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HISTORY & ART TO WEAR         

 

GLITZQUEEN HOLDS COURT ON RINGS & BRACELETS

Like our last newsletter on necklaces and earrings, this is a huge two-in-one presentation.  Just as necklaces and earrings evolved together to frame our faces harmoniously, rings and bracelets developed to a great extent in tandem.  They tend to share materials and design directions, because they appear in proximity -- decorating our arms and hands and, as anklets and toe rings, our legs and feet -- and also because they have the same shape.

Being round or almost, rings and bracelets are further linked by symbolism.  The circle has always suggested perfection, completion and eternity.  All ancient jewels were in fact amulets meant to benefit the wearer.  The notion of pure adornment arose much later and never fully replaced the symbolic aspect, especially  with respect  to bracelets (think charms) and rings (think weddings).

Basics of Circa-Dating Bracelets & Rings


Some bracelets can be dated by their hardware (called findings or, if custom-made, fittings), assuming these are original.  However, many bracelets lack catches, hinges and/or safety chains.  This is even more true of rings, which have no extra bits unless they do tricks like open or flip, or are attached to something else.  Thus, factors like style and composition often play the dominant role.

Even so, begin by examining the item you want to date with your 10X loupe or a good magnifying glass.  Note any markings, seek evidence of plating (a different underlying substance visible on high spots), look carefully at the cut and mounting of any stones and check findings (if present) to see if they're of the same material as the rest and show at least as much surface wear.  Then compare your observations to the chart below, to narrow the dating probabilities.
Mid to Late 20th Century Early 20th Century 19th Century or Earlier

FASTENERS: Clasps generally larger.  Mainly spring-ring, toggle, large lobster, S-hook and fold-over.  May also be box catch,  fishhook or stretch.  Hinge pin and barrel types unlikely.

CHAINS: Machine-made chains with identical links.  Generally simple forms.

GENERAL: Yellow metals dominant 1950-70.  Metalwork more coarse overall.  Little or no reverse decoration.  Aurora Borealis rhinestones invented 1955.  Many new diamond cuts (modern round brilliant cut common after WWII; first mixed cuts 1960s; first princess, radiant and trillion cuts 1970s).   Beware recent revival of old cuts in repro jewelry.

MARKS:  Most silver  marked "925" or with known symbol. Sterling used for costume jewelry in 1940s war era. Gold fully hallmarked.

FASTENERS: Smaller barrel clasps. Box catches still  in use.  Hinge pins still used on ethnic jewelry. Early spring-ring and lobster clasps (smaller than now).  Odd experimental clasps and early wrap bracelets in 1930s. 

CHAINS:  Fancy links like "paperclip". Victorian forms revived in late Deco era, but generally lighter-weight.

GENERAL: White metals dominant 1905-35.  Reverses ornamented pre-1930. First brilliant and Asscher cuts cut diamonds introduced circa 1900.  Colored stones of emerald- and triangle-cut popular in Deco era. "Illusion" settings common 1930045.

MARKS: Most silver marked "Sterling" or with known symbol of a particular country.  Beware items said to be Deco or earlier that read "925".  Hallmarks required on U.S. gold after first decade.

FASTENERS:  Box catches with push  fasteners, "beehive" barrel clasps,. hinge pins and fishhooks.  Early stretch bands and ingenious patented mechanisms. In earliest years, "keyhole" closures, ribbon loops and "T" hinges.

CHAINS:  Heavier chains with large hand-made links.  Smaller machine-made snake chains after 1857. 

GENERAL: Little white metal, unless very old (when silver mountings often had gilded or enameled reverses). First white gold late 1880s.  Ornamented reverses common.  Diamonds of old cuts such as rose, cushion, mine and marquise (unless replaced). 

MARKS: Silver unmarked,  marked "Sterling" or marked with known symbol of a particular country.  Much gold unmarked, especially in U.S. English 9, 12 and 15 k  marks after 1854.


Bracelets & Rings through the Ages
After studying fabrication, we next want to place the  item we're inspecting within the framework of historical design.  If a ring or bracelet has the look of a certain period, that will give you a good idea of its age -- unless your prior observations suggest it's a later replica.  In reviewing styles, again we'll begin very early, because bracelets and rings of great antiquity remain available, affordable and, with caution, wearable.  Information on items for sale or recently sold will be highlighted in red.  Other images show museum pieces.

Stone Age Bracelets & Rings
Those 75,000-year-old beads we discussed in connection with necklaces -- the oldest piece of jewelry yet discovered -- were perhaps bracelets.  Experts can't tell how they were strung, except that the shells were found in clusters, indicating a design more elaborate than a simple strand.  All the first rings and bracelets were of the same natural substances as other primitive adornments: stone; plant matter including wood, nuts, seeds, reeds and fruit pits; shell from eggs, snails and sea creatures; and items from birds and land animals, such as feathers, bone, horn, leather, ivory, teeth and claws.  Worn as amulets for hunting success and to ward off enemies, these Paleolithic jewels were, when tied to the wrist, early charm bracelets. 

They also had trade value.  Treasures of various localities were swapped at least 30,000 years ago, long before modern (Cro-Magnon) humans appeared circa 13,000 BCE   Lifestyles were nomadic, besides which major relocations took place in the Glacial Age (40,000-10,000 BCE).  Despite harsh conditions, or perhaps inspired by them, creativity was intense during the Late Paleolithic period.  Lots of beads and other jewels were produced, as were remarkable cave paintings and miniature sculptures.  A jeweler's workshop that thrived 20,000 years ago in China was recently unearthed, revealing about 100 exquisitely polished and shaped ostrich eggshells.   For millennia, most jewelry remained strand-based and made of natural materials; so early gemstone beads are widely  available at attractive prices.


Drilled Shell Beads Circa 73,000 BCE. Africa.


Mammoth Tusk
Bracelet. 21st-17th millennium BCE. Russia


Ancient Carved Gemstone Beads.   At Sands of Time Antiquities.

 As Mesolithic times gave way to Neolithic, agricultural life replaced nomadic hunting was replaced by agricultural life.  Permanent settlements with reliable access to clay and fuel made regular production of ceramics possible, so pottery beads became common. 

At around the same time, metals appeared.  Copper, gold and silver -- all readily observable on the ground and in rivers and streams -- could be worked with stone hammers and axes.  Our earliest known copper article is a pendant made about 9000 BCE in Asia Minor, but every ancient society used it for jewels and gradually learned that heat would make it durable enough to form tools.  Although gold and silver (worked from circa 6000 BCE and 4000 BCE, respectively)  were too soft to be more than ornamental measures of wealth, a metal much harder than pure copper also came on the scene.   That was bronze, an alloy of copper and tin.

Bronze Age Bracelets & Rings

About 6,500 years ago (circa 4500 BCE), bronze appeared almost simultaneously in the Middle East, Greece and Asia.  It was cast to form household wares, sturdier tools for every purpose and jewelry.  With bronze implements to shape and drill stones, far more precision could be achieved -- and, if you craved speed over detail, you could get that, too.  It was like minting money.  Literally.  Easily portable when worn (or bundled on bronze wire), rings and bracelets served as currency for thousands of years.  Most were simple bands and bangles of bronze or shell, but Egypt used gold rings of standard weights as money from the latter half of the 3rd millennium BCE.  It wasn't until circa 700 BCE that coins were first made by Lydians in what's now Turkey -- and, even after that,  bronze arm rings acted as ready cash for Roman soldiers.

 
Shell Bracelet & Ring "Money." Sumerian (3000-2000 BCE). At Ancient Artifacts and Treasures.
 
Bronze Age bracelets served another specialized purpose as weapons, both offensive and defensive. These circa 1500-1200 BCE examples from Thailand were sold by Malter Galleries.   Smaller cuffs were worn in stacks and many turn up on the market with arm bones still in them.

On a cheerier note, the stone-carver's art was practiced with special zest in Egypt, where residents in place since around 10,000 BCE piled on beaded bracelets, anklets and other jewels of carnelian, agate, amethyst, turquoise, jasper, lapis, garnet and jade.  Each color had mystical meaning.  These gems (and their glass and faience equivalents) adorned rings and were often carved into symbolic shapes such as the scarab, representing renewed life.  Originally the actual insect was tied by a priest to a finger of the dead!

For noble burials, gold and pearls were also mandated.  The Persian Gulf supplied the latter, but Egyptian territory held about 80 percent of the ancient world's gold. Both there and in newly-powerful Sumeria, Assur and Phoenicia., royals wore gold in life, too.  We saw images of their early workmanship in sheet gold when studying necklaces and earrings, so I won't repeat them.  (If you missed that edition, it's archived here.)  Similarly, the same craftsmanship applied by early Chinese jade-carvers to hoop earrings was employed to create bracelets and rings placed on the dead.

Besides making traditional jewels more expertly, jewelers of this era created two new forms related to the latest technology:  writing.   Cylinder-shaped seals first appeared in Sumeria for signing and tamper-proofing documents.  They were often vertically drilled to wear  (Victorians strung masses of these on bracelets and necklaces).  For greater convenience, Egyptians came up with the signet ring.  In each case, intaglio carving was involved.  Stone, metal or glass had to be incised, so that rolling a cylinder or pressing a ring on soft clay or wax would produce a raised image.  By the Middle Kingdom period, some signet rings had swiveling bezels: one ornamental; the other bearing a seal.

