Stray Jewels: Inspired by Animals
Last updated Jan 4, 2021

Stray Jewels is a monthly column written by BBC Antiques Roadshow jewellery specialist, Susan Rumfitt. Susan started her career working for Christie’s auctioneers in Glasgow before establishing her own jewellery department, The Gallery in Harrogate.

In 2006, she joined the Antiques Roadshow and has since built up an extensive knowledge of and passion for fine jewellery. 


Jewellery is a way to express love. Flora and fauna were through history quite obvious ways to show secret messages of love and sentiment. But it may be less obvious that animals and creepy crawlies can also represent such thoughts and have inspired magical pieces of jewellery, including the snake!

Diamond, ruby and sapphire snake ring

Elstob & Elstob kick off 2021 with a jewellery sale which includes three animal inspired pieces of jewellery. A diamond, ruby and sapphire snake ring (lot 516) particularly caught my eye. Snakes are certainly not to everyone’s taste but in the language of love they represent eternal love. Eternal love renews itself just as a snake sheds and regrows its skin. The snake ring in the sale has lovely vibrant stones, this really is a statement piece. The popularity of snake rings was fuelled in the mid nineteenth century by Queen Victoria who received a snake ring as her engagement ring, from her husband to be Albert and she cherished it. Her interest in snake jewellery inspired many creations on this theme.

A pair of quirky pearl, diamond and gold turtle brooches

Perhaps a pair of quirky pearl, diamond and gold turtle brooches (lot 415) will appeal to more people. These turtle brooches have articulated tails which adds to their cuteness and charm. They are by the Italian designer Filipo Moroni. Moroni’s jewellery is always strong in design, using the finest stones. Themes range from stunning gold bracelets to gem set flower heads and diamond set rhinos. These turtles are set with diamonds and pearls on 18 carat gold. The turtle represents, amongst other qualities in a person, patience and calmness; and the pearls represent Venus, who was associated with the sea and eternal love.

Quirky animal jewellery really became popular during the 1960’s. It became the norm for jewellery designers to incorporate jewelled animal characters in their collections. This theme was led by American designers such as Donald Clafin who was working for Tiffany in the late 1960’s. The inspiration came from the animated films produced by Disney. Van Cleef & Arpels created their ‘La Boutique Collection’ of cartoonish animal brooches. Jackie Kennedy was amongst those who collected them. A fun piece of animal jewellery with a very characterful face is lot 535, the novelty lion brooch. Made of gold with ruby eyes and an emerald for the nose. The gold is cleverly textured and modelled and is a great example of whimsical jewellery and showing how fine jewellery can be less formal.

Not only does jewellery express love it can also express your character too. We may not want to wear an abundance of animal and insect jewels all at the same time, as the Victorian fashion dictated, but having these quirky pieces in a collection is great fun and for me the jewels of the 1960’s are a great addition and certainly bring a smile to ones face.

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