The Peaks District, England
It’s so nice to be back in jolly old England and there is no better place than the Peak District to begin our journey. Located 150 miles north of London, The Peak District National Park covers an area of 555 square miles; the mission of the park is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area, but there is a difference in the way it operates when compared to American national parks. Around 38,000 people live and work within the boundaries of the Peak National Park in dozens of charming townships, villages and hamlets, each with their own unique culture and history. Farming and land management is the largest industry producing a variety of cheeses, ales and ciders that are outstanding. Quarries have been in the area for decades and tourism supports the many fine pubs, lodges, hotels and local specialty shops scattered between and within the villages
Sir William Cavendish bought the 1,000 acre estate land in 1549 and commenced construction of Chatsworth House in 1552; major additions were added in the late 17th century by the fourth Earl who became the first Duke of Devonshire in 1694. Chatsworth is undoubtedly one of the most stately homes in England as well as the most popular tourist destination within the Peaks Park; the peaceful beauty of the Peak District is perfectly showcased within its grounds. The Derwent River meanders along the expansive front lawn and gardens surrounding the home while the hillside in the rear offers the perfect backdrop to this dreamscape. The home itself offers centuries of stories which are told through the jewelry, furniture, paintings, sculpture, wood and stonework within; the best from generations of master artists, craftsmen and designers of the time – it is no wonder that royalty can create fashion trends so quickly.
What brings Jewelry Television® to a British national park you may ask? Well, Blue John fluorite primarily, but also an invitation to an exclusive preview of an amazing event called “House Style, Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth.” This event was something we couldn’t turn down as gemstones and jewelry have traditionally played a huge role in fashion, as well as the fact that the Cavendish families have been great supporters of the arts for centuries. This fascinating exhibit is open now and will continue until October 22, 2017.
During our trip we also visited The Treak Cliff Cavern, one of only two fluorite mines in operation today. This is a must visit location for any lover of multi-colored, banded Blue John fluorite. It is primarily a tourist attraction today and comfortably accessible with steps and railings for a safe tour. Glimmering stalactites growing under the roof of the cavern are visible along the way. We walked deep within the mountain and then “off the beaten track” to view the latest small pocket of blue john recently discovered. Thankfully, the miners still find rough crystals large enough to create distinctive rings and pendants. It was explained to us that this area yields only about one half ton of material annually, which is considered a very small production. Unfortunately for modern jewelry and gemstone aficionados, most of the larger veins were dug out during the First World War as fluorspar was in high demand for use as a flux in blast furnaces.
At its most popular during the late Georgian period, many large Blue John fluorite crystals were fashioned into vases, bowls and other ornaments; the finest examples of these rarities have fetched as much as $450,000. Today, most survive in Britain’s great houses including Chatsworth, Buckingham Palace and the Natural History Museum. We can thank Matthew Boulton, an 18th century English engineer and manufacturer, for much of that. In 1769 he bought 14 tons of the finest quality Blue John, becoming the first to fashion it into goblets, vases and other decorative ornaments.
Blue John went out of style early in the 20th century mostly due to the war and diminishing productions. However, the smaller crystals still being produced are beautiful. Our host on this trip, Chris Sellors, founder of C.W. Sellors, has a passion for this gem. Recognizing its uniqueness and rarity, he changed the focus of Blue John from beautiful ornamental objects to wearable jewelry. He has built a business around hand crafted jewelry and two quintessential British gems, Blue John Fluorite and Whitby Jet. Fortunately for Chris, the eleventh Duke of Devonshire and his wife, Duchess Deborah, were also admirers of these stones and were amongst the first customers of the young lapidary and jeweler Mr. Sellors. A royal relationship continues to this day when Lady Burlington, daughter in law of the current Duke, came up with the idea of telling the history of costume at Chatsworth. She turned to Chris for help in recreating some of the precious jewelry items. A magnificent example of this came from a photo of what is quite possibly the most elaborate headdress ever made, worn by Duchess Louise on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the grandest dress ball of the century! Chris also reproduced two of the famous Devonshire diamond tiaras.
Jewelry Television® carries a fine selection of C.W. Sellors Blue John and Whitby Jet jewelry, all of which is hallmarked at the Birmingham Assay office. We went to Birmingham and learned about the history of hallmarking in Great Britain, in my next England tour blog I will take you through that very interesting and historical story.
-George Williams, Senior Gemstone Buyer