Past to Present Blue John Masterpieces
With its decoration in many stately homes, which includes Buckingham Palace, providing a rich history for Blue John, it did fall out of favour at the end of the Victorian era and to maintain an industry much valuable Blue John was used for fluxing steel. The result of which is that large pieces are now unobtainable, yet many original pieces can still be viewed and enjoyed. In addition, the few hundred kilograms which are permitted to be mined each year are wonderfully crafted for ornamental and award-winning lapidary use.
In tracing back the appetite for Blue John as a decorative gemstone, we once again return to the influence of Matthew Boulton and the association with his friend Robert Adam. As designer and architect to many the many stately homes which were being built in the late 1760s Adam would frequently work with Boulton to supply the vases, candelabra, censers, perfume jars, clocks and other objets d’ar that would decorate their interior. In working on several London locations, it would have helped bring the ormolu work of Boulton to the attention of royalty and following a visit to the Buckingham House in 1770, King George III and Queen Charlotte commissioned many pieces. The Grand Entrance and Marble Hall of Buckingham Palace is currently home to a number of Blue John items including a pair of candle vases, urns and pot pouri vases, whilst a mantel clock with Blue John backing to the dial and side panels - made for the royal bedroom - still resides in the Palace. Further royal appreciation can be seen throughout various collections of the subsequent kings and queens of the day.
Alongside Matthew Boulton, John Vallance (1781-1853) was another significant name in the early production of Blue John. Not only were his celebrated ‘Derbyshire Spar’ vases listed in the catalogue of the 1851 Great Exhibition, London, but he produced what is probably the largest Blue John vase ever made measuring forty-one inches from the base to the top of the handles, and more than forty inches in circumference.
This vase is now one of five now owned by the Natural History Museum, London. Vallance was also instrumental in establishing what is referenced today as the Royal Museum in Matlock Bath and which was the subject of a visit by Queen Mary, en route to her visit to Chatsworth in 1913. The visit to the home of Blue John seemed to be the start of her own passion for the gemstone and in addition to the souvenir Blue John piece she was presented during her stop off, it was undoubtedly where she also purchased the small silver and Blue John bowl found in the Royal Collections, from which many more purchases followed.
Proving the appetite for Blue John is still very much alive, C W Sellors Fine Jewellery based in Ashbourne, Derbyshire are the UK’s largest jewellery manufacturers of the gemstone. Recognising the rare nature and aesthetics of Blue John, their craftsmen not only set the gemstone with silver and 9ct gold as in traditional style, but increasingly use diamonds, pearls and other fine gemstones in 18ct gold to produce many highly prized and modern jewellery collections.
C W Sellors travel extensively throughout the UK and overseas to showcase their Blue John jewellery and have also built up a fascinating ornamental collection to accompany their famed association with Britain’s most loved gemstone. One highlight of their collection is an iron-based table which features a Derbyshire rose design one meter in diameter and pieced together with individual sections of booked-matched Blue John.