The Art Deco Crowd-Pleaser: Butterfly Wing Jewellery
Brilliant Blues of the Metallic Morpho
You may have heard the term "butterfly wing jewellery" before, but did you know that they contain real pieces of butterfly wing?
Popularised during the mid 1920's, butterfly wing jewellery most commonly made use of the wings of the Blue Morpho butterfly of South America. Being one of the largest species of butterfly in the world with spectacular, shimmering colours makes it easy to see why they were chosen for the task.
Above: A Blue Morpho Butterfly (morpho didius) museum specimen - Wikipedia
How is it made?
Some butterfly wing jewellery features nothing more than the wing itself. The stunning metallic colours are enough to catch the eye, and you will often see brooches and pendants displaying the iconic bright blue.
Perhaps more typical (and admired) are the pieces which feature artwork. This is achieved by painting the inside of a glass or crystal (reverse painting) and then laying it on top of the butterfly wing, allowing the vivid colouration to serve as a backdrop. Silver was the most common of the metals to be used, and items such as rings, brooches, pendants, necklaces and charms were created in various shapes and sizes.
Left: A vintage silver oval ring depicting the "Duchess of Richmond" ocean liner, now sold - Goldcrest Antique & Vintage
Right: A vintage silver circular pendant featuring butterfly wing, now sold - Goldcrest Antique & Vintage
Where did it originate?
The documented history of butterfly wing jewellery is vague at best; it seems universally accepted that it began life during the late Victorian period, however it was around the 1920's when manufacturing was increased and the popularity in the public eye began to grow. This was primarily down to a man named Thomas Lyster Mott.
The earliest jewellery by Thomas L. Mott dates to 1875, with his registered address reported as 79 Vyse Street, Birmingham, England. It was in 1924 when he exhibited a range of butterfly wing jewellery at the "British Empire Exhibition" in Wembley, catapulting his unique and eye-catching pieces into the limelight. This grand exhibition lasted for a year and a half.
Interestingly a company named Shipton & Co were the first to patent using butterfly wings in picture form, creating patent numbers 202212 and 202213 in the year 1922. Shipton & Co eventually acquired Mott's business, and are still operating today.
Left: A patent stamp on an Art Deco kingfisher ring, now sold - Goldcrest Antique & Vintage
Right: A patent stamp, hallmark and TLM (Thomas L Mott) maker's mark on a kingfisher brooch, now sold - Goldcrest Antique & Vintage
What should I look out for when buying butterfly wing jewellery?
Fake butterfly jewellery does exist, however I have seen far more of the real thing than I have of the former! Considering the popularity of butterfly wing jewellery during the 20's and 30's, it is not rare and is readily available on the secondhand jewellery market.
Above: Faux Butterfly Wing (Foil) Compact Mirror by Gwenda, now sold - ArtDecovaVintage
Imitations can be difficult to spot over the internet, where it is impossible to turn the piece over in your hands. Foil was used by a brand called Gwenda Works in an attempt to imitate butterfly wing, however these pieces do have a notably different texture. If you are able to handle an item in person, you will notice the lack of scales which are present on real butterfly wings.
Above: A Thomas L. Mott tropical scene, and a partly faded T.L.M. stamp to the reverse, now sold - Goldcrest Antique & Vintage
If you want to be sure you are buying authentic butterfly wing, look for the patent stamps mentioned previously (202212 or 202213), or for the maker's mark of Thomas L Mott, often abbreviated to TLM or T.L.M STERLING, commonly paired with a MADE IN ENGLAND stamp. Not all genuine pieces will have these stamps, but it is a solid indicator of the real thing.
As always I recommend purchasing your jewellery from an established business with lots of positive reviews (I may be giving myself a shoutout there 😉). Ask questions of the seller if you're unsure!
Above: An Art Deco Sterling Silver Butterfly Wing Tropical Pendant Necklace by Thomas L. Mott, now sold - Goldcrest Antique & Vintage
How do I look after my butterfly wing jewellery?
There are two main things to be aware of: keep it away from water and keep it away from direct sunlight.
Even though butterfly wing jewellery is encased, water can get into the crevices between the metal and glass which will cause irreparable damage to the delicate butterfly wings. Avoid washing, swimming or cleaning this jewellery with water. In most cases a simple silver polishing cloth will suffice in giving your vintage items some shine.
Similarly, leaving your butterfly jewellery in direct sunlight for extended periods of time will cause fading and discolouration.
Above: A selection of vintage Butterfly Wing jewellery, now sold - Goldcrest Antique & Vintage