to Late 20th Century
Century or Earlier
Toggle, spring-ring, fold-over, open fish hook and large
lobster clasps. Smaller, less ornate filigree
"pearl" clasps. Machine-made chains with identical
PENDANTS: Modern-looking pinch bails and jump rings. Lately
some ribbon slides and loops.
Modern-looking clip or screw backs with little if any
decoration. Slender post backs fitting small friction
clutches. Lever backs. Lightweight kidney wires,
at times formed with slight "u" at base.
Gold metals likely until recent years. Metalwork more coarse
overall, with little or no ornamentation of reverses.
Earliest locking safety catches, spring-ring and lobster clasps. Ornate filigree
"pearl" clasps enclosing fish hooks. Smaller barrel
clasps than Victorian. Bizarre clasp types made experimentally in 1930s.
"Paperclip" and other decorative links.
PENDANTS: Ornamental bails, often
complementing other details.
Decorated clip or screw backs smaller than modern. (Screw
backs were patented in 1894, but not popular until circa 1909.) Threaded posts and nuts larger than modern. Kidney wires thicker than modern.
White metals likely. Ornamented reverses pre-1930.
End loops or slides for ribbon. Push-in
fasteners (box- or pin- shaped). Some front closures.
Early barrel clasps like beehives. Safety pin and trombone
catches. Heavier chains with
larger links (especially if early, because hand-made before
1850s). Earliest machine-made snake chains (1857). (Swivel end indicates watch chain.
Ribbon slides and loops. Decorative bails. Holes or
hardware for attaching to necklaces or other jewels.
Threaded posts and nuts (of substantial size) from
1890s. Thick kidney wires from 1870s. Shepherds'
white metal, unless very old (then usually
gilded or backed by gold and perhaps enamel). Ornamented
Earrings through the Ages
The preceding is no help
when findings were added later, as is typical of necklaces and
earrings with much age. Fasteners break, fashions change and
different owners have pierced ears or not. Even if you achieve an
approximate dating based on original findings, you'll want to confirm it and get more exact by comparing the "public face" of your
necklace or earrings to styles popular through time.
Stone Age Necklaces
This summary begins
earlier in history than usual, since these types of jewels have been
worn for so long and examples of great antiquity remain
available. It's possible to spend less than
$200 for ancient beads of pottery
or faience, or for early bronze earrings or a pendant.
As we advance to Iron Age
jewels, you'll see they're still affordable, even in gold.
Items for sale or recently
sold will be highlighted in red and you can click through the images for more information on pieces available at this writing. To me, jewels this old are absolutely magical, layered with mysteries and meanings from the countless people they've adorned.
Holding them, you hold the history of humanity made solid. (Do bear in mind that
bronze so old is delicate; pendants should hang from something soft,
not chain, and all-bronze earrings can’t be worn or you'd
snap off the hooks.)
Just as brooches originally held clothes together, the first necklaces were no doubt
useful pouches on thongs, which evolved to display unusual rock and wood formations
as protective amulets, while the thongs became beaded strands with ceremonial meaning and
Even Neanderthals crafted
beads – and did so more than twice as long ago than we knew until last year’s discovery in South Africa of 41 matched and
drilled mollusk shells 75,000 years old.
Other early necklaces were of bone, stone,
ivory, eggshell, nuts, seeds, fruit pits and the teeth and claws of
animals. Remember, modern humans
weren’t around until 13,000 BCE or so, but their predecessors grew
sophisticated enough to get bored with local materials by the Auringian
(34,000-28,000 years ago). For instance, those living among shells wanted ivory beads and vice
versa, so considerable commerce developed to satisfy Paleolithic
After the last Ice Age, Cro-Magnon newcomers
made do with the same jewels and tools until Mesolithic times
gave way to Neolithic – when pottery (another good bead material) and copper emerged circa 10,000-8000 BCE.
The earliest earrings so
far found were, like the beads above, uncovered in 2004. Jade hoops of a type still
worn in China, they're around 8,000 years old -- about 5,000 years older than documentary evidence of earrings in coin images and art and 4,500 years older than previous finds. Further,
their quality tells us others must have been made long before then. Thus, well before the Stone Age ended, people
wore necklaces and earrings that look like our modern idea of them.
Bronze Age Necklaces and Earrings
About 6,500 years ago (circa
4500 BCE), bronze appeared almost simultaneously in Asia, the
Middle East and Greece. Bronze jewelry was the Next Big Thing and remained common for commoners even in medieval times, while nobles
later advanced to silver and gold. Bronze tools also allowed
carved stone jewelry to become more
refined. Stones prized in this period were carnelian, amethyst,
turquoise, jasper, agate, lapis
lazuli and jade. Soon glass (first made circa 5000 BCE) and
faience (a quartz-based ceramic introduced circa 4000 BCE) were
Strand Diadem,circa 3500
BCE (Naqada II period). Abydos, Egypt. Gold, garnet, turquoise and malachite.
were adapted for wear on other parts
of the body, as shown by this diadem, buried with an
ordinary woman and her cooking pots 500 years before Egypt united under one Pharaoh. In Egypt, everyone wore
jewels! Clothing was of
linen, light and plain for the hot climate, so fashion statements were
made with accessories.
By then, beads of
glass and faience did a good job of simulating semiprecious stones (especially the best
India). What the ancients cared about was color, not
whether an item was "genuine" or not. Gold, too, was
appreciated for its hue and, in every culture, seen
as a gift from the sun god (silver being linked to the moon). Stone
colors were also symbolic: Carnelian red stood for life and
energy; lapis and turquoise signified the sky by night
or day; and green feldspar suggested new growth.
Both hoop and pendant earrings are
documented in the West from
around 3000 BCE and our oldest excavated pair are the hoops
below, from Mesopotamia today's Iraq) circa 2500 BCE. Many other jewels -- including ornate necklaces
made of more than beads -- came from the same dig at Ur, a vast cemetery uncovered in
the 1920s. Lapis for the designs was mined in Afghanistan
and some of the jewelry was likely crafted in India, so the complex trade routes involved make it certain
we'll eventually find earlier examples.
2500–2400 BCE (Early Dynastic IIIa period).
Royal Graves of
Necklaces also from Ur, 2000-2500 BCE
Mainly gold, lapis and carnelian.
Burials of similar age in
Sumeria, Phoenicia and Assyria also yielded earrings, necklaces
and amulets of gold and silver, some jeweled and/or enameled. Leaves and disks cut from
gold sheets were
usual Middle Eastern motifs, as were doves, serpents and peacocks. Sumerians,
documented in present-day Iraq since 3,000 BCE, were perhaps indigenous and developed bronze and literacy early.
locals, too, Phoenicians (then Canaanites) lived in what's now Lebanon.
Assur, the Assyrian realm then dominated by Ur, broke from its collapsing
third dynasty circa 2000 BCE. New kids in
the neighborhood included Hittites, who came from the Caspian Sea
to southern Turkey (with horses and chariots), and Trojans,
who settled at the mouth of the Dardanelles (likely also from the
Caspian/Black Sea area, since they had horses).
Aegean, where Greeks (with horses, too) were entering what would be
their homeland from points still debated, some Middle Easterners had
already settled on the island of Crete. How do we know?
Their jewelry tells us!
PENDANT OF THE BEES,
17th c. BCE (First Palace Period). Chryssolakkos Grave
Compound, Crete. Gold.
and Cretan tombs establish that the delicately linked,
coiled and foiled necklaces and earrings common through the
much later Classical Greek Period (429-323 BCE) were fashioned as
early as 2500 BCE -- strong cause to believe the
style came with immigrants to Crete. Both also crafted fire
wire filigree and applied granulation (tiny
of gold) to texture surfaces, as was done throughout the
Middle East. Local motifs favored by
Minoans were naturalistic. Bees,
honeycombs and flower buds remind us of the myth that the god Zeus was fed honey in infancy, while hidden in a
the crossroads of three continents, Crete was well-poised to dominate the seas (which it did for several
centuries after 1700 BCE) and to blend diverse cultural
elements into a uniquely charming way of life.
Egyptian influence is evident in the Minoan pendant below,
with lotus forms and a stylized base resembling a papyrus boat. Oriental
models inspired larger, even more elaborate designs, also seen in
MASTER OF THE ANIMALS PENDANT
1850-1550 BCE. Minoan. From the Aigina Treasure (found
on Aigina, off the SE coast of Greece).
Mycenae, on mainland Greece,
imported both jewels and jewelers from Crete, so fine items were even in Early Period (16th century BCE)
tombs. The earrings at right feature granulation,
openwork and repoussé
techniques and were certainly produced by or with guidance from a Minoan master.
During the next two centuries, Mycenaean rule was
consolidated throughout the Aegean, aided by earthquakes and fires that destroyed
Cretan palace culture.
GOLD EARRINGS, 16th c BCE
From (Royal) Grave Circles at Mycenae
this time, Egypt -- reunified around 2000
BCE after long civil wars -- was a cultural powerhouse, too. Pierced earrings and necklaces were widely worn by Egyptian men and women. They also piled on bracelets, rings
and anklets, and they adored beads. Making glass beads since around the end of the Old
Kingdom (2160 BCE), Egypt dominated glassmaking by 1400 BCE. With growing wealth from
trade, from gold mined in the desert and panned in the
Nile and from "tribute" paid by subject
territories, Egyptians of status adorned themselves even more lavishly.
