A really fascinating and beautiful piece we have recently acquired is this marvellous teapot, made circa 1780 in Dublin, an example of what is known as “Duty Dodging”.
The 1729 Act entitled “An Act for the Encouragement of Tillage, and better Employment of the Poor” introduced a duty of sixpence per ounce on wrought silver, payable to the Assay Office. Human nature being what it is, there were always some silversmiths looking for ways to circumvent this duty.
In some instances hallmarks were simply forged; Georgian silversmith Michael Keating was sent to prison for this, for example. Other silversmiths struck their maker’s mark several times, so that at a glance one would think the piece bore real hallmarks. An interpretation of the wording of the act was that it applied to “Hallmarked” silver, and therefore something without any hallmarks was not in contravention of the act. This is why we sometimes see mid-18th century pieces without marks at all. A final interesting “trick” sometimes used was to transpose legitimate hallmarks onto a piece, as we see here.
Transposition is the practice of cutting out marks from old pieces, and soldering them onto a new piece. Sometimes the silversmith would have a small piece hallmarked, such as a spoon or a watch case, and put the marks onto a larger piece.
In this case, the silversmith took a large piece with marks from the 1740s (maybe a salver) and recycled it, cutting it to match the shape of the base of the teapot. The quality of silversmithing is superb, indicating that it was made by a true expert. The rippled bodywork and flat chasing is as good as one will find in Dublin silver. One has to admire the skill and execution of the piece. The image below shows the transposed marks; without knowing what mid-18th century marks look like, and the position and orientation of the hallmarks expected on a 1780s teapot, it would be easy to be fooled by the piece. As it is, it is still an interesting item, which looks and feels great in the hand, and pours beautifully!
The journey from a dull piece of rough to the sparkling stone we know is a long process, with several stages, each carried out by a master. This blog will take you through the main steps, and hopefully illustrate the skill and talent of the diamond cutter.
The initial stage is simply to plan what shape the diamond will have. As the “skin” of a rough diamond is usually frosted, a small window is polished on the surface of the stone to allow a cutter to look inside and see what the diamond is like. The size and position of flaws are noted, as are any internal characteristics which might give problems later. Today, there are some very high-tech computer programs which can map the inclusions and allow a cutter to manipulate the stone on a screen and calculate how to cut the stone to yield the largest diamond or diamonds. The use of lasers, discussed more below, means that you can cut several stones from one piece of rough. This is the major benefit that lasers bring; yields are improved, and waste reduced. It is important to note that lasers are not used in the polishing and brillianteering of a stone, which are the stages that give a cut grade. In large pieces of rough, it is possible to plan over ten polished diamonds. You can see below the gradual evolution from a rough stone, to two polished diamonds.
The jump in value at the magic markers is also relevant; the price difference between a 0.99 carat stone and a 1.00 carat stone is significant. However, there is no appreciable difference in the apparent size. Below is an example of the options one may be faced with. The centre image shows the first option, a large diamond (marked in blue) and a smaller diamond (marked in green). On the right, the second option is where the two stones are closer in size to each other. However, the larger diamond has a flatter crown, which could have a negative impact on the cut grade.
Cleaving is a method of splitting a diamond in two with a single blow. A line is drawn on the stone (see image above) to mark the position of the cleaving. The diamond has a small notch placed in it to mark the point of cleaving, and a cleaver with a rounded edge is used to split the stone. This technique is hundreds of years old, and works well because one works along the grain of the crystal. Lasers have become very helpful at this stage, as one can work around a flaw within the stone, and allows for unusual shapes of rough to be worked into a useful stone. The image below shows a typical computer plot of a diamond to be cut. The lime green areas are flaws within the rough, and you can see that the main area at the bottom centre of the diamond is being left alone. The data at the right gives the sizes and probable grades of each stone; all are H colour, and between VVS and VS clarity. A laser will be used to make the two cuts marked in yellow.
Cutting is shaping the diamond into its final outline. The traditional method is to fix the rough stone into the cup of a lathe. This is rotated at high speed, and another diamond is brought near, giving it the desired round shape. Today, a slight variation is used whereby two pieces of rough are rotated, and brought into contact, thereby shaping two stones at the same time. This is seen below.
