A general jewellery bibliography

If you want to learn about Western jewellery history, there are some great books to get going with. Jewellery is often included in exhibition catalogues or books on wider art historical subjects but this general jewellery bibliography concentrates on fairly recently published books which are uniquely concerned with jewellery.

Older books can be hard to find but digitised or library copies are often available. Here are some of the books which I find particularly useful and enjoyable.

General jewellery books

Jewels and jewellery: Clare Phillips

V&A/ Thames and Hudson, 2019

Cover of 'Jewels and Jewellery' by Clare Phillips showing a diamond and sapphire coronet on a blue background.

This book, now in its third edition, is a great introduction to the history of jewellery from the middle ages up to contemporary craft makers.

It serves as both an introduction to the Victoria and Albert Museum jewellery collection and to the study of Western jewellery. It’s beautifully illustrated and introduces the history of jewellery design chronologically and thematically, covering particular makers or types of objects as well as wider art movements.

7000 years of jewellery: Hugh Tait

Cover image for '7000 years of jewellery' by Hugh Tait showing a pearl necklace with a blue stone pendant above the title text.

British Museum Press, first published in 2007 and reissued in 2017.

This is a wide-ranging survey of jewellery, from across the world. It covers objects as varied as Egyptian necklaces, Celtic torcs, South American gold masks, Renaissance pendants and Art Nouveau buckles. Featuring over 400 photographs and essays by British Museum curators, it’s a great starting point for the jewellery enthusiast.

Jewelry from antiquity to the present: Clare Phillips

Thames and Hudson, 1996

This is a shortish book in the ‘World of Art’ series. It offers an overview of jewellery, as the title suggests, from antiquity to the late twentieth century. It’s reasonably well illustrated with objects from collections around the world and gives a great introduction to jewellery design and history.

Jewelry: the body transformed

Yale University Press, 2018

Cover image for 'Jewelry: the body transformed' showing a gold necklace with geometric decorations with protruding finger-like extensions. The title is overlaid over the image.

This is the catalogue of an exhibition held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It’s a cross cultural study of jewellery, bringing together objects from the Met’s exceptional collections. The exhibition and book look at how jewellery can transform the body – by decorating, consecrating, transforming and distorting it. It’s an original way to approach the subject and is fabulously illustrated with images of jewels, paintings and sculptures from around the world.

Jewellery in Britain: 1066-1837- Diana Scarisbrick

Michael Russell, 1994

Cover image for 'Jewellery in Britain 1066-1837' showing a dark red background with a central panel image of a diamond set insignia of the Order of the Garter. The insignia has the figure of St George on horseback spearing a prostrate dragon. The outer border is set with large diamonds.

Diana Scarisbrick is the doyenne of British jewellery history. ‘Jewellery in Britain 1066-1837’ tells the story of British jewellery design and history from the Norman Conquest to the coronation of Queen Victoria in just under 500 pages. It looks at the social and historial context of jewellery in the middle ages, Tudor and Stuart periods and under the Georgians as well as offering a detailed look at particular types of jewellery.

Jewellery Matters – Marjan Unger and Suzanne van Leeuwen

NAI, 2017

Cover image for 'Jewellery Matters' showing silhouetted jewels in black against a blue background.

In ‘Jewellery Matters’, Marjan Unger and Suzanne van Leeuwen draw upon the collections of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to look at jewellery from Byzantium to the present. They examine the driving forces behind the creation of jewellery with the aid of beautifully photographed objects shown to scale.

Early jewellery

Greek Gold: Jewelry of the Classical WorldDyfri Williams and Jack Ogden

New York: Abrams, 1994

This book brings together the fabulous gold jewellery made in classical Greece and now in the collections of the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. It includes technical analysis and scanning electron microphotographs with a discussion of each piece’s iconography and use.

Ancient Egyptian Jewelry- Carol Andrews

British Museum Press, new edition 1996

This book offers a great overview of ancient Egyptian jewellery, based on collections in Cairo, London, Munich and New York. It’s well illustrated and gives clear explanations of the social, amuletic and political functions of jewellery under the Pharaohs.

It’s an updated version of a classic text but holds up well.

Medieval jewellery

Medieval jewellery in Europe: 1100-1500 – Marian Campbell

Victoria and Albert Museum, 2009

Cover image for 'Medieval Jewellery' showing a gold ring brooch set with cabochon red stones. The ring brooch has a pin across the centre.

