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image icon Bracelet, c1860

Bracelet, c1860
Art Gallery of South Australia

Description

This is a very elaborate solid gold bracelet attributed to a leading colonial silversmith, Julius Schomburgk (1819-93), and made in Adelaide in about 1860. The central oval is in the form of a cameo, which consists of two finely crafted sculptures of kangaroos surrounded by rocks and overhanging trees and framed by a border of miniature scrolls sculpted to look like embroidery. The cameo is surrounded by fruiting grape vines - the wrist clasp to the bracelet has been textured to resemble the woody surface of a grape vine stem. For such a small item (6.1 cm x 6.8 cm x 6.1 cm), this bracelet has remarkably strong sculptural qualities.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a remarkable example of the popularity of styles of jewellery and other (usually silver) items made by colonial silversmiths - in the 1860s and 1870s these silversmiths began to incorporate naturalistic, sculpted Australian motifs such as kangaroos, emus and tree ferns into their overall design; this was in part a reflection of the advancement of the natural sciences and the fascination that European and British people had for the exotic attractions of far-away lands such as Australia
  • shows how colonial silversmiths used design models that reflected European and English tastes; the centrepiece (as seen in the Schomburgk bracelet) was a conventional feature of English jewellery and the vines, which curl around the centerpiece, were a common motif of 19th-century jewellery
  • demonstrates particular jewellery-making methods - the kangaroos, for example, were formed by casting (pouring molten gold into moulds) before being added to the centrepiece, and the vine leaves were made from sheet gold, which was shaped, curved and engraved before being soldered piece by piece to the main structure
  • references the role played in the Australian colonies by several intercolonial and international exhibitions during the second half of the 19th century - these exhibitions enabled the craftspeople who were working in a diversity of materials, including precious metals, to show off their design and technical skills; work by Australian silversmiths was conspicuous at these exhibitions and the objects exhibited were frequently virtuoso technical displays (like the Schomburgk bracelet) of the maker's skill, both as designer and manufacturer
  • is an example of the very high quality of design and silver work made by silversmiths who came to Australia from continental Europe around the mid-19th century; one of the outcomes of the large numbers of German immigrants to South Australia at this time was that several German-trained silversmiths, including Julius Schomburgk, settled in Adelaide
  • is linked to the adaptation of Australian flora and fauna subjects as motifs within Australian modernist design in the first half of the 20th century
  • references the mining of gold, silver and other metals in colonial Australia - the gold used to make this bracelet most likely came from one of the Victorian gold fields; it is also a reminder of the relationship between the number of highly skilled silversmiths working in colonial Australia in the mid to later 19th century and the ready availability of gold and silver, fresh from the diggings and the mines.