one of the reasons why we at Lillicoco have such an array of gorgeous pieces from past centuries is due to their safekeeping in antique jewellery boxes themselves.
The Little History of the Jewellery Box
Jewellery boxes have been used as far back as 5000 BC in Ancient Egypt, a time period notoriously known for their lavish Gold creations inlaid with vivid Turquoises, Lapiz Lazuli and Onyx. Since this period, up until the Victorian era, jewellery was seen as a status symbol and as a consequence, beautifully crafted jewellery boxes were created to house them.
Georgian Jewellery Box, 1780-90, Maker's Mark 'FJ', Chased and Enamelled Gold - Source Victoria and Albert Museum.
Wooden boxes were made from a variety of different woods, yet solid oak and mahogany were most prevalent. Hardy yet beautiful materials were popular to help keep the precious gems safe inside and to also to add another element of ornament. Many wooden jewellery boxes were veneered in sycamore and light coloured woods, allowing for paintwork, chinoiserie, printing, or other decoration to be applied.
Throughout the Georgian and Victorian era lavish antique jewellery boxes were handcrafted from these notable materials and used the following methods:
- Tunbridge Ware
- Paper Maché
- Mother of Pearl
- Straw Work
- Painted, Penwork, Chinoiserie
- Satin, Silk and Velvet inlays
Oblong Ivory Jewellery Casket, 1880, Source Victoria and Albert Museum
Industrialisation meant that jewellery became more available to the masses, and as a consequence, jewellery boxes became smaller and simpler. Yet, as people were buying more jewellery, the need for jewellery boxes increased, culminating in trinket boxes and jewellery caskets. Despite jewellery boxes becoming more mass-produced, they still possessed that luxe quality that we have come to associate jewellery boxes with. Lined with silks, satins, plush velvets, jewellery boxes were designed as either simplistic for only a few pieces of jewellery or for the more esteemed gentlewoman with compartments separate for rings, necklaces, bracelets and other accessories.
Despite these smaller and albeit plainer creations, there was also a rise of novelty jewellery boxes as the Victorians wanted to fill their homes with items of intrigue and excitement rather than just pieces that were purely for practical needs.
During the Edwardian era, metal jewellery boxes became in vogue, heavily decorated with ornamented flowers and filigrees, as luminous and detailed as the jewellery inside.
Early 19th Century Jewellery Box, Made in Switzerland, Source The Victoria and Albert Museum
What’s more, during the Victorian and Edwardian era, trade and imports from countries such as India and China heavily influenced the design aesthetic. This was reflected in artistic movements in jewellery, art and other personal creations, including the Etruscan revival period, and the Aesthetic movement.
Jewellery creation dwindled significantly during the First and Second World War as well as the Great Depression period. Yet after these catastrophic events, many soldiers brought home Swiss musical jewellery boxes which kickstarted manufacturers and created new trends.
Today, due to ever-advancing technologies and new trends, jewellery boxes are made in a range of styles. Many jewellery boxes are now created out of materials such as leather or PVC, resin, and cheaper materials so they can be mass-produced and widely available. Yet the antique jewellery styles of velvet and satin have stayed.
Arguably as collectable as jewellery itself, antique jewellery boxes continue to charm collectors and jewellery owners alike.