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Book Recommendations - Learning about antique jewellery and gemstones

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Whether you are a seasoned professional in the jewellery trade or a hobbyist just starting out on your antique jewellery and gemstone journey there is always room for more knowledge. We have put together a short list of books we recommend from the SHJB library, from encyclopaedias of knowledge perfect for any level to rare gemmology books to assist in identifying gemstones.

Best All Rounders

The Modern Guide to Antique Jewellery – Beth Bernstein

This book is perfect for anyone taking their first step into antique and vintage jewellery. Bernstein does a fantastic job of simplifying major time periods and motifs, as well as offering practical advice about starting to curate and buy your own jewellery collection. A pocket-sized book with beautiful photography and examples throughout; honestly, we could buy this just for the pictures.  


Antique and 20th Century Jewellery – Vivienne Becker


A useful reference book for collectors or antique jewellery enthusiasts. Becker walks the reader through major jewellery categories, including piqué, the famous jewel houses and cocktail jewellery. This is a comprehensive book with wonderful commentary from the author, however it is less digestible than Bernstein’s Modern Guide to Antique Jewellery, and in our opinion lacks some of the more in-depth views given in David Bennett and Daniela Mascetti’s ‘Understanding Jewellery’. Regardless it is a valuable book to have in your library.


Understanding Jewellery – David Bennett and Daniela Mascetti

*If you could have just one book to learn all about antique jewellery, this would be our suggestion.

This book couldn’t be recommended by us enough if you are a true antique jewellery enthusiast. The book is prefaced with abridged gemmology knowledge and a quick run-down of all major gemstones, their treatments and simulants, making sure the reader is equipped with the basic gemstone knowledge needed to understand jewellery.


This antique jewellery bible then provides a comprehensive look at jewellery from the early 1800s to the 2000, focusing on 20-year periods with in-depth commentary on the social and economic climate surrounding the time and how that impacts what we see in jewellery design.



Jewel: A celebration of earth’s treasures


This book is perfect for complete gemstone and jewellery novices but not to be overlooked by seasoned professionals, who are sure to be enthralled by this coffee table book of dreams.


One of our favourite books to recommend, this well researched book by DK is a rich visual guide to beginners gemmology and the gemstones of the world, broken up by interesting tales of the world’s most famous jewels, such as Wallace Simpson’s Cartier collection and the Stuart Sapphire. This book is an easy read with rainbow of beautiful gemstone photography that will leave you captivated for hours.


A History of Jewellery 1100 – 1870 – Evans

A well written insight into the history of jewellery from the early middle ages through to the eighteenth century. Many of the other books listed here deal primarily with jewellery from 1800 onwards, so we would recommend this book if you are interested in the pre-Georgian eras or want a more comprehensive look at jewellery through the ages. The book not only comments on how jewellery design changed, but also on interesting goldsmithing techniques.


This is a heavier and more academic read but well researched and good for referencing those earlier periods.


Georgian Jewellery: 1714 – 1830 – Ginny Redington and Olivia Collings


A relatively new book onto the scene, we remember when this mighty work was first published and everyone in the trade was scrambling to get their hands on it (and for good reason we may add). A comprehensive overview of Georgian jewellery with an atlas of fine antique jewels pictured in chapters with romantic headings, such as dawn, day and night. A useful guide with magnificent imagery, definitely worth the investment.


Jackson’s Hallmarks – Ian Pickford


Anyone interested in jewellery should have a copy of this book. Updated regularly the pocket-sized manual is a glossary of all date letters and gold standards struck into precious metals and is essential for dating items.


However, we would also suggest downloading the iHallmarkLite app on your phone which can easily be accessed when you are out and about.

Best Gemmology Books – Beginners/ Studying Gemmologists

Gemstones of the World – Walter Schumann


A pocket sized gemmology bible, perfect for any training or qualified gemmologist. This book covers most of the basics of practical gemmology, from crystal structure and optics to origin and location. If you are studying gemmology this book will have most of what you need to know in its pages and would be an excellent purchase.


Although there are some fascinating insights that gemstone enthusiasts may enjoy, this book is at its core a scientific handbook best suited, in our opinion, for use of individuals in the gem/ jewellery trade.  

Practical Gemmology – Robert Webster


If you want an insight into a professional gemmology qualification then this book is like buying the Gem-A gemmology diploma for £22.99. Much like Schumann’s ‘Gemstones of the World’ this is a scientific text, aiming to teach about the advanced organic chemistry and physics that involved the study gemmology.


This is a good book for gemmology beginners as it walks you through all the fundamentals of gemmology in a very straight forward way. A great book but a little wordy and geared more towards those studying than those just wishing to know a little more about gems.


Gemstones: Understanding, Identifying, Buying – Keith Wallis FGA


Written by an esteemed FGA member this helpful guide covers much of the same areas as the two books above, but in slightly less detail and a more reader friendly manner. This would be perfect for anyone wanting to learn a little more about gemstones but probably not in-depth enough for fellow FGA graduates as it mostly echoes the course; regardless still a well written and illustrated book.

