So at my house we don't have cable which means there is nothing good on TV pretty much ever. We end up watching PBS half the time. The other night Jeremy was zoning out in front of a stimulating episode of the Antiques Road Show and they were showing some really unique jewelry made of steel and one style called cut steel, I love how sparkly it is, plus I'd never seen it before so it got me googling.
Cut steel jewelry was originally manufactured out of recycled horseshoe nails. In higher quality pieces up to 15 facets are cut onto the studs, then each stud is mounted onto base plates by riveting them through tiny holes.
Marcasite jewelry has the same sparkly, metallic look as cut steel and it can be easy to confused one for the other. If you look at the back of a cut steel piece you can see the rivets, where marcasite are set like diamonds and you won't see any rivets.
You can see the rivets in the back of this horse shoe pin:
Cut Steel was popular in England in the 1700's and then became fashionable in France starting in 1759 when the French King Louis XV 'requested' the French to donate their jewelry to the state so he could fund his part in the 'Seven Years War'. Because of how the steel facets glittered in the light like diamonds cut steel jewelry logically took the place of the fine jewelry that had been donated.
The cut steel industry grew really quickly because it was so profitable to make using the recycled materials. Cut steel was popular until the late 19th century but by this time the original 15 facets per stud had been reduced to only 5 facets per stud. Often whole ribbons of of studs would be stamped instead of faceted individually. In the pursuit of profitability the quality really declined.
You can still find some beautiful examples of antique cut steel jewelry for a whole range of prices, just make sure there are no signs of rust and remember the more facets on each stud, the more sparkly it will be.
The road show also introduced me to the work of George T. Marsh who produced jewelry in the 1950's in San Francisco. G.T. Marsh perfected a method of blackening and sealing steel which became his trademark. I have had a hard time tracking down images of his work but here a pair of Marsh jade earrings that I love, so clean and simple.
The black is steel which sets off the stones so beautifully. I will do a little more googling to see if there is more where this came from- if you run across anything let me know!