Although many pieces can be seen in paintings from the Renaissance worn by wealthy women who had portraits painted, actual pieces of jewelry that still exist intact today are rare. An important feature was the use of gemstones for their color. Hence, colored stones were more popular than diamonds due to diamonds’ lack of color. Modern cuts for gemstones had not been developed at this time, and metal working tools were also crude at this stage, therefore, gemstones were cut into cabochons (half-domes) and were bezel-set with few designs or embellishments on the metal. Pearls were very popular and were widely used in combination with colored stones and enameled gold.
Styles of Splendor
Renaissance Jewelry (14th – 17th century)
18th Century Goldsmith Work: Snuff Boxes
Snuff taking was exceedingly fashionable throughout the 18th century in Europe. Therefore, snuff boxes and snuff taking accessories of all types and quality were produced – ranging from Sheffield plate boxes, to sterling silver boxes to gold boxes with gem stones and enamel miniatures, in each country’s own decorative tastes, and reflecting the period’s styles (Louis XV or Louis XVI for example).
The more common boxes were usually rectangular in shape. Materials such as tortoise shell or horn were used to line the inside. Some boxes utilized many different colors of gold to create a landscape. Snuff is a fine powder, and hinges had to be extremely well made so as to store the substance properly in the owner’s pocket. The hinges were often incorporated into the overall design of the boxes and are hard to detect.
Ancient jewelry used high karat gold, softer than 18K or 14K and easier to manipulate with crude tools. Beads, crudely cut semi-precious stones and intaglios were often used in combination with gold. Shapes were simple. Animal forms, mythical gods and creatures were popular themes. Pieces also often served a function, such as holding clothing together or pinning hair. Many pieces were also often used for burial rites.
Georgian Jewelry (1714 – 1837)
Georgian jewelry was produced in England around the time of the reigns of King George I to King George IV, 1714 to 1837. Early Georgian style was heavily influenced by French Rococo. There are few pieces of Georgian jewelry still intact today: Not only was precious jewelry enjoyed only by a very limited few such as royalty, aristocracy and the very wealthy, but also were gemstones and gold often re-used and re-fashioned into later designs due to difficulty in obtaining raw materials.
Georgian jewelry is characterized by the use of what are known today as “semi-precious” stones in closed-back settings with floral or scroll motifs. These stones, such as garnets, topaz, aquamarines, amethysts etc, cut into early faceted gems, were very desirable and hard to obtain at that time. Gold work was often very simple. Stones were cut with few facets, making the stones appear glass-like. Eventually, more fully faceted diamonds started to become prevalent.
Russian Antique Decorative Arts and Jewelry
The most noted Russian jeweler from the late 19th century to 1917, the year of the Revolution, was Carl Fabergé. He produced some of the world’s finest enamel work, featured on many different types of items, ranging from clocks to frames to jewelry. Works of art included sculpture such as hardstone flower studies and miniature animals, and household items such as bellpushes, often made for the Tsar and other wealthy Russian families. Original Fabergé works of art have become some of the most coveted antique items on the market. (More to come.)
Victorian Jewelry (1837 – 1901)
Victorian jewelry was produced in England around the time of the reign of Queen Victoria, 1837 to 1901.The term is quite broad and includes many different styles and influences.
Victorian times are generally known to be a time of sentimentality and rigid social formalities. Thus, self-adornment with jewelry was often wrought with meaning and secret messages, e.g. eye jewelry, hair jewelry, memento mori, lockets, portraits, etc. At this time many of the revival movements took hold inspired by archaeological discoveries and a sense of sentimentality towards the past. Jewelers such as Giuliano, Castellani and Falize each became known for revival styles and are extremely collectible today.
Victorian jewelry is characterized by the use of old-mine-cut diamonds, rose-cut diamonds, sapphires, rubies, demantoid (green) garnets, enamel, jet, hair, agates, lava, and cameos, set in 15K or 18K gold or a combination of silver and gold.
The period’s main themes and inspiration were animals, insects, flora & fauna, and historicism.
Edwardian / Belle Epoch Jewelry (1890 – 1915)
Edwardian jewelry was produced in England around the time of the reign of King Edward VII, 1901 to 1910. The term connotes very ornate, lacy and intricate metal-work, in milgrain and filigree, often now in platinum. Many antique “engagement rings” come from this period with the single larger stone (usually diamond) in the center set in an ornate pierced-openwork setting with smaller diamonds.
The period’s main styles include bows, garlands, lace, and stylized floral motifs.
Arts and Crafts (late 19th to early 20th century)
Arts and Crafts stems from a philosophy founded in England in the late 19th century that continued into the early 20th century, which was a reaction against the mechanization taking place in Victorian decorative design. Its goal was to return to simpler designs executed by the hands of skilled craftsmen, ideally passing through one pair of hands from start to finish. Arts and Crafts jewelers often chose to use less precious materials such as brass, copper, aluminum, and silver. Some Arts and Crafts jewelry employing the colors green, white and purple (violet) have been associated with the suffragette movement, as these were the colors of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) who fought for the vote for women at the turn of the last century in England (Green, White, Violet – Give Women the Vote). This philosophy also spread to America, the most notable American Arts and Crafts designer being Gustav Stickley who produced furniture.
Art Deco (1915 – 1935)
Art Deco is an early 20th century western artistic movement that spanned many countries and forms – from architecture to print design to jewelry. It employed geometric shapes and lines used in repetition to create abstract symmetrical linear motifs. The motifs were often completed using strong contrasting colors.
Popular materials included onyx, diamonds, carnelian, coral, jade, enamel and platinum.
The excess and glamour of the Roaring 20′s is reflected in the high-end jewels from this time period, including neck-to-knee length sautoirs strung with natural pearls and diamonds to be worn with low-cut “flapper” gowns or jeweled clips to adorn head pieces.