Posted 6 years ago
Berlin Iron jewelry was popular throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was originally manufactured in Germany, but during the Napoleonic period (early 1800s), manufacturing moved to France (it is said that Napoleon stole the German equipment and moved it to Paris). By 1813 or so, Germany was again creating this jewelry and by the 1830s it was available in London.
The intricate designs were fashioned from base metal finished in black lacquer; the resulting jewelry was called Berlin Iron, after the Prussian capital. During the Prussian War of Independence, 1813-15, women supported the war effort by exchanging their precious jewels and gold for delicate, ornate ironwork designs. Earlier examples were in the neo-classic style; later motifs were naturalistic, with a Gothic influence.
An excellent reference work on Berlin Iron is Cast Iron from Central Europe, 1800-1850 by Elisabeth Schmuttermeier, The Bard Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, 1994.
Read more about Berlin Iron jewelry in Anne Clifford’s Cut Steel and Berlin Iron Jewellery and in Shirley Bury’s Jewellery 1789-1940 The International Era, Volume II.
Photos from left to right:
1. Berlin Iron bracelet with cameo clasp. Early period, circa late 18th-early 19th century.
Bracelet of linked spring-wire circles with a single cameo plaque on polished steel decorating the clasp. The spring wire in this bracelet is the same construction as the chain in the prior necklace. See Anne Clifford, Cut-Steel and Berlin Iron Jewelery Plate 42, page 80 for a similar example.
2. Berlin iron bracelet, comprising six neoclassical cameo links. Early period, circa late 18th-early 19th century.
These cameos were typical of jewelry made pre-Waterloo, when Napoleon’s empire still held sway over current fashion. This bracelet features six different classical heads each set on a medallion of polished steel and surrounded with swirls of iron wire. The cameos are graduated, the largest being the head on the clasp. For a similar bracelet, see plate 42 in Anne Clifford’s "Cut Steel and Berlin Iron Jewellery." The piece is in wonderful condition, with a few small areas of wear to the polished medallions. Measures 8” long; largest cameo panel is 2” high.
3 Two Berlin Iron bracelets, circa 1830s-1840s when the best jewelry was made!
Top: Elaborate cast iron bracelet, made by Johann Conrad Geiss, circa 1830, showing a combination of Neoclassical and neo-Gothic styles. There are Gothic architectural elements (tracery and foils) mixed with naturalistic representations of foliage. The clasp shows a dancing maiden set on polished steel and rimmed with gold wire.
Johann Conrad Geiss (1771-1846) was the most important influence on the production of iron jewelry. In 1806 he began to design his own jewelry and had the individual pieces produced in Gleiwitz and Berlin, then assembled into necklaces and bracelets. He was the first to set high quality iron jewelry elements in gold and silver and to frame cameos in gold wire. He became so successful the foundires could not keep up with his orders, so he estalished his own foundry in Berlin where he mainly cast jewelry elements he designed. (information from Cast Iron from Central Europe, 1800-1850, Elisabeth Schmuttermeir, The Bard Center ..., 1994). He signed his jewelry Geiss A Berlin, but often only a single piece in a parure was stamped.
Bottom: A superb lacey cast iron bracelet, most likely by Siméon Pierre Devaranne. The son of a Berlin merchant, he established himself as a "craftsman in gold and silver" in 1814. He later described himself a manufactuer of gold, silver and fine cast-iron goods, Devaranne had his work cast at the Berlin or Gleiwitz foundry or in his own factory. His products were praised for their extraordinary technique and delicacy of the design
4. Berlin Iron and Silesian Wirework bracelet, circa 1820.
A rare example of a combination of Berlin Iron and Silesian wirework. The bracelet "links" are alternating panels of woven wirework and coiled wire. The clasp is a large polished steel oval with a cast medallion of St. George and the Dragon surrounded by a foliate cast border.
See Clifford, page 84 plate 46 top bracelet for another example.