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Brooch - The Virgin and the Unicorn
  • The Virgin and the Unicorn
    Harper, William, born 1944
  • Enlarge image

The Virgin and the Unicorn

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    USA (made)

  • Date:

    1988 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Harper, William, born 1944 (designed and made by)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gold, silver, lead, cloisonné enamel, tourmalines, pearls and amethyst

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Jewellery, Rooms 91, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, case 38, shelf C, box 3

In the 1980s jewellers began to explore the rich effects possible with enamel. They were seeking a fresh approach to colour but preferred to work with traditional rather than new materials. William Harper adapted and transformed the technique of cloisonné enamel into a more painterly fashion. The matte finish of the enamel is characteristic of his work.

William Harper was preoccupied with the mysterious and the magical, creating sumptuous jewels with glowing, contrasting pools of colour amid patinated silver and textured gold.

Over the years he incorporated found objects from nature and from faraway cultures. He was interested in the cultural references of African, Asian and Central and South American art and in the use of gold in ritual objects. Harper later explored religious themes and symbols questioning the institutions of religion.

William Harper originally trained as a painter, but soon moved to the enamels which were to become his trademark. In 1973 he published a technical book on enamel titled ‘Step by Step Enamelling’.

Physical description

The brooch is formed of two main parts: an upper semi-circular panel decorated with cloisonné enamel and a baroque pearl; and below this a long tapering cone of grey silver decorated with discs and strips of gold, smaller pearls, and an amethyst tip. The two sections are joined by a thin gold neck from which protrude two gold springs each with a slice of tourmaline held in a gold mount.

Place of Origin

USA (made)


1988 (made)


Harper, William, born 1944 (designed and made by)

Materials and Techniques

Gold, silver, lead, cloisonné enamel, tourmalines, pearls and amethyst

Marks and inscriptions

William Harper 1988
on the back


Height: 16.5 cm, Width: 7.6 cm, Depth: 2.2 cm

Descriptive line

'Virgin and the Unicorn' Brooch by William Harper, USA 1988


Gold; Silver; Enamel; Lead; Tourmalines; Pearls; Amethyst






Metalwork Collection

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