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What Is A Belcher Chain?|
What Is A Belcher Chain?
Belcher Link Chain
Belcher is a very popular and well known style of chain, particularly in Britain, although we note that belcher chain is readily available from American jewellers, and is also made by Italian, German and other manufacturers.
Nomenclature of jewellery styles tends to be fairly inexact, and varies from region to region. We wanted to know precisely what features of a chain makes it a belcher link rather than any other link.
But Nobody Really Knows
Some years ago when attempting to classify chain styles, we turned to a dictionary for a definition of belcher, and were surprised to note that the only meaning given, apart from "one who belches", was a type of scarf or neckerchief. There was no mention of belcher as a style of chain.
We tried jewellery magazines, different dictionaries by Collins, Webster's (we also understand American), Chambers, encyclopaedias, the NAG training scheme, and found no relevant reference.
In our copy of "An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewellery", by Harold Newman, containing 1530 terms relating to jewellery, we found the following references:-
Although the belcher chain definition is helpful, it is not completely clear. Does the reference to "equal length" mean the each link is equal in length to every other link, of that the length of the link is equal to the breadth of each link?
A type of trace chain of which the links, made of D-section wire, are broad and of equal length.
A type of ring with a wide hoop through which a scarf is passed. Called now a "scarf ring".
A style of setting for securing a stone in a finger ring, the stone being secured by prongs or claws that are cut into the shank of the ring so that the stone, when set, does not extend above the circumference of the shank. See gypsy setting.
There are chain styles universally recognised as belcher link, which are not from a D-section wire, but from a hollowed out, U-section wire.
The reference for trace chain in the Dictionary specifies that trace chain uses oval links, therefore belcher links must accordingly also be oval, yet there are many chains universally recognised as belcher link, which have round links rather than oval ones.
There is no etymology in the Dictionary to explain how the name belcher came about or when it was first used.
It is clear to us that the definition given, although the best we can find, is less than adequate.
Where then can we find a better definition...?
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED)
Having just acquired a copy of the second, and probably last edition of the OED, probably one of the greatest works in the English language (or should that be the English language in one of the greatest works?), the very first word I searched for was, naturally, "belcher".
Imagine my surprise to find no reference whatsoever to a belcher chain, link, ring, or other jewellery item.
For those unfamiliar with the OED, it comes in 20 large volumes, and is generally regarded as the ultimate authority on the English language.
The OED entry includes the following:-
As belcher chain is not listed in the OED, where else can we turn for information?
A neckerchief with blue ground, and large white spots having a dark blue spot or eye in the centre, named after a celebrated pugilist called Jim Belcher, sometimes applied to any particoloured handkerchief worn around the neck.
The earliest usage cited was 1805.
A type of chain, originally one from which a watch and various objects were suspended, but later any long chain, usually of gold. They were worn from the first quarter of the 19th century until the first quarter of the 20th century.
Sheffield Assay Office Library
We asked Mrs. Jackie Richardson, the librarian at the Sheffield Assay Office Library. Her first stop was the OED!, but she managed to find a few jewellery trade catalogues which were helpful, and an article about the boxer Jim Belcher. I had told her that I believed he may be connected.
These were the sources:-
The Art of the Goldsmith & Jeweller, by Thomas B. Wigley, London, 1898.
In chapter 8, Finger Rings
Belcher Rings, - The kind generally worn by gentlemen is shown in Fig. 71 (Illustration of a broad, D-section gents wedding style ring). These rings are made of various thicknesses, and are sometimes finished perfectly plain, or richly chased all over the front. there are three methods of producing belcher rings - they are (1) either made of thick solid half-round wire; or (2) they are cast whole; or (3) they are manipulated from the flat metal and left hollow. Methods...
The Art of the Goldsmith & Jeweller, by Thomas B. Wigley, London, 1898.
In chapter 12, The Manufacture of Gold Chains.
Half-round Belcher Chains. - One of several kinds of half-round belcher chains is shown in Fig. 87. These chains may have oval, round, or secret links; the last owes its name to a small jack ring being secreted inside each link. The various parts of belcher chains are generally furnished by a "preparer." The rings are prepared by a process different from any described above (curb, fetter, knot, cable, Prince of Wales). The wire is drawn through a round hole in the draw-plate until it is two sizes smaller than is required in the half-round. For instance, if the hollow half-round wire is required to be No. 20 size, the round wire is drawn through a hole of No. 18 size; after the wire has been annealed it is then passed through a pair of flattening rolls (Fig. 12) until is is reduced to a narrow flat strip, having a thickness equal to about No. 3 size, and a width equal to No. 20 size in the wire gauge.
The gold is then coiled up, annealed, pointed, and the flat wire is drawn through a round hole in the draw-plate in which a small taper steel punch is held, so as to act as a swage, whereby the strip is reduced to a half-round form, and is finished off by drawing it to the right size through half-round holes.
But the mode if drawing hollow wire is different to that of drawing solid wire. As the surface is liable to be damaged by the pliers, and in this case the pliers are dispensed with for a time, the wire is either wound upon a drum (Fig. 50), or it is first drawn through the plate a short distance with the pliers, then wrapped round the operator's body and gently pulled through the plate; this prevents any plier-marks, and also preserves the shape of the hollow wire.
