Halley's Comet Jewelry: What It Is, And How You Can Tell Which Comet Passing It Was Made To Commemorate

29 June 2015
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In 1705, English astronomer Edmond Halley noted that, between the years 1337 and 1698, 24 comets had passed by the Earth close enough to be witnessed by the naked eye. He formed a synopsis that all of these comets were actually a single comet, circling the sun every 75 years. Halley predicted that the comet would return and again be viewable by Earth in 1758. Although he didn't live to see it, he was right. With proof now in tow that Halley's Comet would light up the sky once again in 1835, the world was ready to celebrate its appearance -- and so was the jewelry industry.

Early Halley's Comet Brooches

The first works of jewelry made to commemorate Halley's Comet appeared following the 1835 sky show. Usually in the form of brooches, they were characterized by a gemstone head connecting a gemstone tail with some sort of linear element. The early productions of Halley's Comet jewelry were reserved for the upper-class, portraying luxurious emeralds and diamonds and ornate, highly detailed gold tails. While highly sought after, these pieces were limited to the select few that could afford them.

1910 Brings Another Orbit And Cheaper Jewelry

When Halley's Comet again came into view in 1910, jewelry makers were ready with a market of more affordable commemorative pieces. These new Halley's Comet wearables left out the top-class gemstones and replaced them with more affordable paste stones.

Paste stones are crafted from a high-lead content glass. They can be clear and look like diamonds, or they can be dyed to look like rubies, sapphires, or a number of other precious stones. If you find a piece of Halley's Comet jewelry in an antique jewelry store or pawn shop, however, there are a few telltale signs that can help you determine whether the piece was made to celebrate the 1835 passing of the comet, or whether it's a post-1910 production.

Differences Between 1800s and 1900s Halley's Comet Jewelry

After the 1910 passing of Halley's Comet, brooches were still popular, but comet-inspired earrings, necklaces, and rings also made their way into the scene. If your find a piece of Halley's Comet jewelry that isn't a brooch, it's likely it was made following the 1910 passing as opposed to an earlier production.  

If you find a comet-inspired brooch, however, it gets a bit trickier to date the piece. One way of discerning what era the pin came from is to feel the gemstones on it with a dry hand. Paste holds heat much better than gemstones, so the stones on jewelry made to celebrate the comet's 1835 passing will feel cold while paste stones from post-1910 productions will feel room temperature when touched. Furthermore, jewelry crafted to commemorate the 1910 passing of the comet usually lacked the highly-detailed tail pieces in favor of streamlined, plainer tails. 

You can also differentiate 1800s from 1900s Halley's Comet jewelry by taking a close look at the gemstones on a piece. Paste stones were mounted with foil backs and had small black dots in their centers to give the illusion of luster. If you can find a little black dot within the stone, you're looking at a 1900s piece of jewelry. 

Finally, use a magnifying glass to look for tiny air bubbles within the stone. Paste stones will exhibit this characteristic while real-deal gemstones in Halley's Comet jewelry from the 1800s will not.

The discovery of Halley's Comet brought about 2 very distinct waves in the jewelry industry -- one following the 1835 passing, and one following the comet's close encounter with Earth in 1910. If you're fortunate enough to find a piece of Halley's Comet jewelry in an antique jewelry store or pawn shop near you, use the above information to determine which comet passing the piece was made to celebrate.