Egyptian Faience Horus  Ring . 19th Dynasty (1293 - 1185 BCE). At BC Galleries.


Egyptian Faience Wadjet-Eye Ring.  18th Dynasty (1550 - 1295 BCE. At Sands of Time.

Jewelry was then made on an unprecedented scale.  Beyond "money" rings and bracelets, which needn't be pretty, attractive faience and glass items were mass-produced, including beads and molded rings.  Even if not important enough to need personal seals, people liked the look of signets.  Also popular were animal forms and openwork rings for hot weather.  As the examples at left show, techniques had advanced markedly since the faience ring at right was crafted.

Bracelets had also come a long way.  At left below is the simple bronze sort worn everywhere for thousands of years.  Compare it to the adjacent gold and silver bangle from the Egyptian Middle Kingdom period, with two bands of beaten gold joined by protective animals and symbols of gold and silver.  Beyond quality, quantity was prized.   Egyptians wore up to four bracelets per arm, two of them above the elbow, at times with matching anklets, too..
 

 


Chinese Carved Turquoise Bead. Neolithic (3rd - 2nd millennium BCE).  At BC Galleries.


Chinese Bracelet.
Neolithic (circa 3rd millennium BCE).  Calcified Ivory.  At BC Galleries.

Ancient Cylinder Seals.  Sold by Malter Galleries.


Egyptian Scarab & Seal Ring
. New Kingdom (1550 - 1070 BCE).  Steatite & Electrum.  At BC Galleries.   


Egyptian Faience Jackal Ring. Middle Kingdom (2040 - 1782 BCE). At BC Galleries.


Egyptian Gold Fly Amulet.  18th Dynasty (1570 - 1293 BCE).  At BC Galleries.  

From around 2000 BCE to 1000 BCE, Egypt had a great millennium.  Vastly rich from mining and commerce, Pharaohs started spreading gold around, instead of reserving it for royals and trade partners.  Gold amulets in the form of a fly, which symbolized persistence, became medals of valor for distinguished soldiers.  Thus, charms were not only protective, but also indicative of status.  In the latter role, they supposedly  identified VIPs for special treatment even in the Afterlife.

Ancient strand-based jewelry naturally didn't survive intact and much of what we see in museums was restrung in a confused way by Victorians, whose 19th century digs snagged so many early pieces.  The Egyptian bracelet at left is an excellently stupid example.  Symbolically, this combination of amulets -- shaped like lotus flowers, shells and fish -- would promote pregnancy and eternal life, while protecting against drowning (a far likelier risk to seafaring lads than childbearing ladies).
Just as late Bronze Age jewelers along the Nile had mastered most processes used to ornament metal today -- from chasing, engraving and soldering to inlay,  enameling and repoussé.-- fine work was also being done elsewhere around the Med; in India, from which jewels had long been imported (some found in the Royal Tombs of Ur); in China, where machines carved jade as early as 2,500 years ago; and by the Celts in northern Europe. 

The gold bracelets at right, from Ireland, are cuffs of the warrior sort but ceremonial.  Gold denoted chieftainship and these have lavish repoussé work 


Celtic Gold Armlets.
Circa 1200- 600 BCE.

Easily the most elegant jewelry of this era was fashioned on the Greek island of Crete, where another civilization had been developing since circa 10,000 BCE.  It became recognizably "Minoan" by 2800 BCE.  Residents were a Goddess-centered group with a lust for jewelry.  Ladies wouldn't have gone into a labyrinth without it!   As shown in Minoan art, they wore buckets of glitz, usually featuring stylized motifs inspired by nature and mythology.



From early designs in hammered sheet gold. Minoan jewelers progressed to delicately linked jewelry (including more early charm bracelets) and fine wire filigree used for both bracelets and rings.  They also made signet rings of incomparable beauty and liveliness.  A bull-leaping scene decorates the ring at left, which dates before 2000 BCE, and the 15th century BCE masterpiece below depicts women dancing among lilies as a goddess descends from the sky.

At the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, Crete blended their cultural elements into a uniquely charming way of life. It was also well-sited to dominate the seas and did so for several centuries after 1700 BCE.  Lapis lazuli from faraway Afghanistan decorated such jewels as this ring found on Aigina, off the southeast coast of Greece.


Minoan Gold & Lapis Ring from the Aigina Treasure. 1850-1550 BCE.

Cretan jewels and jewelers (possibly slaves) were on mainland Greece from the Early Period (16th century BCE), based on tomb finds at Mycenae.  Over the next 200 years, Mycenaean rule spread throughout the Aegean, aided by earthquakes and fires that destroyed Cretan palace culture.  Soon nature and warfare ravaged most of the Med and societies struggling to survive were invaded by unknown "Sea Peoples" (some no doubt refugees from places even worse off).  Egypt beat its invaders back, but lost territories including Israel (as Exodus tells) and was conquered.  The Dark Ages began, coinciding roughly with the start of the Iron Age.

Iron Age Bracelets & Rings

Iron from meteors was fashioned into spear tips and small ornaments in Egypt and Sumeria from circa 4500 BCE.  It must have been revered by those who knew it fell from the sky.  Certainly it was revered by those who tried to make some.  Iron cost five times more than gold, using the process developed circa 2500 BCE.  Indian smiths learned to smelt it for less around 1800 BCE and Hittites did so a few centuries later.  Iron was "the bomb" of its day, conferring military and economic power, so the Hittites exported iron items but kept the technology secret until their empire fell circa 1200 BCE.  Every west Asian culture made iron within 100 years, but it took a long while to spread farther, because that was when all the disasters struck.  Little trade in the Dark Ages meant little information-swapping.  Most societies even forgot how to read and write.


Phoenician  Ring. 7th c. BCE. Electrum.  Sold by Medusa Art.

Phoenician Amulet.  5th-2nd c. BCE. Glass. At Medusa Art..

Assyria was the only big kingdom of west Asia that didn't collapse circa 1200-100 BCE, but its days were numbered.  Persians and Medes who would help the Babylonians conquer them in 612 BCE (and crush Babylonia a bit later) had reached the area from Siberia, but they laid low until Assyrian strength waned. 

Meanwhile, the Phoenicians flourished  The massive disruptions elsewhere had somehow missed them. 
Their cities on today's Lebanese coast were rich commercial centers by 1500 BCE and they sailed as far as Britain for tin, colonized Carthage in north Africa for silver and founded trading posts throughout the Med by the late 8th century BCE.  Drawing from various design traditions, their jewelers freely lifted motifs out of context, which has caused major identification problems.  However, jewelry-making revived quickly when the Dark Ages ended, because the Phoenicians kept many earlier styles alive.  In the Egyptian mode, for instance, they made cartouche-shaped rings with engraved bezels, a form later passed along to Etruscans and Greeks.  They also took over glassmaking leadership from Egypt, although not on so large a basis.

Phoenician polychrome beads were highly valued by the Etruscans, who got around, too.  In Tuscany and northern Lazio from circa 800 BCE, they controlled much of Italy in their prime and colonized Iberia for gold.  Their trademark techniques were granulation and pulviscolo (even tinier dots of gold).  They also engraved exquisite intaglios in glass and gems and some Etruscan work looks stunningly modern, like the hinged bracelet below.

  
Etruscan Gold Ring & Bracelet.  550 - 500 BCE.



After the Dark Ages:  Jewels of the Great Conquerors

The Dark Ages ended due to the unifying effect of conquests and resumption of trade -- led by  Persians and Medes under King Cyrus and his heirs.  Soon Persians ruled an immense territory and glittered in some of the most lavish golden jewelry ever made. 



Bronze Ring with Animal & Floral Forms.  
Persian.  700 - 500 BCE.   At Sadigh Gallery.


 Gold Intaglio Ring (Seated Persian). 
Bosporan Kingdom (Crimea).  Late 5th c. BCE. 

The opulence of Persian cities and palaces awed even Alexander the Great, when he conquered them. Alex was heir to King Philip II of Macedon, first to unify the city-states of Greece.  By then the Greeks were doing okay, too.  Once back in touch with the world, they revived jewelry motifs preserved by the Phoenicians, learned also from the Etruscans and regained mastery of filigree, granulation and other sophisticated techniques used by their pre-disaster forebears.

Both the Persians and later Greeks were enlightened rulers whose far-flung subjects thrived.  Thus, more people could afford jewels. Signet rings returned with literacy and intercultural contact brought such new motifs as the snake, sphinx and crescent. Madly popular for rings and bracelets was the serpent, associated with the Underworld and believed to be a good luck charm.  Besides museum treasures such as we see at right, quite a few lesser examples have survived for us to own today.  

Greek Gold Ring3rd  - 1st c. BCE. 
At Edgar L. Owen.

Ptolemaic Egyptian Silver Bracelet.  4th -3rd c. BCE.
Sold by Malter Galleries.

In their "Hellenistic" period (when Greeks colonized and thus Hellenized much of the known world), they had access to the best of everything and plenty of it.  Colored gems, some carved, grew as notable as their settings and were duplicated in glass by revived factories in Egypt.  Except for  rings and wreaths, men gave up jewelry, which allowed specifically feminine styles to emerge.


