Ancient Jewellery

Ancient world of jewellery:

When discussing the history of jewellery we are continuously handicapped by the lack of specimens available. Without the discoveries of late 19th& 20th archaeologists, such discussion could be no more than speculation. The intrinsic value of gold and the changing fashion have been the worst names of the jewellery historian. Gold melts easily cannot be identified is conveniently transportable and an international currency.

The 13th & 14th Century:

Throughout the early middle ages royal and religious patronage became increasingly exclusive and this was a situation which was consolidated towards the end of the 13th century. When a law was passed in France forbidding commoners to wear precious stones, pearls & belts otherwise circlets of gold & silver. For the first time in Western Europe, jewellery became an official privilege of the privileged.

The 13th and early 14th centuries were the years of great Royal Jewels and in particular great crowns and coronets. Royal inventories form one of the best sources of information as to the forms of jewellery work throughout the Middle Ages. A list of jewels belonging to Blanche of Castle in the early 13th century included several crowns set with rubies, emeralds, sapphires and pearls. Broaches set with rubies, sapphires, emeralds and other precious stones. One of the most beautiful crowns of the 13th century was that worn by Richard, rare of Cornwall, at his coronation as King of the Romans.

The 15th Century:

By the first decade of the 15th century, the Dukedom of Burgundy had become enormously wealthy and Philip the good was to emerge as the greatest patron of the jewellers art in the Middle Ages. Stones and precious metals were imported in even greater quantities and the workshops of the Rhine experienced a new freedom which had a profound effect on the jewels produced until the end of the Middle Ages. The Gothic architectural style continued to influence all branches of the arts and the effect on the form of jewels is even more obvious than it had been in the previous century. The finest single piece from this period is the crown of Princess Blanche which was worn by her at the age of ten, when she was formally married to the Elector Ledwig III in 1402. The pinnacles are set with emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, pearls and rubies, some facet cut others in cabochon human had been wearing smaller versions of male crown for several centuries but Princess Blanches crown has a delicacy which suggests that it was designed specifically with a young girl in mind.

Towards the end of the century, it is the transitional period between the gothic and renaissance fashionable clothes became tighter and items of supplemented with precious stones.

The 16th Century:

Renaissance is a word frequently used without any real knowledge of the period it covers. In recent years it has become fashionable to play down the prestige of this particular rebirth and write it off as the culmination of the artistic traditions of the Middle Ages combined with foretaste of the baroque magnificence to come of the 17th Century. More than a thousand years had elapsed since the collapse of the Roman Empire and it is not surprising that the Italians looked back with longing at the magnificence of their past surrounded as they were with tangible evidence great architecture, engineering, philosophy & art.

The early jewellery of the Renaissance therefore was influenced more by the new sculpture and painting than by its classical origins. This influence is understandable as the jewellers workshop was considered to be the first training ground for those wishing to progress to the major arts. The greatest of these was produced by Virgil Solis, an engraver, containing page after page of designs for all types of jewellery, were widely circulated and adopted by lesser craftsmen throughout Western Europe, and included designs for belt-buckles, chains & pendants. One of these pendants is a prototype for a design which became widely popular throughout the high Renaissance. It is pear shaped with two large Cabochon stones set in raised claw settings, with two figures setting on the lower stone and supporting the upper below the pendant are suspended three baroque pearls, a feature which is common to many late 16th Century pendants. Other pendants designed by Solis have a religious overtone being formed as crosses set with Cabochon Stones with foliage and tiny cherubs.

The 17th Century:

Like so many of the terms chosen to describe a period of art history baroque was originally a term of disagreement. The term was introduced by critics of the 18th Century to describe the art and architecture of the 17th Century which they considered to be vulgar &self-indulgent. The whole of Western Europe was racked with war and political upheaval for the first half of the century. The thirty years had the continent of Europe in turmoil and the civil war raged in England from 1642 to 1646. It is understandable therefore that the amount of jewellery produced was considerably limited both for the impoverished royal houses and the private sector. The other major influence was the introduction of facet cut stones. Cardinal Mazarin, a senior minister at the Court of Louis XIV sponsored a number of Lapidaries to develop the rose cut, emeralds, topaz and sapphires were all popular but it was diamonds that really caught the patrons imagination.

The 18th Century:

If there was ever a century of change & contrast, it was the 18th Century at the outset there was as great division between the rich & poor as had ever been experienced by the end. The great industrial revolution had led to the emergence of a new middle class. Diamonds proved their worth and were used to the almost total exclusion of other stones until the 1750’s. At the turn of the 17th Century the brilliant cut had made even more capital from the diamonds remarkable optical qualities than the Mazarin cut. For this the stone was cut with 57 facets instead of the 16 of the Mazarin and exploited the reflective & refractive properties of diamonds to a far greater extent than ever before. The increased brilliance was considerable and the cut has never been bettered to this day. So far the first time, different jewellery was designed for wear during the day and night time. During the second half of the century, open back settings were introduced to allow more light into the stones. Again the pave setting was favoured for smaller stones.

Symmetrical floral designs and the bow theme continued to be popular until about 1740 when the rococo fashion temporarily favoured the asymmetrical and reintroduced the love of colour. One particularly fine brooch made in Spain about 1770 depicts a spray of flowers. The interpretation is much more naturalistic and fluid leaves and items are enamelled and held at the base with an enamelled gold bow pave set with diamonds and the petals of each flower are also set with small diamonds. This piece has both realism and a charming elegance which typifies the influence from the major arts of an influence soon to be curtailed by a renamed interest in classicism.

Cut Steel Jewellery:The very word steel smacks of the Industrial Revolution and indeed cut steel jewellery, which started early in the 18th Century, survived for more than 150 years unlike pinchbeck it substituted for both stones and metal. Perhaps the inspiration came from the vogue for marc sites which were being widely used as a substitute for diamonds. Steel workers traditionally producing swords and boxes realized that steel cut in facets could achieve the same metallic gleam. Steel jewellery became fashionable in France and a shop opened in Paris by Monsieur Granchez Marie Antoinette’s jeweller was reported in 1760 to have been selling steel jewellery which was made expensive than gold.

As in precious jewellery the floral theme remained dominant throughout the century and even the rococo asymmetry was adopted by the steel cutters when it became fashionable.

The 20th Century:

During the last decade of the 19th Century, the craze for Art. Now we are was supplemented by 18th Century style diamond jewellery produced by the great jewel houses of the west. By 1910 their scope was considerable widened by the use of platinum which rapidly replaced silver for diamond setting. Unlike silver, the new metal did not tarnish and because of its greater strength reduced the amount of metal required to hold a stone securely. Stones, ribbons and bows were favoured themes for this Edwardian Diamond Jewellery which for the first time was designed specifically for day time wear and under electric light which was now an automatic requirement for those who might afford such jewels. Pure geometric jewels were now produced, simple studied compositions of squares, oblongs and circles.

Semi-precious and non-precious materials were introduced whose value to the jeweller was not commercial but their ability to provide the controls needed to complete compositions. Pave-set diamonds were arranged in geometric patterns in onyx or black enamel and laid alongside poised slabs of Platinum or Gold.