Talking Antique Jewellery With Claudia Of 'Wren & Rust'

Industry Interviews News

Welcome once again to another instalment of 'Blog Post Monday'.

I've been chatting to antique dealer and good friend of mine, Claudia, from Wren & Rust, this week.  I popped over to hers for a cuppa and she tested a few pieces of jewellery for me.  Whilst there, I got thinking.  I know a bit about antique jewellery but there is a hell of a lot that I don't know and I'm keen to learn, and I'm sure there are many of you out there in a similar position as me. 

Claudia, however, is a fountain of knowledge because she lives and breathes antique jewellery and has her own business specialising in just that.  With this in mind, I persuaded Claudia to do a little interview with me to not only help me learn a bit more, but to also help those budding antique jewellery collectors and dealers out there who might be seeking a few tips or words of advice, themselves.

So, as always, get that kettle on, make yourselves comfortable and let me hand you over to antique jewellery specialist, Claudia, of 'Wren & Rust'.


Image:  Claudia - Wren & Rust


Q.  How did you start collecting Victorian jewellery and what do you love so much about it?



The obsession began when I got a full time job at an antiques centre, when I was 23! Wow, the stock they had was amazing. Particularly a dealer called Sandra, in her 70s and had been an antique jewellery dealer all her life. She had cabinets full of really fine quality antique jewellery, dating from Georgian to Art Deco. She was my inspiration from day one! I was amazed at the quality, exquisite beauty and totally uniqueness of antique jewellery. And the fact they're like miniature works of art or a tiny artefact and you can BUY THEM and actually WEAR THEM! 


Image:  Claudia's Victorian silver, diamonds, sapphires and rubies frog - Wren & Rust 


Q.  And tell us more about your business, ‘Wren & Rust’?



I'd rented and stocked a cabinet at the antiques centre I worked at for 5 or 6 years - selling mainly curiosities and vintage jewellery - before I decided to up my game, be a bit braver with the stock I was buying and go online! I opened my Etsy shop in September 2018 (and got myself reluctantly on Instagram!) I only buy pieces I absolutely love, are in great condition and that are unique or unusual. And I just started out buying whatever I could afford, and have worked my way up the ladder that way - being a bit braver each time. This is my side job though - my main job is being a Mum! Once I can cart both my offspring off to school I'm hoping I'll be able to put more time into Wren&Rust. 


Image:  Claudia - Wren & Rust


Q.  Are there any particular characteristics that help you identify a piece of Victorian jewellery?  



Oh yes. Apart from the obvious - full hallmarks with a date letter - there are lots of things to look out for.

Style, construction and design would be the first thing that indicates the age of a piece and this you CAN learn from books. 

Then you go on to check the quality, the finesse of the construction, the stone settings, the fastenings, the cut of the stones, the feel of it, how it looks close up under a loupe. For this part, you need to see, feel and handle pieces in real life - books don't do justice!

One of the first things I always do is to look at the back of the piece - this usually gives a lot away immediately. Sometimes it's a bit of an intuitive guessing game using experience and piecing the facts together! 

A heck of a lot of modern jewellery in antique designs just doesn't have that skillful handmade finesse of antique. In modern pieces the claws might be a bit chunky and clunky or the edges of pieces might be a bit sharp, or the pearls are just a bit too clean and shiny.

Then there are some straight up facts that can help date a piece. For instance, if a piece is platinum we know straight away it must be at least late 19th C. Platinum is rare with a ridiculously high melting point, it requires complex processes to work with - the technology for which wasn't commercially available for use in jewellery until the 1890s. (Silver was the white metal of choice previous to this). 

So if you see something labelled 'platinum' and 'Victorian' you know something isn't quite right there…


Image:  Claudia's late 19th century silver and old cut foil-backed paste brooch - Wren & Rust 


Q.  Do you have any advice for caring for antique jewellery?



My parents are jewellers so I'd better not get this wrong! 