Persian Gold Armlet. Circa 550 - 530 BCE.  


Greek Gold Ring
5th c. BCE.


Greek Gold Ring.  325 - 300 BCE.


Greek Garnet, Amethyst & Enameled Gold  Bracelets.  1st c. BCE. 


Jewels of the Roman Era


Roman Gold Snake Ring.  Sold by Edgar L. Owen

Greco-Roman Glass Bracelets.


Roman Gold Wedding Band.   Sold by Edgar L. Owen

Hellenistic trends continued after Romans took over.  In fact, little changed at first.  Local populations were ruled with a light hand,  provided tribute was paid and no revolts arose.

Although nominally opposed to jewelry as unsuited to their martial ways, Romans actually wallowed in it.  Laws had to be passed to limit how much gold the gals piled on and how much could go down with the dead. Romans were particularly keen for amber and pearls, which rocketed in value.  Sapphires and emeralds were prized, too.  There were also lovely rings and bracelets crafted wholly of glass in sizes even for babies, enabling the less wealthy to emulate aristocrats.  Roman glass jewels are still reasonably priced, but  too delicate to wear (or wash).

A major Roman innovation was the wedding band, originally of iron to evoke the inviolable marriage contract and later in gold, often patterned with clasped hands or a key suggesting a wife's access to her husband's heart.  Speaking of keys, they also wore functional ones incorporated into bronze rings.   Additionally, Romans were first to decorate engraved gold and silver with niello, a black sulfide; to chisel lacy openwork in metal (a process called opus interrasile) and to wear "guard" rings to hold more costly rings on.  As centuries passed, colorful gems (and their glass equivalents) came to outclass the settings.  Cameos and intaglios reached unprecedented heights of artistry and were often very large.

Throughout Roman-controlled territory, jewelry grew quite homogenous, but this reflected give-and-take, not cultural colonialism.  Native peoples contributed indigenous forms and techniques, while acquiring the Romans'. Everywhere bracelets and rings abounded -- from royal treasures to simple bronzes worn by ordinary folks and Legionaries, for whom they still served as ready currency on the march.  At both high and low ends, uniformity of design was so great that most Roman items are dated within a three-century span (3rd -1st c.) and, in most cases, our best clue to origin is knowing where an article was found. Loads of Roman rings and bracelets remain affordable and more are being found all the time.

The Early Middle Ages:  Byzantium, Marauding Hordes and Holy Romans
After Rome fell, geographical differences came into play again.  While barbarian tribes laid waste to Western Europe for about a thousand years, the classy bling was in the Byzantine Empire.  Here rings and bracelets, like other jewelry, grew more opulent than ever as the Greco-Roman heritage was enriched by exotic influences from Slavic to North African.  Embellished within an inch of their lives, these jewels were  pierced, engraved, enameled, niello-ed, gem-set and so forth, sometimes all at once.  This unmistakable style is also known for icon-like flattening of pictorial elements and, after the year 600 or so, for Christian themes in the Greek Orthodox manner.  Simple early Byzantine rings, often resembling Roman ones, are well within reach today.


Jeweled Byzantine Bracelets. 500–700 BCE  Gold, silver, pearl, amethyst, sapphire, quartz, glass & emerald plasma.



 Byzantine Gold Ring with Enameled Engagement Scene.  7th c.


 Byzantine Court Bracelets.  9th -10th c.  Granulated gold with enameled insets.


Now compare the Byzantine treasures above with the contemporaneous offerings of Western Europe.  Not in the same league.

Germanic Bronze Bracelet
Germanic Bronze Bracelet.  At Ancient Touch.

Germanic Gold & Garnet Ring  
Germanic Gold Wire & Garnet Ring. At Ancient Touch.

Okay, I'm comparing museum pieces to things you can buy.  Even so, here's a museum piece made in France around the same time. Not much to shout about.  Those "slices" of garnet and mother-of-pearl typify the best work Western Europe could muster then.
As warring tribes were pacified, the Frankish king Charlemagne and the Pope took over to form a western Empire in the year 800.  Devotional jewelry and fancy battle gear were the must-haves.  Charlie, as you may recall from our prior gallop over this terrain, revived classical scholarship, along with interest in cameos and intaglios, but his heirs couldn't keep their lands together.  It took another Pope and Otto I -- German king and Duke of Saxony -- to establish the "Holy Roman Empire" in 962.

With out-of-work warriors littering their great halls, French nobles decided a sail to England was in order.  Normans famously snagged the Isles in 1066, after which the Crusades supplied an occupation for several hundred years.  It wasn't just that Muslims were raising a rumpus in Byzantine lands, but that the region was ripe for plunder.  Sadly, Crusaders wound up sacking Byzantium, themselves.  On the up side, travel raised their aesthetic standards.  As gold and gems flowed westward from the Holy Land, European jewelers knuckled down to serious business.


Gold & Cabochon Sapphire Ring, English, Early Medieval. At Fabian de Montjoye.


Gold & Cabochon Ruby Ring. Bronze Bracelet. English, Early Medieval. Sold by GlitzQueen.


Gold Wedding Band with Heart..  Medieval. Sold by GlitzQueen.


Cross Bracelet.  English, 15th c. Replica. Gold & Amethyst. At British Museum Store.

That's a Ceylon sapphire at left and it doesn't take much imagination to reckon how it got into an English "tart mold" ring of the 12th century.  Byzantium, at the axis of East/West trade, was on the Crusanders' "can't-miss" map since their first outing in 1095. The chasing on its shank features Saltire crosses,  associated with Scotland and especially St. Andrew, so the ring probably reached France, where it's for sale, during the British religious wars.  The Saltires and blue color (evoking the sky and Mother Mary) suggest it belonged to a wealthy clergyman.

On the secular side, romance was in the air -- literally, for many Gothic swains kept engagement rings dangling from their hatbands,  waiting for the right girl.  This began in the 13th century, when the Pope decreed a wait between betrothal and marriage ceremonies, each requiring a ring.  Sapphires adorned many engagement and wedding rings (replaced a bit later by rubies, then diamonds) and golden bands with hearts grew popular as wedding rings, too.

Poesy rings debuted not much later.  Often mistakenly called "posy" rings, these bore poetic sayings, inside or out, and were sentimental faves into the Victorian era.  Replicas such as the Autre ne Veuil ("No One but You") band below sell at Sapphire Lane.  

 

More mundanely, signet rings caught on in Britain after the Norman Conquest, since they'd long been worn by French nobles.  Early in the 12th century, seals were universally adopted to authenticate documents, so everybody who was anybody had one.  However, survival of medieval signet rings is rare, due to the custom of breaking them to avert forgery after the owner's death, so beware of low-priced examples.

Besides setting their fingers atwinkle, Europeans enriched by the Crusades stitched pearls to their clothes, wore or carried gems as charms (each thought to have a curative or other power) and dabbled in further adornments, adapting fashions to show them off.  Long sleeves made bracelets slower to reach northern climes than other jewels, but they were common by the 15th century.  Befitting the amorous mood, many were love tokens.
Cupid's Revenge by Beaumont and Fletcher cites bracelets bearing lovers' names and even made of their hair.  Others held charms or devotional pendants such as the cross at left.  The gold chains worn then in a variety of ways could also serve as currency.  Each link often had a definite weight and exchange value.

Jewels in the Age of Exploration:  Late Medieval and Renaissance
In later Gothic and Renaissance times, heraldic, mythological and naturalistic forms were rife and gem-cutting advanced quickly after basic methods were found in the 14th century.  Soon  there were oval and square table-cuts (cabs with tops lopped off), pyramid-cut diamonds and hog-backs (table-cuts with edges beveled in an emerald cut), but gems were still in closed (usually foiled) mounts. 

The heraldic jewel at right may have been a "loyalty ring,"  Such insignia formed a special class of jewelry denoting either the owner’s status or his fidelity to an overlord.  These included rings, brooches, badges and the "livery collars" we discussed last time.  "Loyalty" items were worn long after the feudal era, from the late 15th to the late 19th century.  This particular one was likely a gift to a visiting noble from Alfonso V (The Wise), who united Sicily and Aragon under Naples, then a famous seat of learning.

Other than such enseignes, charms lost favor.  Only the uneducated wore them, after mass-production of books dispelled superstition among the literate.  The printing press also let jewelry designers (including top artists like Holbein, Dürer and Cellini)create an international style based on rich color and  architectural features.  Rings with lofty box-like bezels were chic until 1600 or so.  Some actually copied buildings, such as Solomon's Temple on Jewish bridal rings, and many were hinged to hold relics, medicines or poison.  "Gimmel" rings, such as the one below, might contain gloomy memento mori bits (popular in the latter 1500s), but always had two interlocking hoops to symbolize the couple.  In a later version called a fede (faith) ring, hoops ended with hands that clasped when it closed. Among other stylish settings were book shapes, hearts and assemblages of petals.


Both men and women wore up to three rings per finger (oddly excluding the middle one). Obviously this was not a "less is more" moment.  Despite sumptuary laws declaring who was VIP enough to wear which jewels, the market was far too big for existing suppliers to satisfy.  Explorers first sought shorter ways to reach the East and, in the process, discovered other sources in Africa and the New World.  By Elizabethan times, privileged gals had so many rings that some were sewn onto their dresses and worn on ribbons as pendants.  Because clothing was jeweled and sleeves long, bracelets hadn't caught up with the grandeur of rings.  They were multiple strands of pearls or other beads of gemstone or glass, usually matched pairs. The queen, a big pearl fan, also had bangles carved from rock crystal and the first known wristwatch.


