BAJ Insight: What did jewellery look like 1,000 years ago?

BAJ Insight: What did jewellery look like 1,000 years ago?

Join us for our weekly BAJ:Insight on the latest industry trends by Rachael Taylor, a freelance journalist who writes about jewellery for a number of titles, including The Financial Times, The Jewellery Editor and Retail Jeweller. In her 10 years reporting on the industry, she has travelled the globe to visit key industry fairs, descended a Fairtrade gold mine on top of a Peruvian mountain, toured silver jewellery factories in Thailand, and regularly has access to the most sparkling jewels and people in the business.

Jewellery has always been a part of society, from the bones worn as adornment by some of our earliest ancestors to this year’s obsession with asymmetric earrings. Thanks to archaeologists and historians, we have a pretty good idea of what jewellery looked like in ancient times. And, of course, Derek from Dumfries and Galloway.

Dr Martin Goldberg, Senior Curator at National Museums Scotland

Derek McLennan is a hobbying detectorist. He retired from a career in business and now spends his time stomping through soggy fields with a band of likeminded treasure hunters in search of buried artefacts, and in 2014 he hit the jackpot.

Derek McLennan – a hobbying detectorist

Copyrighted by Daily Record

“My senses exploded, I went into shock, endorphins flooded my system and away I went stumbling towards my colleagues waving it in the air.” This was how Derek described that moment to the BBC. What he found was more than 100 pieces of gold, silver, ingots and jewellery that dated back to the 10th century. Some were even older, as they had been antiques at the time of burial, already hundreds of years old.

The Galloway Hoard, as it has been named, is a window into jewellery design in Viking times. Though the collection is due to be properly restored before going on display, it is in good enough condition that we can see the sorts of decorative markings made by early jewellers: Celtic crosses, millegrain-style embellishment, etchings of almost comedic faces, fish-like stamps. One of the most striking pieces in the find is a perfectly preserved gold bird-shaped pin that would not look out of place amongst the clutches of brooches on this season’s runways.

It is inspiring to see jewellery last the test of time the way that the Galloway Hoard has. It makes the constant marketing messages pumped out by the jewellery trade of “future heirlooms” and “forever jewels” seem less vacuous. It also shows that a well-crafted and beautifully designed piece of jewellery really can hold its appeal over the years. Or millennia, as in this case.

National Museums Scotland bought the historic find for £2 million after bolstering its coffers with various grants and 1,500 small donations made by intrigued members of the public. It has said that the restoration and research period to bring these jewels to their best could take years.

In the mean time, there are other places to go if you want to get an idea of what you might have been working on at the bench had you been alive in the era of Vikings. The British Museum in London and the Yorkshire Museum both have antiquities worth browsing, and the V&A in London has one of the most comprehensive ancient and modern jewellery collections in the world – a must-see for all jewellery students.

Victoria and Albert museum