• Antiques in Oxford

It’s green, purple and white – but is it really suffragette jewellery?

You’re looking at an English-made antique ring from the Edwardian era, featuring an amethyst, a peridot and a natural pearl. It must be a suffragette ring. Or is it?

The pretty colour combination of green, white and violet – later claimed to stand for “Give Women Votes” – from this period was adopted by the group led by Emmeline Pankhurst, a British political activist who rose to prominence in the first years of the 20th century.

The white stood for purity, the purple for dignity and the green for hope, but these women were no shrinking violets. Members of Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union did not shy from physical confrontation and the group became notorious for its increasingly militant tactics.

Despite this – or perhaps because of the attention they attracted – their contribution is today seen as central to British women achieving suffrage in 1918. (Interestingly, women across the newly federated nation of Australia beat them by a full 16 years, though the United States came to the party a little later, in 1920.)

The three-colour combination still resonates now – they’re the colours of International Women’s Day.

But today the antique jewellery market is awash with so-called suffragette jewels in these colours, antique rings featuring what are quite obviously crudely swapped-in replacement gemstones. Seeing them has made me very sceptical of all such pieces – I even ended up doubting that the women of the era wore their colours so openly.

Yet after reading about the suffrage movement online, I now feel reassured that women did indeed wear green, white and violet – and did so in their thousands. For example, some 10,000 scarves were sold before a big street march in London in 1908.

And it’s certain that some suffragette jewellery was produced. For Christmas in 1908 the London jeweller Mappin & Webb actually produced a catalogue about it. Pankhurst herself wore a brooch designed by her daughter, which resembled the House of Commons portcullis and was a badge of honour for women who had been imprisoned.

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