Jewelers demonstrated knowledge of most processes
metal that we employ today -- from chasing, engraving and soldering to
enamelwork, inlay and repoussé -- and
innovated elaborate new forms of adornment.
Dynasty 12 (1850-1775 BCE).
Gold with semi-precious beads.
|Besides strand necklaces,
Egyptians began making massive pectorals and broad collars called wesekhs
-- the finest of
which were of gold or silver, lavishly beaded or decorated with enamel and inlaid
with semiprecious stones.
The less wealthy had to settle for
copper, glass and faience. False lapis and turquoise,
opaque like real stones, were skillfully produced by
glassmakers in the
New Kingdom period
Popular motifs worn by all
classes derived from such religious symbols as the scarab
beetle, lotus, falcon,
serpent and eye.
EARPLLUG, circa 1400 BCE
|Also fashionable were spool-shaped "earplugs" such as
we see on images of King Tut. Earlobe
piercings had to be stretched widely to accommodate
these. This is
the same earring type favored much later by Pre-Columbian
Aztecs and Mayans and still worn by certain African tribesmen.
worn by ladies of high or royal rank were sometimes styled in the
shape of an asp -- think Cleopatra! -- and set with precious stones.
More valued than any other was the pearl, found in the most noble burials.
Pearls were almost surely the first
precious gems known, associated
with perfection and praised from
the start of recorded time. China's long written history
provides our first reference (circa
2300 BCE), but our best source has always been the Persian
Gulf. (Others were the Red Sea, coasts of India,
Sri Lanka and Japan and, much later, the New World and South
Pacific.) Emeralds, discovered circa 3000
BCE, were used in this era, too; also rare, they symbolized
collapsed after the last Ramses died in 1085 BCE. Indications
suggest severe drought, but many disasters befell the whole region --
including earthquakes and storms at sea, as Homer
later wrote in the Iliad and Odyssey,
based on oral history.
Thefts and other crimes also occurred while Greek warriors besieged Troy -- not really for Helen, but for
treasures that made "Mycenae rich in gold" look like Trash
virtually every society struggling to get
by was invaded by unknown "Sea Peoples" -- some no
doubt refugees from places worse off. Egypt beat its invaders
back, but soon lost territories including Israel (as Exodus
tells) and was conquered. The Hebrews, BTW, had developed a taste
for necklaces during their Egyptian captivity, but in
Israel only women wore earrings (except men of the Ishmaelite
tribe). Everything having fallen apart nearly at once for Egyptians, Hittites, Trojans and Greeks,
the Dark Ages had begun.
Age Necklaces & Earrings
Since around 1500 BCE, Hittites had been
smelting iron for better tools and weapons. (Iron was used
ceremonially before then, but cost more than gold.) Hittite advances
in metallurgy enabled them to export iron items profitably, but they kept
their technology secret until the empire's collapse circa 1200
BCE. By 1100 BCE or so, every culture in west Asia had it, but that was when everything started to go wrong. In the
hard times that followed, little outside trade went on, so iron took
centuries to spread elsewhere. Bronze, copper, gold and silver
remained the metals used for jewelry, but jewelers weren't exactly
busy. Things were so bad that, in most cultures, people even forgot
how to read and write.
Assyria, west Asia's only big kingdom that didn't melt down circa
1200-1100 BCE, was set to take over. From looting treks almost
every summer for centuries, they bagged a lot of gold, but it
only stuffed the cupboards. There was nothing to buy, since nearly all the neighbors were
Persians and Medes from Siberia had reached Elam (in modern Iran), but laid low until the Assyrians
weakened. Phoenicians, still in Lebanon, got the
brightest idea: Colonize!
Phoenician Gold Earring
Phoenician Gold Pendant
Superb sailors, Phoenicians made port in the far reaches of the Med,
bringing goods as eclectic as their destinations.
While others in the Middle East weakened circa 1000 BCE, they grew stronger
at home and established settlements elsewhere (notably Carthage in north
Africa, home to the rich silver mines that brought later wars with Rome).
Freely appropriating others’ jewelry designs, they didn’t mind
lifting motifs out of cultural context -- which can make identification
tricky -- but their keeping earlier styles alive enabled a revival of jewelry making when the Dark Ages
ended. Phoenicians also maintained literacy,
taught their trading partners to write and took over leadership in glassmaking from the Egyptians, although
not on so large a basis. Their polychrome beads were
particularly valued by the Etruscans, who used them with their own
|The Etruscans, of
mysterious origin and language, operated between the 9th and 3rd centuries
BCE -- principally in Tuscany and northern Lazio, but they controlled most of Italy in their heyday and colonized Iberia for gold. Their
trademark techniques were granulation and pulviscolo (using even tinier surface dots). Working
in easily malleable high carat gold, they made puffy earrings like those
at right and even hollow pendants for perfume. They also engraved fine intaglios in both glass and
precious stones. Etruscans also introduced coinage to the Romans,
who eventually absorbed them.
Etruscan Gold Earrings
ETRUSCAN NECKLACE, FIBULAE (Brooches), STICKPIN & INTAGLIO RINGS.
Archaic (early 5th century BCE). Gold,
glass, rock crystal, agate, carnelian.
Farther east, exciting things
were happening. Near Golconda in India, diamonds were discovered circa
800 BCE. In the rough, these looked -- well -- rough, so ancients valued
them less highly than pearls and colored crystal gems. However, it
probably isn't coincidental that Aryan invaders made further
incursions into India then.
Back by the Med, Assyria briefly controlled Babylon, Phoenicia and
Israel and, during part of its Late Period, Egypt. Lots of Egyptian
mummybeads survive from this time (712-332 BCE), because nets of them were
laid over the dead for centuries -- making it possible to acquire these
now in necklace and earring form very affordably.
Mummybeads, circa 700-300 BCE (Late Period). Egyptian. Faience with modern coral and sterling accents.
At GlitzQueen with matching earrings.
Mummybeads with amulets, circa 700-300 BCE (Late Period). Egyptian. Faience with modern sterling accents.
Sold in the region of $100-150.
Of Assyria's conquests, only Egypt was loyal in a
circa 600 BCE revolt, when Jews, Elamites and Babylonians crushed the last
Assyrian kings. Assyria and Egypt surrendered to King Nebuchadnezzar, but
Babylon's rule was even shorter.
After the Dark
Ages: Jewels of the Great Conquerors
||The Dark Ages ended with the unifying effect of conquests and resumption of trade -- led by Persians and Medes (aka Elamites)
under a new
king, Cyrus. A
Persian, he took over from his region's ruling Medes in 559 BCE and
grabbed Assyria, Phoenicia,
Babylonia, Syria, Israel and much of Turkey. Egypt fell to his son Cambyses and, although
later kings Darius and
Xerxes failed to win Greece, Persia built cities of
grandeur and ruled a vast territory benevolently,
with religious tolerance and liberty for slaves.
When we think of ancient Persia, we think of opulence -- and
especially pearls. Our oldest piece of pearl jewelry, a necklace
now in the Louvre, belonged to a Persian princess
of the 4th century BCE. Ladies also wore pearl earrings, preferably
of three increasing downwards in size. Men wore
necklaces and earrings, too, often of enameled gold with gems.
standard of luxury awed even their conqueror.
"So this is what it means to be a king," Alexander the Great
reportedly gasped upon entering the palace in 332 BCE. He was the
heir of King Philip II of Macedon, first to unify the city-states of
Greece, which had slowly gotten their act back together.
Greek Geometric Style Bead
Circa 8th c. BCE. Abydos. Gold.
Filigree Band Earrings
Late 6th c. BCE. Sindos. Gold.
|Isolated through the Dark Ages,
the Greeks used an indigenous
"geometric" style in the 11th -8th centuries BCE.
Again in contact with the world, they revived motifs preserved
by Phoenicians and, from 700-500 BCE, regained mastery of methods used by their
forebears before disaster struck (granulation, filigree, embossing, etc.).
Archaic Period jewels also show Oriental influence, as in the necklace
below. Its plaques were sewn to the neck of a
garment and end rosettes pinned it at the
shoulders. It's a triumph -- but the Greeks' best
work in this timeframe was democracy.
Artemis 'Mistress of the
Circa 660-620 BCE (Orientalizing period). From
In the ensuing Classical era (480-330 BCE),
pendants (usually acorns, seeds or heads) suspended from rosettes or
other flat elements -- a form reminiscent of Egyptian
fine example of Classical Greek artistry, the earrings
at right have boat-shaped dangles with sirens on board and cockleshell pendants
associated with love goddess Aphrodite.
gradually fell from favor, filigree was even
more widely used for a look of delicacy and refinement. Plaited gold necklaces were
decorated with flowers, and tassels and hoop earrings with filigree disks and
rosettes grew popular. Enamelwork was also prevalent, until more colored
stones were available.
From the 4th century BCE,
Greek jewelers cut loose! By then mining gold in
Thrace, they were drenched in it after Alex took Persia.
Greeks also acquired the Persian taste for pearls and wore up to four per
ear. As their empire spread through most of Egypt and west Asia, they lavished jewelry with emeralds, garnets, amethysts,
enamel and cameos of Indian sardonyx. Limited only by imagination, jewels grew ever more fabulous
in the Hellenistic Period (from
Alexander's 323 BCE death to the 146 BCE Roman takeover). Cupids, vases, winged
victories and doves were common motifs for women. Men ceased wearing jewelry
except rings and wreaths, but later came back to necklaces.
Gold Acorns Necklace
Circa 5th c. BCE. Greek.
Gold Boat-Shaped Earrings
Circa 420-400 BCE. Euboea.
GOLD NECKLACE WITH GARNETS AND
Late 2nd-early 1st c. BCE. Thessaly.
|Having expanded so far
east, Greeks dealt with Iranian tribes active from the 5th - 3rd centuries
BCE across the Danube region and Ukraine. These Scythians and Sarmatians supplied slaves, flocks, wheat and cheese
to the Greeks and soon Hellenistic methods and composition skills
enriched their bold jewelry forms. Their
warrior women, likely the
"Amazons" of legend, wore buried with weapons and jewels
Earrings, Sarmatian. 1st-early 2nd century.
Gold and carnelian.
These earrings sold recently in the $4,500 range (through
www.edgarlowen.com) and I've often seen
Roman gold earrings for less than $1,000. Even golden jewels
1,000 years old aren't all museum pieces and, with new fasteners,
most are safe to wear.
Figural Pectoral, Scythian, 4th
c. BCE. Gold.
Scythian, 4th c. BCE. Gold.
Double Cameo portraying Ptolemy II Philadelphus and
his wife as Greek Gods. 3rd c. BCE, Alexandria.
Returning to Egypt, we find
exquisite Hellenistic jewels being produced in the new capital,
Alexandria. The city's namesake and founder also encouraged a
glassmaking revival there and fostered trade,
immigration and intermarriage throughout his empire.
Local traditions were also
respected throughout his life and by his successors, so the
fashions of Hellenistic Greece (323-146 BCE) actually reached few
beyond the court.
On Alexander's death, his general Ptolemy took
over as Pharaoh and founded a dynasty. One of his descendants is
shown at left, in the guise of Zeus. This very large jewel,
carved of agate in three layers, is called the Gonzaga Cameo
(for a family who once owned it); it's now a treasure of the
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.
Jewels of the Roman
Like the Greeks, the
Romans didn't upset local cultures at first. Their
annexation of Greece in 146 BCE had no impact on Hellenistic design and,
after conquering Egypt in 31 BCE, they represented their rulers as successors of the Pharaohs, as the Greeks had done. Romans were awfully clever at engineering and fighting but, in
the creative arena, they were C students at best. Since they
knew it, they kept copying the Greeks and Etruscans, as they'd done
since settling the Rome area in the Dark Ages (as survivors of Troy's
fall). Over centuries their huddle of
huts had become a city-state with kings and next a Republic (509 BCE). Some 200 years later, their new metropolis ran a growing empire, but civil wars between "have-nots" and the "haves" profiting from imperial
wealth led to dictatorship under Julius Caesar and his successors.
Early Roman leaders took pride in
military austerity, so jewelry was officially frowned upon, but laws regulating the amount of gold
worn by women (or buried with the dead) say it was popular. We also know Romans bought Baltic amber, sapphires from Sri Lanka and Indian diamonds 2,000 years ago -- and they were mad about emeralds and pearls!
of a Necklace, 100-200. Roman. Pearls, emerald and gold.
As Pliny wrote,
seek for pearls at the bottom of the Red Sea, and search the bowels of the earth for
emeralds, to ornament their ears." A pair of earrings could be worth the revenue of a large
estate, Seneca recorded. Worn by ladies and young men of status,
they often held amulets to please the superstitious. Necklaces
featured those, too -- and, in a further show of spirituality,
images of goddesses were hung with jewels. A Hellenistic Greek innovation was placing large colored
stones at the center of designs and, following their lead, Romans
set larger stones in rows bordered with
pearls (as at left).
We're told Roman matrons slept in their pearls, to be
reminded in the morning of their wealth. I tend to
consider the rationale questionable, since it's simply good for
pearls to sleep in them. (When deprived for long of skin contact, they lose luster.) Even so, nothing else said as well that the
world was your oyster -- and, to keep the message clear, rules
in classical Rome dictated that no one below a certain rank
could wear them.
Pendant, 100-300, Roman. Glass in bronze. Sold
Of course everything
wasn't so lavish. Most jewelry worn by Rome's
vast army was of bronze and ladies of the provinces wore colorful
There was glass in abundance. Some of the best came from
India, but glassworking centers existed throughout Roman lands. Many technologies were rediscovered or invented, allowing more glass beads
to be made in the 1st century than in the prior 1500 years.
Bead Necklace, 100-300.
Romano-British. Glass and natural stone. At GlitzQueen.
Pendant crescents and wheels, symbolizing the moon and sun, were also
popular -- and, in the 2nd and 3rd
centuries, it was fashionable to wear several necklaces at once (as was stylish also in
the Renaissance and is again today).
Near the end of the 2nd century, a new technique gave a lacy quality to
gold and silver. Called opus
interrasile (meaning work openings or piercings), this transformed the unbroken faces of
Imperial jewelry and continued to be used in the Byzantine era. Another favored
necklace style consisted of a chain linking gems of different colors.
Crescent Moon Pendant,
100-300. Roman. Bronze. Sold
& Earrings, 304-306 (Late Roman). From Thessalonica mint;
found on Thracian
battlefield. Decorated with opals.
|Coin jewelry was popular from the 3rd
century into the Byzantine era, so
jewels we now see with ancient coins are within that tradition, not fancies. In Roman times, they were worn to flatter the
person shown on the coin or to mark a victory in
which the wearer participated (like our Super
Bowl jewels). The pendant and earrings at left, adorned with 30 opals and
modern wirework, show Constantius Clorus (emperor 305-306, Constantine's
dad and husband of Helena, first Eastern Orthodox
saint). On reverses, soldiers with battle standards
appear by a Latin inscription: GLORIA EXERCITUS (Glory to the Army).
Roman coins were hand-hammered
originals, since no minting machines existed. Being made typically
of high grade gold, many failed to survive because craftsmen "cannibalized" them for raw material.
Cameos were so enjoyed by the Romans that cameo-cutting reached
its peak of artistry. Often very large, cameos were made in great quantity and so was cameo glass.
Jewelry grew fairly consistent across the empire and Celts contributed
to the look. Adept at
enameling and jet-carving, they also created the fibula (a brooch resembling a safety pin, introduced into Italy by
Etruscans and seen on the shoulder of almost every Roman depicted) and a necklace called the torc. The
one at right -- the most famous object of Iron Age Britain -- slightly predates Roman arrival
in pursuit of pearls), but the
form lasted through the Romano-British period (43-410) and
Great Gold Torc, circa 75 BCE.
The enormity of the Roman
Empire was its eventual downfall.
Diocletian split its unwieldy government into eastern and western dominions in
293, but Constantine reunited them about 30 years later and ruled from
Byzantium, his new capital conveniently between east and west (renamed
Constantinople in 330). He also made Christianity the empire's religion and power shifted to the Church,
when Rome and its western
provinces fell to Germanic tribes and other marauders. For a millennium,
from around 400 to 1400), life was so bleak in the west that some refer to these as the Dark
Ages there. Technically they were the Middle Ages or medieval
period. Surviving eastern provinces,
however, united as
the Byzantine Empire, which also lasted about a thousand years, but in much
better shape. Others in the east flourished, too.
The Early Middle Ages: Byzantium, the Silk Road,
Mongols, Muslims and Holy Romans
Roman forms and techniques remained in use, but gradually Byzantine jewels
became -- paradoxically -- both more luxurious and more
religious. Eastern influences grew stronger than ever, access to
gems was better than ever and, before long, everything in sight was
decorated within an inch of its life. Nothing was too rich
when it came to glorifying God and the nobility, who all dripped with jewelry.
At the same time, Byzantine art so
thoroughly ditched three-dimensionality that this must have been a
deliberate rejection of solidity in preference to spirituality.
Gold filigree with granulation.
Both trends are illustrated by this 6th-century
image of Empress Theodora, a detail from the mosaics at the Church of
San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. Pearls, rubies and emeralds in gold drape her neck and shoulders and
hang in festoons from her
temples to her chest.While lavish Byzantine jewels are museum
pieces, simpler crosses in bronze or lead are online, starting at a few hundred dollars.
A common Byzantine earring featured a crescent
of gold repoussé openwork with a central cross in a circle flanked by
peacocks (symbolizing immortality). Favorite breast pendants were the jeweled
cross and pendant icon, but some golden necklaces were encrusted with gems and
enameling were used, at times with niello
work (engraving inlaid with black).
Necklace with Cross and
Pendants. 6th century. Constantinople. Gold,
carved and engraved.
Mingling of east
and west via commerce on the Silk Road led to such
surprising jewelry finds as this necklace from a Chinese royal
tomb dated 603. That was a golden age for Chinese culture,
enriched by Mediterranean and Mongolian influences. Earlier Chinese had done wonders with gilt silver
filigree and jade, and now new vistas opened.
Christianity wasn't the only
religious force active. China and Japan were serenely Buddhist, as was much of India (also home to Hindus and Jains),
but Islam had been on the march since emerging in 7th century
Arabia. Producing ornamented arms and armor as a specialty,
Muslims swept through north Africa to Spain and through the Middle East to India.
In the west, the Frankish leader Charles Martel (father of
Charlemagne) blocked their push into France in 732 and, in the
east, Mongols halted their advance.
Child-sized Necklace,581-619 (Sui Dynasty). Found in Xi'an, China.
Likely made in
Iran or west central Asia. Gold with pearl and other gems.
ruled the seas and lucrative Asian markets for 300 years, doing brisk
business with both Muslims and Mongols -- who again pushed back at the Muslims
from 1221, beginning in the Middle East. The Venetian merchant's
son, Marco Polo, was then on the road for decades, seeing
everything first-hand -- including breathtaking rubies and other gems in
Ceylon, and suffering India as another battleground for Mongols and
Muslims. The latter took control and, as Mughal emperors, matched Byzantium in excess.
So did Muslims in the Middle East, after the 1295 conversion
of their Mongol ruler, Il-Khan Ghazan. Cultural policy supported his new religion and Islamic art flourished once more. East Asian elements blended into the Middle Eastern repertoire, creating an artistic
vocabulary emulated from Anatolia to India.
Gold, turquoise, chalcedony and glass.
Blending of styles also went on in the north, between
Scandinavian countries (of which little is known before Viking raids
circa 800) and those of Eastern Europe, including parts of
Russia. By the turn of the first millennium, they were also
Christian, with a strong Byzantine tradition in the arts that lasted
longer in Russia than anywhere else.
At the same time the reconquista began in Spain,
where small Christian kingdoms allied to war against the Moors, although
their 800-year presence on the Iberian Peninsula didn't end until
Granada's fall in 1492.
Pendant, 7th c.
Anglo-Saxon. Gold and glass. Sold in
the region of $500.
Reliquary Pendant circa
Carolingian. Gold, pearl and garnet with rock crystal
dome holding holy relics.
Crusader Sword Chape (adapted as pendant)
1100-1200. English. Bronze.
Sold by GlitzQueen
|Catching up with blighted
central Europe, we find warring tribes -- and the Latin Church dominant in
pacified areas, thanks to partnership with the era's big winner,
Charlemagne, who effected conversions at sword-point. Crowned "Emperor and
Augustus" by the Pope, he held
ostensible parity with the Byzantine ruler from 800, but Carolingian power declined
when his lands split among grandsons after
his son died. Nobles wore jewels (often devotional), as well as posh sword
fittings, spurs and belts, but spent more on illuminated prayer books
and chapels. Charlemagne also founded monasteries and schools,
reviving classical scholarship plus interest
in cameos and intaglios. Enamel was popular, too, along with a variant
in which garnet slices in metal cells looked like stained glass.
Again with papal blessing,
Otto I -- German king and Duke of Saxony -- became head of what we know as the "Holy Roman
Empire" in 962. Ten years later he wed a Byzantine princess, an alliance
that sadly did no good for Byzantium once the Crusaders got up a good head of steam.
Fast forward two centuries past the 1066 Norman conquest of the British
Isles and increasingly civilized western kingdoms were loaded with
out-of-work warriors who needed something to do. Crusades
for the Holy Land -- and, not incidentally, its gold and such -- supplied
an occupation. The first
(1095-99), sent by the Pope at Byzantine urging, ended with Jerusalem as a Latin kingdom. The second
(1147-49) tried vainly to stop attacks there. The third
(1189-92) failed to retake Jerusalem, lost to Saracens in 1187, but
negotiated for visits by Christian pilgrims. The
fourth (1202-4) ran amok, pillaging Constantinople and using
Byzantine loot to pay their expedition's debt to Venice, where it was
the fifth (1209-13) let loose on heretics at home.
After those foul-ups, Papal endorsement
ceased, but enterprising types struck
out on their own for centuries against Arab targets and locals. Jerusalem, ceded under treaty in the
1220s and briefly ruled by Francis II of southern Italy, was sacked
20 years later and people were massacred, as in
1261, the exiled Byzantine emperor regained his city and
revived the empire on a reduced scale, until overrun by Ottoman Turks
in 1453. That finished them, although the style lived on in
Greece and Russia.
After each Crusade, glitzy souvenirs flowed into Europe and gems caught on fast.
Pearls were sewn to men's and women's clothes in the
13th and 14th centuries and knights wore them into battle
for protection by their magic. Demand was so great that false
pearls were made as early as 1300 by a recipe including white powdered glass,
egg white and snail slime. The Italians, particularly Venetians, produced
the best fakes, often used for children's and funerary jewelry.
Given that royals and nobles were deeply fond of
pearls, they couldn't bear seeing them on the nouveau riche
merchant, professional and artisan classes, so sumptuary laws were enacted
in many locations in the 1400s, dictating how important you had to be before you could swan
around in them. Such rules often governed other gems, too -- as well
as gold and silver -- and they applied in Saxony as
late as the 17th century.
Jewels in the Age of
Exploration: Late Medieval and Renaissance
|Sumptuary laws notwithstanding,
crusaders and early traders sparked a huge appetite for jewels.
European ladies cast off their
horrible wimples and began showing off fine necklaces, along
with some skin. Medieval
had been demure, to say the least, but necklines lowered in the
late 14th century and jeweled "collars" became the rage. Not to be outdone, men wore them, too, often as chains of
state (with insignia of office) or "livery collars"
(bearing one's coat-of-arms or, if a gift, heraldic symbols of
someone more powerful).
Collar Necklace circa
1500. Shown in famous Unicorn Tapestry.
forms emerged in the later Gothic era, when jewels
featured romanticized stags, swans, camels and unicorns, while gem-cutting was advancing fast after basic methods were found in the 14th century.
In addition to cabochons, there were oval and square table-cuts (cabs with tops lopped off), pyramid-cut diamonds and hog-backs (table-cuts with
edges beveled in a classic emerald cut), but these were still set in
closed (usually foiled) mounts.
As hair returned to view -- first peek-a-booing through jeweled hairnets and then crowned by coifs -- earrings came back. Pearl drops
appeared circa 1500 in Italy and soon
elsewhere on both men and women (not always worn in pairs). They
were ideal with the pearl beads piled on in Tudor England, where
ladies layered pendants between chokers and longer necklaces vanishing into
bodices edged with jeweled billiments. The same drop could be an earring or a pendant. It sounds gory, but these were often
threaded through earlobes to dangle from ribbons matching other
attire. More lavish later designs were also worn
Lady in Horrible
Tudor Necklaces and
Earrings on Princesses Elizabeth and Mary.
By 1500, the printing press allowed jewelry designs
(some by painters like Holbein and Dürer) to circulate, creating an international style. It favored rich color and sculptural or architectural design.
Sculptural pendants typically combined irregular pearls, enamel and colored
gems. Also popular were locket pendants (called tablets), holding
The market was far too big for existing suppliers in the East to satisfy, but explorers
first sought shorter ways to reach them. Doing so, they learned *what else* was out there,
and that natives of Africa and the Americas were as crazy about glass beads as Europeans were about pearls. It made for profitable
shopping. Sadly, beads were traded for slaves, as well
as fine commodities, resulting in 1000 percent return on investment
and a boom for glassmakers in Venice.
Italians were tops at making cameos, too. At right is a type
given to favorites by the Queen, found with the
famed Cheapside Hoard (of which more will be said later). Another example is
on the jeweled and enameled pendant below at right, from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
As we see on Liz, ruffs were in by the late 16th century, so
earrings lost importance and necklaces grew. Pearl ropes
and gold chains, the latter often enameled, went on
and on. These vivid chains were popular until about midway
through James I's reign (1603-25). He and gents of his court
wore pearl earrings, BTW, and he wrote a poem praising the jewels that
adorned his wife when they met: pearls, emeralds, sapphires and,
on an ivory chain, a ruby that "seemed burning upon her white
throat." Making gems even more sparkly, early rose cuts and
the first open settings began to appear.
Enameled Gold Chains from the
Cameos of Elizabeth I, circa 1575. Likely Italian. Sardonyx.
Widely enjoyed in this era was the ultimate symbol of the age: the caravel. The splendid pendant below can be seen in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. You'll notice that the ship is surmounted by a cross.
Caravel Pendant, circa 1580-1600.
Spanish. Emeralds, enamel and chased gold.
||Religious subjects were
gradually being replaced by classical and natural themes, but crosses and other
Christian emblems and relics were still worn throughout Europe -- no surprise with
the Inquisition sizzling (except in England, where their version alternately burned Catholics and
Collecting pilgrim badges was a huge craze from
the 11th-16th centuries, peaking around 1550.
Called signs or enseignes (French for badge or
medallion), these souvenirs proved you'd visited a certain church
or shrine. "Been there, got the enseigne."
