Welcome to LADY ELLEN'S FASCINATING FASHIONS HISTORIES, a collection of sometimes little known fashion facts relating to 18th century customes and clothing.
PERIOD JEWELRY INFORMATION
Contrary to the belief of many, the range of jewelry (both real and imitation) commonly available during the 18th Century was very similar to that available today. The fine collection of Period Jewelry in the Colonial Williamsburg Museum, as well as pieces in many private collections, show both genuine and imitation (paste) gems cut in numerous faceted patterns; glass beads made to resemble pearls and opals, and base metals of copper and zinc alloy (counterfeit referred to as pinchbeck); and polished steel used to imitate precious metal settings in shoe buckles, etc.
The style and appearance of most of the pieces is similiar to what we frequently call "Baroque" and/or "Victorian" and can be quite intricate and ornate. However, the simple single strand of round beads (frequently seen in portraits) was always one of the most popular items, particularly for less formal wear. 18th c consumers had access to a variety of jewelry styles depending upon occasion, skill of the artisan, location, and status in life.
Necklaces were fastened in a variety of ways: some had metal hook and loop closures, some had filigree clasps, and many simply tie behind the neck with satin or velvet ribbons. There does not seem to have been any hard and fast rules regarding fasteners in various research sources.
CAMEOS IN HISTORY
Although CAMEOS have been a popular adornment as far back as ancient Greece, they were a particular passion with the Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon, and as such, for a time they became one of the most important jewels worn at European courts. In the painting shown here, Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples (and Napoleon's younger sister) is shown wearing a heavy gold necklace set with five Cameos, a pair of bracelets each set with a Cameo, and a tiara with a Cameo as the central jewel. Both Napoleon, and Josephine had numerous Cameos set the their Coronation crowns and jewels.
In England, King George III, and later his granddaughter, Queen Victoria, were also were great admirers of the art of Cameos, and it was during the later years of Queen Victoria's reign that Cameos were first mass produced and made available to people of more modest means.
FACETED STONES IN COLONIAL TIMES
Contrary to what some believe - faceted stones have been around since 1375. The 33 facet "brilliant" cut was developed around 1700 and was immediately hugely popular in European courts. They were probably less common, early on, in the colonies - but they are very definitely available. The first true "brilliant" cut was developed by a jeweler named Mazarin in the mid 17th Century. He developed a cut that had 17 facets. A few years later - just at the turn of the 18th century - another gem cutter, Vencenzo Peruzzi, developed a cut that had 33 facets - a cut still used today.
The development of this "brilliant" cut created a huge demand for diamonds (which had previously been less popular than colored stones because the older cuts did not display their "inner fire"). From about 1700 until around 1750 diamonds were almost exclusively the gem of choice. To meet the demand for the brilliant stones - jewelers used alternatives - including faceted paste (glass), marcasite, and crystal. These alternatives to diamonds were so well accepted and popular that they were openly worn at all the European courts.
Of course - Colonial America probably did not have an overabundance of the latest gem styles in evidence - and many of the jewels owned by the Colonists were heirloom pieces brought from the "mother country" and done in the old style, so "brilliant cut" pieces would probably have been more rare in the Colonies. However, all the more well-to-do folks, who imported most of their goods from Europe, would undoubtedly have had some examples of the "new look" in their jewelry collections.
LAMPWORK GLASS BEADS IN JEWELRY
The origins of lampwork glass go back to ancient times and lampwork beads have always been highly prized for use in jewelry. In Europe it was a well established industry by the middle ages.
Probably the best known lampwork glass is from the Murano islands located in the Venetian Lagoon. These factories were located on the islands 1291 to safeguard Venice from the threat of fire created by their glass melting ovens. The type of glass we currently refer to as Murano Glass was developed by that group in the mid 1450's.