Remember that one piece of jewelry you saw, admired, and regretted not buying when you had the opportunity? That is partly what inspired Diana Marsh to create the latest addition to her store’s growing fine jewelry collection.
Marsh, who owns and operates Thistle & Bess in Ann Arbor, Mich., has released two new pieces for her Language of Flowers mini collection, including a pink tourmaline pansy necklace and a blue sapphire forget-me-not ring.
That pansy? It’s based on an antique pendant Marsh saw, fell in love with, and lost to another. Marsh says creating these pieces helps her hold on to the jewelry she loves, and she hopes these pieces give her customers a modern take on classics that are stylish yet sentimental.
“I still think about it to this day,” Marsh says. “It was made of paste and foil, which was a popular material in Victorian times. Our version is made with real gemstones and 14k gold, and each pendant is different because we handpick each pink tourmaline, giving depth and interest to the flower.”
These pieces are part of the larger jewelry collection Thistle & Bess has been working on in recent years, giving Marsh an outlet for adding her ideas to the line of independent designers she carries in her boutique.
Marsh sold vintage and antique jewelry before she opened her Ann Arbor storefront nearly seven years ago. So, creating her own line of antique-inspired fine jewelry felt like both returning to her roots as well as taking the Thistle & Bess business forward.
For example, the forget-me-not ring is based on an antique design featuring two hands holding a flower. The hands are her take on a fede ring, a Roman symbol of loyalty and faith. Hands were popular in the Victorian era as well, Marsh says, and a hand holding a flower meant friendship.
The pansy also carries this same symbolism. In Victorian times, a flower carried a message to the recipient, and pansies meant “think of me” or “you occupy my thoughts,” Marsh says. People who gave a pansy wanted to express feelings of love, concern, or compassion, she says.
“I’m obsessed with flowers, as many people are. I’m a novice home gardener, growing flowers and a cut-flower garden,” Marsh says. “Plus, I love the Victorian concept of the language of flowers, giving each one a meaning and a way to send a message to someone by giving them a specific flower.”
Her great aunt also inspired some of her pieces, especially the Mano Figa necklace, which was her first piece of Thistle & Bess fine jewelry. Her great aunt had a similar vintage pendant that she likely acquired in Sicily during her travels, Marsh says.
That piece led Marsh to next design the Diana ring in turquoise and pearls; the Bess opal earrings; a Victorian bow ring and earrings; the pansy necklace; and the forget-me-not ring. Additional pieces, such as an upcoming release of floral earrings, and new collections will likely arrive annually, Marsh says, as she balances life as a mom and storeowner as well as jewelry designer.
“I’m attracted to jewelry that is beautiful but also has a meaning. I like to know the story behind things,” Marsh says.
Top: Thistle & Bess added its own designs to those of the independent jewelers the Michigan-based store carries with a nod to historical and Victorian symbols (photos courtesy of Thistle & Bess; photos by Cat Carty Buswell).
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