Knowledge Centre > Extraordinary Jewellery > Pieces of Interest

Meet Harriet Guildford And Her Favourite Piece


Meet Harriet Guildford And Her Favourite Piece

With a degree in Art history, I have always had a fascination with the unique stories and sentimental value that is intrinsically found within the craftsmanship from by-gone eras. With one’s jewellery box being a time capsule of emotion, a ring is often a person’s most sentimental possession.

Whilst we may attach memories or personal value to our jewellery, certain pieces are made with a particular sentiment at the centre of their identity. ‘Memento Mori’ jewellery encompasses this concept, as a practice of commissioning a piece to pay homage to a loved one that has passed away.

Whilst memorial jewellery was seen as far back as the 16th century, it was at its height of popularity during Queen Victoria’s reign upon the death of her husband Prince Albert in 1861. With the Queen commissioning countless pieces of jewellery to honour her beloved husband over her extraordinary four decades of mourning, this became common practice among the people of Britain.

Memorial jewellery typically featured symbols such as skulls and urns, characterised by their ornate designs, and often inscribed with the names and dates of the deceased. Certain materials were used in these pieces which each symbolised different forms of grief, for instance, white enamel and pearls were said to indicate the death of a child.

Here at Berganza, we have recently acquired an extremely rare and fascinating Victorian memorial ring, hand-crafted by Phillips Brothers & Son.

The prestigious firm formed in 1839 at No. 31 Cockspur Street, London, and later moved to No. 23 Cockspur Street in 1869. Owned by Robert and Magnus Phillips, the firm were highly regarded for their exquisite craftsmanship, with Robert being the only English jeweller to be awarded the highest award of a gold medal at the 1867 Paris Universal Exhibition. Their clients included the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), and their maker’s mark later incorporated the Prince of Wales Feathers, reflecting this prestigious patronage.

Crafted out of yellow gold, this is a piece of remarkable craftsmanship from an era when jewellers considered themselves artisans. The striking marquise design brings an air of grandeur and importance to the deceased, along with the intricate gallery, so lovingly pierced by hand, demonstrating the care taken when creating an immensely personal piece.

This ring is adorned with twenty extraordinary old mine diamonds, unearthed from the historical mines of either India or Brazil. These stones protectively encase the central glass compartment which holds intricately braided chesnut brown human hair, belonging to the individual that passed away. This was a decorative feature often seen in mourning jewellery. Infact, several of the best-known hair workers were patronised by Queen Victoria herself.

The chamfered shoulders of the ring are decorated with monochrome enamel work, the colour black being symbolic of darkness, and white, symbolic of innocence and childhood.

As we look to the interior engraving of the ring, the identity of the deceased is revealed as being ‘AMY PLEWS. B. 11. JANY 1860. D. 16 AUGT 1872’. Following extensive research into the origins of this piece, I have discovered fascinating insights into the life of Miss Amy Plews, whose memory and short life this ring celebrates.

Amy was born to Thomas Robert Maddison Plews (1834-1885) and Mary Ann Macfarlane (1839 – 1911), and had 9 siblings. Her parents were both born in Scotland, and the pair later resided in Darlington, Durham. Some sources suggest Thomas was the Mayor of Darlington for a period of time, and later became a wine and spirit merchant.

Amy Plews sadly passed away at the mere age of 12 years old in 1872. Her cause of death is unknown, and her body rests today in West Darlington cemetery, Durham.

Archival photographs have been found of Amy’s mother, Mary, the likely commissioner and grieving owner of this piece. We believe she is pictured here adorned in mourning attire.

This magnificent ring is an extraordinary tribute to an individual that was evidently loved and missed deeply. Here at Berganza, we are proud to have this astonishing piece of artistry and fascinating relic of Victorian history in our collection.

Phillips Brothers Son diamond enamel memorial ring hatton garden
Phillips Brothers & Son diamond and enamel memorial ring, English, circa 1872.
Ref: 28148
Phillips Brothers Son diamond enamel memorial ring hatton garden
Phillips Brothers & Son diamond and enamel memorial ring, English, circa 1872.
Ref: 28148
Phillips Brothers Son diamond enamel memorial ring hatton garden
Phillips Brothers & Son diamond and enamel memorial ring, English, circa 1872.
Ref: 28148
Phillips Brothers Son diamond enamel memorial ring hatton garden
Phillips Brothers & Son diamond and enamel memorial ring, English, circa 1872.
Ref: 28148
Phillips Brothers Son diamond enamel memorial ring hatton garden
Phillips Brothers & Son diamond and enamel memorial ring, English, circa 1872.
Ref: 28148
Phillips Brothers & Son diamond and enamel memorial ring, English, circa 1872.
Phillips Brothers & Son diamond and enamel memorial ring, English, circa 1872.
Ref: 28148
Meet Harriet Guildford And Her Favourite Piece
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Updated 18/05/2024 at 3:51PM

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