Heraldic Aquamarine & Gilt Bronze Ring with Arms of Aragon & Naples.  Mid-15th c.



Gold Ring with Shell Cameo of Cupid in Chariot Driven by Seahorses. 16th c.


Enameled Gold & Diamond Quatrefoil Ring. Circa 1550.


Ringdial.  German, circa 1650. At Anglo Antiquities.

Speaking of timepieces, bronze sundials were the usual thing -- fashioned both as "ringdials" and in larger pocket versions. Each had a pinhole you aligned with the month on the outer surface.  Then you held it up by a lace and light passed through the hole to illuminate the time among hours shown within the dial.  Pocket watches weren't affordable until the 18th century.

Ringdials were in the category of "gadget rings," which embraced compass rings, pipe stuffers, key rings, brass knuckles and other such boy-toys.
Jewels of the Baroque and Rococo Periods (1600-1790)
Through a transitional interlude, 17th century jewels resembled late 16th century ones: heavy on pearls, cameos and enamel, but with shrinking ring bezels and more focus on stones.  Then came a horticultural fit.  Inspired by the infant science of botany, jewelry squirmed with foliage, fruit and flowers.  Then a different look spread from Rome, with "new" St. Peter's as its exemplar.  Baroque style aimed for grandeur and profound emotional impact.  Opera was its stage innovation; artists chose somber hues and dramatic compositions; and fashionistas' attire was draped rather than rigid.  The era took its name from the Portuguese barroco, an oddly shaped pearl.  That's apt both because pearl passion roared on (as chronicled by Vermeer, Rembrandt, et al) and because the time was bizarre by any measure.

Essentially, Europe went mad as a badger.  Catholics and Protestants, after a century of regional strife, took their spats national and international.  In England, Charles I lost his head and throne to Puritans who smashed, in the name of God, everything lovely in their path and sold Catholics into colonial slavery -- while, on the Continent, conflicts collectively called the Thirty Years War (1618-48) bled Germans, Austrians, Spaniards and Scandinavians.  Where Calvinists and Lutherans rampaged, valuables were hidden. Cromwell's lads disapproved even of wedding rings!  In these brutal times,  memorial jewels grew personal.  Instead of generic memento mori forms like coffins and skulls, there were "Stuart Crystals" worn secretly to honor the late king and tributes to one's own loved ones.

Hair Lace Bracelet.
  English. 1625-1675. A memorial or love token.

Happily for the French, they missed most of the fray and merely funded armies (like the Dutch, who meanwhile lost their wits and fortunes to Tulipomania, but broke from declining Spain).  Once things calmed down -- with vast swathes of Europe wrecked -- France was on top.  This was the plan.  Louis XIII set out to limit his "Holy Roman" political rivals by keeping German lands fragmented, as the treaty did. He also began undermining his cultural rivals, the Italians -- a job ably completed by his son.

While history's #1 dandy, Louis XIV, glittered on the throne, his purse was open wide to buy cultural dominion.  Le Roi Soleil brought art and artists in, formed artistic and scientific academies and redirected the Baroque impulse to glorify, not God, but himself as heir to Rome's Imperators. A tot when crowned, he took control in 1661, a year after his cousin took charge in England.  Charles II had been in French exile, so imported the styles and a postwar taste for fun.  With the worst of those pesky zealots shipped to the Colonies, Europeans of the dawning Age of Reason felt like forgetting the whole ugly episode.  Molière tickled Paris crowds, Restoration comedies amused London and gems dominated jewelry.  So many reached the west that they could be clustered. Extra flash came from open settings and early rose cuts.  Even pastes were rose-cut.  Enamel, heavy chains and pearl swags went out, graceful Sevigne bows and love knots came in and a new distinction was drawn between jewels for daylight vs candlelight.

Below:  3 Transitional Rings circa 1600:


(Note enameled reverse.)








Baroque Ring. Diamonds in Enameled Gold. Mid-17th c.


Baroque Ring.  Rose Diamonds in Silver & Gold. Circa 1680. At S. J. Phillips.

The Dutch were already known for fine gem-cutting, BTW.   Below, an unknown lady painted by van den Tepmel shows off her 1670 finery: two rings of baroque design and a bracelet form enjoyed for centuries.  (Even now, it would be hard to improve on a multi-strand bracelet of sea pearls, wouldn't it?).

While Holland had rebounded from its Great Tulip Crash, England just couldn't get a lasting break.  "Merry Monarch" Charles II  was barely settled in before the Great Fire and Great Plague hit town.  These events gave a further boost to memorial jewelry, intensifying a maudlin trend that persisted for centuries alongside other styles.  And the Brits hadn't seen half of it yet.  In 1688, another king got the axe -- not literally this time, but Charles' brother and successor, James II, was deposed by his daughter, after having a son late in life.  Mary, an ardent Protestant married to William of Orange, had previously stood to inherit and wouldn't stand for *not* doing so.  More bloody times ensued under joint rule by William, Mary and the Parliament that backed their coup -- and then under Mary's sis, Anne.  Even though France supported the Jacobites, the English court followed French fashion, including insanely big hair. Guys wore massive wigs and gals' tresses climbed a two-foot contraption called the fontange, until Louis XIV put his high-heeled foot down about the latter.  The fontange lingered longer in England.  Europeans had come to see themselves as a unified society with a common culture  to such an extent that the "Steinkerk" cravat was worn by stylish Brits, despite being  named for a 1692 battle in which the French whipped them.

With the ascensions of George I (1714) and Louis XV (1715), English and French monarchs changed again at the same time, although Louis was only five and not at the helm yet.  George never really took the helm in England; he spoke poor English and preferred his native Germany.  The Hanoverian's main claim was Protestantism.  Hence, Parliament favored him over the one remaining Stuart, James' II's Catholic son raised in France for safety. When the French and Scots tried to install him as James III, another Jacobite fracas arose -- but it was nothing compared to the fight later led by his son, "Bonnie Prince Charlie".

Baroque Segues to Rococo

Before the 18th century began, fashion had already lightened up.  Besides wearing diamonds and clear pastes, people powdered their hair and wigs.  They decided dark wigs looked forbidding and did zip for the complexion, besides which powder  had starch to hold a style and nicely blended real and false hair colors.  Powdered heads led to softer colors and to garments ladies slipped on while being dusted.  Soon after 1720, peignoir-like overdresses tied in front with bows moved from the (yes) "Powder Rooms" to the streets.  They struck a note of informality and the extra layer favored lighter-weight fabrics.

Richly hued damasks and brocades were Over.  So were old jewels that matched them.  People clamored for more diamonds after development of the "brilliant" cut and openwork silver settings that were almost invisible.  By 1722 colored stones were officially passé.  But Indian diamond mines were playing out and so were New World pearls.  Into the gap leapt Georges-Frédéric Strass, whose paste and silver jewels soon gleamed in the best places.  Also fresh on the scene were bright "Bristol Crystals," worn with diamond-like cuts in England and Belgium. Soon new mines poured out the Good Stuff again, but the paste market stayed hot.  More than 300 makers of faux-jewels operated in Paris within a few decades, most recreating fine jewelry motifs, which took on flowing lines and sculptural dimension.  Ribbon, flower and feather designs particularly suited designs that departed from predictable symmetry.  Still, there remained a Neo-Classical strain that favored balance and merely gained more decoration (like the cameo at right); it was especially strong among academicians and other progressives in Paris, who compared their present government with that of Classical times and found it wanting.  We know which strain won out.

Meanwhile, to complement their gems -- real or not; who cared? -- tastemakers made everything sparkle. Rooms went white or pastel, gaily detailed with gilt, cherubs, ribbons, tendrils, hints of the Orient and the erotic, scrollwork, mirrors and, of course, shells.  The Rococo era had arrived, the word being kin to the French for shell, coquille, and also rocaille (literally rockeries, but evocative of organic, winding forms).  The look was ornate but intimate; sophisticated but lighthearted.  It caught on as court style across Europe.  Schloss Schönbrunn, the Austrian summer palace finished at mid-century, typifies it.  So do the gals below.



Because lace cuffs were popular, bracelets were generally subtle.  Here royal mistress Mme. de Pompadour wears pearls at her wrists and a gossamer confection of filigree is glimpsed on Mme. Grand.  Gold bracelets edged with pearls were also favored. (Parisian jewelers were known for them.)   Other types included simple lace bands and ribbons fastened with pretty pins or cameos and miniature portraits in linked frames.  At right are diamond-framed minis from St. Petersburg, which was very rich then.  And at times we see a surviving late 18th century bracelet as ornate as the rings, as witness the diamond and opal beauty below, which is at Joan Good Antique Jewelry.

The apex of Rococo beauty was reached in the 1750s, most agree.  In the 1760s, symmetry and vivid color crept back into jewelry, so the pure style was gone.  Next, what was left of it went WAY over the top. Rococo's  ultimate excesses involved hairdos, not jewels.  Here we see Mme. Pompadour before the horror (painted by Boucher in 1756) and Mme. Grand in recovery (painted in 1783 by Vigée Le Brun).

