Berlin Ironwork Tiara

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This cast iron tiara was manufactured in Berlin about 1825, the work of the master crafts man, Johann Gleiss. The word ‘tiara’ suggests a headdress decorated with precious stones. However, this Berlin tiara is devoid of jewels. Instead, it is very light, about the weight of a butter knife, and is rich in exquisite lace work. The semi- circular headband is embellished with lattice designs, crosses and rose frilled circles, and is backed with fabric. Above this band are five discs, elaborately adorned with rosettes - think of an oreo biscuit!!! Between each disc sprouts a foliage decoration. The discs are topped by pointed arches which resemble four paned windows often seen in Gothic cathedrals.  

Berlin iron jewellery was made by pressing an item into damp sand to create a mould.  When the sand dried, melted wax was poured into the impression and used to cast iron. After casting, the jewellery was cleaned and polished. Originally this jewellery was produced in the 1790s. With its matte black lacquer finish, this inexpensive jewellery became known as mourning jewellery and became popular with people grieving their loved ones. 

However, by 1813 Napoleon had successfully occupied Prussia for over seven years. Prussia declared war against France. To help fund the war, the Royal family asked the aristocracy and upper classes to donate their precious jewellery and gold. In return, those who contributed were given iron jewellery for their loyalty and many pieces were inscribed with the phrase, ‘I gave gold for iron’.

Berlin iron later became fashionable across the continent. To meet the demand, Berlin iron craftsmen created bracelets, earrings, brooches, necklaces, and hair ornaments. However, tiaras are very rare among the surviving examples of Berlin Ironwork.

The interest in Ironwork eventually faded, but a piece of Berlin iron has its own message: it tells of a people trading their valuables for a greater good.

In collection(s): Seeing without sight Fashion


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