Women who paved the way: the divine Mrs. N, Charlotte Newman

She paved the way for the women who paved the way. They called her Mrs. Newman.

Launching her career in the 1860s, when business and jewelry manufacture were male-only, Charlotte Newman produced sought-after jewels and, ultimately, ran her own shop on Savile Row. Even at the height of her career, with medals under her belt and men in her employ, she answered to her husband’s name and stamped her jewels “Mrs N.”

These days, that mark has become highly collectible, and is likely to get even more so.

Pendant of gold, enamel and amethyst designed by Mrs. Philip (Charlotte) Newman, 1884-1890 (Collection of the Newark Museum. Photo John A. Faier/Richard E. Driehaus Museum)

Pendant of gold, enamel and amethyst by Mrs. Philip (Charlotte) Newman, 1884-1890 (Collection of the Newark Museum. Photo John A. Faier/Richard E. Driehaus Museum)

A skilled goldsmith, Newman had a knack for producing exquisite jewels in a range of ancient styles, from Byzantine to Renaissance Revival, in a way that suited current tastes. Given the hunger for archeological revival jewelry in Victorian England, that made her a valuable asset.

Jewelry historians credit Charlotte Isabella Newman (1836-1920) as the first important female studio jeweler. Active in London for the last four decades of the 19th century, she got her start working for jeweler John Brogden.

You can find four examples of her work in Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry at the Driehaus Museum in Chicago until January 2016, and in the Maker & Muse book, including the pendant (above) and this aquamarine necklace from 1890.Mrs. Philip (Charlotte) Newman necklace, c. 1890 By the time these were made, Newman had been producing jewelry for at least 25 years and running her own shop for six. She had exhibited with Brogden in Paris in 1867 and in 1878, when he was awarded the Legion d’Honneur, and was even given a medal of honor of her own as a collaborator.

After Brogden’s death in 1884, she established her own business, retaining many of the craftsmen who had worked for him. Her business card read: “Mrs. Newman, Goldsmith and Court Jeweller, 10 Savile Row, London.”

“She ran a shop and had men working for her,” says Elyse Zorn Karlin, who co-curated Maker & Muse. “That was pretty unusual at the time.”

While she was clearly working for profit, producing designs in popular demand at the time, Charlotte Newman had the creative spirit of an artist. A distinguishing feature of her jewelry: she rarely produced two pieces alike.

You’ll often find her mark on revival-style jewels popular in the final decades of that century, a style in which Brogden’s shop specialized. Here’s another 1890 piece by Newman, a pendant of gold, enamel, pearl, ruby, emerald and diamond, now in the permanent collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum. If you had a loupe to your eye and this pendant in your hand, you would see “Mrs. N” stamped on the back (right) and no doubt of her meticulous craftsmanship. Pendant by Charlotte Newman, c. 1890Mrs. Newman learned her trade at the Government Art School in South Kensington before becoming assistant to Brogden, who inherited a family business established in 1796. It’s unclear exactly when she went to work for him. Some believe she may have been producing jewelry before her own mark began to appear. When this amethyst bracelet bearing Brogden’s mark from the 1870s came up for sale at Sotheby’s London in 2007, the catalog description suggested Mrs. Newman may have had a hand in it. Bracelet by John Brodgen, 1870s - Sotheby's “By 1867, the taste for archaeological revival jewellery was widespread and John Brogden was a leading British antiquarian jeweller,” the Sotheby’s catalog description reads. “He was assisted from the 1860s by Charlotte Newman, a distinguished jeweller trained in the art of granulation, who’s fine workmanship possibly is illustrated in the bracelet offered here.”

It’s possible in those early years, Brogden was sketching the design and handing the production over to his talented young assistant. Both Newman and Brogden were extremely prolific. The Victoria & Albert Museum has an album with 1,593 designs for jewelry and goldsmith’s work produced between 1848 to 1884. Seventy-four bear her signature, including these:Design sketch by Charlotte Newman, 1860s, V&A Museum collection Design sketch by Charlotte Newman, 1860s, V&A Museum Pendant design by Charlotte Newman, 1860s, V&A Museum collectionPencil and watercolor drawings on card from the 1860s by artist/maker Charlotte Isabella Newman, from the prints & drawings collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Top to bottom:

• Design for a gold bracelet with six hexagonal plates joined by spear-shaped middle sections, all blank except one showing an architectural depiction of a landscape with ruin

• Design for a gold bracelet with a medallion set with a turquoise, encircled by small pearls and a Greek wave pattern

• Design for a necklace pendant of a pearl, gold, rubies and square emerald set in a diamond star

In the notes on a sketch of Byzantine jewels bearing Newman’s signature, a Victoria & Albert curator wrote, “Such designs demonstrate the resourcefulness which made Newman indispensable to Brogden,” and noted Newman’s capacity to capture so many different styles “led to her becoming the first woman artist-jeweller in Victorian London.”