After the Seven Years War -- a rash of conflicts in America, Asia and Europe -- French finances were kaput.  Louis XIV had left them a mess and all Louis XV could do, since his nobles refused to be taxed, was keep dancing on the edge of the volcano.  La Pompadour called it right when she told him, Après nous le déluge.  On his death in 1774, his grandson and heir was 20.  By Louis XVI's side was a 19-year-old wife with the tallest hair in the country.  We're too young to rule, he said to her.

Truer words were never spoken.  Louis XIV could've put brakes on it, as in 1699 with the fontage, but the Big Hair attack of the 1770s slid past the later Louies, who lacked that true autocratic touch.  

Louis XV Cameo. 1753. Gold & Gems.

Crowned Heart Wedding Rings (symbolizing love's rule).  French. Mid-18th c.




Bracelet of Miniature Portraits in Diamond Frames.  Russian.  1760s.


Rococo Love Knot Wedding Ring
(French) & Jeweled Ring Watch (German).



Rococo Hair at Its Worst

Despite caricatures picturing a coiffeur on scaffolding and advertising ladders to hairdressers, 1770s hair grew taller and zanier, stuffed with gauze, flowers, feathers and props from the daily news.  After the kid-king got talked into supporting America's Revolution -- just what he needed, another war -- a 1778 naval victory inspired a hairdo complete with the frigate, full rigging and guns!

Even Marie Antoinette, who'd helped launch the trend, got disgusted.  So we can guess what the masses thought.  While she longed for The Simple Life, popped a cap on and played milkmaid at the Trianon, the citizenry longed for her head.  To her credit, she worried about money and ceased buying jewels, but reckless overdressing rolled on without her -- full of women forced to kneel in their carriages.  When the dauphin was born in 1781,  many cheered his arrival with commemorative hills of hair.  The craze took another year to top out and topple from absurdity.

Next, the French went nuts with the rustic. Straw entered fashion, for instance:  Dresses and waistcoats were trimmed with it and straw coats were a 1783 rage.  Show me an honest peasant who wouldn't call that daft.  On the path to so-called "reform," presumably desired by all, other giddy fads struck, too. When hot air balloons debuted in 1783, everything was au ballon, à la Montgolfier, etc.  They couldn't help themselves.  Then Le Mariage de Figaro sparked outfits named for its characters.  This was the version by Beaumarchais (also a jeweler, BTW), not Mozart's censor-friendly sequel.  Long banned as too revolutionary, the show finally played Paris in 1784 and boosted the democratic movement. As you'll recall, Figaro outwits his noble master, who suffers humbling defeat for claiming special privilege.  

By then, formal attire appeared only at court on State occasions.  For daily wear,  fashionistas favored dresses of poplin and lawn with fichus and aprons, flat shoes and caps or ribbon-tied straw hats, taking cues from America and the English countryside.  Diamonds are at a discount and jewelry has fallen into discredit, Mme de Sartory wrote in Petit Tableau de Paris.  She added: Luxury is no longer displayed in buildings ... Carriages are plain ... Servants are less numerous ... Expensive horses are no longer kept ... Women's dress was never so plain ... Men are dressed still more simply.. The few jewels worn were low-value items of cut steel and glass, most in the Classical Revival mode that had steadily picked up steam since the 1775 bread riots.  In fact, Louis XV's last mistress put up a Neo-Classical building, going so far as to reject exquisite Fragonard murals as wrong for it.  To visiting Rationalists such as Thomas Jefferson, everything. was right about Mme. du Barry's pavilion at Louveciennes.  Its severe style echoes in Washington.

So who was clinging to the fairyland grace of Rococo?  Just about nobody chose to go down with it.  Seen as a decadent monarchist style, it was doomed long before the Revolution began in 1789.  That's why the jewelry's so rare.  Once gems could be aired again, most 18th century jewels was recycled into politically correct settings -- apart from simpler styles, notably those of Georgian England.

Jewels of Georgian England


Georgian Hairwork Bracelet Clasp. At Granite Pail Collectibles. 

Other Jewels Below Sold by Finan & Co.


Ring Set.  1850 - 1875. Gold & 18 Gems.

Flowerhead  Ring.  Turquoise, Ruby & Gold
.


Mourning Ring.  Pearls, Gold, Rock Crystal & Hair.


Georgian "Regard"  Ring.  Gold & Paste
Stones.

The English Georgian era lasted even longer than the Victorian, although it took three of the four Georges to exceed Vicky's reign.  While France weakened, 18th century England could afford its wars.  The nation was rich from revolutions in industry and agriculture,  which its nobles were key in advancing.  Most British aristos were close to their land,  to which they retreated thankfully after the London "season," exchanging wigs and court jewels for sturdy country clothes and jewelry that had more sentimental than intrinsic worth -- like a hairwork clasp on a plain ribbon bracelet -- or that took a practical turn, like a ring with interchangeable stones.

All Georgians weren't so sensible, of course. A coterie devoted to French fashion set style far more than the Royals did, but their pilgrimages to Paris were interrupted by frequent conflicts.  They'd no sooner get home, certain that civilization required them to own a monkey, parrot or black child servant, than another war would erupt, leaving them to wait it out before learning what to buy next.  Thus, many trends arrived on the late side.  Ostrich-feathered hair, for example, was introduced by Marie Antoinette, yet didn't cross the Channel until the 1790s (and, interestingly, persists in court dress today).
Late in the century, England exerted a stylistic counterforce.  Starting in the Big Hair 1770s, two Brits did more than anyone to popularize Rococo's rival style, Neo-Classicism. Inspired by the Enlightenment aesthetic and archeological finds at Pompeii and Herculaneum, London jeweler James Tassie and pottery tycoon Josiah Wedgwood made sure those of lesser means weren't left out of the latest cameo and intaglio craze, by crafting them in glass and jasperware.  Some of their work features identical motifs, since Wedgwood bought molds from Tassie.  Because Tassies continued to be made in Victorian days by James' nephew and Wedgwood is still made today, be wary when buying these.

English clothing, as we've already seen, came to the fore in France during the 1780s.  The trend intensified through the early 1790s, when ladies wore semi-masculine attire inspired by riding habits. It was a look many bourgeois and some upper-crust gals affected as a means of seeming smart, serious and politically aware.  In fact, Charlotte Corday was in mannish stripes à I'Anglaise for her 1793 date with Marat in the bathtub.

Having marshaled fashion leadership in these respects, most Brits summoned enough faith in their own taste to resist the transparent dresses and other excesses of French Neo-Classicism -- which, in Napoleonic days, not only approached indecency but promoted frightful haircuts (like the "Titus," brushed up from the back into your face).



Tassie Intaglio Ring. 1782 Commemorative. Glass & Gold.



Jasperware Cameo in Silver. Late 18th c. At Granite Pail Collectibles.


Jewels of the Regency/Empire Period & Pre-Victorian Transition (circa 1790-1830)


Riviere Bacelet. Paste in Silver Collets with Gold Backs. Circa 1800. Sold by Finan & Co.

Hair Bracelet with Watercolor Silhouette on Ivory.  English. Early 19th c. 


Cluster Ring.  Gold Beads & Wirework. Circa 1800.
  At Adin.

Galaxy Ring.  Gold, Diamonds & Enamel.  Late 18th-Early 19th c.

Serpent Bracelet. Circa 1800-25. Gold, Pearls, Turquoise, Rubies & Hair.


Berlin Iron Bracelet.
Prussian.  Early 19th c.  At Granite Pail Collectibles.


Beaded Bracelet.  Circa 1820.  French. Garnet & Gold.  At Kensington House Antiques.

Although at loggerheads through much of this era, England and France followed similar fashions.  Menswear grew generally simpler and more sober in hue, while ladies dressed in high-waisted frocks of gauzy fabric (so thin in France that pink tights were required beneath).

Plainer dress would seem to call for lots of jewels, but few people were well off.  All those wars cost money.  Too, precious materials were still a worry.  Having seen that ostentation could get you killed, most folks contented themselves with paste, cut steel and sentimental trinkets like miniature paintings (exchanged by lovers from around 1800 and worn as bracelet clasps and watch fobs). A similar sort of jewelry featured silhouettes painted on ivory, some with russet highlights for dimension.  Artists producing these with mechanical aids could capture the profile in one sitting and then make endless copies for friends and family.  Italian carvers of real cameos -- to approach the price point of Tassies, Wedgwood cameos and the painted silhouettes -- turned to lava and shell, although wealthier customers still wanted hardstone or coral (and the richest commissioned actual likenesses of themselves).

Makers of "real" jewels aimed to maximize bang for the buck.  Gold was stretched with piercing, embossing and wirework techniques (filigree, mesh and cannetille) and used to gild other metals. Vermeil (gilt silver) was extremely popular until the circa 1815 revelation that gilders were blinded by mercury used to make it.  Small stones were often grouped for impact; and enamel made a comeback, including champlevé and guilloché.  Royal blue enamel, new in the 1790s, remained stylish for decades. From around 1800,  diamonds and other cut stones were routinely set in open "claw" settings to admit light for more sparkle. (Until then, most had been enclosed with foil backs, a very good clue for dating).  Pearls were much in evidence, because their cost lessened.  Fresh beds were found in the Pacific, Central America's exhausted beds recovered and false pearls were improved by "silvering" inside blown glass beads (much like making mirrors).  Parures, first created for court occasions, grew popular and typically included a matching necklace, brooch and tiara, as well as a ring and a bracelet or two.

