Insects have long held an important place in jewellery design. From the lauded scarab of Ancient Egypt to the live beetles trapped and worn by Victorians who felt they were falling out of step with nature, creepy crawlies have been used as adornment.
While the cruel practice of bejeweling live bugs still continues in South America, most of the insects we now wear are crafted in gold and silver. Or at least, in the case of Bibi Van Der Velden and her jewels, which set real iridescent scarab wings in precious designs, their flying days are over.
“There is a long history of insects being used in jewellery,” says jewellery designer Yasmin Everley, whose bug jewellery appeals to a mixed crowd, from art students to an elderly gentleman who purchased one of her spider and fly necklaces for his wife, who he described as catching him in her web. “Their natural iridescent wing cases have been used as jewels in cultures around the world for millennia. Both Herodotus and Aristophanes refer to the men of Athens wearing golden crickets in their hair, and it was their words which first inspired my collection. Currently, I feel like they are part of the maximalism trend with brands like Alexander McQueen, Gucci and Mary Katrantzou all adding to the public consciousness. Bugs and beetles make a great subject because they toy with the ideas of desirability and repulsion. They also epitomise the mantra ‘live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse’, as their exoskeletons remain while their soft flesh decays within.”
This year, Alex Monroe celebrated a decade of its most iconic design – the Bee pendant. This pretty little winged creature is typical of jewellery’s interpretation of bugs – the smoothing down of the slime and the hairy legs to create beautified, sanitised versions of creatures we would most likely swot away than run towards in real life. But as our fascination with insect jewellery continues apace, our stomach for the more macabre bug has strengthened.
“We have seen bugs for a while, but now the bugs are less pretty,” says Paola de Luca, a trend forecaster and founder of The Futurist Luxury Forecast. “They are dangerous, they are a little weird – that’s the new bug. The new bug has an edge, the new bug is a robot, the new bug is not cute.”
Jeweller Jessica Pass has built her debut collection around bugs that have a shock value. Enormous cicadas and stag beetles are plated in gold and black rhodium, with hyper realistic wing veins and segmented abdomens. Worn in a swarm by Eryka Badu at London summer festival Field Day, these huge rings and brooches perfectly capture the mood of the new bug.
Annoushka also dips into the world of creepy crawlies, with pests like spiders crawling on its Hoopla composable earrings, and pearl beetles and calcite scarabs nestling in its Mythology charm collection. In January, it will follow up on this theme with a collection called The Beetle, which will comprise of cocktail rings, charms and earring drops, with precious pincers covered in gemstone pavé and big specially cut gems, such as citrines, in place of their bodies.
At this month’s Christmas Jewellery Pop Up Shop, shoppers were introduced to the ants of Frances Wadsworth Jones. Her collection Thieves adds shiny, beautiful gold ants to jewels, but these are no benign mini beasts. These ants are out to steal, and have been caught in the act by Wadsworth Jones as they use their super strength to drag away the coloured gems and diamonds she has carefully set into her designs.
It would seem that, at last, the insects that have been immobilised for centuries for our bejewelled pleasure, are starting to fight back.
Spider jewels in gold and silver, set with diamonds and sapphires, at Auverture
Frances Wadsworth Jones 18ct yellow gold and pearl Atlas pin
Erykah Badu wearing Jessica Pass London Cicada bug jewellery
Bibi van der Velden 18ct yellow gold and silver Floaty Scarab stackable ring, set with amethysts, pink sapphires, brown diamonds and real scarab rings
They are dangerous, they are a little weird – that’s the new bug. The new bug has an edge, the new bug is a robot, the new bug is not cute
Annoushka 18ct yellow and rose gold Hoopla earrings with rhodium-plated spider and brown diamond briolettes
Anapsara yellow gold and black diamond Dragonfly ring>
Anabela Chan yellow and black gold-plated Dark Forest Bumble Citrine earrings, set with lab-grown citrines, sapphires, garnets and amethysts