The People Who Gave Up Gold For Iron

In the 19th Century, Napoleon Bonapart successfully invaded Prussia.  Prussia, which once stretched across much of Europe, began funding what was named The War of Liberation in 1813-1814. In an effort to quickly obtain ready cash, a campaign backed by the Prussian royal family was started: donate your gold, silver and precious jewelry to the treasury, and you will receive jewelry made of iron.

 Berlin Iron Parure

Above: A Berlin iron necklace, bracelets, earrings and brooch set (image source unknown).

The wearing of what we now moniker Berlin Iron Jewelry became a symbol of patriotism for the wearer, many pieces were inscribed with Gold gab ich für Eisen, which translates to I gave gold for iron. It was an overnight sensation, until then iron jewelry had only been worn as a symbol of mourning. The Royal Berlin Foundry, established in 1804, increased to 27 foundries in the 1830s due to demand.

The peak production of iron jewelry was between 1813-1815. It was produced by a method known as sand-casting; an item was pressed into dampened sand to create the outline of the piece.  The sand was left to dry, then melted wax could be poured into the mold and used to cast the iron. The iron itself was a pure variety with up to 0.7% Phosphorus, allowing it to achieve better fluidity when molten. The pieces, once cast, would then be coated in black enamel to prevent the iron from rusting. The jewelry has a very fine, detailed and lace-like appearance. Starting in the Neo-Classical design and developing gradually into Gothic Revival in the 1810s, rare pieces were lightly decorated in fine gold, silver, or polished steel accentuations. Applauded artists who crafted Berlin Iron Jewelry were Karyl Friedrich Schinkel, Geiss A Berlin, and Lehmann, Hossauer and Devaranne.

After the Allied victory at Waterloo in 1815, once travel between Europe and England was open again, England and France began the production of iron jewelry. Nearly every type of jewelry was recreated as Berlin Iron; necklaces, earrings, bracelets, hair-pieces, rings and tiaras.

In 1916, a similar attempt to promote iron jewelry in exchange for funding World War I was made by Germany, but it never gained as much popularity as the original attempt.

Berlin Iron Jewelry was delicate and, due to the wear of iron, prone to rust and breakage.  Therefore, a small percentage of pieces exist, which both make it highly collectible by museums and private collectors alike.  Today, reproductions of this unique form of jewelry in varying intricacies can be found online for purchase.

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