If it's just gold/silver and diamonds, sapphires, rubies or other hard precious gems in open-back settings - just hot water, washing up liquid and an old toothbrush is all you'll ever need!

I used a polishing pad followed by a jewellery cleaning cloth to finish off. But I always try not to over clean or over polish. The patina and tarnish on antique pieces is part of the charm...many of us choose to keep it! 

Pearls - avoid soap and prolonged exposure to water at all costs. Over time it deadens their beautiful lustre. Just use a soft dry toothbrush to gently clean around them.

Opals and turquoise - avoid soap...they don't like it! (Porous stones). 

And anything with hair, closed compartments or backing, foil backed stones, etc, keep away from water and just use that dry toothbrush! I'm telling ya now! I've made mistakes. I was recently a little too enthusiastic cleaning a Victorian pendant (with about a million pastes set into it) with a toothbrush and about three or four stones fell out.  Luckily I was cleaning it over a bowl. Oh yes - clean in a bowl! We don't want diamonds down the happens!

Another one from a while ago - for some reason I went in with some Brasso on a silver plated piece (why?!) and stripped it of the plating.  Oopsy.

 Image:  Claudia's Edwardian taxidermy otter's paw brooch - Wren & Rust 


Q.  The Victorians are well known for their odd practices.  With this in mind, what is the strangest piece of Victorian jewellery that you’ve ever found?



Got to be the taxidermy otter's paw brooch. 


Image:  Claudia's Edwardian taxidermy otter's paw brooch - Wren & Rust 


Q.  And, similarly, what has been your favourite ever find?



Eek. There's been a few. I did get very excited when I bought the silver, diamond and sapphire frog brooch dating from around 1880. So excited that I spent way too much money on it….and ended up making virtually no profit in the end. Woops. 

I think the late 19th scarab beetle necklace I bought recently has to be a favourite find. It's magnificent. They're pretty rare and the price was good (within a reasonable budget). I have always loved bugs and beetles. Double win!


Image:  Claudia's late 19th scarab beetle necklace - Wren & Rust 


Q.  Do you have a favourite jewellery era?



No favourites - there are little gems to be found from all the eras. Though I am partial to the gaudy craziness of mid-late Victorian... And the cut of stones from the Georgian period... And Victorian mourning jewellery… Nope, I cannot choose!


Image:  A collection of Claudia's Victorian mourning jewellery - Wren & Rust 


Q.  What advice would you give to someone looking to start collecting Victorian jewellery?



Just buy what you love! Honestly just buy what brings you absolute joy and what you can afford. It's not all about gold and diamonds. Some of my favourite pieces are pinchbeck, silver, paste, jet. Some of my collection I don't actually wear often, I just enjoy looking at it in my jewellery box like a special artefact and that brings me joy too. 

I started with Victorian silver lockets. They're so easy to wear, durable and affordable, and some of them are so anachronistically 'modern' looking. 

To repeat - diamonds and gold aren't everything - you can start small. Buy with your heart (and a bit of your head, because….well there're bills to pay!)


Image:  Claudia - Wren & Rust 


Well, that's it for this week folks!  I hope you've all enjoyed this and learnt something.  I know I have!  Claudia has her own Etsy shop, 'Wren & Rust', where she sells some quite incredible pieces of fine antique jewellery and some extraordinary novelty pieces too.  I highly recommend you go check her shop out and also, go give her a follow on Instagram, where you can keep up-to-date with her new finds.  She takes a wonderful photo too, so her instagram account is a real treat for the eyes!


Image:  Claudia's Victorian sterling silver buckle bracelet - 1884 - Wren & Rust


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So, until next week, stay safe, keep buying those antiques and keep spreading that Source Vintage love!




Owner Source Vintage

Shop from Source Vintage here

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  • Liina Turtonen on

    Absolutely love this post! Thanks, Stephen for sharing Claudia’s story! ❤️

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