At left, a circa 1488 Book of Hours page shows many. Oddly, most finds occurred
when rivers like the Thames and Seine were dredged, so it's
thought some were ritually cast there when travelers returned
safely home. They kept others, though, since
paintings show them as pendants or stitched to hats and
clothes. They also hung in churches and were carried to
sickbeds in belief their touch would heal.
Good quality pilgrim badges and reliquaries
are growing rare, but do remain obtainable. Also fascinating
as necklace pendants are secular bronze ornaments of the
Medieval and Renaissance periods, still easily affordable.
Portrait Reliquary circa 1600. Painted vellum or parchment and bone
relics under crystal in silver frame. Likely from Padua,
Pendant, circa 1600. Found in England. Lead or
Pewter. At GlitzQueen.
circa 1500. English. Enameled and
gilt bronze. Sold
circa 1300-1500. English. Bronze. At
Getting back to
the Cheapside Hoard, it consisted of stock
from a London goldsmith's shop at Cheapside and Friday
Streets. Stacked in trays, some 230 pieces of 16th and 17th century jewelry were found
under floorboards by workmen in 1912. Many are so "old-fashioned" by
17th century standards that he can't have made them (enameled chains,
pendant earrings and jewels of animal form), so maybe his dad was in the
trade, too. Many
believe these were hidden during the civil war of the 1630s and most English treasures
crafted before then, even British Crown Jewels, did succumb to Cromwell's Puritan
rampages -- while the Thirty Years War worked similar havoc in
Continental Europe. Thus, surviving jewels of intrinsic value are museum
pieces seldom available to ordinary mortals and the Cheapside
discovery supplied vital knowledge of late
Renaissance and early Baroque ornaments worn by the merchant class,
not oft-painted royals.
Before we discuss the
Baroque, let's look in on what explorers were exploring across the
O Brave New World!
From waters off Mexico and Central
America came the darkest pearls known, sparking a craze for
|As reports of wealth past imagining poured
in from Columbus, da Gama, Cortés, Pizarro,
Drake and others, some were geographically confused, but not tall
tales. Rich pearl fisheries were producing superb gems for
Incas and Aztecs of Central and South America, who also had so much jade, turquoise,
carnelian, gold and silver
that their economies supported full-time jewelers. In Europe, the Americas became known as
the lands where pearls come
hither and so many came that nearly all American
pearl oyster populations were wiped out by the 17th century.
In North America, lakes and rivers of
present-day Mississippi, Tennessee and Ohio teemed with
freshwater pearls, worn by natives as necklaces,
on headdresses and in copper ornaments. Many mussel species
Spain made a fortune selling its New World
pearls and, after those were gone, kept gold and silver mines in operation -- with compulsory
labor by natives, as long as they lasted. An estimated 25 million Americans
saw the dawn of the 16th century but, due to smallpox and other diseases, fewer than
saw the 17th.
Although well-represented in museums, Pre-Columbian
(and slightly younger) New World jewels are on the market at reasonable
prices -- even gold items for less than $1,000.
You *do* need to be wary about reproductions, though. As with any
antiquities, it's best to buy from dealers who guarantee
Greenstone Earflare, Pre-Columbian. Belize.
Jade Toucan Pendant, Pre-Columbian. Costa
Gold Frog Pendants,
15th-16th c. so possibly Post-Columbian. Mexico.
Ornate Frog Pendant, Pre-Columbian (circa 500-1000). Central America. Tumbaga with gold.
Gold Bell Pendant, Pre-Columbian.
Jewels of the Baroque and
and irregular are terms applied to everything baroque, from jewels to
buildings to music. Art grew both more realistic and more
dramatic. (Think of Rembrandt and Michelangelo.) The style spread
from Rome outward, but the word comes from Portuguese: barroco.
This term describes an oddly shaped pearl
and is apt both because pearl passion roared on and
because the era was distinctly odd -- a time of extremes, during which
people dressed in both the gaudiest and most austere fashions ever seen.
Think of "Sun King" Louis XIV at one pole and Pilgrims at the other.
Between poles, ladylike pearl earrings and beads were always
*right* -- worn with more restraint than previously, but they were
honking big ones. Plunder of New World pearls went on and a better means of crafting false
ones was developed by Monsieur Jaquin, whose firm coated
blown glass balls
with a mixture of varnish and iridescent ground fish
scales, then filled them with wax for strength. This trick made Paris the main producer of
fakes for more than 200 years. Even the rich wore
Jaquin's "Roman" pearls by day.
Other jewels enjoyed before the mid-century puritanical
interlude were natural forms inspired by the new study of botany.
In the 1620s, every flat surface squirmed with foliage, peapods, lilies, fritillaries and roses,
and necklaces featured plaques painted with posies and "grape"
pendants of emeralds and amethysts. Exotic tulips entered next,
while Tulipomania reigned through the 1630s. Fortunes
were made by bulb speculators and lost as the bubble burst.
The tulip craze originated in Holland, also known for hospitality to
religious reformers whom others had turned out. The staid apparel
of Dutch burghers was adopted by English anti-Catholic zealots, who
overthrew the "cavaliers" of King Charles I and had him executed in 1649.
Worn in secret to memorialize him were "Stuart Crystal" jewels
-- so called because rock crystal domes enclosed his
image, initials and/or relics like locks of hair. Similar items
developed to memorialize loved ones and remained popular for centuries.
Pearls in portraits of the 1630s and 1660s
Much of Europe was then in the throes of conflicts known collectively
the Thirty Years War (1618-48). Rivals were Spaniards, Austrian Hapsburgs and various German principalities also
engaged in civil war. It was largely a row of Catholics vs Calvinists
and Lutherans. Once things settled down -- with Charles II on the English throne from 1660
and lots of Central Europe in ashes -- the French were in better shape than others and
French fashion soon became world fashion. Further fostering international style was
Touring, a practice that began in the mid-17th century and peaked in the late 18th.
All young men of wealth (and some lucky young women) finished off their
educations by traveling with tutors to view antiquities in Italy and visit France, acknowledged as the modern cultural capital.
Girandole Pendant, 17th c. Pearls, diamonds and
Girandole Earrings, 18th c.
Girandole Pendant, 18th c.
Silver and "Strass" or similar.
The look all took on favored lean
and long lines, with hair piled high or under periwigs. To balance
Big Hair, bigger earrings were
needed and girandoles appeared circa 1660. Three drops
were so heavy ladies sometimes
supported them not only by the hooks but also by ribbons tied
in their hair or wrapped around their ears. Despite discomfort, they were popular for ages --
mainly because Queen
Victoria liked wearing her grandma's. Necklace pendants in girandole form were
As hair climbed ever-higher --
attached to a ladder-like fontange from the 1680s and later covered by enormous wigs
-- pendeloque earrings were also worn. They could be even longer than
girandoles, but were blessedly lighter with only one drop.
Another trend of note was
less enamelwork. Better-cut gemstones were the news, so enamel was seen
mainly on the backs of such jewels as lockets and watch-cases. In fact,
all color was restrained in preference to white gems. Diamonds
were generally set in silver (with gold at the back to prevent getting
tarnish on clothes).
Near the end of the 17th century, New
World pearls and India's diamond mines were playing out. More diamonds turned up
Brazil, but the brief shortage kicked paste jewelry into high gear. Imitation diamonds had been around for a few decades, but
nothing compared to those of Georges-Frédéric Strass, world-famous for his highly reflective leaded glass with a metal coating
that added brilliance and, at
times, a tint. Pastes were harder to cut than diamonds, but he crafted a
host of fancy shapes set in opulent silver. After he was made jeweler to the King in 1734, the substance
first called "strass" sparkled in the highest places. Most of this jewelry
is circa 1700-50, but the
words "strass" and "paste" are applied to all fine faux
stones made through the early 19th century. "Black dot
paste," coveted by collectors today, is a variant with a tiny dot on the
base, either painted to duplicate the cut of early
diamonds (on which side facets didn't meet perfectly,
causing a shadow) or created by setting pastes with bits of
Pinchbeck, a good
imitation gold, came along in the 1720s, courtesy of Christopher
Pinchbeck. Within no time at all, reasonably comparable alloys
appeared and -- like "strass" -- gained the generic name, used
through Victorian times.
Buyers chose these pretenders for reasons beyond
thrift. It was fun to wear a novelty, besides which highwaymen
were rife on rural roads and other thieves abounded at city sites of
evening entertainment and trysts. Since the idea was to leave
your good stuff at home, stones in pinchbeck are very seldom
Baroque Segues to Rococo
We know the 1700s ended with strife and more royal heads rolling, but
people of the dawning Age of Reason didn't. They wanted things
lightened up, so Baroque design evolved into Rococo (related to the French word for shell, coquille). Rooms were
white or pastel, detailed with gilt, mirrors, cherubs, ribbons, scrollwork, shells and tendrils of foliage,
plus hints of the Orient and the erotic. The
gaiety of interiors at Schloss Schönbrunn (completed at mid-century) is an
ideal example. For
Likewise in jewels, solidity gave
way to delicacy; realism to romantic fantasy and, often, balance to
asymmetry. Color returned soon, both in gems and enamels, making
this some of the prettiest jewelry ever made. Sadly, the style
had little enduring influence. There's a suggestion of it in the curvy flamboyance of Art Nouveau, but that
was heavier -- and also in the airiness of Edwardian jewelry, but those
shapes were much statelier.
