Agate Jewellery

Scottish agates have been used in the manufacture of jewellery and other artifacts for more than two hundred years. Indeed, at the end of the eighteenth century Scotland was seen as an important source of semiprecious stones for this purpose both inside and outside the country. Early accounts suggest that agates and other materials were also used in the manufacture of buttons as well as being exported to London at that time. However, only a few items of jewellery utilising agate have been reliably dated to this period although brooches containing Scottish smoky quartz (Cairngorm) had been worn for several hundred years before this.


Brooches found in Scotland date back to the second century BC and simple ring brooches were valued in the Middle Ages as talismans. From the 16th century large brooches mounted with crystals and containing a reliquary compartment recalled a pre-Christian tradition of charm stones used to heal the sick, thus provided a prototype for the pebble jewellery. In 1782 an enamelled gold suite of necklace, pendant and buckles set with Scottish agate was presented to the National Museum of Antiquity in Edinburgh. It was not, however, until Queen Victoria’s love for all things Scottish that this jewellery became much more popular and fashionable. 


Lapidaries working mainly in the back streets of "Edinburgh new town" made most of the pebble jewellery. They would obtain their raw material from collectors who visiting such localities as Usan near Montrose, Kinnoull Hill near Perth, the Campsie Hills north of Glasgow and the island of Rum. It has been estimated that in 1870 the number of people working gold, silver and agates in Scotland was about two thousand. 

Some of the jewellery was produced following the ancient annular (ring-shaped) and pen-annular (nearly ring shaped) forms but eventually a lot of the motifs were common elements of Victoriana deemed Scottish because of the characteristic use of Scottish stones. Banded grey and pink agates, onyx, carnelian and moss agates, red and yellow jaspers, bloodstone and pink and grey granites were favoured by the lapidaries. Silver mounts are much more common than gold. It is said that the quality of workmanship was better with the gold pieces but the agate itself looks better with silver. Very few pieces were signed before 1883 and hallmarking is a rarity making some of the pieces very difficult to date.


"Scottish Pebble Jewellery" is the name given to articles of jewellery made in Scotland mainly in the nineteenth century.
These became some of the best-known and most colourful
examples of products made from lapidary materials in Britain. “Scotch or Scottish Pebbles” (agates) were sourced from many areas. Certain towns became associated with particular types of agate. Montrose for blue-grey stones, while examples from Kinnoull Hill near Perth were much in demand for more colourful red and white material. The coast and farmland of Ayrshire also provided productive locations for the lapidaries. Another important source was the Burn Anne where commercial mining took place over a substantial period. The unique and beautiful jaspagates from here were widely used in the best quality pieces. However, the quantity of agate available from Burn Anne and other Scottish locations was never very large and despite the efforts of commercial collectors, easily accessible supplies were soon exhausted. Alternative sources were accessed, including material from South America, often dyed or otherwise processed in Idar Oberstein in Germany. However it is arguable that such stones do not have the same quality as the native agates.

In recent years pebble jewellery has not been made in such quantity but scattered across Scotland are a number of lapidaries using local agates in their jewellery. Some examples are shown here made recently with agate from a number of the new localities.

Some Cabachons made with Scottish Agate

 

Some examples of jewellery made by Maureen McDiarmid from Annan. Maureen has used agate material from a variety of recent localities here in Scotland, including some other less well known areas!

 

All photographs here of Scottish Pebble Jewellery are reproduced here from "Scottish Pebble Jewellery - Its History and The Materials From Which It Was Made" by Nick Crawford
This book describes the history of Pebble Jewellery, the sites from which the stones were collected, the manufacturing process used and the resulting types of jewellery. It is illustrated with more than 100 colour plates of collecting sites and pieces of jewellery. Copies of this book cost £20 and can be purchased from Lulu.com
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