Australian colonial gentleman’s dress ring
The earliest known example of jewellery made from Australian gold is a gentleman’s signet ring from around 1852, which boasts small alluvial nuggets on the shoulders. The initials WT are engraved in reverse so that they form the correct order when imprinted into wax. The initials are those of William Tancred, a priest who was active in Northern Tasmania, and the ring was made by convict jeweller Charles Jones. It is unclear where the gold came from, but it is likely to be from Fingal in Tasmania.
Ballarat gold miner brooch
At the beginning of Australia's goldrushes in the 1850s miners soon developed a unique expression in gold, incorporating mining equipment, pistols, bags of gold and even mini effigies of themselves in jweellery designs. This innovation represents a world first, as no other wearable decorative arts had ever included tools. These early designs also represent pride, and were conceived as souvenirs of success, frequently sent back to Britain as proof of colonial advancement. These brooches and few gent’s rings are exceptionally rare with as few as six known examples with bare branch frameworks and around twenty with foliate borders.
The genre of ‘Australiana’ or ‘bush’ jewellery evolved in the mid – late 1850s. Featuring native flora and fauna, these brooches, bracelets and more rarely ear pendants and rings reflected the Victorian fascination with the exotic wildlife of the antipodes.Many of these pieces were also sent back to Britain. Australian jewellers were rewarded at international exhibitions for innovations in design using our national emblems and high grade Australian gold.
As the population and wealth grew, so did the demand for luxury goods. Mourning brooches and lockets were popular for women while watches, fob chains and stick pins were favoured by men.
As gemstones were expensive to import, Australian natural materials were incorporated into gold jewellery designs. Amethyst, citrine, malachite, quandong, marble, operculum, agate, opal, teeth, pearls, shell and even beetles were blended with distinctly Australian designs and European fashions of the day.
Mining booms in Western Australia and Queensland toward the end of the century saw the resurgence of the pick and shovel motif in brooches. The mining tools became wearable souvenirs of success; some Western Australian pieces bore the name of the mine, commissioned by mine bosses and owners.As federation neared, nationalistic motifs of Aboriginal people, boomerangs, maps and koalas emerged. Kangaroos made a return too, but were stylistically simpler than those of the mid-century. Mining motifs were also popular in North American and South African goldfields pins and brooches. The pick and shovel even became a wearable symbol of the Boer’s success in the second Boer war, yet another battle over gold.
Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka