t seems probable that without the recurrent exhibitions that were such a distinctive feature of the mid-nineteenth century the incentive to experiment in the decorative arts, both with new materials and designs, would have been very much less strong. The unpalatable truth, that the French at least, possibly the Italians as well, exceeded the English jewellers both in design and technique, had had to be accepted; and it is to the credit of the English designers and craftsmen that such a noticeable improvement, if contemporary critics are to be believed, should have taken place between 1851 and 1862.
During the sixty-four years of Queen Victoria's reign it is possible to find examples of every imaginable material being used to make jewellery, and some unimaginable, like human teeth! The discovery of new metals and stones, the development of new techniques and the revival of old ones, put a vast range of possibilities at the disposal of the designers, and this opportunity to experiment was seized by many of them. If the newly rich middle-class consumers lacked the educated taste of the eighteenth century aristocratic patrons, they did at least release the minor arts from the stranglehold of the opinions of the legendary 'man of taste'. Jewellery design has rarely been so inventive, before or since, as it was from the fifties of the last century to the beginning of the first world war, and if some of the inventions were not entirely successful that was only to be expected.
Already at the Great Exhibition in 1851 there was no lack of variety. The diamonds were undoubtedly the most spectacular, and the famous Koh-i-noor created an enormous amount of interest. This priceless diamond was shown in a kind of gold birdcage made by Messrs. Chubb, the locksmiths, in a place of honour in the main hall of the Crystal Palace, but despite its [194/195] fascinating history, and the high value put on it (it was valued at two million pounds, as much as all the other exhibits put together, though this was later revealed to be greatly in excess of its true worth), the stone was generally agreed to be sadly disappointing to look at. As soon as it became apparent that the stone was not showing to advantage various different effects of lighting were tried and a certain improvement was achieved with the use of bright gas-flares. Finally, after much discussion the Queen decided that, in spite of the loss of weight which would result from re-cutting the stone, it was essential to have it brilliant-cut if it was to reveal its true qualities (brilliant-cutting involves far the greatest wastage of stone). Curiously enough, the brilliant-cut, which had been developed at the end of the seventeenth century by the Venetian lapidary, Vincenzio Peruzzi, was still, by the middle of the nineteenth century, only just beginning to be widely used; but now it gained great popularity and was used almost to the exclusion of the rose-cut, though the rose-cut stone enjoyed a brief period in fashion towards the turn of the century. The brilliant-cut differs from the rose-cut in the number of facets, and their arrangement, which are cut on the stone, the rose-cut having altogether either twenty-four or thirty-six facets, while the perfect brilliant-cut has fifty-seven, thirty-three above girdle and twenty- four below. Almost all diamonds are now cut in this way, and the name 'brilliant' commonly denotes a diamond of this type though the word is sometimes used for any sort of diamond.
A great alteration in the appearance of diamond jewellery took place as a result of the general adoption of the brilliant-cut, and also from the use of open settings to replace the closed settings of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The relinquishing of the closed setting put an end to the practise of backing the stones with foil to improve their colour and brilliance, but the open settings increased the refractive qualities of the stone which more than compensated for the loss of the rather dubious advantages of the foil-backing. The 'emerald' and 'baguette' cuts, both partic- ularly associated with the twentieth century, were also developed in the nineteenth century. Some more bizarre ways of cutting diamonds were evolved and abandoned after a fairly short time, for example 'pichere' diamonds, a thin panel of stone, like a sheet of glass or crystal; or the practice of cutting stones into ridges at [195/196] the back to increase the retraction, both ot which were soon dropped.
The chief centres of diamond cutting were in Antwerp and Amsterdam, and for an operation as delicate as the re-cutting of the Koh-i-noor diamond it was considered necessary to bring two men specially from Holland to perform the task. It was estimated that the work would take many months to complete, and the operation, which was started under the watchful eye of the Duke of Wellington, on 16th July 1852, was not completed until the following September. The re-cutting was considered at the time to have been a success, effecting a considerable improvement in the appearance of the stone, but it is much criticised nowadays for having been clumsily done. The Queen wore the Koh-i-noor on various occasions, both in a bracelet and as the centre stone in a diadem, and it was eventually incorporated in the Crown Jewels at the time of the coronation of Edward VII when it was set in Queen Alexandra's crown. ≈
Until three or four years ago when uncut diamonds were briefly the rage in Paris, being sold in the boutique of a famous Parisian couturier, Ruskin must have been unique in thinking the stone more beautiful in its natural state. His friend, Mrs La Touche, wrote the following letter thanking him for a present which had mystified her — (incidently one of the best descriptions of the stone in its natural state) —
I have just received a lovely and mystic thing, in a registered letter directed by you. It has a small summer cloud in its inside, and it has eight outsides, regularity without symmetry, and lustre without glitter. I am going to get a lens and look at it 'till it tells me more; but meanwhile wont you tell me something about it. Is it a Diamond? ... Is it for me to look at — and send back? Or is it that you recognise me an other than Lacertan reptile, and send me a precious jewel to wear in my head? Send me a little word, and think of me always as your affectionate and grateful Lacerta.1
Ruskin's reply to this letter followed shortly —
Yes, that's a diamond, and if it amuses you you're to keep it. They're not unlucky like opals, and they really are the most wonderful thing in creation — not alive. That one is clear and good and beautiful in its crystalinc surfaces, but as you see, flawed internally, else it would have been cut by [196/197] jewellers at once, and never found its way to you or me. Of the perfect outside form of a diamond you can scarcely see a better type.2
Mrs La Touche's poetic description of the stone is almost enough to win one over to Ruskin's way of thinking, but the Parisian couturier was rightly considered to be very affected for using diamonds without getting any greater effect than could be obtained from glass beads, while naturally being under the necessity of charging diamond prices for the jewels whose expensive character was completely unrecognisable.
For those who could not summon up any enthusiasm for ill-cut or un-cut stones, the Great Exhibition and the subsequent exhibitions boasted a dazzling display of diamond jewellery which demonstrated the greatest ingenuity of the lapidary, as well as jewels set with rubies, sapphires and emeralds, of great splendour.
Diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds were used for the 'primary' jewellery of the period, but the market for such pieces, and even in this period of grand balls and receptions, the occasions for wearing them were, for most people, fairly restricted. All kinds of precious and semi-precious stones were imitated in paste, or 'Strass' as it is sometimes called, but particularly diamond jewellery, some of it so well that it is quite easy to mistake the best work for the real thing without careful examination and testing. The highly reflective 'Strass' glass used to make this jewellery was developed in France in the early eighteenth century, the imitation of hardstones in glass was an Italian speciality. All the most popular diamond designs, such as the ubiquitous bow, the bouquet with flowers en tremblant, the butterfly, the star and the crescent, were most beautifully imitated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For essential information on the techniques of making and setting paste jewellery, and on the detection of modern imitations or fakes, there has very recently been published a collector's handbook called Antique Paste Jewellery, by M.D.S. Lewis. Much of our knowledge of antique diamond jewellery design is perforce based on the study of the paste jewellery of the period as valuable jewellery of this sort is in constant danger of being broken up and reset to conform with current fashion. Consequently the bulk of the real jewellery from this period which has survived is of the solid middle-class variety, mostly made of [197/198] of fine and painstaking craltmanship which characterises even the secondary jewellery of the period, and which has ensured its survival through a period when the appreciation of its aesthetic qualities was absolutely non-existent.
Examples of Paste jewellery. Top: Plate 105. English choker, foiled pastes in closed settings c. 1820. Centre: Basket of flowers, brooch, paste in closed setting of silver. Spanish or Portuguese 1800-1820. Bottom: Necklace of paste in open settings of gilt metal with gilt metal chains. Private collection.
The same is true of much of the jewellery made of paste, steel, jet, pinchbeck — an alloy of zinc and copper, imitating gold which was introduced in the eighteenth century by Christopher Pinchbeck, and which fell into disuse when low carat gold was permitted in the manufacture of jewellery — and iron, some of which is of great delicacy. Although Charles Dickens' characters, Mr Merdle and Mr Veneering aspired to something more splendid, nothing but the best Golconda diamonds being sufficiently showy to match their consequence, ('Mrs Veneering . . . carrying the baby dressed as' a bridesmaid, flits about among the company, emitting flashes of many coloured lightening from diamond, emeralds and rubies'), it was the affluent [198/199] middle-classes who created the demand for this type of jewellery, a seemingly insatiable demand, which was inevitably met on occasion with objects of dubious aesthetic value. The stones chiefly used for this type of jewellery were amethysts, (popular for quasi-religious jewellery such as jewelled crosses), garnets, topazes, aquamarines, opals, varieties of quartz (i.e. cairngorm and citrine) and agates; turquoises and pearls; and in the letter part of the century, moonstones, peridots, amber and jade. The mediaeval mania had revived the fashion for the cabochon cut, i.e. the stone polished with a rounded surface, one of the most popular stones used for mediaeval or Gothic pieces being the garnet, which is called a carbuncle when cut in this way. Incidentally, Conan Doyle's famous 'Blue Carbuncle' is an impossibility; although there are a number of different varieties of garnet, (almandine, which is purple-red, and dark red pyrope, are the ones commonly used in jewellery), there is no blue variety, the nearest thing being either the pale violet rhodolite, or the pale green grossularite.
Ruskin campaigned tirelessly for the adoption of the cabochon cut, believing that this showed the stones to best advantage, a point of view which he makes clear in the following passage from The Iris of the Earth.
For the literal truth of your jewels themselves, absolutely search out and cast away all manner of fake, or dyed, or altered stones. And at present, to make quite sure, wear your jewels uncut; they will be twenty times more interesting to you, so. The; ruby in the British crown is uncut; and is, as far as my knowledge extends — I have not had it to look at close — the loveliest precious stone in the world.' Modern gemmological studies have in fact revealed that the famous Black Prince's ruby is a spinel, which is sometimes called a balas-ruby.