Birmingham & The Midland Hardware District, edited by Samuel Timmins, 1866
P460 Gold and Silver Chains.
Guard-chains, now an important branch of the trade, were at the end of the last century made by one or two manufacturers in a single pattern, out of brass-wire, which was either left its natural colour, or was finished by being silvered or gilt. Silver guard-chains were first made in Birmingham, about the year 1806. Gold chains, for a similar purpose, have not been made to any extnet for a longer period than thirty-five years, but are now produced in Birmingham to the value of, at least, two hundred and fifty thousand pounds annually. There are forty-seven master manufacturers, some employing 200 to 300 hands, but the greater part not more than ten to twenty. Altogether 1500 or 1600 persons are engaged in chain-making, about 500 being young women, who earn good wages, and maintain a most respectable appearance. In this branch of the jewellery trade, steam-power and elaborate machinery are employed to a small extent in producing the links of the chains, which are made from strips of wire, and afterwards soldered together, cut, engraved, and polished as may be necessary.
Some ingenious machines have lately been patented, which produce very neat patterns of chains, completely finished, form thin strips of metal. Such chains will, no doubt, be largely used, not only as guard-chains, but for pendants to other ornaments.
Watchmaker, Jeweller & Silversmith, July 1985
Q: What are the most popular of chain patterns?
A: Tow of the best known designs are trace and curb and both owe their origins to the harness used for horses. Trace consists of a series of oval links and trace chains were originally those that joined a horse-drawn vehicle to the horse's harness. Curb chain consists of a series of twisted links. Curb chains are the chains which are attached to a bit. they are therefore used to curb the horse. Box chain as the name implies consists of a series of square links and this type of chain is sometimes known as Venetian chain. Belcher chain, or guard chain, consists of broad oval links, miniature versions of the belcher ring. One of the most popular chains today is rope, consisting of links similar to those used in chase (trace? - L.C.) but the links pass through two or more other links to produce an appearance similar to a rope. There are also today a large number of fancy chains which are given different names by the manufacturers. Indeed the whole nomenclature of chains tends to be confusing.
The Boxing Register
, by James B. Roberts & Alexander G. Scott, Ithaca, N.Y. 1997
Right-handed, 5'11 1/2"; 166 - 182 lbs.
English champion 1800 - 1805
Hall of Fame Induction: 1992
Born: April 15th, 1781, Bristol, England
Died: July 30th, 1822
A very agile, quick-hitting fighter, Jem Belcher held the English prize ring title for five years at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Born in Bristol, the home of many of boxing's early champions, Belcher first fought professionally in his hometown in 1798 when he defeated Jack Britton. A year later, Belcher fought Jack Bartholomew to a 51 round draw. At the time Bartholomew was considered the champion in many quarters because he had beaten title-claimant Tom Owen, When Belcher triumphed over Bartholomew in a seventeen-round rematch in 1800, he was hailed as the new champion.
(There is an illustration of Belcher wearing a neckerchief).
We believe that the name belcher relating to a type of chain link comes from the association with Jim Belcher.
Here are our arguments for this conclusion:-
It seems clear that a particular type of neckerchief was popularised by Jim Belcher, and named after him.
A belcher ring is a type of ring with a wide hoop through which a scarf is passed.
It is very likely that the name belcher ring was so named because it was used with a belcher neckerchief, and further possible that Jim Belcher himself also used a belcher ring to fasten his own belcher neckerchief, and may have also directly caused a fashion for this type of ring, which may also have been named directly after him at the time, although we have yet to find any direct evidence of this.
The terms belcher chain and guard chain appear to have been, to some extent, interchangeable, although it would appear that "guard" describes the function, and "belcher" describes the type of link design. If all guard chains were made, at least originally, using the belcher style of link, this is understandable.
Belcher chain links have been described as miniature versions of the belcher ring, and indeed appear to share the same design characteristics. It is possible, but not necessary to our argument, that Jim Belcher also wore and popularised a belcher chain.
Belcher chain links are recognised as being broad, with a convex outer section, made either from solid half-round (D-section) wire, or from a hollowed (domed) wire with the same outer appearance. The links can be either oval or round in shape.
Jim Belcher was born in 1781, became famous, or was already famous, about 1798, won the English heavyweight prize-fighting championship in 1800, retaining it until 1805, and was remained famous after his death in 1811.
The fact that his name has remained in the English language referring to a distinctively styled scarf attests to his lasting fame. the belcher or guard chain was first made in silver in about 1806, although it appears to have been made in brass for a short time previously.
These dates strongly support the connections between Jim Belcher, the belcher scarf or neckerchief, the belcher ring used to fasten it, and the belcher style of chain link.
The belcher scarf, the belcher ring, and the belcher or guard chain all appear to have been strongly identified with men's fashion and apparel rather than ladies', making the case for their joint heritage even stronger.
The belcher link is known as a peculiarly English design.
You may wish to visit some of our other pages:-
Allergies to Gold Jewellery
Gold Alloys by Weight & Volume
Hardness & Durability of Gold Alloys
What is White Gold?
What is Green Gold?
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