History of Jewelry Part 6: Victorian|
The Nineteenth Century was an eclectic time for jewelry; the fashion world was mostly led by the styles out of France, a country in the midst of political turmoil and whose values and tastes were always changing. The last ten years of the Eighteenth Century in France were occupied by the French Revolution, a period of time in which the elaborate fashions of the Baroque and Rococo periods were stamped out. By the turn of the century, the new regime had brought about enough economic stimulus that a revival of something like luxury was afoot, and for the next fourteen years, under the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, the design and wearing of jewelry was a big part of French society.
Under Napoleon, an exaggerated enthusiasm for the antique was born. The paintings in the gallery at Versailles offer a detailed view of what was worn during Napoleonís Empire; this is a highly decorated period. The most financially fortunate wore jewels actually excavated from ancient Greece and Rome. Others simply adopted similar costumes: some French women went about with unstockinged feet in sandals that looked Classical, which enabled them to wear jewels in their toes. Engraved gems and cameos such as had enjoyed some popularity in Classical times were resurrected and strung with or without precious stones and important diamonds. Antique gems were worn when possible, but other gems were manufactured as careful studies of the technique and style of these older stones. Gold was usually thin, light, and of low quality, with simple designs often in the form of clusters of grapes. Metal was often matte. Stones most commonly used were carnelians, moss-agates, turquoises, garnets, pink and yellow topazes, and coral, sometimes all mixed together.
Ornaments for every part of the body shared an affinity with antique styles: on the head, women wore frontlets and diadems, combs, triple chains, and strings of pearls. Ferrorrieres, such as had been popular in the fifteenth century, were worn generally in the same style, with a jewel strung on a fine gold chain or velvet ribbon and tied around the forehead. In Germany, versions of many of these pieces were made in cast-iron, and cuts of hair were plaited into rings, bracelets, necklaces, watch-chains, and ornamental landscapes, sometimes as an affectionate gift to a friend or lover, but mostly in situations that related to mourning the deceased.
After Napoleon, jewelry for men declined in popularity. Almost all that remained for men to wear were seals hanging from fobs, or watches hanging from chains. The Romantic period began around the year 1830, and women during this time were obsessed with chivalry and all things medieval. Gothic influence is clear in Romantic jewelry, which was sometimes sculpted to resemble knights on horseback or ladies in medieval dress, but was sometimes a mannered version of the architectural styles of the Gothic period, updated with the development of machinery that could assist in the manufacture of thin goldwork. In the middle of the century, Rococo styles were revived. These were years in which countless antique and valuable ornaments were deconstructed, their diamonds and precious stones reset into newer settings and their beautiful metalwork melted down; this is of course ironic because of designersí strong interest in the past, but the styles were revived and mixed and convoluted, and many actual antiques were lost.