As seen on BBC TV's 'Great Antiques Hunt'
| GlitzQueen at Trocadero
| Newsletter Archive
| GlitzQueen Central
HISTORY & ART TO
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
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.
to Late 20th Century
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.
silver marked "925" or with known symbol. Sterling used for
in 1940s war era. Gold
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.
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
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.
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.
Bracelet. 21st-17th millennium
Ancient Carved Gemstone Beads.
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
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
& 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
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
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
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).
Egyptian Faience Wadjet-Eye
18th Dynasty (1550 - 1295
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
wore up to four
bracelets per arm, two of them above the elbow, at times with matching
Chinese Carved Turquoise
Neolithic (3rd - 2nd
millennium BCE). At BC Galleries.
Neolithic (circa 3rd millennium
BCE). Calcified Ivory. At BC Galleries.
Ancient Cylinder Seals. Sold by
Scarab & Seal Ring.
New Kingdom (1550 - 1070 BCE). Steatite & Electrum.
Egyptian Faience Jackal Ring.
Middle Kingdom (2040
Egyptian Gold Fly Amulet. 18th Dynasty (1570
- 1293 BCE). At
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
|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
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
Iron Age Bracelets & Rings
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
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
Amulet. 5th-2nd c. BCE.
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
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
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 &
- 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.
The opulence of
Persian cities and palaces awed even Alexander the Great, when he conquered
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
with Animal & Floral Forms.
Persian. 700 - 500 BCE.
Gold Intaglio Ring (Seated
Bosporan Kingdom (Crimea). Late 5th c. BCE.
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.
"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.
Armlet. Circa 550
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
Roman Gold Wedding Band.
Sold by Edgar
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
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.
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.
Byzantine Bracelets. 500–700 BCE Gold, silver, pearl,
amethyst, sapphire, quartz, glass & emerald plasma.
Gold Ring with Enameled Engagement Scene.
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.
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.
& Cabochon Sapphire Ring, English, Early
Gold & Cabochon Ruby Ring. Bronze Bracelet.
English, Early Medieval.
Sold by GlitzQueen.
Gold Wedding Band with
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Gold Ring with Shell Cameo of Cupid in Chariot Driven by Seahorses. 16th
Enameled Gold &
Diamond Quatrefoil Ring.
Jewels of the Baroque and Rococo Periods
Ringdial. German, circa 1650.
|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
Ringdials were in the category of "gadget
rings," which embraced compass rings, pipe stuffers, key rings, brass knuckles and other such boy-toys.
|Through a transitional interlude, 17th century jewels resembled late 16th century ones:
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.
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
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
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.
(Note enameled reverse.)
Diamonds in Enameled Gold. Mid-17th c.
Baroque Ring. Rose Diamonds in Silver & Gold. Circa 1680.
At S. J.
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
Rococo Love Knot Wedding Ring
& Jeweled Ring Watch
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
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
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
Jewels of Georgian England
Jewels of the Regency/Empire Period & Pre-Victorian
Transition (circa 1790-1830)
Bracelet Clasp. At
Granite Pail Collectibles.
Below Sold by
Finan & Co.
Ring Set. 1850 - 1875. Gold & 18 Gems.
Turquoise, Ruby & Gold.
Mourning Ring. Pearls, Gold, Rock Crystal & Hair.
"Regard" Ring. Gold & Paste
|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
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
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
Jasperware Cameo in Silver. Late 18th c. At
Granite Pail Collectibles.
Riviere Bacelet. Paste in Silver Collets with Gold Backs. Circa 1800.
Sold by Finan & Co.
with Watercolor Silhouette on Ivory. English.
Early 19th c.
Gold Beads & Wirework. Circa 1800.
Gold, Diamonds & Enamel. Late 18th-Early 19th c.
Serpent Bracelet. Circa
1800-25. Gold, Pearls, Turquoise, Rubies & Hair.
Iron Bracelet. Prussian. Early 19th c. At
Granite Pail Collectibles.
