When October birthday girl, Yvonne, brought in her opal October birthstone ring for us to make a pair of studs to match it, we had no idea we’d be working with jewellery with so much historical family knowledge behind it. Fast forward 2 years and a completed opal set would now represent five generations of her family, including her brave breast cancer surviving Great Aunt, and a Butler who appears to have been tipped in jewellery by Queen Victoria’s favourite Opera Singer! Yvonne kindly wrote to fill us in on all the details:
“My story starts in November 1982 when my godmother, and Gt Aunt, died leaving me an opal and diamond ring. The ring was originally two pieces of jewellery, a 22-carat gold wedding band belonging to my Gt Gt Grandmother who married around 1876, and an opal and diamond gold tie pin belonging to my Gt Gt Uncle Dick. He was a butler in service to Dame Emma Albani – a famous opera singer in Covent Garden, and had a claim to fame of once placing the chair for Queen Victoria to sit upon when she gave an audience to hear Madame Albani sing. Its origin, and how he came to acquire the tie-pin is unknown, but we guess it’s likely to be around the 1890s.
Over the years, the wedding band and tie-pin passed down through various family members and both were finally given to my Gr Aunt probably early 1950s to have made into a dress ring. She left the ring to me, her goddaughter, because opals are my birthstone. Lucky me!
There is far more family history behind the ring than I have been able to write here. Its sentimental value is priceless, and totally irreplaceable. I love being custodian of the ring. I love wearing it and have always expressed my desire to own opal and diamond earrings to match.
Over the intervening years, I casually looked for ‘my’ opal earrings in high street jewellers, and quickly realised that to match the beauty, the colour, the size and quality of the opal, and the specific earrings I wanted to own, that I would probably have to have the earrings custom made.
Roll on to 2017 and now with the benefit of the Internet, I expanded my search worldwide, and low and behold found the perfect earrings – beautiful oval opals, surrounded by diamond, set in 18 carat yellow gold – perfect I thought. But just one problem – they were in a shop in Australia! This however inspired me to search in earnest for a local jeweller who would be able to source the opals and make the earrings I so much desired.
After a quick internet search, I came across Nicholas Wylde in Bath who made bespoke jewellery, and tentatively took a step inside the door carrying my precious ring…
I was made welcome and introduced to India Mee, a skilled and talented jewellery designer. She listened to my story, picking up on features and minute detailing in the ring, which she converted into a sketch of my ideal earrings. She then gave me an approximation of the likely cost, which was obviously dependant on the unknown cost of the opals she needed to source.
Following a couple of meetings with India looking at a selection of beautiful opals, I decided on the two opals that were to become my earrings, and just a few weeks later the earrings finally became a reality. I was not disappointed. The earrings are perfect and far exceeded my expectation. Detailing on the reverse reflected light back through the stones, making them dance and come alive with colour. After patiently waiting for 35 years, I now owned the beautiful earrings I had so much desired.
We now move on to 2019, when my mother expressed a wish to add to my opal collection and make a gift of an opal and diamond pendant which would complement the family ring and my earrings. Tucked away in the back of an old case, she located her mother’s 22-carat gold wedding ring from 1933 and offered it to me to use in the pendant.
Another trip back to Nicholas Wylde, and India sketched a design for the new pendant and put word to her suppliers that we were on the search for a pear shape colourful opal. I mentioned I wanted to incorporate my grandmother’s wedding ring and to include a design on the back, to which India suggested they could make some sort of pattern, or swirls, and asked did I perhaps have a favourite flower? At that moment I just knew what was going on the back. My grandmother’s name was Lilian, it just had to be a Lily which would link her perfectly to the piece. But when I mentioned the idea to my mother she said no, not a Lily. Her mother’s favourite flower was the Lily-of-the-Valley…
And so we come to a full circle. 5 generations of my family are represented by the various pieces in the jewellery collection, and what a fantastic way to remember them all. I love wearing it. I love telling the story. And when the time comes, my daughter will be a very lucky woman…”
We hope this story is noted down somewhere important because we’re so glad to officially be part of the history of these beautiful opal pieces! (We’ll keep it all here, just in case). We were delighted when our client, Yvonne, agreed to write out the whole thing for us to share. Jewellery can be such a magical thing in tying us to the past and, as in this case, representing multiple family members, and in items that we can wear every day! A huge thank you to Yvonne for taking the time to do this for us, and for choosing Wylde Jewellers in the first place! We hope to see more of you soon.
The full opal collection:
“22-Carat gold wedding band circa 1876 – My Gt Gt Grandmother’s
Opal and diamond tie-pin circa 1890s – My Gt Gt Uncle’s
Combined into opal and diamond ring circa 1950s – My Gt Aunt’s
Passed down to me 1982
18-Carat gold, opal and diamond earrings 2017
22-carat gold wedding band 1933 (my Grandmother’s) used to make opal and diamond pendant with Lily-of-the-Valley design on reverse 2019 – a gift from my mother”
“Richard Henry Perkins (1857-1934) = my Gt Gt Uncle.
He was a butler working in London, and per the 1891 census, places him working in the household of Madame Emma Albani, a famous opera singer of her time, and favourite of Queen Victoria. According to family history, Richard Perkins once ‘placed the chair’ for Queen Victoria to sit down upon.
Wikipedia says Emma Albani sang in Covent Garden and New York Opera, and ‘admirers presented her with flowers and jewellery’. When Richard Perkins died, his Will lists the following items of jewellery:
Ring with three oriental garnets, pair of blue lustres, largest opal and brilliant pin, diamond stake ring and fancy gold cuff links, plain scarf ring pin with a single ruby stone in centre, scarf ring with three stones, my largest coral and pearl pin, my pin with several turquoise stones, plane gold links and coral & pearl pin, gold horse-shoe locket, diamond and opal tie pin, diamond and sapphire pin, gold watch and chain, large gold nugget pin, smaller gold nugget pin, pin with diamond and pearl centre. He also left stocks & shares, and houses. Quite a remarkable collection of jewellery for a butler… so is there perhaps a connection with the jewellery presented to Emma Albani?? We will never know. The diamond and opal tie pin mentioned in his Will was left to my Gt Grandfather.”
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