Down Memory Lane: Insects & Animals as Ornament

Ever wondered what it might feel like to wear a necklace made from dried beetles?  Would you find it beautiful, creepy, a little of both?  It would surely grab attention and generate lots of quizzical stares and conversation.  

Alternatively, could you see yourself donning a pair of earrings made from hummingbird heads?  The once living birds dangling so close to your face that they might brush against your cheeks.

Victorian Insect & Animal Jewelry

Top Left: Hummingbird Earrings from bellandbird.com, Top Right: Beetle Earrings from abrandtandson.com, and Bottom: Beetle Necklace http://wakefieldmuseumsandlibraries.blogspot.com/2013_07_01_archive.html

Some women of today may think it odd or unethical to wear insect and animal jewelry, particularly the kind made from once-living creatures, but during the mid-to-late 19th century, lots of women embraced insect and animal fashions.

During the latter part of the Victorian period, there was a fascination (or perhaps a bit of an obsession) with naturalism.  This intense curiosity with nature was, in many ways, a reaction to industrialization brought about by rapidly advancing science and technology.  It was also partially sparked by Charles Darwin’s controversial theory of evolutionary biology from his 1859 book On the Origin of Species.  People of this time period gravitated to natural history museums and botanical gardens for entertainment and brought miniature terrariums and taxidermy displays into their homes in an attempt to reconnect with nature.

Victorian-PhotosWith the naturalist craze as the backdrop, mid-to-late Victorian fashions found great inspiration in flora and fauna.  Ladies of the day accessorized with all sorts of insect and animal jewelry.  Necklaces and earrings fashioned from once living exotic green beetles and butterflies were commonplace and some women even wove living fireflies into their hair to illuminate their updos at night!  

Ladies of this period also fancied gemstone jewelry made to look like real insects and animals, including dragonflies, bees, ear lice, ticks, lizards, and frogs.  They would scatter their little gem “visitors” about their veils, necklines, & parasols.

TMA's Bug Jewelry

Some of the Insect & Animal Jewelry found on http://www.rubylane.com/shop/trademark

While the thought of owning real insect jewelry may not appeal to some women of today (and certainly didn’t appeal to every woman of yesteryear), most modern ladies still appreciate antique gem-encrusted bugs, reptiles, and animals, like the three featured above.

Wouldn’t it be fun to wear some insect pins scattered in your hair for a formal event?  Think of the buzz a bride would create by walking down the aisle with some diamond or pearl bees and dragonflies on her veil. 

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