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The history of marcasite jewellery

The effect of film and television on fashion trends is well documented, and the recent surge in popularity for marcasite is no exception.

Many attribute its sales growth the two main points: ITV’s Downton Abbey has featured characters wearing marcasite jewellery as part of their signature look, and some key names in the celebrity world, including the Duchess of Cambridge (formerly Kate Middleton), being seen in public sporting pieces made with this unique stone.

For those not in the know, marcasite is actually made of pyrite, also known as ‘fool’s gold’. It is a crystalline, gold-coloured stone which is mined in a similar fashion to many other types of gem, and is then cut and polished before being set very often in silver jewellery. As far back as Ancient Greece and the Inca civilisation, it has been regarded as a jewel worth cherishing and assigning value to.

So what is so special about this stone that a few television appearances have brought it back into the limelight Stuart Bird of Luke Stockley, says: “Many things! The way it glitters and catches light is very special, as is its perfect partnership with silver. It’s also a very versatile stone, so it works alongside almost any gemstone you set it next to.”

Bird agrees that there has been an upsurge in interest in recent years, saying that it has gone “hand-in-hand” with an “appreciation of vintage styles”. “I think there’s been a turn back,” he says, “towards prioritising beautiful design and timelessness over trend in the fashion and jewellery worlds It also helps that now there’s such a wide circulation of celebrity images – not just through the press, but also through social media – and some very admired, high profile women have been flying the flag for marcasite jewellery.”

Luke Stockley’s dedicated ‘Marcasite by Luke Stockley’ range makes up some 50% of the business, and Bird says marcasite “is where we came from 25 years ago and is still a very large part of who we are today”.

THE CUSTOMER

Most agree that there is fairly comprehensive interest in marcasite. Emma Perkins, managing director of Kali Ma Designs says the range is wide. “I think marcasite has a diverse range of customer from very fashion conscious teens who tend to buy the small and dainty rings and stud earrings to the more mature lady who perhaps would choose a pendant and earring set accented with freshwater pearls, which are very popular.” Marcasite accounts for about 20% of Perkins’ business, so again, there is no doubting the popularity of this stone alongside the other lines.

Perkins adds: “I think [the rise in popularity] is due to growing interest in the vintage look in fashion trends, and marcasite fits perfectly in this. Also the creation of more modern pieces using marcasite which dispel the idea of it being ‘old-fashioned’.”

Jonathan Lynne says he has noticed that where customers typically used to be in the older demographic, “we have recently seen more under-30s wearing it”. Again he concurs that the Downton Abbey effect has played a part as it allows customers to hark back to “the decadence of a bygone era”.

SEASONAL VARIATION

Goldmajor says about 25% of its sales are from the marcasite lines, though the last quarter of the year and the party seasons see a huge increase, when sales can “push up to 70%”. On its uniquity, Goldmajor said: “This sparkly stone can make a standalone statement and simply be used to make a beautiful piece of jewellery or be part of of a unique marriage with other stones, adding something very special to a distinctive look.”

Bolstered by the media world and with more recognition amongst the public, marcasite looks set to continue occupying its corner of the market with aplomb.

The history of marcasite: By Gemondo.com

From the Victorians and even dating as far back as the Incas, marcasite has been adorned and treasured for centuries.

Incan tombs have been found to contain items of marcasite, including jewellery. It is thought that the Incas even created marcasite reflective plate shaped surfaces and employed these in ritual and worship of sun gods. Native American shamen had also been known to use marcasite, or pyrite as it is also known, to heal and delve deep into the soul of the bearer.

Much later in the 1600s, legal restrictions on the buying and selling of diamonds in Europe made way for a new sparkly substitute. Such laws were implemented to keep the poor under submission and in an identifiable state creating obvious class and wealth divisions.Louis 14th of France even decreed that only he should wear diamonds. As diamonds, amongst other luxury goods, were legislated to be the reserve of the wealthy and aristocratic, marcasite entered the market as a cheaper alternative.

These laws and sanctions on luxury items created a kind of black market of imitation gemstone productions. Venetians became faux pearl experts, publishing guides on how to make them using egg whites and glass amongst other unusual ingredients.

The ostentatious era of Napoleon as the Emperor of France saw jewels in abundance adorned on the hands, ears and necks of all. Jewellery became the height of fashion and this was marcasite’s time to shine.

By the time Queen Victoria took the throne in Britain, brooches, particularly mourning brooches, earrings, necklaces and more were extremely popular. Wearing jewellery became an even greater indication of status and even emotion. Fashions were regulated by a code of conduct which gave clues to the position the wearer had in society.

Being a relatively low cost gem at the time, when crafted properly, marcasite allowed for all manner of beautiful jewellery items to be produced, even those which could rival diamonds. Ateliers began to create the most remarkable styles in Art Deco watches, rings, wonderful pins, brooches and lovely bracelet settings.

Marcasite jewellery nowadays is coveted not only for its dazzling shimmer but for its relationship with history and vintage style. No longer standing in the shadows of the diamond, marcasite has emerged to become a fashionable gemstone in its own right.

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