Another popular style for operculum jewelry was to set the shells into ornate filigree necklaces and bracelets. The word “filigree” derives from filigrana meaning a wire thread (filum in Latin) and granum meaning grain or small bead. Very intricate and delicate openwork patterns can be created in this way, much like lace but using metal instead of thread. Jewelry of this type is usually mostly wire although silver grains or beads are sometimes used as accents.
The combination of opercula and filigree goes back to the late 19th century. The most common wire material is silver (between .800 and .925) because of ease of workmanship, although 14k is seen occasionally.
Perhaps the most popular motif for operculum filigree necklaces was the heart. It also appeared in brooches such as this one which is slightly more than 2″ long including the 1.25″ wide top bar.
It was typical for necklaces such as these to have a small filigree drop below the heart motif. This necklace was cited as being 15″ long not including the drop.
Bracelets were more likely to have a flower motif like this one. Notice how the entire back of the operculum is covered with intricate wirework – beautiful as well as functional! This Victorian era piece is 7.5″ long.
This heart motif necklace’s original chain has been replaced by a black ribbon. I’ve seen similar examples that were about 15.5″ long and with a simple shepherd’s hook clasp. In this necklace the operculum is held in place by a metal bar across the back of each station and the heart as well.
Yet another silver filigree heart necklace; this one is 18″ if the entire heart and drop is included.
This bracelet is probably from the 1920s or 1930s, judging by the more geometric design and the wide foldover clasp (if it’s indeed original.) It is 7.5″ long, with the central motif just shy of 1″ square and the operculum almost a half inch in diameter.
Here’s an ornate panel bracelet that incorporates granular accents as well. It is 7″ long and 1″ wide.
This bracelet is fully hallmarked, including a sword bearing the number 835 which indicates Dutch origin, probably the early 1950s. By that time there were two silver standards in The Netherlands: “first standard” of minimum .925 and “second standard” of minimum .835. The seller mentioned a makers mark as well, and that the bracelet is 21.5 cm (almost 8.5″) which is rather longer than usual.
This is very similar to one of the previous bracelets and is undoubtedly from the same Art Deco era as well. It is 7″ long.
This pretty filigree butterfly brooch may be a Victorian piece. It measures 2″ at the widest point (across the wings) x 1.5″ including the antennae.
Here we have a little bit of everything: eight opercula in a simple tailored mounting, one in a flower/sunburst motif, another in a heart motif, and the smallest operculum as the ‘drop’! This is a definitely a statement piece with cited measurements of 18.25″ from end to end including the floral/sunburst motif, plus the heart and operculum drop adding another 2″ downward.
This bracelet illustrates one of the methods known as false or faux filigree; it is stamped, rather than being true filigree wirework. A better description of this bracelet would be “stamped openwork.”
These three operculum pieces were part of an advertisement by a present-day jewelry artisan producing designs based on antique and vintage patterns. The metals used are silver plated. From the accompanying text: “This jewelry was designed and created by K Ellison, a full time self representing Jewelry Artist in the USA. Many of her designs are inspired by the unique jewelry from the Victorian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco eras.” So it is quite possible to find the old styles and designs being closely adapted or reproduced in modern operculum jewelry.
The final post in this series looks at some of the more unusual operculum jewelry pieces.
Antique Victorian Operculum Jewelry
Operculum and Tortoise Shell Jewelry
Fantastic article! Love that sweet butterfly brooch…a new one for me to see. Well researched!!
Love it! I love the brooch. Very informative. 🙂
Thank you for this helpful information. I received an operculum jewelry suite as a gift, and your post allowed me to understand the history behind the beautiful workmanship.