This natural amber necklace of 143 oval beads sold at Richard Winterton Auctioneers for £240.

Hidden treasures can fetch hundreds of pounds at auction

IT’S not all about diamonds and gold, writes Louise Ludlam-Snook.

There are other hidden treasures out there that you may not know about which is why taking your items to a reputable auction house such as Richard Winterton Auctioneers is a great idea.

Our specialists can look through your jewellery and find any hidden treasure, which can then be catalogued accordingly and sold for its true value.

A prime example of valuable jewellery that can be overlooked is natural amber.

Natural amber bead necklaces can fetch hundreds of pounds at auction and can easily be dismissed as plastic beads; there are lots of imitations out there that are plastic, treated and pressed amber, so an expert eye is needed.

I remember a point in my career when natural amber bead necklaces where achieving more per gram than gold!

Amber is not actually a gem, it’s fossilised tree resin that’s millions of years old. The majority of amber on the market today is Baltic amber which comes in a variety of yellow to orange shades and ‘butterscotch’ amber is one that fetches some of the highest prices.

A high proportion of amber is treated in some way to enhance it, for example to clarify it, to darken it, or to induce so-called ‘sun spangles’. These inclusions are believed by many to be proof of natural amber, but they’re actually discoidal stress fractures caused by the amber being heated.

Cut-steel jewellery is another example of jewellery whose value could be easily disregarded. Steel is not a precious metal so cut steel jewellery can be assumed as low or no value, but it’s the age, quality and rarity of pieces that contribute to its value and collectability.

Lots of items were produced from cut steel; earrings, brooches, bracelets, necklaces and chatelaines, with buttons and shoe buckles being the most popular.

The handle and shell-shaped guard of this ornate late 19th/early 20th century dress sword by Henry Pool & Company of Saville Row, London, is decorated with cut steel beading.
The handle and shell-shaped guard of this ornate late 19th/early 20th century dress sword by Henry Pool & Company of Saville Row, London, is decorated with cut steel beading.

They were constructed of cut steel frames set with small steel studs that were individually faceted and polished to a very high shine. They were made to resemble gemstones; the facets reflected the light, giving them a ‘sparkle’.

Cut-steel jewellery was very popular from the 1700s, becoming fashionable in France circa 1759, as it was worn as a substitute for donated jewellery when King Louis XV ‘requested’ that citizens donate their precious gems and jewellery to help fund his military campaigns.

By the 18th century demand for it often made it more valuable than gold.

There were many manufacturers of cut steel jewellery, but Mathew Boulton – who had workshops in Birmingham and London – was considered one of the best.

Cut-steel remained popular until the late 19th century. It became mass manufactured and quality began to deteriorate, leading to a fall in demand.

Victorian pieces didn’t have the quality or beauty of the earlier pieces and, as a result of steel’s high corrosion factor, rust has meant not many pieces have survived.

Richard Winterton Auctioneers offers jewellery appraisals, insurance valuations and probate advice by appointment at The Lichfield Auction Centre, Fradley Park, and pop-up, drop-in jewellery valuations also take place every Tuesday at The Hub at St Mary’s in Lichfield and at Burntwood Library on the last Tuesday in the month.

To book appointments or to discuss full or partial house clearances, telephone 01543 251081 or email office@richardwinterton.co.uk.

Pictured at the top of the page, a natural amber necklace of 143 oval beads which sold at Richard Winterton Auctioneers for £240.

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