Pendeloque Earrings and
Pendant, 1740s. French. Painted
cherub plaques, seed pearls and garnets.
1780s. European. Rose-cut
diamonds, gold and silver.
Heart Pendant, 18th c. Diamonds, silver and
Cruciform Pendant, 18th
c. Pink foiled crystal, turquoise, pearls and gold.
Items above were sold by www.finanandco.co.uk.
Those at left were sold by www.bathantiquesonline.com.
Gold Dolphin Earrings below
are in the British Museum.
Rococo was doomed from the start, because the deprived saw it as a decadent
monarchist style and made such frivolities special targets when Revolution
hit France. Its "let them eat cake" connotations
made aristocrats elsewhere edgy, too, so Rococo
crashed with a self-conscious bang when the French
royals were imprisoned in 1792. Apart from
simpler Georgian styles worn in England, most late 18th century
jewels were recycled into more politically correct settings and few
Rococo designs continued to be made.
Locket with a Secret, 1780s.
European. Painted miniature in gold fan case.
18th c. Possibly French. Gems, enamel, silver and gold.
Sold in the region of $2,000 by www.lawrences.co.uk.
"Lover's eye" pendants did last into the next
century. Usually given to men and worn on watch chains, the first may have been commissioned in 1785 by
Mrs. Fitzherbert, after her secret marriage to the Prince of Wales.
Another Rococo motif that made the cut was the giardinetto, Italian for
"little garden" -- variations on which are produced even today.
First made in Italy around 1750, these feature stylized baskets, pots, urns and similar containers holding
flowers of gems, pastes, rhinestones, marcasites or enamel. (You'll often see these
called giardinetti, the plural, so try both terms when searching
online for them.)
The strongest surviving motif was Neo-Classical -- a trend that crept in after excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii.
As in Renaissance times, the beauty of cameos and intaglios was
rediscovered. Their ideal accompaniment, traditional pearl beads and
drop earrings, came back into vogue -- the former at times shortened
to choker length. Note pearls and cameos on two princesses of
Russia, painted in 1796.
And THEN, oh how fashion changed in a twinkling -- apart from
the constant of pearls. Here's how the Empress of Russia posed only five
years later! The newly full-blown Neoclassical style emanated from France under Napoleon's aegis, but had been building for some
time, due to Grand Touring that included Italian digs. As early as 1790, an Englishman
wrote: Everything we now use is made to imitation of those models lately discovered in
Besides art and artifacts, tourists
found purpose-made souvenirs to buy. Rome produced meticulously crafted micro-mosaic jewels composed of glass tesserae,
Venice did pietra dura (stone inlay) and Naples was known for
cameo-carving, using shell and coral rather than
costly gemstones. England, not to
be outdone, offered affordable cameos of Wedgwood jasperware from 1764.
Jewels of the Regency/Empire Period (circa
Now we're in Jane Austen's ballrooms -- and Napoleon's palaces
-- where all present wanted to look like they just descended Mount Olympus.
Ladies' slender and gauzy high-bosomed frocks were dampened to make the
drape of fabric more sculptural and alluring (not unlike our penchant for wet t-shirts).
As in the early years of Rococo, this was a
festive time. The Prince of Wales, then ruling
England as Regent, built his Xanadu at Brighton and Napoleon fancied himself invincible ruler of the world.
His cameo-set coronation crown intensified the rage for cameo
and intaglio jewelry of every form, often set in vermeil (gift
Other popular jewels celebrated
Napoleon's Egyptian campaign with such exotic motifs as turbans, palm trees,
sphinxes and obelisks. Finding these details in jewels can help
date them. (In dating the earrings below, I was guided by turban-like pillbox hats with cockade bows
and layered "architectural" construction apparent on reverses).
Cameo Pendant in Filigree Teardrop,
circa 1800. Shell and vermeil. At
Regency/Empire Pendeloque Earrings,
circa 1805. Likely French. Rose gold on silver. New wires.
Sold by GlitzQueen.
Swept-up hair demanded important
earrings and low necklines were filled by day with pendants or long chains of geometrical flat links,
often with stylized heart or Greek Key patterns, that wound around
the neck and might cross the shoulder or chest.
Evenings and any court occasions called for ornate parures such as we see at
right on Empress Josephine, the ultimate style-setter. Parures were also frequently decorated with Greek Keys, as well as acanthus leaves,
laurel leaves, arches and eagles. Besides the basic necklace and earrings, a
lady's parure typically included a brooch, bracelet, ring and/or
tiara. From around 1800, jewelers began routinely to mount gems, particularly diamonds, with open "claw"
settings to admit light. Until then, most gems were enclosed with colored foil
Vermeil went out about when
Napoleon did (1814-15), upon revelation that gilders were blinded by mercury
used in the process. A safer method was eventually introduced but, in the
meantime, jewelers unable to use gilt silver had to stretch gold with piercings
and embossings or by twisting gold wire into filigree or mesh. Cannetille
wirework added details.
Hollow Mesh Collar Necklace with jeweled cannetille clasp, circa
1820. English. Gold, rubies and emeralds.
Sold in the region of $1,400 by www.finanandco.co.uk.
The same lack held for gems,
after years of Napoleonic and other wars, so stones were clustered for greater
impact, cut steel and marcasites were widely used to mimic diamonds and enamel returned,
including champlevé and
guilloché. On the plus side, new Pacific pearl beds were found, those depleted in Central America
recovered and false pearls were improved again by "silvering" inside
blown glass beads (much the same process used to make mirrors).
Jewels from late in this period can technically be called "Georgian," since the Prince Regent
finally became George IV in 1820. He was a principal
tastemaker of Regency/Empire style, so fashion changed little.
There was a gradual move back to the natural waistline and naturalistic
decoration. His brother and successor in 1830, William IV, didn't
live long enough to have an impact, either -- but their niece, Victoria,
Jewels of the Victorian
Early Victorian Necklace and
Earrings, circa 1850. English. Opals and rubies in gold. Sold
in the region of $6,000 by www.finanandco.co.uk.
circa 1850-60. European. Gilt and paste garnet paste.
Sold by GlitzQueen.
circa 1840. English. Ivory in gold.
Sold in the region of $400 by www.finanandco.co.uk.
Floral Pendant Necklace,
circa 1850. Likely Bohemian. Gilt and garnet paste.
Sold in the region
of $800 by www.finanandco.co.uk.
Barely 18 when crowned,
Victoria wed at 21 and her life with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was
idyllic. Early Victorian years are fittingly called the Romantic
Period. As mentioned before, she loved her grandma Charlotte's
girandoles, so earrings remained baroque: long and flashy.
Necklaces were generally short, some with a central stone to detach and wear as a pendant or pin. Ladies also updated pearls and other strands with pendants matching their earrings.
Gold remained in scant supply, but parures of gold and gems
did rule the night. However, less costly ivory,
coral, amber, cut steel, tortoiseshell, seed pearls and mosaics were viewed as suitable by day.
Vicky got downright pushy about these rules, decreeing diamonds could be
worn at court only at night and only by married women who got them
presumably from their husbands. Single gals seen in them
were deemed vulgar for flaunting inherited wealth or gifts from (gasp!)
Amber and Copper Necklace,
circa 1850. East European.
Tortoiseshell Locket and Chain,
circa 1850. English.
Sold in the region of $400 by www.finanandco.co.uk.
Spezzati (Branch Coral)
Flora and fauna were popular motifs
-- including the serpent
symbolizing eternity (on Vicky's wedding ring) -- and sentiment
was huge. Even more than in Georgian and Regency days, people wore portraits of dear ones, lockets holding their
hair, jewels woven of hair and jewels featuring lovebirds, clasped hands and messages.
A message could be engraved, implicit in details (such as a
crescent moon and honeybee on a honeymoon present) or spoken in the "language of flowers" or
via first letters or colors of gems.
(Ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst and diamond indicated "regard,"
for instance, and diamond, emerald, amethyst and ruby read as
"dear" -- a subtlety echoed later by suffragette jewelry, in which green,
white and violet stones signified "give women the vote.")
Stones in this era were often cabochons, evoking a "folk art" feeling further abetted
by Victoria's 1848 purchase of Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Celtic
styles and "pebble" jewelry set with Highland agates, jaspers
and cairngorms became a rage. The 1840s and 1850s
saw introduction of mechanical processes to make jewelry.
Electroplating brought back vermeil and the ability to stamp attractive components made jewelry
widely affordable. Jewels before this time were hand-crafted.
The next era of Victoria's
reign, the Grand Period, began around 1860. It's
associated with both vast imperial wealth and the early death of Albert in 1861, which plunged the queen into
lifelong grief -- while simultaneously the American civil war
Some prefer to date this era from circa 1850, which draws a good
parallel with the French Second Empire under Napoleon III (1852-70) but
misses the "mourning" aspect affecting most
English-speakers. Among those, Vicky's rules again held
sway: The bereaved wore only black for a year, after which dark
stones like amethysts and garnets were acceptable. As ladies
woke up to black's glamor, they realized you didn't need to be in
mourning to appreciate the sophistication of onyx, jet,
gutta percha, vulcanite, ebony glass (aka French jet) and
dark jasperware, used for cameos, faceted beads and
other carved pieces, often with pearls (signifying tears) but at times with other jewels or pastes.