Polishing is the act of putting facets onto a diamond. The diamond is clamped in an adjustable arm, and pressed onto a polishing disk. The disk is a horizontally spinning plate treated with a mixture of diamond dust and oil. As nothing in the world is as tough as a diamond, the only thing that can cut or polish it is another diamond. The dust from each cutting is therefore recycled for use in the next cutting. This is a most highly skilled step, as a miscalculation of only a few tenths of a percent can totally change both the weight and the cut grade of the finished diamond. Skilled brillianteers are in high demand, and to become a top cutter takes years of training.
By Hand or by Machine
An interesting discussion is whether or not a stone should be polished by hand or by a machine. Today, a combination of both is used; lasers are used to cleave the diamond, as they can work across the grain of the diamond. This reduces the waste, because as noted earlier you can make two diamonds from a piece of rough, a feat not always possible in the past. However, polishing, and particularly brilianteering, can only be done by hand. Also, a trained eye is important to oversee the process; sometimes you are faced with certain decisions, for example should you cut a 1.5 carat stone with a flaw, or a 1.2 carat stone and cut away the flaw? A knowledge of the potential beauty, marketability and value of stones is vital.
Automation is important to allow for the quantity of diamonds used annually to be cut and polished to a good standard. Below is a bank of diamond saws, which can be operated by one worker. This frees up many other cutters to work on the more complex and skilled aspects of the process.
Collecting Irish silver is captivating and intriguing, useful and practical, and is a fascinating and historic pastime. The development of a collection of antiques can be a life long passion, whether your budget is large or small.
Before starting a collection, it is essential to learn about the hallmarks used in that country. Hopefully our blog is of use in that regard. This will allow the collector to solve the mystery of where, when and by whom the piece was made.
By the 1600s, it was clear that sub-standard goods were being sold in Ireland. To combat this, Dublin City Council ordered that all pieces of silver would be stamped with the goldsmiths own mark, and be submitted to the assay office for testing. On being found to be sterling silver (92.5% pure) three additional marks, those of a harp, a lion and a castle would be struck onto the piece. As the marks were applied in the Goldsmith’s Hall, they were called “hallmarks”. Unfortunately, no pieces bearing these marks survive today.
The current version of hallmarking began in 1637, with the granting of a charter form Charles I to the Company of Goldsmiths, conveying the authority to regulate the hallmarking of sterling silver. This charter, and the Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin, survive to this day. Goldsmiths were fined for not complying with the hallmarking regulations, and indeed many fell foul of the law in this regard.
The Harp Crowned guarantees the quality of the silver; the symbolism of the Harp and the Crown reflects both Ireland and the Royal Charter of Charles I. The date letter allows us to identify the year of manufacture, the letter changing annually, and the style or font changing every 24 years.
Later in, in 1730, another mark was added, that of Hibernia. This is a duty mark. From 1807 until Victorian times, another mark, that of the monarch’s head, was also applied.
It is important to check that the hallmarks are legible and in good condition. (For very rare pieces, exceptions can be made, but for a beginner it is best to stick to pieces with good quality hallmarks.) An example of a good set of hallmarks can be seen below, from Dublin in 1920. The EJ intertwined is that maker’s mark, E. Johnson. Next is Hibernia, then the Harp Crowned, then the lower case “e” in a four leafed surround, unique to 1920.
Early Irish silver combines simplicity of form with a heavy gauge of silver. The teapot in the video below, from 1717, is a nice example of this.
Many changes occurred in the 1720s and 1730s, including the introduction of the cream jug, and tenancy towards more ornate styles. The caryatid candlesticks made in Ireland from 1745 exhibit the distinctive freedom of design and spirit of independence that seems to bring Irish silver closer to American silver rather than English in style and design.
In fact, over the last 300 years, there is a distinct difference between Irish and English silver, one can always tell an Irish piece of silver before looking at the hallmarks, merely from a design point of view.
Sometimes a piece was not hallmarked; this could have been for a number of reasons, some honest and some less so. However, a knowledge of Irish style borne out of as much experience as you can gather will let you divine whether or not the piece is “correct”. Occasionally you will have to rely on instinct as much as anything else, but those are the cases that can be most memorable!
