High quality Victorian jewellery was made not only from gemstones, but also from more affordable natural stones, such as jet, agate and amber.
When a middle-class Victorian lady donned her brooch or necklace, the chances are that it was neither a wickedly expensive piece nor a cheap commercial bauble.
Instead, she is likely to have worn something beautifully crafted from a geological treasure, perhaps a stone that she or her husband discovered on a holiday at borne or during a trip abroad.
Pieces of jewellery made from a stone associated with a particular area had obvious potential in the souvenir market. Much geological jewellery was, indeed, made and sold in seaside resorts.
Local jewellers catered for tourists, sometimes advertising their services to cut, polish and mount the pebbles that ladies collected on the beach.
Similar stones were also found inland, especially in Scotland, which was a source of agates, amethysts and bloodstones.
Highly attractive but less well-known Scottish stones included the cairngorm, a kind of quartz with a smoky brown, grey or yellowish colour.
Such stones were often mounted in silver and sometimes in gold, but the jewellery was rarely hallmarked. This suggests that Scottish jewellery was largely a cottage industry.
Other areas that were popular sources of good raw materials included Cornwall (where transparent crystals of quartz have been used in jewellery since Elizabethan times), Connemara in Ireland (noted for its green marble), and Sidmouth in Devon (the site of a distinctive type of white pebble).
Although beautiful agates (a type of quartz with streaked colouring) were found in Scotland, more expensive varieties were shipped in from Germany and Brazil.
Many went to Birmingham, the leading centre of jewellery manufacture in Victorian times.
Whitby, on the Yorkshire coast, has its own flourishing jewellery industry from the 1850s to the 1870s, thanks to substantial deposits of jet in the area.
Jet, formed from fossilized wood, is a lustrous, hard, black stone, similar to coal, that can be elaborately
carved. It became fashionable from 1861, when Prince Albert died and Queen Victoria set a trend for jet mourning jewellery.
GEMSTONE COLLECTOR'S NOTES
So much jewellery has been made from natural stones in the past 150 years that it pays to specialize if you are thinking of collecting it.
There are two obvious types of specialization:
you can either collect a particular sort of stone, such as agate, or certain pieces, such as pins or necklaces.
Jewellery can be very attractively displayed in glass cabinets.
However, the real pleasure and something not possible with most forms of collecting - is that you can show off your acquisitions by actually wearing them.
Before buying, check carefully for any signs of damage. Old threads in necklaces may be on the point of breaking. This is not a problem providing you are happy to re-thread them.
More tricky and probably best avoided are pieces with broken or bent clasps.
Any settings that have missing stones can be expensive to repair.
Familiarize yourself with silver and gold hallmarks if you want to know when and where valuable pieces were made.
With their beautifully fashioned mounts, perhaps in gold or silver, even the most modest pebbles and fossil materials could be transformed into elegant adornments for the most sophisticated Victorian wearers, and many looked completely harmonious with more conventional