Jet and Paste Necklace, circa
1870-80. Likely English. Sold
France matched England's grandeur, but wasn't into somber
Jewelry with gaiety was also made by new factories in Germany -- and the
Austro-Hungarian Empire, formed in the 1860s, turned out some of the
loveliest pieces ever seen.
Whether festive or morose, jewels got bigger and bolder, because there was plenty of gold
again. Finds in the U.S. (1849) and Australia (1852) enriched these
nations and encouraged them to produce jewelry for the masses, rather than
import it. Not that the design influence of European
capitals lessened; it intensified because more people traveled. The Industrial Revolution created so much wealth that a
growing army of Grand Tourists invaded Italy to collect cameos,
coral and intricate micro-mosaic jewels. The cameo earrings
at right can be dated to the 1870s by the hairdos, caught at the nape
by large bows. Nothing beats a good book on costume history,
when it comes to dating cameos. The profiles are also more classical
than in later examples, when noses become more pert in the Gibson Girl manner.
People were getting around in general and classy souvenirs awaited
everywhere, as witness the pendant/brooch at right, its jewels arrayed
as the Southern Cross constellation around a map of Africa. A
similar jewel was made in Australia.
Etruscan Revival Earrings, circa
1870. Vermeil and enamel. Sold by GlitzQueen.
"Paisley" Pendeloque Earrings, likely
Sold by GlitzQueen.
Inspired by archeological discoveries and the Suez Canal's much-publicized construction and opening, many styles were revived in the mid-19th century: Etruscan, Classical, Egyptian, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque, sometimes mingled in fascinating ways.
Archaic Revival Pendant with Etruscan Details, Mid-Victorian. Gilt. At GlitzQueen.
Another influence was Japan, with
which trade began in 1853. After the London International Exhibition of
1862 and a similar 1867 expo in Paris, Japonisme featured in all types of design -- and
in 1876, when Victoria became Empress of India,
gem-encrusted and enameled Mughal jewelry and Indian fabric patterns
appeared (e.g., the paisley-shaped earrings at left).
Mid-Victorian. Gold, pearl and amethysts.
Wedgwood Cameo Pendant,
Mid-Victorian. Black and white jasperware in gilt.
Renaissance Revival Pendant,
circa 1870. Austro-Hungarian. Vermeil, emeralds, pearls and
circa 1870. Italian in Austro-Hungarian frames. Vermeil,
silver and shell. At GlitzQueen.
Southern Cross Pendant/Brooch,
circa 1890-1900. Africa Gold and rubies. Sold
Japonaisse Fan Earrings,
circa 1870. Likely English. Gold. Sold
Diamond discoveries in Africa also
had a major impact by the 1870s. Due to their plentitude -- along with better gem-cutting, mounting and
lighting -- colored stones lost their appeal for evening. This soon
Grand Period designs were showy, but
fabrication standards had fallen since mid-century and people tired of
wearing gems that outclassed their settings. In
reaction, jewels of the Late Victorian Aesthetic Period honored craftsmanship and imagination,
subordinating monetary value to artistic
merit. Besides rejecting mass production, the
new fashion scorned ostentation and rigid protocol, based on growing awareness of the
social ills Dickens had been hammering on about. Conspicuous
consumption fell from favor, so people wore smaller jewels and fewer
-- but wanted the ones they put on to be interesting and well-made.
Semi-precious stones and enamels came back with a vengeance.
Pendant/Brooch, circa 1880.
European. Mixed metals, seed pearls and turquoise.
"Stars" Festoon Necklace
with Art Nouveau influence,
1880s. Likely French. Silver.
Arts & Crafts Earrings, likely 1880s. European. Mixed metal inlay.
Sold by GlitzQueen.
Enameled Hunting Horn Pendant, 1880s. English. Gold.
Micro-Mosaic Parure, late 1890s. From Rome. Glass terrerae
and gilt. At
"Gothick" Earrings with Arts & Crafts Influence, Late Victorian. English. Gold and garnets.
(Note original shepherd's
Arts & Crafts Pendant, circa
1900. English. Butterfly wings framed in glass and
Jugendstil Giardinetto Pendant/Brooch, circa
1890. Austro-Hungarian. Enamel, art glass and gilt. At
| The Aesthetic Period is usually dated from 1880 or 1885, but change was
afoot far earlier. Actually two roads diverged in the wake
of the 1851 "Great Exhibition" (Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations).
Many were revved by machine-made output, but some disagreed.
Designer William Morris saw it at age 17 and was nauseous. He later joined the medievalist
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood led by Dante
Gabriel Rossetti, which produced both the Arts and Crafts movement and modern functional design.
Arts and Crafts style emerged in the 1860s and the famous Liberty shop opened in 1875.
Thus, the trend spread gradually -- abetted by the Princess of Wales. The aging queen's
formality regulated the old guard, but Alexandra steered the younger set on a
livelier course from 1863, when she came from Denmark at 18 to wed
Albert Edward (aka Bertie, later Edward VII). While born a princess, she wasn't raised
rich; her family
scraped by on her dad's army pay, never expecting he'd become king. Known for beauty and charm
(by no means intelligence), she was the Di of her day: elegant
without stuffiness. Vicky was in
permanent mourning, so Alix and Bertie ran public functions -- making it impossible to draw a firm line between Grand and
Aesthetic or even Victorian and Edwardian times.
Outside England, Austria-Hungary's
empress had similar effect. Both young women were painted by
Winterhalter in 1864 and, even then, neither dripped jewels. To small earrings and a simple necklace, Alix added a
coronet of fresh roses and "Sisi" (Elizabeth) plaited her
signature stars in her hair. Stars became a major Aesthetic
As the movement took flight,
jewels became fun again. Besides heavenly stars and crescent
moons, there were whimsical dragons, griffins, butterflies and salamanders,
plus motifs from hunting and other sports enjoyed by the Prince and
Princess of Wales. Birmingham sterling jewelry with novelty themes
was a hit. So were art
and other ceramic cabochons, unusual stones like blister pearls, actual
butterfly wings, "goldstone" (glittering glass full of copper
crystals) and scenes painted
in rock crystal domes. The
reverse-carved intaglios we know as
Essex or Cooke crystals (wrongly attributed to miniaturist William
Essex but rightly credited to an early master of the form, Thomas Cooke) usually featured dogs or horses and
remained popular until the 1930s.
Alix influenced fashion in two other ways before the turn the century, due to a scar on her neck.
Enter high collars brightened by bar pins and, for lower necklines,
wide choker necklaces called dog collars. New earring forms
appeared, too: simple studs (some with the earliest threaded posts
and nuts) and screw-backs. The latter appear on
the Italian mosaic set at left. Ear-piercing began to seem barbaric
to young ladies of the time, who were finally getting university educations and launching careers.
Dog Collar with
Ribbon Slides, circa 1880s. Signed Greene Bros,
NYC. Gilt and coral art glass. At
Mesh Dog Collar with Art
circa 1890s.  Likely English. At
The Aesthetic taste for natural forms
evolved toward stylization, first in the simplifying Arts and
Crafts manner and then (from the 1880s) in the over-the-top outrageousness of Art
Nouveau. Both reflected romanticism reacting to factory
age dehumanization. Ironically, both were
undone in their own day by over-commercialism. Even a famous name on a jewel is no
assurance that s/he produced it. For
instance, the legendary Charles Horner (1837-96) was dead before
the factory bearing his name got built. It churned out
masses of things for decades, some of a plastic unknown in his lifetime. Similarly, Lalique and Whiting &
Davis designs have been reissued -- and these are legitimate
firms concerned about legions of forgers through decades.
There are even more fakes now, given the resurgence of interest in
A&C and an Art Nouveau Revival on rapid boil since the 1960s.
When you evaluate jewels of these types, God is assuredly in the
details. It's all about materials, fabrication, age-appropriate wear and, if you're lucky, original
findings. Unless they're replacements, the best give-aways
are modern earring posts and spring-ring clasps that didn't exist
in the 19th century and silver marked 925 rather than
Sterling. Pure Art Nouveau was dead as a
doornail at the end of the World War I, and edged out earlier by
Neo-classical Edwardian styling.
The Arts and
Crafts tradition lasted longer, merging with early Modernism, so you'll sometimes see later findings on handcrafted silver and copper jewels (often enameled) that can fairly be called A&C.
Viewing the pendants at left and right below, it's easy to say, " That's the look!" and yet many jewels of this period
show *both* Arts& Crafts and Art Nouveau features, like the earrings and pendant in the middle. The styles were variations on same new
"art" theme, spread by mags like Salon and international shows, but also shaped also by local tastes and politics. Besides the curvy eroticism France was known for -- with its whiff of Rococo and ties
to Symbolist poetry and drug-taking Café Society -- lines anticipating
Art Deco were used in the British Isles (think MacKintosh) and Germanic
countries (where it was called Jugenstil or "young style"). In fact, Mrs. MacKintosh, neé Margaret
MacDonald, influenced Klimt! (If you're keen on the
MacKintoshes, BTW, you may want to read here.)
