Enamel and Gold Brooch by Birks

As the sun’s warmth and spring colours begin to brighten our landscape, we often feel inspired to liven up our wardrobes as well. This is a time of year synonymous with rebirth, blooms and of course, animals frolicking.

Perhaps there is no better time of year to add some playful animal jewellery pieces to your rotation, effortlessly adding a touch of whimsy and delight to any outfit.

Animal motifs are accessible for anyone and can work with nearly any occasion, as there is a wide spectrum of animal jewellery, ranging from dramatic to subtle to simply adorable.

Each animal imparts its own unique symbolism as well, allowing the wearer to embody a deeper meaning behind the piece. Some common interpretations for popular animal motifs include:

Butterfly: a symbol of transformation, rebirth and the soul

Antique Diamond Butterfly Brooch, circa 1880

Dolphin: harmony and playfulness

Diamond, Emerald and Gold Dolphin Brooch, Cartier

Elephant: often associated with good luck

Yellow Sapphire and Gold Elephant Brooch, Cartier

Lion: represents bravery, strength and justice

Coloured Diamond Tiger Brooch, Rene Boivin

Peacock: beauty, confidence, compassion and prosperity

Antique Demantoid Garnet and Gold Peacock Brooch, circa 1900

From bone to bejeweled – animal jewellery throughout the ages

Antique Enamel and Gold Serpent Pendant

Designers and artists have long found Mother Nature and her creatures to be a muse, and animal themes have been a staple in jewellery for centuries. In fact, actual animal matter in the way of shells, bones, teeth and feathers have all been used to create jewellery.

During the Stone Age, it was often customary to bury the dead with animal figurines as amulets, a practice that continued into Ancient Egyptian times where a scarab beetle trinket was often placed on the chest of a mummy, representing their heart.

The serpent motif was first prominent in Ancient Rome; Ancient Greece and the Etruscans had fantastical fire-breathing chimeras, part lion, part goat, part snake; medieval Europe wove mythological creatures into their jewellery design, beauty in the eye of the beholder. The Victorian age saw a revival of romantic, nature-inspired pieces, namely intricately designed brooches of dogs, birds, and butterflies. Real beetles, too, captured their love of the natural world.

Insects were a source of inspiration into the Art Nouveau period, as their bright and colourful bodies lent themselves perfectly to enamel work. The Egyptian scarab reigned once more during the Art Deco era, a time when the fascination with the discovery of the tombs of the Pharaohs was still at its zenith.

Egyptian Revival Turquoise, Diamond, Platinum and Gold Bar Brooch, Cartier, circa 1925

Snakes and bees and panthers – oh, my!

Among the many themes that have emerged throughout each design era, a number of standout animal pieces or motifs have become signatures for several top jewellery houses.

Cartier’s Panthère pieces: Perhaps one of the best-known animal mascots of a jewellery house is Cartier’s panther, a central motif spanning multiple collections. This symbol of feline femininity was first brought to life by designer Jeanne Toussaint in the early 20th century and famously worn by the Duchess of Windsor in stunning brooch and bracelet forms.

Diamond and Gold Ring, Cartier and Sapphire, Enamel and Gold Panther Brooch, Cartier, Gold and Pearl Ring by Cartier

Bulgari’s Serpenti collection: Arguably the most notable collection of snake motif jewels, these intricate pieces were crafted using the Tubogas technique to replicate the flexible coiling of a snake. Bulgari also designed bespoke serpent pieces for the legendary Elizabeth Taylor and fashion editor Diana Vreeland.

Diamond and Pink Gold ‘Serpenti’ Ring, Bulgari

Van Cleef & Arpels: The multi-sized series of Lion Ebouriffé brooches was beloved by sophisticated women including Princess Grace of Monaco.

Various brooches by Van Cleef & Arpels.

Chaumet’s (& Napoleon’s) bees: French Emperor Napoleon donned gold bee jewels to represent and assert his imperial power. His official royal jeweller was the founder of Parisian jewellery maison, Chaumet. Today, modern interpretations of the symbolism can be found in their Bee My Love collection. Birks ‘Bee Chic’ design collection references the hexagonal form of a honeycomb.

Whether you need a reminder of your inner strength or simply want to add a touch of charm to your accessory collection, there will always be a place for the power of the wild in the jewellery world.

More Stories from Dupuis