Charles Horner (1837 – 1896) from Yorkshire, was a prominent jeweller in the late 19thCentury. Born to a local weaver in Ovenden, his business was founded in 1860s Halifax. Although the company was known for producing a wide range of jewellery and silver objects, they were particularly recognised for their Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau enamelled pendants. Although Horner passed before the turn of the century, his company continued with the help of his sons. It survived both world wars and continued producing jewellery until the 1980s.
Development of the Company
Horner’s business, Charles Horner of Halifax, first grew to notoriety due to the development of the ‘Dorcas’ thimble. This was patented in 1884. These thimbles differed from the ones before as they had a layer of reinforced steel in between the decorated silver shell. Prior to this, thimbles were often made of a softer silver that did not stop sewing needles from pricking the skin. The Dorcas thimble was incredibly popular. Although the company also produced traditional silver hallmarked thimbles and jewellery, the Dorcas thimble was most likely the innovation that earnt the company acclaim and allowed them to expand. The thimbles continued to be in production until 1947.
After their father’s death in 1896, his two sons – James Dobson and Charles Henry Horner, took over the company. After they took over, they began a partnership with Charles William Leach. 1905 was an important year for the business as they expanded into a new factory at Mile Cross in Halifax. Production grew at the factory as they produced a wide range of items such as clocks and tableware.
Jewellery and style
Despite the wide range of objects produced at the Charles Horner Factory, they continued to be well-known for their Art Nouveau jewellery, especially their silver enamelled pendants. Art Nouveau is defined by natural shapes and sinuous lines, that result in ethereal and alien pieces. The undulating outlines separate Art Nouveau from earlier styles. Skilled silversmiths were able to transform the cold metal into organic forms. Following the examples set by jewellers such as Philippe Wolfers, Horner incorporated opalescent enamel into his designs.
The early 20th century also saw an increase of interest in Egyptian culture. During the 19th century there was a variety of cultural events that spiked interest in the ancient world; Napoleons Egyptian Campaign, deciphering of hieroglyphics, and the building of the Suez Canal. These all trickled down into popular culture and a fashion for ancient Egypt emerged. One area of design that reflected this is jewellery. Horner blended the Art Nouveau style with this Egyptian revival, resulting in otherworldly enamelled scarab pendants.