Endless Summer: Victorian Era Pink Operculum Bracelet in 9ct Gold


The Natural World was one of the popular themes during the Victorian Era – following the success of Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species” in 1859 the United Kingdom and it’s colonies, as well as much of the rest of the world, had a renewed interest in the world around them. This, of course, was reflected in the jewellery of the time.

Shell bracelets like this one were the height of fashion in the middle decades of the Victorian Era. Australian beaches offered some truly fascinatingly beautiful shells that were incorporated into jewellery – such as the iridescent marineer shell, which has been a favourite and important cultural item for the Australian Aboriginal people of Tasmania for time immemorial, the pearly neotrigonia clam shell found along the southern beaches of Australia, and the operculum of the Australian turban shells – such as this bracelet is made from.

‘Operculum’ loosely translates to “little lid”. It could be described as the door to a shell that keeps the mollusc who lives inside safe from predators. You might be familiar with the more common “cats eye” operculum that has an olive green colour and is often found in Victorian and Edwardian Era jewellery. The opercula in this bracelet belong to a distant cousin from more tropical waters. I haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly which family of gastropod these belong to, unfortunately, and COVID has closed the door on the resource I would usually turn to for help in identifying items like this.

Another similar bracelet can be found in the book “Australian Jewellers” by Cavill, Cocks and Grace on page 59 attributed to Caris Brothers of Perth and Adelaide. The book has mis-identified the shells as “jewfish bone” (mulloway).

This is a very sweet and rare example of  early Australian jewellery, incorporating our own marine life. Collectors of Australian jewellery will be thrilled with this delightful piece of history, as will anyone who has enjoyed long walks on our beautiful beaches, and spent time poking about in tide pools.

Hand made in 9ct rosy gold, each shell has been set into a multi-pronged coronet setting. The shells are arranged in a subtle gradation with the largest shells in the middle and the smaller at each end. The shells have subtle variation in colour from pale pink through to pale lavender. Two loops of gold link each shell to its neighbour. The gold is unmarked but has been verified as solid 9ct gold by XRF test.

The c-clasp is a replacement 9ct gold bolt ring, as the original was missing when I found it. I expect the original clasp was a gold heart padlock, which has since wandered off.

The bracelet is 17cm (6.7″) long and 13.1mm wide. It could be made longer with the addition of gold loops at each end. Weighs 9.4 grams.

In excellent antique condition, the shells are still lustrous with no chips or cracks. The original clasp was missing (it may have been a padlock of some description) and has been replaced with a classic 9ct bolt ring.


An Australian made pink operculum shell bracelet in 9ct rosy gold.

The bracelet is 17cm (6.7″) long and 13.1mm wide. It could be made longer with the addition of gold loops at each end. Weighs 9.4 grams.