In every era when arms are bared, bracelets assume prominence.  During this period, the "goddess" look favored them on upper arms, as well as wrists.  Naturalistic floral forms were worked in the filigree and repoussé of ancient times and naturally the snake bit again. 
Added to the Neo-Classical repertoire were motifs like turbans, sphinxes, obelisks and palm trees, picked up during military campaigns in Egypt.


Filigree Bracelet.  Vermeil.
Spanish, circa 1800.
Sold by GlitzQueen.


Pair of Bracelets.  Rose Gold or Gilt. 
English, circa 1800.  At GlitzQueen.

Despite hostilities with France until 1815 (and an attempt to reconquer America in 1812), this was a time of youthful gaiety in England, where the Prince of Wales ruled as Regent in his loony father's stead.  Times were less merry on the Continent, bled white by combat on a scale never before seen.  There was no respite between the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars; in fact, opinions differ on when the latter began.

One type of jewelry is associated closely with the end of French domination: Berlin Iron, so-called because it was a specialty of Berlin foundries from around 1800.  Upon capturing Prussia, Napoleon took the technique back to France -- but, during their War of Liberation, Prussians used it against him.  Those who donated valuable jewelry to the cause in 1813 received lacy cast iron jewels in return, some marked Gold gab ich fur Eisen (I gave gold for iron).  These black-lacquered jewels remained in fashion after he'd been driven out and ultimately defeated.  Its color made it suitable for mourners, but Berlin Iron was also worn to great effect on bright shades such as pink.  It was available as far away as England by the 1830s.

Jewelry from late in this period can technically be called "Georgian," since the Prince Regent became King George IV in 1820.  He was a tastemaker of Regency/Empire style, so fashion changed little.  Berlin Iron, "Lover's Eye" and mini-portrait jewels lingered, as did "regard" and other acrostic jewelry.   In Restoration France (under Louis XVI), pieces from the Crown Jewels were restyled into more sober forms and new jewelry was relatively simple, like the garnet bracelet at left.   Across Europe, coral became ultra-chic in the 1820s, with discovery of more reefs off Naples. As the 1830s began, Louis' successor, Charles X, got bounced in *another* Revolution and England's William IV succeeded his brother.  Jewels from William's short reign are generally clumped with Early Victorian or Regency, depending on the look.  Below, in an 1826 Ingres portrait,  Madame de Sainte-Marie captures the serious mood in France.  Notice her demure dress, simple rings and pair of bracelets worn together over a puffy long sleeve.  Ladies' clothes were undergoing a gradual return to a fuller shape and the natural waistline.


Jewels of the Victorian Era (1837-1901)


Seed Pearl Bracelet.  Lattice-Woven Pearls. Gold Clasp.  Sold by Finan & Co.


Highland Stag Bracelet. Ivory.  Sold by Finan & Co.


Agate Bracelet. Sold by Finan & Co.


Castellani Bracelet. 1850s. Granulated Gold & Diamond. Sold by Linda Roberts Jewelry.


Aluminum Bracelet. 1850s.


Mid-19th c. Bracelet.  Gilt Brass, Faux Diamonds & Pearls.   Sold by GlitzQueen.


1858 Bracelet Given by Victoria to a Niece.  Gold, Diamonds, Emeralds, Rubies & Queen's Portrait.

Just 18 when crowned, Victoria was to become the greatest single influence on international style for almost a century.  Worship of Classical styles was already declining in 1840, when she married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, but she chose a serpent-shaped ring.  Symbolizing eternal love, it set the tone for the Early Victorian Romantic Period.  Devoted to her husband and growing family, Victoria often wore sentimental jewelry, such as a charm bracelet hung with lockets and family crests.  Another favorite wrapped her wrist with mini-portraits of the kids.

Miniature painting, BTW, had branched out into landscapes, such as the enameled ivory plaque on this Swiss gold and diamond bracelet.

Because daytime fashions for ladies were very covered-up, wrist and hand jewelry dominated.  Bracelets were *the* must-have jewels throughout the Victorian era.  Wealthy women owned as many as 60,  chosen for certain outfits or  occasions. Some were pairs, but they were worn also in larger groups.  Ladies piled on rings, too -- Victoria often wore more than one per finger --  and men found a new reason to wear them, when class rings caught on (after introduction of the first ones at West Point in 1835).

Victoria loved jewelry, but had firm views about what should be worn when and by whom.  As we discussed before, she relegated diamonds to evening wear and permitted them at court only on married women whose husbands presumably bestowed them.  On single gals, they were judged vulgar displays of inherited wealth or, worse, gifts from lovers.  Deemed decorous for day were seed pearls, ivory, coral, amber, malachite, cut steel, tortoiseshell and mosaics.  Many stones were cabochons, which had a "folk art" air even more trendy after the queen acquired Balmoral.  Her passion for holidays at her "dear paradise in the Highlands"  made a rage of Celtic styles and "pebble" jewels with agates and cairngorms.

Gold was under no taboo, but scarce, so vermeil was warmly welcomed back when the mercury-free process of electroplating developed in the 1840s.  The practice of setting stones (particularly diamonds)in silver continued, but grew less common as the century went on.


Early Victorian Flowerhead Ring.  Diamonds, Gold & Silver. Sold by GlitzQueen.


Early Victorian Flowerhead Ring.  Ruby, Diamonds, Gold &  Silver. At Heirloom Jewelry.

The next decade brought gold discoveries in America (1849) and Australia (1852).  Mandatory gold marking in Britain followed in 1854, along with legalization of  9, 12 and 15 karat.  (Before then most English gold was unmarked 18k.)  The change was sparked by foreign competition, much from Italy, where the Castellani shop in Rome wooed travelers with replicas of ancient jewels.  The famed Etruscan tombs had opened in 1836, sparking a revival of historic styles.  By mid-century, jewels were made not only in Etruscan and Classical styles but also medieval (Victorian "Gothick") and Renaissance, which brought back vivid enamels; Baroque/Rococo and, after Thomas Cook launched pyramid tours around 1850, Egyptian.  Another influence was Japan, with which trade began in 1853.

The 1850s also brought aluminum, more costly at first than gold, and machines to stamp jewelry parts, which put jewels within almost everyone's reach.  Styles tended to be sentimental standbys like lovebirds, love-knots and clasped hands; religious symbols such as "the anchor of hope" and "heart of charity";  lucky clovers and horseshoes;  floral motifs that conveyed messages in the "language of flowers" then known to all; and acrostics set with varied stones (faux for the masses). As ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst and diamond had indicated "regard" since Georgian days, "dear" was spelled by diamond, emerald, amethyst and ruby, etc.   "Mother" rings looked similar, being made up of children's birthstones.  Chain began to get daintier, after the costly process of forming each link by hand was abandoned.

Mid-19th c. Renaissance Revival Bracelet by Hunt & Roskell (London).
Enameled Gold, Sapphires, Emeralds, Rubies, Pearls & Diamonds.  Brazilian "Snake" Chain Band.

Toward the end of this period, jewels grew bigger and bolder, because there was plenty of gold. This was even more true during the next part of Victoria's reign, the Grand Period.  It's linked both to vast imperial wealth and to Albert's untimely demise in 1861.  The onset of Victoria's endless grief coincided with the American civil war, from which an army of widows ensued.  Some date this era from 1850 instead of 1860, which nicely parallels the gold discoveries and the French Second Empire (1852-70).  However, it misses the "mourning" aspect.  Bereaved English-speakers followed Vicky's Rules and wore black for a year and a day, accessorizing only with onyx, jet, gutta percha, vulcanite, ebony glass (aka French jet), etc..  During later "half-mourning," garnets and amethysts were allowed and pearls (symbolizing tears) could be freely used.

For those not bereft, the multitude of Revivalist styles kept gaining popularity and magnificence. Further attention was drawn to ancient Egypt by construction of the Suez Canal and general awareness of archeological discoveries was fostered by new public museums and international expositions that featured glories of the past alongside the latest inventions. Thanks to big shows in the 1860s, Oriental influence heightened and, when Victoria became Empress of India in 1876, Mughal jewels were a craze.

Another feature of this period is mechanical inventiveness in bracelet fasteners.  Many examples from the 1870s have patent dates that allow precise dating.

The 1870s also brought loads of diamonds from Africa, where major mines had recently been found.  Due to their plentitude -- along with advances in gem-cutting and mounting, plus better room lighting  -- colored stones lost their appeal for evening.

Not everyone was impressed by all this glitter and grandeur, or in love with the past.  There was growing concern about the present:  both social evils chronicled by writers like Dickens and the fact that mechanical production was reducing quality.  Of course the luxury market wasn't compromised by the Industrial Revolution, but the grandiose scale of things seemed tastelessly garish to many.  In reaction, during the Late Victorian Aesthetic Period, craftsmanship and imagination were honored, instead of cost and size.  When it came to jewelry, people chose smaller, less valuable pieces  and wore fewer of them, but wanted the jewelry they owned to be well-made and interesting. The Aesthetic Period is usually dated from 1880 or 1885, but the trend began decades sooner.  As early as 1851, artsy types were horrified by London's "Great Exhibition" (Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations).   Within a few years, this budding disdain for mass-production and general excess gave birth to groups like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, incubators of the Arts and Crafts movement.