This is quite a short but very readable book on jewellery from the early middle ages to the beginning of the Renaissance. It’s largely based on the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, supported by images from other public and private collections. It unites interesting social history with an account of the development of medieval jewellery.

Mediaeval European Jewellery: Ronald W. Lightbown

Victoria and Albert Museum, 1992

Cover image for 'Medieaval European Jewellery' with an image of a gemset crown against a black background.

Ronald Lightbown’s mighty tome on medieval European jewellery is both a comprehensive account of jewellery and a catalogue of the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, with the notable exception of rings. It’s supported by a vast amount of archival research and covers the development of medieval jewellery with chapters on individual types of jewels such as head-jewels, necklaces and so forth.

It’s extraordinarily expensive second-hand but can generally be found in academic libraries.

Renaissance and early modern jewellery

Renaissance jewellery is probably one of the most difficult areas of study. Very little original jewellery survives and much of what we know comes from paintings and inventories. However, there are some good books to read on the subject, with the caveat that scholarship on this area is still changing and developing.

Princely Magnificence: Court Jewels of the Renaissance, 1500-1630

Victoria and Albert Museum, 1980.

This is the catalogue of an exhibition held in 1980. It’s an older book without the quality of colour images which a more modern publication offers but is still a useful resource. One problem with Renaissance studies is that jewellery of this period was frequently faked in the nineteenth century. As research progresses, some jewels previously considered genuine have been disqualified and others reinstated.

Renaissance jewellery – Yvonne Hackenbroch

Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979

Although this book is now almost fifty years old, it’s still a useful resource on Renaissance jewellery. It covers a wide range of objects and is supported by excellent archival research. Yvonne Hackenbroch has also written on hat jewels in ‘Enseignes: Renaissance hat jewels’ (1996).

‘Jewels of the Renaissance (Legends)’ was published posthumously with Gonzague Saint Bris. It picks up the study of Renaissance jewels through surviving objects, paintings and sculpture.

Tudor and Jacobean Jewellery – Diana Scarisbrick

Tate Gallery Publications, 1996

Cover image for 'Tudor and Jacobean Jewellery' showing a painted image of a woman's head and torso. She is wearing a delicate lace collar which stands up around her head and a white embroidered bodice. Her hair is set with pearls and a pearl necklace is wound through it. She wears a pearl and gemstone necklace with a pendant of red and black stones.

This is another slim book, coming in at just over 100 pages, but it covers a wide range of Tudor and Jacobean jewels. It’s nicely illustrated, using portraits to fill the gaps where historic jewels no longer survive.

The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels Hazel Forsyth

Philip Wilson, 2013

Cover image of 'London's Lost Jewels' showing an emerald and white enamel salamander jewel arranged diagonally across a black background.

The Museum of London’s exhibition of the Cheapside hoard of 17th century jewels was one of the most memorable jewellery displays in recent years. It brought together an exceptional collection of gem-set and enamelled jewellery, found in a building site in the early twentieth century. The book is an account of the hoard’s history, of the trade in jewellery in early modern England and investigates the use of particular gemstones and types of jewellery. It includes a great deal of original archival research and fabulous photography.

Eighteenth century jewellery

Eighteenth century jewellery has received surprisingly little attention. Although it is covered in more general jewellery books, there are few books specifically dedicated to it.

Georgian Jewellery 1714-1839- Ginny Redington Dawes and Olivia Collings

ACC Art Books, 2007 and 2018

Cover image of 'Georgian Jewellery' showing five necklaces set with a series of coloured gemstones draped across a white background.

‘Georgian Jewellery’ covers jewellery in Britain during the reign of kings George I to IV. It’s beautifully illustrated and organised according to jewels worn in the day and in the evening, followed by chapters on love and mourning jewellery. The text is interesting and readable, aimed at a general audience rather than an academic one. There is a bibliography but no footnotes or further references.

The nineteenth century

The nineteenth century offers the largest number of surviving historic jewels and has been very fully researched.

Jewellery in the age of Queen Victoria: a mirror to the world – Charlotte Gere and Judy Rudoe

British Museum Press, 2010

Cover image of 'Jewellery in the age of Queen Victoria' showing a painting of a woman in a dark green dress wearing an archaeologically inspired gold necklace.

‘Jewellery in the age of Queen Victoria’ is a monumental work in every sense of the word. With 550 pages and 500 illustrations, it’s a compendium of every aspect of Victorian jewellery history, from royal jewels to those made by commercial Birmingham firms. It’s based on the collections of the British Museum but enriched with contemporary adverts, paintings, photographs and images from other collections. It’s the summary of a lifetime of research and brings together social history, archival and object research in a superbly readable text.

