John Brogden was one of the best known and most prolific of Victorian manufacturing jewellers during the second half of the 19th Century although his family had been in the trade since the early 18th century. In 1834 he began a seven year apprenticeship with James Garland of Garland & Watherston at 16 Bridgewater Square, London. His completion of this in 1841 coincided with the dissolution of his masters business partnership and so the following year we find John Brogden and James Watherston now in business together at 16 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden trading as Watherston and Brogden and listed as wholesale jewellers.
They exhibited successfully at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London’s Crystal Palace showcasing a range of jewellery designs including archaeological revival style pieces inspired by the recently discovered ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh. Further acclaim was granted them at the 1855 Exhibition Universelle in Paris where the company won another medal, details of which were duly added to the silk linings of their jewellery cases.
When Watherston retired in 1864, Brogden carried on the business alone under his own name and continued to build on his successful reputation of supplying quality jewellery at fair prices. He advertised an extensive stock of gold chains, bracelets, earrings and poesy rings in 18, 20 and 22ct gold as well as gem set rings and services such as the re-setting of clients own diamonds. The firms design archives illustrate the wonderfully rich and diverse pieces Brogden was making during this period. Archaeological and classical revivalist pieces are much in evidence with fine wirework and granulation made much use of. Enamelling was frequently used to add colour to gold pieces and typical Victorian motifs such as snakes, stars, ribbons and love knots are often used. He employed several designers but one of particular note was Mrs Charlotte Newman who is believed to have joined the firm in the mid 1860’s and whose signature appears on many of the designs from this period until the early 1880’s.
The Paris Exhibition of 1867 saw Brogden awarded a distinction for his jewellery display and this was followed in 1871 in London by another striking display of pieces which won him many admirers and saw him described by one commentator as “a scholar in his profession”. It was around this time that his wife, who was an Italian scholar, translated a work on gemstones by one of Brogden’s contemporaries Augusto Castellani of the famous Italian jewellery family. The two firms produced jewels in similar revivalist styles and Alessandro Castellani wrote very favourably of Brogden’s pieces in this genre when he reviewed the work exhibited in Paris 1878.
The firm won a gold medal at this Exhibition Universelle and Brogden was awarded the Légion d’Honneur for “Goldsmiths’ work and jewelry in exquisite taste” as well as the gold medal of L’Academie Nationale, Paris . Examples of his Assyrian, Egyptian and Renaissance revival jewellery can be seen in both the Victoria and Albert Museum and The British Museum amongst others.
During 1880 Brogden moved the firm and manufacturing capability to new premises at 6, Grand Hotel Buildings in Charing-Cross where the goldsmiths could be seen busily working at their benches in the basement. From here, he advertised himself as an ‘Art Goldsmith and Jeweller’ and directed potential clients’ attention to “the great advantage of purchasing from the bona fide manufacturer”. Around this time he was granted a Royal Warrant from H.R.H. Prince Leopold, son of Queen Victoria, which he proudly added to the company information stamped on the silk linings of his jewellery boxes.
The business closed in 1884 when John Brogden died however his invaluable designer Mrs Newman went on to found a business in her own name designing and making jewellery very much in the tradition she had perfected over many years working alongside Brogden, thereby in some ways keeping his spirit and style alive.