When I first came across the term paste used to describe jewelry, I could only imagine the sticky white stuff from elementary school. But in the 18th c, paste jewels belonged in the ballroom, not the schoolroom, and the more, the better.
Paste was the name for faux jewels, cut leaded glass faceted to mimic precious gems. Most often paste jewels imitated clear diamonds, but with colored foil placed behind them, they could also stand in for sapphires, emeralds, and other colored precious stones.
What mattered was the sparkle, especially when even the most luxurious room lit by candles could be a murky, shadowy place. Clothes for evening were made of gleaming silk and embroidered with metallic threads and sequins, all designed to seize every glimmer of light and reflect it back. The more bling, the higher the fashion, and the higher the wearer's status, too, which led to the craze for paste.
Worn by both men and women, paste stones appeared not only in earrings, necklaces, and rings, but also were pinned into elaborate hair styles, set into buttons and stomachers (large jeweled pieces that were pinned to the front of bodices), and outlined buckles on shoes. By the 1850s, paste had been replaced with other kinds of imitations, but as these examples show, the beauty of paste remains undiminished.
Top left: Women's Fichu Buckle, c 1780-1790, England. Paste stones, silver, & gilt metal, engraved steel. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Right: Earrings, late 18th c, French, paste & silver. (Screw backs modern.) Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Lower left: Shoe buckle, c 1760, English, silver set with pastes. Victoria & Albert Museum.
Like to see more historical jewelry? Check out our latest board on Pinterest: In Our Jewel Box.