Victorian Jewellery – Peter Hinks

Studio Editions, 1991

Cover image of 'Victorian Jewelry' showing a series of images from a trade catalogue including a central starburst pendant set above a bar brooch. It is flanked by two watch-brooches.

The nineteenth century was the age of mass production and commercialisation in jewellery. Peter Hinks’ ‘Victorian Jewellery’ is based on the catalogues of major jewellery firms. Reprints of plates from the catalogues of firms like the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Company Ltd, Streeters and Co. offer a comprehensive overview of middle class British and American jewellery between 1875 and 1905.

Artists’ Jewellery: Pre-Raphaelite to Arts and Crafts – Charlotte Gere and Geoffrey C. Munn

ACC, 1989

Cover image of 'Artists' jewellery' showing an Art Nouveau tiara with a large white ostrich feather. It is topped by gold figures.

‘Artists’ Jewellery’ is the perfect counterpart to Peter Hinks’ collection of commercial jewellery. It covers jewellery made by artist and designers in the arts and crafts tradition. It brings together jewels from public and private collection together with preparatory drawings, designs and the stories of their creation in a fascinating and accessible way.

Jewelry and Metalwork in the Arts and Crafts tradition – Elyse Zorn Karlin

Schiffer, 1993

Cover image of 'Jewelry and metalwork in the Arts and Crafts Tradition' showing a green background with a pattern of feathers. The image in the centre of the cover is of an enamelled and opal peacock jewel shown with its tail fanned out.

Elyse Zorn Karlin’s 1993 book on Arts and Crafts jewellery and metalwork is a very reliable source of information on makers and hallmarks, covering the most famous firms and jewellers as well as lesser names. The quality of the images is not as good as a more modern publication but it makes up for this through the comprehensive nature of its coverage and the depth of research evidenced in the text.

Twentieth century jewellery

Twentieth century jewellery books are plentiful, including general surveys as well as books on individual firms, makers and art movements. These books provide a jumping off point for the general readers.

Designers & jewellery 1850-1940 – Helen Ritchie

PWP/ Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 2018

Cover image of 'Designers and Jewellery' showing an enamelled and gold pendant jewel against a dark background. The jewel is formed as a circle in which stands a white enamelled winged horse.

This book is the companion to a 2018 exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum. It covers silver and metalwork as well as jewellery and spans the nineteenth and twentieth century through the work of designer/ makers such as Henry Wilson, C.R. Ashbeen and companies like Hunt and Roskell and Phillips. It’s beautifully illustrated and includes a full bibliography, glossary and footnotes.

Maker and Muse: women and early twentieth century art jewelry- edited by Elyse Zorn Karlin

The Monacelli Press, 2015

Cover image of 'Maker and Muse'. White background on which is placed a yellow enamel and pearl jewel shaped like a naked figure of a woman in gold. She is bending over to show a pair of enamelled butterfly wings which emerge from her back.

‘Maker and Muse’ was an exhibition at the Richard H. Driehaus museum, telling the story of women in jewellery in the early twentieth century. The essays in the book cover the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain and America, Art Nouveau in Europe and the American art jewellery of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Interesting and accessible text is supported by excellent photography.

The new jewelry: trends and traditions – Peter Dormer and Ralph Turner

Thames and Hudson, second edition 1994

Cover image of 'The new jewelry'. Graduated fawn background on which are placed two geometric rings, one red and one green and purple.

In the 1960s, jewellery took a sudden turn towards modernity. ‘The New Jewelry’ by Peter Dormer and Ralph Turner charts the rise of studio and artist jewellers in the 1980s and 1990s, looking at invention in design and materials. It’s divided into three sections which cover abstract jewellery, contemporary figurative jewellery and radical jewellery which seeks to challenge the status quo.

Women jewellery designers – Juliet Weir de la Rochefoucauld

ACC, 2022

Cover image of 'Women jewellery designers'. White background on which is placed a large diamond and aquamarine necklace. The necklace has a two rows of square aquamarines at the front, with one large stone in the centre.

This gorgeously produced book charts the achievements of women jewellery designers from the early twentieth century to the present day. Famous names like Suzanne Belperron and Coco Chanel are joined by less known but fascinating makers, supported by beautiful object photography and contextual images.

Further reading

If you’re interested in brooches, here is a suggested bibliography.

For more on rings, there is a list here.

Five great books on sentimental jewellery here.