Beaded Bracelet. Circa 1820. French.
Garnet & Gold. At
| 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.
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
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
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
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.
Spanish, circa 1800. Sold by GlitzQueen.
Pair of Bracelets. Rose
Gold or Gilt.
English, circa 1800. At
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.
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
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
Jewels of the Victorian Era (1837-1901)
Seed Pearl Bracelet.
Lattice-Woven Pearls. Gold Clasp.
Finan & Co.
Highland Stag Bracelet. Ivory.
Finan & Co.
Agate Bracelet. Sold by
Finan & Co.
Castellani Bracelet. 1850s. Granulated Gold & Diamond.
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
|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.
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.
Flowerhead Ring. Diamonds, Gold & Silver.
Sold by GlitzQueen.
Flowerhead Ring. Ruby, Diamonds, Gold & Silver.
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
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
Roman Mosaic Bracelet., Mid-19th
c. Gold & Glass.
Mourning Ring. 1860-80. Enameled Gold.
Granite Pail Collectibles.
Renaissance Revival Ring. Mid-19th
c. Gold & Carved Carnelian Cameo. Sold
Etruscan Revival Bracelet with Twist Closure. English.
Jewels of the 20th Century
Late 19th c. Bracelet Silver, Vermeil & Enamel.
Finan & Co.
Late 19th c. Chinoiserie Ring.
Brass & Early Plastic.
Sold by GlitzQueen.
Art Nouveau Lion Mask Ring
Rubies. Sold by GlitzQueen.
Art Nouveau Snake Bracelet.
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.
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
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.
1900 Art Nouveau Watch Ring. Swiss.
Enameled Gold & Diamonds.
Edwardian Cross-Over Openwork Ring.
White Gold & Diamonds. At
1916 Bright-Cut Bangle.
English. Rolled Gold.
Sold by GlitzQueen.
Belais Cobalt Glass & White Gold Filigree
Belais "Dragonfly" Gold Filigree
& Onyx Ring.
Deco Rose Quartz &
Sterling Ring. Sold
Deco Spinel & Sterling Ring.
Deco Carved Galalith Bracelet. French.
Sold by GlitzQueen.
Retro Rhinestone Bracelet.
Sold by GlitzQueen.
1940s Dome Ring. Sterling
& Rhinestones. At
Bracelet. Wood & Cord. From Miriam Haskell. At
2 Retro "Illusion-Set" Rings.
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
Edwardian 1907 Bangle & Ring.
English. Gold Filigree, Sapphires & Diamonds.
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
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
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
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
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).
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.
Case" Ring.  1920s. By Uncas. Sterling & Chrysoprase.
Sold by GlitzQueen.
Deco Faux-Opal &
Sold by GlitzQueen.
Late Deco Chrysoprase Bracelet.
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
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
Sold by GlitzQueen.
Modernist Gold & Pearl Ring.
Modernist Silver & Garnet
WWII "V for
Victory" Silver Ring.
Retro Mexican Snake Bracelet.
Mexican Silver, Vermeil
& Lapis Bracelet.
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
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
Early 1960s Op Art Bracelet. Plastic. Sold by GlitzQueen.
Op Art Ring. Lucite.
Mora Ridge Antiques.
1960s Ring. Silver & Carnelian. Sold
1960s Kinetic Bracelet. Copper. At
Jewelry of the 1960s
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
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
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.
1950s French Painted Lucite Bracelet.
1950s Lucite Heart Bangle.
1950s Charm Bracelets.
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
Early 1970s Hippie Ring.
The Now House.
1970s Designer Mushroom
Bracelet. Mixed Metals.
1970s Unisex Italian Bracelet.
Indian-Influenced Kenneth Lane
Bracelet, circa 1970. Sold by GlitzQueen.
Late 1970s Mexican Hand-Crafted
Bracelet. Silver, Copper & Crystal. At
|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
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 &
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.
design and content are Copyright 2006, Katherine Anne
Harris. All rights reserved.