Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Romantic jewelry

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Loretta reports:

The recent engagement of Prince William & Kate Middleton brings up the always fascinating subject of jewelry, a subject dear to the Nerdy History Girl's heart.  Whenever one of my heroines becomes engaged, I pore through my jewelry books, looking for inspiration. Sometimes I'll give her a colored stone with diamonds, like Kate's.  Other times I'll look for the biggest, gaudiest diamond ring I can find.  But other kinds of jewelry were exchanged as love tokens.  One of my favorites, because it's multicolored, is jewelry used to convey a message.

One way to do this was to use the first letter of each stone to spell out a word.

D iamond
E merald
A methyst
R uby
E merald
S apphire
T opaz

According to Jewellery The International Era 1789-1910, Vol I 1789-1861 by Shirley Bury,   "The language of stones...was reported 'in high favour' by the Belle assemblée in 1817 (alas, that edition is not on Google Books yet), which explained only that the initials of the stones 'form devices or sentimental words.'"

Below right is a scan from the Bury book.  See if you can  read the message on these pendants from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Sometimes the jewelery spelled the beloved's name.  This, as you could imagine, could present tricky problems for the jeweler, depending on the name.

For a visual feast of beautiful Georgian Jewelry, I suggest Ginny Redington's Georgian Jewellery 1714-1830.  It's not very nerdy, being a bit thin in the scholarship department, but it makes up for this with gorgeous color photographs—and a less breathtaking price than the out-of-print Bury tome.


Anonymous said...

Might you please explain further about the two pieces shown? Are they pendants? Are they for engagements? How big are they? How old? Forgive my curiosity, but they are beautiful, and I wish to learn more.

LynS said...

I got engaged in 1981 and wanted a sapphire even though friends said people wouldn't realize it was an engagment ring (hello -- left ring finger anyone). We went to the store after Diana go hers and nothing affordable was left. I ended up finding a 3 diamond ring I love and said that fits. The jeweler reminded me I hadn't even tried it on. I really did fit. The owner came by and said we were in luck it was on sale today. I recently lost the sapphire I got for our 20th annniversay. Now looking for a replacement, same problem as 29 years ago. History circles around doesn't it. Here's to only receiving and never losing jewelry.

Jane O said...

Is the first one Cora?
Can't even begin to make a guess at the second one.

I keep wondering how much jewelry cost back in those days. All those Regency heroines with pearl necklaces — were these wildly expensive? tens of pounds? Hundreds of pounds? Thousands of pounds?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Lyn S said...

I think the first one is lore
Lapus Lazuli, opal, ruby, emerald. If the blue stone is a sapphire then it becomes sore.. I would like it to be love, but I don't know of a V stone.

Diane Donald said...

LynS, historically sapphires stood for fidelity. My husband gave me a sapphire engagement ring, and I love it, but people really didn't get that it was an engagement. I now wear it on my right hand and my wedding ring on my left.

I'm stumped with the jewelry in the picture! I keep coming up with lore for the first one too, and I'm baffled on the second. Oh well, still beautiful.

Chris Woodyard said...

The first piece spells out LOVE - Lapis, opal, vemeil (old name for garnet) and emerald.

The second is a locket and it spells REGARD - probably one of the most common sentiments expressed in this kind of jewellery.

Chris Woodyard said...

Not quite sure why vermeil was a name for garnet. Possibly because garnets are red/orange or vermillion?

Deb said...

Diamonds used to be considered rather "tacky," not at all romantic. If you read a novel from the 1800s and a man attempts to give a woman diamonds, you know that man is a thorough-going cad. Pearls, rubies, and sapphires were the most appropriate stones for a beloved. It was only when DeBeers cornered the diamond market in the early 1900s and started the "a diamond is forever" campaign that diamonds began to be considered a romantic gift and appropriate for engagement and wedding rings.

Jolene said...

Like LynS, I wanted a Princess Di engagement ring (well, a smaller version!) when my husband popped the question in '95. I didn't care what people said--I've always loved sapphires, and the PofW made it "cool" again. I found one I wanted--on sale--and I still wear it on my left hand. My husband surprised me on my wedding day with a matching pair of gorgeous sapphire/diamond earrings. (Isn't he the greatest?). I was so excited to see Kate wearing Diana's gorgeous ring, as it now adds that wonderful "heirloom" quality.
With so many non-traditional brides out there, I'm surprised as a bridal journalist that I'm not seeing more colored gemstone engagement rings (there are some, mostly celebrities, but not as much as one might think), though finally some full-color and even black gowns are coming into vogue.
Now what where Kate WEAR??? Can't wait to find out!

LorettaChase said...

Chris has the pendants' meanings right. Bury says "jewellers frequently had to hunt around to find a stone with a suitable initial letter." The locket pendant on the right includes turquoises used to form a forget-me-not—more symbolism. I was unable to find the pendants online at the V&A, so I don't know the dimensions. Among other items mentioned in the Bury book is "a fine large Pearl Necklace, containing 54 Pieces, with a single stone Brilliant Clasp" for £861 (in 1816). Labor was relatively cheap; stones were not. I'd be very interested in the source that said diamonds became tacky in the 1800s, because I'm not aware of historical evidence. Among other things, the book shows a diamond rivière once owned by King George IV's mistress, Lady Coyningham, and wedding and engagement gifts of diamonds are frequently mentioned. Garrard's, who made Princess Diana's sapphire & diamond engagement ring, in 1858 mounted a bunch of Queen Victoria's diamonds into a pretty fabulous rivière with pendant and earrings. And I do love sapphires, too, esp. with diamonds to set them off. :-)

Deb said...

I think "tacky" was the wrong word and I should have thought about it more (fingers typing faster than brain--sorry!)--but the fact is, diamonds were not considered as valuable as other stones until the diamond market was cornered; and, so, while there was beautiful jewelry created from diamonds prior to the DeBeers diamond monopoly, it was only after the diamond supply was choked off that diamonds became as desirable as emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and--especially--pearls.

Chris Woodyard said...

I wonder if the inference that a man was a cad if he offered a woman diamonds sprang from the notion that diamonds (and other faceted gemstones) were only suitable for married ladies? At least in the Edwardian period, the young miss in her first season "out" was supposed to wear very little jewellery, perhaps only a string of pearls. You only got the nice jewels once you were married. But that's at a much later date--I don't know if things were the same in the early or mid-1800s.
Loretta and Anonymous, here are the dimensions of the pretty V&A jewels: the LOVE jewel, 3.3 cm long; the REGARD locket 3.5 cms high.

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