Silver was used as a store of wealth, as it is easily transported and does not degrade. It was also used as a show of wealth. The highest levels of society commissioned fabulous pieces of tableware to impress their guests and to demonstrate their superb taste. It was vital that these people showed that their taste and style was at the leading edge of fashion, so the silver that the owned reflected the tastes of the time. Broadly speaking, we can divide the 18th century styles into three categories; George the First, George the Second and George the Third styles. This was due to the incredible influence that the monarch and the royal court had on fashion, which eventually percolated through the whole of society.
George I Irish Silver
The first style we will look at is George I. In the early 18th century, Dublin was a relatively small town, with a population of about 7,000, and where Trinity College stood on its outskirts. Nevertheless, silver of great beauty and quality was being produced for Ecclesiastical and domestic use.
As 17th century items are virtually unobtainable, this period represents the earliest silver that one could start collecting. It is a period of simple design married with solid gauge of silver.
Items up to 1730 will typically have two hallmarks; the harped crowned, and a date letter, in addition to a maker’s mark. The use of silver in a domestic setting was in its infancy, before this most silver produced was for use in churches. Silver from this era is usually very plain, almost totally devoid of decoration. The candlesticks below, for example, have only a tiny bit of embellishment, and are broadly plain in style.
The photos below reinforce this idea; all of the items, from the tiny saffron pot to the two handled cup, are dead plain, simple and functional. The more ornate styles came along later, during the George II era. The two handle cup is a lovely piece, by Edward Dowdall. It is plain and simple in style, solid and heavy, and bears an engraved armorial; if you look carefully at the centre, you can see a pegasus. The cup has a scratchweight of 24 ounces and 9 pennyweight. This is the weight “scratched” into the cup by the assay office, to record the weight. Over the course of time it is not unusual to lose a small bit of weight, but the item should never weigh more than the scratchweight!
Below is also a lidded tankard, from 1719, by David King. Like many silversmiths in the early 18th century, King was an influential person, and served with the City Council. He is remembered today on King Street, in Dublin. Note again the plain form and solid shape; though relatively small, the tankard has a scratchweight of 25 ounces. There is a beautiful original armorial on the front of it, which is that of the first owner.
Handles were often made by another person, and hallmarked separately, though in this case there is no reason to think that King did not make the handle himself. It is remarkable that after nearly 300 years the hinge and handle are in such good condition!
The piece is hallmarked beside the handle. This is typical, and is the first place one should look for a hallmark in this type of piece; the other common location of hallmarks would be on the base.
One final point to note is that they are all very solid, and of heavy gauge. This is hard to describe in some ways; yes, it refers to the actual weight. However, it is also about the thickness of the pieces, and a slightly intangible “feel” in the hand. They have heft, and are robust items, made to last. Even with ones eyes closed, it should be obvious that a piece is early.
George II Silver
After the plainness and restraint of the early part of the 18th century, people became more exuberant in all fields; art, music, sculpture, and, of course, silver! The Rococo style was a perfect bedfellow to the malleability and ease of decoration of silver. Pieces became grander and grander, with wilder and wilder decoration. The photos below should give a taste of this. On the coffee pot you can see swags and garlands, while the whole bowl of the bowl is elaborately decorated with repousée detailing. The third photograph is of the base of a pair of candlesticks, and shows very ornate detailing.
George III Silver
The final main style is the George III style, also known as Neoclassical or Adams style. It is less ornate than the Rococo pieces, but more ornate than the early pieces. The decoration is more ordered, less wild than the George II period. The swags that one sees are “neater”, and the whole pieces seems a little more restrained. The images below, of a teapot and of a pair of silver tea caddies, shows this off very well. Later pieces, from 1770 onwards, often feature Neoclassical designs, ornate but symmetrical, with swags and gracious repetitive ornamentation.
The teapot also shows off Chinoiserie style; the finial instead of an acorn as would be normal, is a little Chinaman!
