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A highly refined and rare Red Coral (Corallium rubrum) crown or tiara attributed to the Phillips Brothers of London

England, circa 1850-1870, possibly by Robert Phillips, apparently unmarked

The polished Red Coral branches are used to form a tiara higher towards the centre, made in the form of a wreath of leaves at the lower edge. The individual coral parts are placed along a gold-plated ring with attachment eyelets.

H. 6 cm (front)
Diam. approx. 15 cm


Although the present piece bears no signature, it is closely related to the work of the Phillips Brothers, for whom Robert Phillips was the leading supplier of coral objects in London. As early as 1870, the company was able to title itself “The most complete collection of fine coral work in the world". Coral jewellery, from elaborate tiaras like the one presented to simple strings of beads, was one of the most characteristic forms of personal jewellery in the Victorian era. The origins of the fashion have been variously traced to Napoleon’s Italian campaigns; to the coral jewellery of a royal bride (the Duchess d’Aumale in Naples in 1845); or (more circularly) to the era’s general interest in decorative naturalism. The European centre for coral design was Naples, with easy access to beds of red coral in the Mediterranean, which were indeed largely destroyed by the popularity during this period. The most prominent designer Robert Phillips directed the fashion from his studio on Cockspur Street. Its heyday in Britain - particularly of the naturalistic strain, which preserved the spiky natural shapes of the coral forms - were the 1850s. Later the fashion collapsed, perhaps under its own weight. (Anderson, 2008)

A comparable piece can be found in The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery of the Victoria & Albert Museum (inv. no. M.10:1.2-2003).

Source: Katharine Anderson, "Coral Jewellery" in: Victorian Review, vol. 34, no. 1, 2008, p. 47-52(Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/vcr.2008.0008)

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