Roman Mosaic Bracelet., Mid-19th c. Gold & Glass.


Mourning Ring. 1860-80. Enameled Gold. Sold by Granite Pail Collectibles.


Renaissance Revival Ring. Mid-19th c. Gold & Carved Carnelian Cameo. Sold by GlitzQueen.


Etruscan Revival Bracelet with Twist Closure. English. Gilt. Sold by GlitzQueen.


Late 19th c. Bracelet  Silver, Vermeil & Enamel.  Sold by Finan & Co.


Late 19th c. Chinoiserie Ring.   Brass & Early Plastic.   Sold by GlitzQueen.


Art Nouveau Lion Mask Ring   Silver & Rubies. Sold by GlitzQueen.

Art Nouveau Snake Bracelet. Silver. Sold by GlitzQueen.

Art Nouveau Ring. Rose Gold & Emeralds. Sold by GlitzQueen.

Arts and Crafts style began emerging in the 1860s, characterized by playful, at times exotic, motifs; cabochon stones and unexpected materials.  In 1875, the avant-garde clamored for it at the new Liberty shop in London and, by the 1880s, it was mainstream.  Fostering the shift from ostentation were the sporty young Royals who took over official duties when Victoria vanished into deep mourning.  The Danish princess Alexandra, who wed Albert Edward (aka Bertie, later Edward VII) in 1863, grew up in modest circumstances, since her army officer dad was never expected to be king.  By contrast to Vicky, whose formality led the older set, Alix set trends for her contemporaries, including the first wave of young ladies with university educations and careers.  This long period of counterpoint makes it impossible to draw a firm line between the Grand and Aesthetic Periods or even between Victorian and Edwardian design.

The Aesthetic taste for natural forms evolved toward stylization, first in the simplifying Arts and Crafts manner and then (from the 1880s) in the fantasy of Art Nouveau.  While many jewels "scream" one style or the other, the two design currents met frequently, as in the rings below.  They have unusual cabochon stones in bezel settings, which is classic Arts & Crafts, along with curvy Nouveau scrollwork.

  
Rings Showing Combined Arts & Crafts & Art Nouveau Influences. Silver with Amber (at left) and Blister Pearl. 1890s. Sold by GlitzQueen.

Both movements were reactions to the factory age, so it's ironic that over-commercialism killed them.  As was noted last time, be very cautious when collecting these items.  Even a famous name on a jewel is no assurance that s/he made it.  Charles Horner, for instance, was dead when "his" factory opened.  Similarly, Lalique and Whiting & Davis designs have been periodically reissued and outright fakes have been plentiful since the 1960s.  When evaluating any ring or bracelet supposedly from this period, look for age-appropriate wear.  It should be easy to spot, since Art Nouveau was emphatically Over at the end of the World War I.  The Arts and Crafts tradition endured longer,  merging with early Modernism, but even jewels from the 1930s will show wear except in extraordinary circumstances. Also beware of supposedly antique silver marked 925.  (I've never seen 925 on anything older than the 1930s, although I won't say it can't possibly happen.)

Traditional jewelry didn't just go away, of course.  Some late 19th century styles have nothing to do with Arts & Crafts or Art Nouveau, like the half-hoop ring and "buckle" jewels below, all from the 1890s.  Even these, though, vary from Grand Period jewels in being lighter and not paying tribute to the past.



1896 Half-Hoop Ring.
Hallmarked Birmingham. Gold & Diamonds. 
Sold by Finan & Co.

   
"Buckle" Bracelet & Ring. 1890s. English.  Gold & Pearls.
Sold by Finan & Co

Jewels of the 20th Century


1900 Art Nouveau Watch Ring.   Swiss. Enameled Gold & Diamonds.


Edwardian Cross-Over Openwork Ring.  White Gold & Diamonds. At GlitzQueen.


1916 Bright-Cut Bangle.  English.  Rolled Gold.
Sold by GlitzQueen.


Belais Cobalt Glass & White Gold Filigree Ring.  1920s.  At GlitzQueen.


Belais "Dragonfly" Gold Filigree & Onyx Ring. 1920s.  At GlitzQueen.


Deco Rose Quartz & Sterling Ring. Sold by GlitzQueen.



Deco Spinel &  Sterling Ring.  At GlitzQueen.


Deco Carved Galalith Bracelet. 
French. Sold by GlitzQueen.


Retro Rhinestone Bracelet. Sold by GlitzQueen.

1940s Dome Ring.
  Sterling & Rhinestones.  At GlitzQueen.


"Carmen Miranda" Bracelet.   Wood & Cord. From Miriam Haskell.  At Glitterbox.



2 Retro "Illusion-Set" Rings. 
 
At GlitzQueen.

As the century turned, there was rivalry between the "art" movement as a whole and yet another fit of Neo-Classicism.  The latter, known as Garland Style, harked back to 18th century garlands, vines, swags, scrolls, feathers, bows and wreaths, but had taken lessons in refinement from the grace and craftsmanship of the art styles.  When at last Bertie got his throne in 1901 and the Edwardian Era began, Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts were wildly popular.  Surely in part for that reason, the Masters of the Universe shopped elsewhere. They were in the mood to flaunt wealth and high spirits.  England was at the top of its game.

Another factor that favored design change was electric lighting, which made Victoriana look fusty and ponderous -- not a bit elegant to Edwardian sophisticates.  Ladies' clothing took a more natural line and fabrics ran to pastels and lace; furniture shrank and gained fine detail via marquetry and stringing; and, when it came to jewels, the Garland Style emerged clear winner.  Jewelry of the pre-World War II Belle Epoque shimmered with subtle perfection -- and filigree and other airy openwork designs were its triumph.


Edwardian Garland Style Ring.  European. Gold Filigree & Amethyst (Alexandra's favorite gem). At GlitzQueen. 



Edwardian 1907 Bangle & Ring.  English. Gold Filigree, Sapphires & Diamonds. Sold by Finan & Co.

The globe was then awash with newly found gems; the trick of culturing pearls had been mastered and fashion favored wearing many rings and bracelets at once, so a disproportionately great number of jewels were made during this sadly brief period -- generally dated circa 1900-20, although Edward died in 1910.  As the era advanced, paler stones and metals came into vogue.  Platinum was diverted to the war effort in 1914, but the New York-based Belais brothers were ready with white gold.  After working with it since the late 1880s, they had a patented formula strong enough for filigree.  White metals stayed the rage through the 1910-20 "transitional" period, during which Edwardian styles dominated, and then the Art Deco 1920s.


Aquamarine & White Gold Filigree Ring. Circa 1915-20.  Signed Belais. Sold by GlitzQueen.

Even less expensive jewelry was lovingly detailed (like the bangle at left), but such lofty standards couldn't last for long.  World War I changed everything.  With so many dead, labor was scarce; women held a new view of themselves as workers and would soon become voters; auto and air transport quickened the pace of life and awakened a taste for "streamlined" styles.  Like it or not, we'd entered the modern world.

Jewelry of the Art Deco Era saw a return to strong color.  The other big difference was abstraction.  Like painters, many jewelers broke from realism around 1910 and early Art Deco coexisted with Edwardian style.  The
Fabergé bangle below, dated 1908-1917 by museum experts, looks Deco (even Modernist).


Fabergé Bangle.  1908-1917. Russian. Gold, Star Ruby & Star Sapphire.

More usual were filigree mountings the Edwardians would have prized, or simpler ones showing Arts & Crafts influence.  Either way, they were set with fancy-cut stones in eye-popping hues or sophisticated black.  It didn't matter tremendously whether they were real.  New laboratory-made synthetic stones were popular, as was the fine glass coming out of Eastern Europe.  This isn't to say the whisper-pale look was totally abandoned; many beautiful Deco jewels have clear or pastel stones; however, they're fashioned in geometric, non-Edwardian ways.

There was also King Tut, a design force throughout the 1920s.  Exhumed early in the decade, he was trotted 'round the world with his loot in the latter part.  This gave us our third  Egyptian Revival and sparked the first Victorian Revival, too. Victorian-lookng jewels that show age but have 20th  century findings usually date from the Deco era (since the next revival came in the 1950s and 1960s).

The extravagant ride of the 1920s came to a horrible halt in October, 1929.  Suddenly people who'd felt rich were dirt-poor.  Of course fashion didn't change overnight and few could buy jewels, anyway.  If lucky enough to get a new outfit, you accessorized it with what you owned or turned to "costume" jewelry (named by Chanel).  For the post-Crash Deco years, plastics were perfect, as were lesser metals, marcasites and glass.  In Depression times, attention ceased being paid to the reverses of jewels.  The later the piece was made after 1930, the more likely its back will be plain.

Through the early 1930s, Deco styling dominated, but the Victorian Revival intensified and people began collecting the real thing, too.  Old jewelry cost less than new (and perhaps came free on appeal to Granny).  Ladies recycled watch slides into bracelets by stringing them on two chains and adding a clasp -- a fad that came back again in the 1990s.