Best Gemstone Books – Advanced (rare books)

Ruby & Sapphire: a gemologists guide – Richard w. Hughes, Wimon Manorotkul e. Billie Hughes

This book is almost impossible to get your hands on, so I feel almost cruel including it. But if per chance you stumble across this impressive reference book (and stumble you may because it is a full-on door stop!) it is one of the most insightful and detailed looks at corundum (sapphire and ruby) on the market. Reviewed by GIA as a “invaluable resource for people in the gem industry” that can “captivate any reader, thanks to the fascinating crossroads between science, history, art, travel, and other fields.”


Photoatlas of Inclusions in Gemstones – Eduard J. Gübelin I. Koivula


Eduard Gübelin was one of the first gemmologists to investigate microscopic identification of gemstones; world renowned for his research into gemstones and as founder of the Gübelin lab, his legacy lives on today. This is one of three volumes of the infamous ‘Photoatlas’ book series Gübelin produced, which are truly invaluable tools to any professional gemmologist, with photographic examples of nearly all inclusions to be found in precious and semi-precious gems.


These books are not cheap but are 100% worth it if you are working as a gemmologist and identifying stones regularly. That is not to say they aren’t interesting to a hobbyist or gemstone enthusiast, but not essential in a non-professional library.


The Treatises Of Benvenuto Cellini on Goldsmithing and Sculpture – C.R. Ashbee and Benvenuto Cellini (rare book)

Benvenuto Cellini was a skilled Italian goldsmith and sculptor who lived in the 16th century. This historical text has been beautifully translated from its original Italian by C.R Ashbee. For a historic text it is wonderfully easy to read and offers such an insight into the history of jewellery, with practical ‘how to’ guides on everything from how to tint a diamond, foil backing gemstones and various methods of casting precious metals.


Cellini famously produced important jewellery for the Pope, amongst others, and his book also contains fascinating stories and anecdotes of the famous jewels he worked on, right from the horse’s mouth; including how he chose to foil back several emeralds and rubies for the head of the Catholic church. This is a fascinating read for anyone, not just those with an interest in goldsmithing.


Best Non- Fiction Books

Victorian Jewellery – Peter Hinks

One of our best ever finds, this book is a compilation of antique jewellery catalogues from c.1800. The book is a treasure trove of knowledge for referencing antique jewels but also a beautiful coffee table book to merely peruse as though you have been transported back to the Victorian era and are a high society woman selecting her newest jewels. This book used to be fairly inexpensive but since the jewellery community has caught wind it has been hard to find, we would recommend looking on ebay as well as other second hand sites.


The Smithsonian National Gem Collection – Unearthed: Surprising Stories Behind the Jewels – Jeffery Edward Post


The Smithsonian Museum has one of the finest collections of gemstones and jewels in the world and this book offers you a rare insight into their sometimes-sordid history. Post explores some of the most legendary jewels, such as the blue hope diamond, alongside some lesser-known pieces rarely seen on public display. The perfect book if you want to learn about gems alongside scandals of the past. A really engrossing book that you can pick up and drop off between different tales and will make you appreciate the important role gemstone and jewellery play in history.  


Jewels That Made History: 100 Stones, Myths, and Legends – Stellene Volandes


If you love pop culture and history then this book will have you enthralled. A beautifully researched and presented book that takes you through some of the most prolific and saucy jewellery tales. From Egypt to present day with big names such as Lady Gaga and Megan Markle. This is a book we just couldn’t put down.


Stoned: Jewellery obsession and how desire shapes the world- Aja Raden


One of the most unique books on jewellery we have read and a book that will have you hooked. Raden takes you on a historic journey of the world through the lives of eight jewels. A book that makes you realise just what a pivotal role gems and jewels have played in the political and socioeconomic landscape of our world, all stemming from human desire. A must read for everyone.


Rings: jewellery of power love and loyalty – Diana Scarisbrick


A feast for the eyes and for knowledge, this book is a comprehensive guide to our favourite item of jewellery: rings. With hundreds of reference photos accompanying chapters such as ‘rings associated with illustrious people and great events’, this is not your run of the mill book. Well researched and accessibly written this is a useful book whether you are a hobbyist collector, enthusiast or seasoned antiques dealer. Perfect for leaving on the coffee table or researching pieces you have come across.


I like my choyse: Posy Rings from The Griffin Collection – Diana Scarisbrick


Another insightful book from Scarisbrick, this one focusing solely on posy rings. As always beautifully written and referenced with photos from the Griffith collection. This book may seem like one just for the romantics but Scarisbrick does a beautiful job of explaining the importance of posy rings and why they are considered a very significant part of history.  


Jewels & Jewellery (the V&A) – Clare Phillips


An encyclopaedia of knowledge on antique jewellery. Clare Phillips splits the book into three parts: minerals, chronology of style and manufacturing & distribution. With exceptional reference photos throughout, many from the archives of the V&A, this book takes you from raw materials to some of the most important jewels in our history. A great read for anyone interested in jewellery.


The Cartiers: The untold story of the family behind the jewellery empire – Francesca Cartier Brickell


A great book through and through. The Cartier’s story is told through the great granddaughter of the youngest Cartier brother: Jacques. Francesca has travelled extensively visiting relatives and old friends of the brothers to piece together the incredible history to their dynasty. You come away with a new appreciation for Cartier as a family business and in awe at all these brothers achieved.


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