Dish rings, or potato rings as they are sometimes called, were manufactured in Dublin from circa 1730 until 1790, and later from 1890 to the present day. They are of circular or elliptical form, and are often elaborately pierced or chased. The wooden bowl was placed on top, into which potatoes were placed. This protected highly polished tables from damage. Sometimes a blue glass liner was inserted to highlight the decoration. Obviously, glass liners tended to get broken at some point, so modern examples are typically replacements. This does not affect the value. Today, Georgian dish rings can command prices from 6,000euro up to 15,000euro. Originals carry great scarcity value, and are recommended as a solid investment in the heritage of Ireland.
While we have focused on Dublin silver, it is worth mentioning centres of production in towns such as Cork, Galway, Limerick and Kinsale. These are much rarer, and consequently more expensive. However, one or two good pieces could form an excellent centerpiece to a collection. A different system was used to mark silver in these areas. As it was too dangerous to send the pieces to Dublin for hallmarking, the silversmiths would mark the pieces themselves, usually with the word “Sterling” and their maker’s mark.
Silver from the provinces is dealt with on our silver pages, see the link at the very top of this page. Below is a Cork cream jug, on three feet, with typical high spout and beautiful styling.
To sum up, when starting go get into collecting Irish silver it is worth hunting through some shops, or viewing online, to see what grabs you attention. It may be early silver, it may be a particular maker, or may be a certain time period. Start small, perhaps a spoon or small piece of tableware, and only collect pieces with good marks and no repairs. As your collection develops, your taste may change and evolve, so it is worth working with a dealer who might be able to guide you in this journey. The most important thing is love; be sure to collect only what brings you pleasure!!
One summer afternoon in 1891, Alexander Jacob, a gem dealer from Baghdad, entered the palace of the Nizam of Hyderabad, Prince Ali Pasha.
He carried with him a 182 carat cushion-cut diamond, at that time called the Victoria Diamond. How it got into Jacob’s possession is not too clear a story.
The Nizam was one of the wealthiest men in the world, and one of the few buyers for such a precious gemstone.
When Jacob unwrapped the diamond and placed it on a small table in front of the Nizam, the prince barely reacted. He picked up the diamond, trying it for size. He placed in on his hand, to see how it would look mounted as a ring; it was much too big. Likewise as a button. A 182 carat stone is about the size of an egg, an impractical to wear other than as a necklace; not something the prince envisaged.
The prince put the stone down on the table, deep in thought. His manservant whispered something in his ear; the prince picked up a letter, and placed it under the diamond. He smiled approvingly; the diamond would work perfectly as a paperweight!
All did not end well, however. Later, a dispute arose as to the price agreed; in fact, price had not been mentioned, the prince had left it to his manservant to sort out the details. Jacob was not satisfied; he appealed to the British Viceroy, technically the highest power in the land. (At that time, India was ruled by England. The prince ruled by permission of Queen Victoria).
The Viceroy asked that the prince appear at the Viceroy’s Residence to give his account of the tale; this was a great insult. It was a very diplomatic way of forcing the prince to appear. The prince was disgusted, and considered that the stone had brought him bad luck.
The prince returned to the palace, took the diamond and put it into the toe of a pair of slippers, where it was to remain for a generation, until his son discovered it one day, many years later.
Jacob won the case, but his reputation was ruined, and nobody in India would deal with him again.
The diamond is currently the property of the Government of India.
Under the charter of Charles I that set up the assay office in Dublin in 1637, all Irish silver was to be sent to Dublin for testing and hallmarking.
However, Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries was a dangerous place, with robbery by highwaymen a real danger. Many silversmiths in provincial towns and cities decided to stamp their wares themselves rather than risk having them stolen.
The main centres of production were Cork and Limerick, though some silversmithing took place in other towns too, including Kinsale, Galway and Waterford,
Limerick pieces are extremely rare. It is estimated that the ratio of Limerick pieces to Dublin silver is approximately 1:100.
The main image above is an example of Limerick workmanship; a set of four bright-cut tablespoons, from the late 18th century. “Bright-cut” refers to the faceted engraving along the stem of the spoon, which was cut so as to sparkle in candlelight.
At the end of the spoons is an engraved crest, possibly that of the Butler family, owners of Kilkenny castle. It depicts a falcon rising from a ducal coronet.