"Mummy Case" Ring.  1920s. By Uncas. Sterling & Chrysoprase. Sold by GlitzQueen.


Deco Faux-Opal & Topaz Bracelet.  Sold by GlitzQueen.

Late Deco Chrysoprase Bracelet.  At GlitzQueen.


Renewed naturalism characterizes much Jewelry of the Retro Era  (1935-50), known for "streamlined" but identifiable forms like skyscrapers and for cute Disney-esque figurals.  Another Retro look was movie star glamor, inspired by Hollywood's escapist films and imitated on the cheap with rhinestones.

The era's most interesting and collectible jewels, however, come from the Modernist/Constructivist movement, which raised flat Deco abstraction to a multi-dimensional level.  This sculptural jewelry evolved from Arts & Crafts style and the best examples were hand-made.  "Studio silver" is a term often applied to it, although many makers also worked in other metals. Mexico became a major source of artisanal jewelry, especially during World War II.


Early Stuart Nye Calla Bracelet.
Sold by GlitzQueen.

Modernist Gold & Pearl Ring.
At GlitzQueen.


Modernist Silver & Garnet Ring..
At GlitzQueen.


WWII "V for Victory"  Silver Ring.
At GlitzQueen.

Retro Mexican Snake Bracelet. 

 
At GlitzQueen.



Mexican Silver, Vermeil & Lapis Bracelet.
 
At GlitzQueen.

As an unexpected plus, the war elevated the quality of mass-produced jewelry.  When base metals were commandeered for combat, manufacturers were stuck with silver.  Most post-Art Deco sterling and rhinestone jewels date from the WW II years.  The Retro era also brought us "sweetheart" bracelets given by servicemen to their ladies, clever "tank-track" styles in hard plastic and "fruit salad" designs a la Carmen Miranda.

  

Diamonds having shrunk along with wealth, they were visually enlarged by "illusion" settings of white gold against a yellow gold background (and/or ring shank).  White metal alone was looking tedious after so long a run, and jewels of mixed metals were practical, complementing other pieces in either color.  This is still a good point and, also because white metal generally looks best next to clear stones, the practice continues in many cases today.

Postwar prosperity and huge gem discoveries in South America tempted people to choose genuine stones.  At the lower end of the market, they were set in silver, but people who could afford gold opted for yellow, which couldn't be confused with lesser metals.  After suffering through the Depression and war, those with the Good Stuff wanted the world to know it.  Jewelry of the 1950s was about Keeping Up with the Joneses. Life revolved around filling new homes in new suburbs with new furniture and gadgets, driving new cars on new highways (and golf balls at new country clubs) and buying new clothes for every new season.

Gals who'd been riveting airplanes a few years before turned their repressed energy to shopping and, since each outfit had to match from hat to shoes,  jewels were extra-colorful. Everything didn't have to be costly -- just ladylike and up-to-the-sec fashionable.  Semi-precious peridots were special pets, "Aurora Borealis" rhinestones were brand-new (made iridescent by a process developed in 1955), lucite and other plastics were enjoyed as chic novelties and heart motifs were ideal for the girly mood.  So were jangling charm bracelets.  Both grown women and their daughters wore them until the times changed -- quite radically, apart from another Victorian Revival  that continued into the 1960s.


Early 1960s Op Art Bracelet. Plastic. Sold by GlitzQueen.

Op Art Ring.  Lucite. At Mora Ridge Antiques.

Art Nouveau-Influenced 1960s Ring. Silver & Carnelian.   Sold by GlitzQueen.

1960s Kinetic Bracelet. Copper. At The ModHaus.

Jewelry of the 1960s became a do-your-own-thing bazaar.  The fading distinction between day and night jewels was finally dropped, along with hats and gloves. Formality was out of step amid go-go boots, mini-skirts, early rock music, Op Art, Pop Art and paper dresses,  not to mention the Space Race and the civil rights movement.  Jewels were assertively modern. Forms were usually rigid and, because disposability was the New Big Thing, plastic was king. There was a lot of black and white, but also plenty of strong color.  

Later in the 1960s -- in the days of Happenings and acid rock -- rigidity gave way to motion.  Swingy metal chains were worn as bracelets and necklaces, and there were even kinetic "spinning ball" and "dangle" rings.  Artisanal jewelry turned to organic forms and nugget-like or randomly placed stones. Ethnic and environmental influences grew strong and Op/Pop art was succeeded by psychedelic.

Alongside contemporary styles, the influence of historical films persisted from the 1950s and fed the latest Victorian Revival.  Victorians had revived every style known to God, so some jewels looked Classical, while others evoked medieval or baroque design.  Jewelry with a Celtic or Art Nouveau look was a special hit among Flower Children (for whom "plastic" was a word of insult). They happily remixed and romanced the past, teaming fluttery long skirts and sleeves worthy of the Pre-Raphaelites (but often made of bedspreads from Bombay) with jewels recalling every era -- some so rustic there wasn't a dime's worth of difference from those worn by Neantherthals, but others that featured fine workmanship.  Girls weren't having all the fun by any means; guys were also comfortable wearing jewelry (having made a start with 1950s ID bracelets) and grew their hair to lengths unseen since the Cavaliers fell to the Roundheads.

Especially collectible from this era are the figurative jewels with a message of peace and love.  These range from inexpensive items to museum pieces like the bracelet at right by Estonian painter and decorative artist Erich Karl Hugo Adamson, known as Adamson-Eric.  It was one of his last works.


Circa 1950 Emerald & Diamond Ring.  Sold by GlitzQueen.

1950s Peridot & Sterling Ring.   At GlitzQueen.


1950s French Painted Lucite Bracelet.   At GlitzQueen.


1950s Lucite Heart Bangle.   At GlitzQueen.


1950s Charm Bracelets.
 
At GlitzQueen.

By 1970, there was no doubt who was setting style:  The first wave of Baby Boomers were wage-earning adults and even the youngest were old enough to influence purchases.  Satisfying this enormous market became the clear mission of every manufacturer without a death-wish.  Well before the Disco Decade was out, artisanal jewels and boutique clothes had morphed into "designer" goods.  Fashion was no longer about one-of-a-kind originals; it was about labels. And the two divergent style paths met again -- in designer jewels featuring freeform settings, "New Age" crystals, Zodiac symbols and such.


Early 1970s Hippie Ring. Enameled Silver.At The Now House.


1970s Designer Mushroom Bracelet. Mixed Metals. At The ModHaus.


1970s Unisex Italian Bracelet. Enameled Silver. At ModVictoria.


Indian-Influenced Kenneth Lane Bracelet, circa 1970.  Sold by GlitzQueen.


Late 1970s Mexican Hand-Crafted Bracelet.  Silver, Copper & Crystal.  At GlitzQueen.

Jewelry of the 1970s  was, at the start, schizophrenic.  The "back to nature" Birkenstock set wanted things even more tribal and metaphysically significant.  Another group of young people went Mod and adopted shiny sleek jewelry, much of it unisex.  This was, after all, the decade of Women's Lib -- the next cause taken up after the U.S. left Vietnam and ended conscription in 1973. ( Mod has a different meaning in Europe, BTW, where it was a mainly English 1960s movement, unhappily associated with violence and revived in the late 1970s as Punk Mod.)

While hippie style evolved toward counterculture designs of more opulence, Mod's streamlined look evoked the 1920s and led to the first Art Deco Revival.  Many overcame their aversion to plastic, when Bakelite staged a comeback, but "real" materials dominated -- except of course in fad jewelry.  There was plenty of that.  POW/MIA bangles were worn in the first half of the decade, (including a version for older people in copper, reputed to soothe "tennis elbow").  Then the U.S. Bicentennial of 1976 brought novelty bracelets and rings in red, white and blue.  "Mood rings" that changed color supposedly with emotional state were wildly popular.  (Related to the biofeedback trend in medicine, these were invented by Joshua Reynolds, who also gave us the Thighmaster). The first braided "friendship" bracelets appeared at this time, too.

Even Jewelry of the 1980s is beginning to be collectible now.  About 25 years on, the earliest pieces are a third of the way to antique by American 75-year standards, so many people alive today will see it hit that mark.  (Europe still holds out for 100 years, at minimum.  In England, I had neighbors who wouldn't give house room to furniture newer than Georgian.)  As for these more recent jewels, I believe our Dynasty Era Dazzlers will have the same appeal to future collectors as emanates now from glitzy 1950s bracelets and cocktail rings.  The same extravagant consumerist mind-set produced them, and these slightly later ones tend to be more graceful, prettier on the wrist or hand.


        
Circa 1980 Estate Jewels.
Bracelet: Emeralds & Gold.  At left: Emeralds, Diamonds & Gold.  At right: Blue & White Sapphires & Sterling.

At GlitzQueen.

While the Revivalist trend continued in the 1980s (and beyond), bringing lots of Art Deco and Nouveau reproductions, more people than ever began buying authentic antiques -- which led to rapidly increasing prices and fakery.  Your best protection against "wrong 'uns" is knowledge, which is what these newsletters are all about.

Thanks for reading this very long edition and for your support of GlitzQueen,
as we approach our fifth anniversary of bringing historic jewelry to collectors online.

Erin
July, 2006
Albuquerque, NM

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