Often listed as “Mrs. Philip Newman,” Charlotte Newman was known in her day as simply “Mrs. Newman.” Signing her work “N” or “Mrs. N” may seem anti-feminist by today’s standards, but as dealer Diane Lewis-Batista pointed out to me years ago, the “Mrs.” in her mark “let people know immediately that it was designed by a woman.”

Mrs. Philip (Charlotte) Newman bracelet, 1895Topaz and enamel bracelet, 1895, signed Mrs N, auctioned at Bonhams London in November 2014

Viewed in that light, her mark could be seen as a way of not only claiming her designs for posterity, at a time when the jewelry trade was male-only, but challenging preconceptions even while honoring social convention.

“She’s really the first jeweler we know of who works under her own name,” says Karlin. For that alone, Karlin adds, “she led the way for other women.”

Photos courtesy Driehaus Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Bonhams

14 comments for “Women who paved the way: the divine Mrs. N, Charlotte Newman

  1. May 19, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    Thankyou, Cathleen, for sharing this! it is always inspiring to know about the women in this long, male-dominated tradition. Often, I have felt that I have traveled as a lone female in the history of jewelry making and this information is motivating! Cheers!

  2. May 19, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    Thanks, Barbara. I love producing these tributes to the women who paved the way. They inspire me too. And Charlotte Newman – wow. She *really* paved the way!

  3. Carlos SANCHEZ
    May 19, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Me gustaría seguir recibiendo información
    Gracias por estos homenajes…
    Carlos Sánchez

  4. May 19, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    My pleasure! Thank you for the kind words, Carlos Sánchez. You are now subscribed.

  5. August 6, 2015 at 5:30 am

    What a beautiful antique collection we have got here. It is definitely not of any wonder that this amazing lady would have her creations continuously admired even up until this era. That is the distinct feature of antique pieces which have got to be their timeless designs which still look stunning regardless of which year it is worn.

  6. Phil Johnson
    September 26, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    Hi Cathleen
    Just tripped over your site while doing some digging for anything new on Mrs. Newman. She was my great grandmother. I have been collecting images of her work, and any other material I can locate, for the best part of 35 years. I certainly cannot afford to own much of her work. I do have one item from her first shop after John Brogdens death. That was at 18 Clifford street, where she first operated on her own in 1885. She later moved in 1895 to 10 Savile Row, remaining there until her retirement about 1910. Her daughter and granddaughter had been training under her for many years and took over the shop. Mrs. Newman died in 1930- and the girls continued the business uner thematriarcs name, moving in 1927 to 68 Duke street, remaining there until the outbreak of WWII when they sold out. The daughter, Mary, was ill and left London. The granddaughter, Marie Sarah Charlotte, remained in the London area for a short time working for other jewellers. The two eventually relocated to the south coast and retirement. So the jewellery,goldmith business had a good run. Too bad the Blitz ended it.

    Phil Johnson

  7. September 26, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Phil. I hope this page can serve as part of the online archive on your amazingly talented, ground-breaking great grandmother.

  8. Phil Johnson
    February 7, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    Cathleen – There is a significant error in my earlier message. Mrs. Newman died in 1920 – not 1930. I don;t know how to remedy that error. I leave it to you to do what you can. Sorry

    Phil Johnson

  9. March 11, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    Beautiful tribute and beautiful jewels! Thanks for sharing this :)

  10. May 28, 2016 at 8:42 am

    Thank you, Cathleen, for sharing this post! it is always inspiring to know about the women in this long, male-dominated society. You are truely insppiration in jewelery making

  11. June 7, 2016 at 8:12 pm

    These jewelry designs by Charlotte Newman are both creative and modern. It’s amazing to think that she made them over a hundred years ago! Many of these pieces are still relevant today.

  12. June 8, 2016 at 1:56 am

    Agreed, Josh. When you combine that with the incredible workmanship, including her granulation skills, she was truly a marvel.

  13. August 26, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Some absolutely beautiful designs here. Thanks for sharing your finds!!

  14. July 1, 2017 at 11:05 am

    Hi, I am new here on your blog and read this interesting article about Mrs. Newman. Its really good to read her story and how she has started an built one brand. I have also gone through with the designs and its very awesome. Thanks for sharing this lovely and inspiring blog with us.

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