BOX OF DELIGHTS
Throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, jewellery boxes were practical iron or steel caskets that served as a strongbox for valuables. It wasn’t until several centuries later that craftsmen began to experiment with creating more ornate designs. One of the earliest examples of this newly elaborate style – an extravagant Austrian jewel casket completed in the 17th century – is on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum. A clear departure from functionality, the casket is covered with intricate decorative glass depicting scenes from the Bible, interspersed with pieces of precious minerals. Jewellery boxes didn’t become widely popular until the Victoria era, however, when travel became more accessible for women and aristocratic ladies felt the need to commission elaborate dressing cases featuring pretty bottles, beautification tools and secret compartments designed to safeguard jewellery. As the exterior of the boxes became more ornate, they also grew in size, progressing from cases to huge jewel cabinets such as the one made for Queen Victoria in 1851. More than a metre wide, the cabinet was crafted from oak, silver-plated metals and porcelain, emblazoned with the Royal Saxe-Coburg arms and paintings depicting the King, Queen and six of their children. Not just a safe place for the Queen’s jewellery, the cabinet was also a proud assertion of the family’s growing dynastic power – tangible wealth and theoretical power combined in a single object.
RESTORED TO GLORY
The arrival of the Industrial Revolution saw jewellery boxes mass-produced for the first time, although hand-crafted boxes remained the reserve of the most wealthy, made with the finest materials imported from around the world. This high quality of manufacture has kept these boxes at the apex of luxury for centuries, something jewellery box restorer Daniel Lucian thinks makes his antique boxes so enduringly popular with his customers: “The appeal is not only that you are buying a piece of history,” Lucian explains, “you are also buying an item that is extremely useable today.” The fact that each piece was individually commissioned, created bespoke to the customer’s needs, also keeps antique boxes at the height of luxury. “Significantly these boxes are all limited editions of one. How many items within an affordable price range can boast that statistic?” asks Lucian. Restoring the former glory of these boxes is an all-consuming passion for Lucian, who explains, “When I restore these pieces, I feel like I’m being transported right back to the Victorian era. I’m able to retrace the steps the original craftsman took when constructing the piece, often seeing little notes written in pencil for himself.” Choosing a box for repair is an equally emotional experience for Lucian, too. “If I get a slight heart flutter of excitement when I look at it, then I know it will be mine.” Lucian then sets to work, hand restoring the box to the condition it would have been presented in to its original owner. Lucian also insists on using the same methods that could have been originally applied to the box: “I involve myself so deeply in the restoration process that it can be extremely exhausting,” he explains. “I French polish the exterior and interior, re-line the velvet, replace missing parts, remake keys for locks, and much more.” The results are some of the most beautiful antique jewellery boxes on the market, often boasting unique touches such as an Asprey box from 1879, complete with unfolding gilt-brass candlesticks to light up the owner.
However, it is not just antique boxes that are providing some extravagant ways to store your gems. Jewellery designer Solange Azagury-Partridge has designed a series of ornate boxes in which, as she reveals, “the box becomes the jewel”. Azagury-Partridge’s Secret Garden box is modelled on an oriental greenhouse and demonstrates this principle perfectly. The walls of the box can be taken apart to form cuffs for the wrist while the floor, paved with diamond and opal, can be pulled out to transform into a pendant. Inside lies a miniature orangerie, the constituent parts of which can also be worn as jewellery. Further to her own unique designs, Azagury-Partridge also offers a bespoke service, where customers can design a unique box personal to them – as elaborate and fanciful as they can envisage. Purveyor of luxury furniture and accessories, Linley, also offers its own range of extravagant jewellery boxes modelled on Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle and the world-famous Royal Opera House in London. Its Opera House model features a crest that lifts to reveal removable compartments, the first layer of which is decorated with ballet shoes and a ballerina from Swan Lake, while lower layers are layered with extracts of the scores from La Traviata and La Bohème. The underside of the lid is also decorated with coloured veneers designed to evoke the ceiling of the real-life Opera House. This customisable, handcrafted box isn’t just a safe place for your precious jewellery, it’s a work of art in itself. Clearly, beautiful jewellery deserves a beautiful home.