At the back of the spoons are the marks; technically these are not hallmarks, as they were applied by the maker and not by the assay office. There is the word “Sterling”, with the maker’s initials “MFG” on either side. This for Maurice Fitzgerald, who worked from 1760 to 1817, and is buried at St. John’s.
Technically, much of the work produced in these towns would not be called silver, as they were never submitted to the assay office in Dublin for hallmarking. The word STERLING, or a variation thereof (examples we have seen include STER, STARLING and STERG) is not, therefore, a hallmark, but rather an interesting quirk of the normal practice at the time. From the start of the 19th century, most items were routinely sent to Dublin for hallmarking, and this practice faded out naturally.
So little Limerick work survives to this day that finding a set of four spoons is extremely rare. Indeed, single spoons or forks are hard to find. To find larger items, such as coffee pot, tea pots, bowls or other forms of tableware is a very unusual occurrence, such pieces are typically seen only in museums.
Note: this article was moved from our hubpages account, so that it can be more readily expanded and improved! The rest of the hubpages articles will likewise be moved shortly.
A new selection of diamond eternity rings have been uploaded to our website today (15th August). Most are in platinum, but many can also be made in yellow gold if desired. Though the idea of a diamond band was around for a long time, it was in the 20th century that they really came to be popular. Often given to mark the birth of a child, they are also used for wedding bands, and anniversary presents. They can also be stacked, that is worn with one or more other rings; sometimes matching eternity rings are put on either side of an engagement ring, to give a terrific dress-ring effect.
There are several types of eternity rings available, and we have a nice selection in each type, both antique and modern. In general the modern eternity rings can be made up to order, either in terms of the metal or the size.
The first type is seen below, a channel set full eternity. The diamonds are hold in by the two channels at the edge, allowing each stone to be close to his neighbours. The diamodns extend all the way around the ring, so it is not possible to adjust the size of the ring.
The next type is a pavé set full eternity ring. Like the first example, the diamonds run all of the way around the ring, the difference is how they are held in. This type was very popular in the early 20th century, and is a very secure setting while at the same time letting in a lot of light.
A type of eternity which is very popular is the slim grain set ring; generally less than 2mm in width, the small diamonds still give sparkle, while the slim size allows the ring to sit very well beside an engagement ring.
The final style of full band is a claw setting, possibly the rarest type. Each diamond is in a four claw setting, so gives enormous sparkle. Generally these are the eternity rings that sit lowest on the finger, and sometimes offer scope to adjust the size of the ring, if the adjustment required is the same width as each individual section.
The main other category of diamond bands are the “half eternity rings”. These are so-called because the diamonds only run half of the way around the band, the back section is metal. These can be very practical, and allow for tougher wearing. (We still recommend taking care with all rings!). There are the same types of setting available, seen below are channel setting, pavé setting, grain setting and claw setting:
JW Weldon are delighted to showcase a beautiful collection of rare Irish silver which has recently come to light, having been hidden away, unseen, for over 75 years. Despite strong interest from within the silver trade, we have secured the entire collection, and it is now available to view in our shop at 55 Clarendon Street.
Articles include the earliest documented Irish silver cream jug, a wonderful and rare Cork cream jug with unusual animal feet (pictured above), a fine silver mug by David King, and this beautiful Adams style pair of sugar containers, seen below. More items will be uploaded over the coming few weeks, but all items are available to view in person at our shop.
The IE Domain Registry (IEDR), the managed registry for Ireland’s official Internet address .ie, today announced the 15 winners of its OPTIMISE 2014 Fund. The winning companies include micro-enterprises, SMEs, emerging and established companies from the retail, travel, tourism, charity and service sectors, including JW Weldon!
The IEDR’s OPTIMISE e-Commerce Website Development Fund provides €150,000 worth of professional consultancy and support to help 15 Irish SMEs and micro-enterprises upgrade their online presence and grow their business using the Internet as a sales and marketing channel.
Now in its fourth year the OPTIMISE Fund has already benefitted a total of 45 small businesses across all industries and from all parts of the country who have had free professional consultation, practical training and e-commerce development from some of Ireland’s best known online business advisers. The Fund was originally created in response to strong demand from Ireland’s SME community for practical, hands-on assistance in the area of e-commerce and new technologies.