Arts & Crafts Pendant, 1890.
English or American. Blister pearl and silver. At GlitzQueen.
Jugendstil Pendant,1890s. Austro-Hungarian. Moonstone and silver.
Sold by GlitzQueen.
Art Nouveau/Arts & Crafts
Earrings, circa 1900. Perhaps American.
Silver. Sold by GlitzQueen.
Art Nouveau Pendant, 1890s.
French, signed Pillet. Bronze and paste. At
Jewels of the 20th Century
(These being the pieces we all
know best, I'll go light on this section.)
Lalique jewels made about 15
European. Aquamarines, diamonds and platinum. At
The real "war" then
on was between the "art" movement as
a whole and the
Neo-classicism that would emerge as key to Edwardian design. At the highest
end, this was exemplified by Lalique and Tiffany vs Cartier and
The Neo-classicists won over the rest, as witness the two Lalique jewels at left, the later example being entirely of crystal and featuring a much more classical form. Toward the end of Victoria's life, jewels of all prevailing styles had grown lighter and more delicate and, soon after the century turned, strong color went the way of the walrus.
In a popular Victorian joke, Vicky's rule was likened to the
weather: She reigned and reigned, never giving the poor son a
chance. When at last Bertie got his chance in 1901, he was a worldly
wastrel past 60, extravagant and sophisticated. Alix, just three years younger,
had outgrown whimsy long before. Through the pre-World War II Belle
Epoque, it was diamonds, pearls and other ethereally pale stones all the way! It helped that buckets more African diamonds had been found and
getting sea pearls no longer required waiting for oysters to
swallow something nasty. Stones were usually mounted in platinum, white gold or silver, but at times in a pale shade of yellow gold, and the settings were of unprecedented refinement (a lesson from Arts and Crafts and the best of Art
Jewels of Edwardian quality were never made
again, although the delicacy persisted in transitional and early Art Deco filigree of the type we associate with New York City's famed Belais Brothers, the gods of early white gold.
Even costume jewelry was obsessively well-crafted until around 1920. Oddly, jewels of the the Transitional Period remain undervalued in today's market, relative to Edwardian and Deco styles. To identify them, look for lacy designs that lean toward Edwardian but may have a whisper of Deco. Settings will imitate fine jewelry details like millegrain and rope twist and they'll be gorgeous on the reverses, too. Stones are likely to be good Czech crystals in pretty blue, green, yellow or, as in this example, pink:
Transitional Earrings, circa 1919. Signed Czechoslovakia. Gilt and tourmaline crystal. At GlitzQueen.
|Vivid color returned to
fine jewelry in the Deco era, first as accent stones (typically
synthetic sapphires, rubies and emeralds). The other big
difference was abstraction. Like Cubist and Fauve painters, many
jewelers broke from realistic colors and forms around 1910. Thus, early
Deco coexisted with Edwardian "garland style," but wasn't
named until the 1925 Parisian Exposition Internationale des
Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. A recent
exhibition by London's esteemed V&A extends the Deco era
from 1909 to 1939, toward the end of which it overlapped Retro and
Modernist styles. Among its first inspirations was the Russian Ballet,
which brought exotically costumed and staged productions to Paris.
It isn't a great leap from surreal "Firebird" plumage
to the strut-your-stuff outfits favored by Josephine Baker.
An exception to the 1920s rule of geometry over nature was the
Egyptian Revival begun when treasures of Tut's tomb took the world by
storm. Some jewels conveyed the idea with pyramid
shapes, but others were representational.
Art Deco "King Tut"
Earrings, 1920s. Czech crystal. Modern findings. Sold
Our various Egyptian Revivals present a unique challenge to circa-dating.
The first was at the start of the 19th century, second around
the 1860s, third in the 1920s and fourth when Tut's trinkets traveled
again a few decades ago. A fifth will likely come out of the
present tour. This situation is further muddled by a (first)
Victorian Revival that hit along with the third Egyptian
Revival, which means Art Nouveau designs with Egyptian themes were
reproduced before 1930 -- and then the same appeared around 1980, along
with Deco variations. Only findings, signs of wear and, if
present, hallmarks can fully tell the tale.
While executed in more modern forms to match less restrictive post-war
fashions, jewels continued to manifest the opulent Edwardian spirit
until the 1929 Crash (which put the Belais firm out of biz, along with
many) -- despite an interlude for WWI, the global flu pandemic and
America's observed-more-in-the-breach Prohibition. The dangling
earrings and necklaces loved by Edwardians grew longer in flapper-girl
style and new cuts suitable for Cubist designs debuted for gemstones and
rhinestones. Crystal jewels, by then mass-produced by
Lalique and others, remained so important that fashion editors worldwide
declared 1927 "The Year of Crystal." Naturalism was also
creeping back in via "streamlined" but
recognizable forms like skyscrapers and martini glasses.
Art Deco Earrings. Likely American. Sterling
and chrysoprase. Sold by GlitzQueen.
The 1930s Post-Crash populace, lacking means to bedeck themselves
expensively, made do with cheerful biijoux of new plastics and
other high-shine materials -- and had the blessing of no less than Coco
Chanel to mix new "cocktail" jewelry with whatever good jewels
they had left. Deco styling held on a few years, along with
Victoriana and Disney-esque posies. (We know the faux-garnet
set at right is Revival, because the spring-ring clasps are original.)
Diamonds having shrunk with wealth, they were visually
enlarged by "illusion" settings, usually of white gold against
a yellow gold ground. In this period, earring clips of the
type still used made their appearance and, since these held on so much
better than screw-backs, hardly any gals who came of age then had
pierced ears. (Think our moms and grandmoms.)
During World War II in the early 1940s, "Fabulous Fakes"
actually gave way to nicer things. Lesser metals were needed for
the war, so costume jewelers turned to sterling, often washed
with coppery rose gold. By then Deco design seemed flat -- and was
one-dimensional -- so along came the chunky sculptural forms we
associate with Modernism and the "Retro" look, from abstract
Constructivist designs and stylized ballerinas to "firework"
shapes and the fairytale animals
Cartier made in Occupied France. Mexican silver caught on, too,
and of course there were wartime
"sweetheart" jewels and ladies' made-at-home creations, both
of which I find very moving.
Enjoying post-war prosperity, people wanted bold settings loaded with
real stones -- and scads of colored gems were found in South America. As counterpoint, there was a return to
demure pre-war girlishness. Rosie the Riveter morphed into Donna
Reed, vacuuming in pearls, and her daughter wore a prom tiara. A lot of
the dainty heart-shaped jewelry we see dates from this time. Through
the early 1960s, hairstyles ranging from Page Boys to French Twists made
room for short and long earrings, still mainly clip-ons, and ladies
wore princess-length necklaces as routinely as
gents wore hats. A distinction between day and night jewels
remained, but was easing.
The mind-blowing era that lasted through the 1970s, after beginning in
the mid-1960s with mini-skirts and The Beatles, saw first Pop Art and
then ethnic and environmental influences, plus far more freedom for
women and an array of jewels we could buy for ourselves and wear
anywhere at any hour. Ears were pierced again -- sporting
elaborate earrings, even girandoles not seen for a century --and
free-swinging beaded necklaces were de rigeur with fluttering
long skirts and sleeves. Even at the top end of the market,
Asian influence was felt in psychedelically vivid enamelwork and buttery
yellow high-carat gold worthy of a maharani. It was all a
Art Deco Pendant.
English. Black opal and diamonds. Sold in
the region of $8,000 by www.finanandco.co.uk
Art Deco Pendant. Likely
American. Rhodium, enamel and crystal.At
Art Deco Necklace. Czech crystal. At
Art Deco Victorian Revival Necklace
& Bracelet. Czech. Gilt and garnet
crystal. Sold by GlitzQueen.
Art Deco Tulip Earrings. Likely French. Galalith, topaz crystals and gilt. At
WWII "Fireworks" Earrings. American. Sterling and crystal. At
Modernist Earrings American. Carnelian, tiger's eye, goldstone and copper. At
American. Sterling, art glass and enamel. At
As we approach the present, we'll recall jewelry was again Taken Seriously in the 1980s and 1990s.
People even wore money in the
anything-worth-doing-is-worth-overdoing Dallas and Dynasty
era -- remember those Credit Suisse and Kruggerand pendants? We also
wore rhinestones as big as the Ritz. Then came the reaction, during
which approved jewels, like shoulders, declined in size and were Real.
White metals once more came to the fore, as at the prior fin de siècle.
Since the latest siècle finned, so to speak, it's been pretty much Go Your Own Way,
with emphasis on reappropriating jewelry and fashion styles of the past --
bringing history alive with the greater understanding we have now, while contemplating our next move forward and, for a
happy change, making men part of the enterprise, since they resumed wearing more
jewelry recently. Bless them, it's a struggle to keep cufflinks and
stickpins in stock, and a few are into pendants and the occasional earring.
design and content are Copyright 2005, Katherine Anne
Harris. All rights reserved.