The €150,000 investment by IEDR is financed entirely from the company’s own resources and is driven by IEDR’s commitment to give more small Irish businesses the opportunity to ‘optimise’ their websites using professional consultancy, experience and insight that might otherwise be beyond their budgets or resources.
The 15 winning companies were selected from over 170 entries by an independent panel of judges comprising leading Irish business and technology experts.
Each of the winners will receive tailored e-commerce advice, strategies and practical support to begin upgrading their online presence or e-commerce functionality. The winning companies will be better placed to utilise the Internet’s 24 hour sales and marketing channel to gain a competitive advantage in today’s online marketplace.
The 15 recipients, who will each receive 10 days’ of professional technical and marketing support comprise both start-up and established businesses.
Congratulating this year’s OPTIMISE winners, Mr. David Curtin, Chief Executive of IE Domain Registry, said: “Ireland has a terrific brand in the .ie domain name and it’s imperative that Irish businesses use it to fulfil their potential online, which means embracing e-commerce technologies. With the OPTIMISE Fund, IEDR wants to help Irish small businesses achieve growth online. We know that companies in Ireland remain slow to capitalise on the Internet as a sales channel, and that small companies often need a helping hand to do so. I congratulate this year’s winners and look forward to helping them fulfil their enormous online potential with the OPTIMISE Fund.”
A very interesting gemstone that is not commonly seen is spinel, a red gemstone often confused with ruby. Indeed, until fairly recently all red gemstones were called rubies; however ruby is denser and slightly harder than spinel, (spinel is 8 on the Mohs scale) and the two can be easily differentiated by comparing refractive indices.
Spinel is a hard magnesium aluminium oxide that has been used as a gemstone for centuries. It is known to come in a range of colours, from a rose pink to a rich red, and also lavender, deep violet, light and deep blue, orange, yellow, brown and black. Below is a rough piece of spinel.
The name spinel is thought to have come from the Greek word for “spark”, in reference to its bright colour. One of the most famous spinels of all is the 170 carat “Black Prince’s Ruby”, set into the British Imperial State Crown (seen below), above the 317 carat Cullinan II diamond. It was acquired by Edward, Prince of Wales, in 1367. His nickname was the Black Prince, from which the name of the stone was taken.
Spinel occurs in Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand. There are some other locations where spinel deposits have been found, such as Afghanistan, Australia, Brazil, Madagascar and the USA.
The most desirable spinel colour is vivid red, followed by cobalt blue, bright pink and bright orange. Paler colours such as lavender tend to be less valuable. Other colours are black, violet-blue, greenish-blue, greyish, pale-pink, mauve, yellow and brown.
Good quality spinel gemstones should have good clarity, with no visible inclusions. Inclusions typically decrease the value of spinel except in rare circumstances where they can result in asterism (the star effect).
Other famous spinels in the world include
The Samarian Spinel, a red 500 carat gemstone that is part of the Iranian Crown Jewels
The Mogul Names Necklace, comprised of eleven red spinel gemstones with a total carat weight of 1,131.59 carats. It sold for over five million dollars at Christie’s in 2011.
A red 398 carat spinel set into the Russian Imperial Crown
The 352 carat “Timur Ruby”. It was believed to be the largest ruby until 1851, until is was discovered to be a spinel.
After a break from blogging, we are back up and running and have uploaded 50 rings to the website in the last few days! We have an extensive collection of beautiful antique diamond engagement rings, in a variety of styles including Edwardian, Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Belle Epoque rings, in both platinum and gold. There is a skill and workmanship visible in an antique ring which can sometimes take your breath away – you can see intricate work which cannot be reproduced today, and will make your piece an absolute one-off. The majority of our engagement rings come with certificates from world renowned laboratories such as the GIA and the HRD. Below are some of the newest arrivals, but have a glance through the rings category to get a feel for what we have. We also have a good selection of signed jewellery from some of the world’s most famous jewellery houses, including Harry Winston, Tiffany, Cartier, Trudel, Fred, Van Cleef and Arpels and Bulgari.