The fashion for the cabochon cut originated in this country and was subsequently adopted by the French, and cabochon stones will be found in many pieces of Victorian jewellery, being used for almost all opaque stones as well as for amethysts and garnets. Opals are used in this way for brooches and half-hoop rings, a stone which would seem, from the amount of surviving opal jewellery, to have been very popular in the nineteenth century, but the opal has always had a curious reputation, and is often said [199/200] to be unlucky. The publication of Sir Walter Scott's novel Anne of Geierstein, in 1829, is reputed to have put opals out of favour for thirty years, which seems unlikely in view of the date of much of the surviving opal jewellery, though the fate of Lady Hcrmione was horrible enough to give anyone a distaste for the stone. The discovery of huge deposits of opals in Australia in the seventies had made them plentiful after the relative scarcity of the Hungarian opals, but they seem to have been extensively used before this date.
The following passage from Memories, by Lord Redesdale, throws an interesting light on the subject, but fails to clarify the position.
Overbeck came to dinner in morning clothes, as he had parted somehow with his heavy luggage, and I noticed that he had a curious stone unknown to me, mounted as a pin in his cravat. I asked what it was. "A black opal," was the answer. I had lately been hearing all sorts of tales about the bad luck which opals are supposed to bring. White opals he admitted were known to be unlucky, but the black opal, on the contrary, was the luckiest of stones. He insisted that I must buy one, and promised to call the next morning and go with me to hunt for one . . . The following morning Overbeck turned up, quite determined that I must go and buy a black opal, as to which my enthusiasm had had time to wane during the night; however, he would take no denial, and so we went to my old friend, Mr Phillips, in Cockspur Street, the man who was really the first to introduce the artistic feeling of the sixteenth century into the modern jeweller's craft. He was a man of the most consummate taste and culture, qualities repeated with additional intensity in his distinguished son, Sir Claude, the great critic, the accuracy of whose judgement and historical knowledge in all that concerns the fine arts is undisputed.
I knew that the best chance of finding anything a little out of the way would be in Mr Phillips' hands, and so it proved to be, for he at once showed me the gem that I wanted, mounted as a pin with tiny sparks of diamonds round it. He told me that he had shown it to the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh; both admired its beauty, but neither would buy it, owing to the evil reputation of the white opal. [200/201]
It was a strange, weird stone, with a mysterious spark of fire in the centre, which seemed to gleam fitfully, almost capriciously. Overbeck looked at it for a moment, trembling with excitement, and then hissed in my ear: "Buy it! Buy it! It surely brings you luck." I laughed at his eagerness, but I bought the pin for its beauty's sake. As we left the shop Overbeck, who was greatly excited, stopped on the threshold and said: "In ten days you'll get a letter, mark my words; in ten days, more or less." We parted in Cockspur Street and he went abroad that evening. I went home delighted with my pretty new toy, and thought nothing more about the famous letter which I was to receive, when on the evening of the 9th of May, exactly ten days From the visit to Mr Phillips, I received the following note:
10, Downing Street,
Whitehall, May 9th-74.
Dear Mr Mitford,
If you like to become Secretary to the Board of Works I shall have pleasure in appointing you.
That letter changed the whole course of my life.'
The origins of the superstitions attached to opals, like those which concern all the various gem-stones which are said to have magic or other extraordinary powers, are extremely ancient. This particular stone was reputed to confer invisibility on its owner, which could obviously prove very useful. A senator in ancient Rome preferred to die rather than surrender his opal to the Emperor Nero. The bad reputation which the opal had in the nineteenth century may have been partly due to Anne of Geierstein, but there is a theory that the rumour which held that the newly discovered mines in Australia yeilded unlucky stones was put about by the owners of mines producing opals in Hungary and Dubnik in Slovakia, which has a ring of probability about it. Queen Victoria, with a fine disregard for any of these superstitions, and possibly influenced by the fact that the opal was one of Prince Albert's favourite stones, made a special point of giving opal jewellery as presents, in order to help the Australian mines. [201/202] Opal jewellery made by Hunt and Roskell was shown in the Great Exhibition in 1851.
Much of the nineteenth century jewellery made from these popular cabochon-cut stones, amethysts, garnets and opals with pave-set half-pearls, turquoises and coral, is decorated with coloured enamels, especially when the design is in a quasi- mediaeval or naturalistic style. The neglected art of enamelling, which had been brought to the highest peak of perfection in the late eighteenth century, and then virtually abandoned, was successfully revived in the 1840s after an earlier attempt in the twenties on the part of the French to reintroduce enamel for flower jewellery had failed. Plate 107 shows a comparison between eighteenth century enamelling and a nineteenth century imitation of the same style made by Hunt and Roskell in about 1850.
Plate 107. Necklace of enamel miniatures in imitation of the eighteenth century style made by Hunt Of Roskell, c. 1850-60, with two eighteenth century enamel miniatures mounted as rings. Courtesy Howard Vaughan. Enamel miniatures on gold or on porcelain were fashionable in the fifties.
Now enamel was used to enrich the Gothic designs of jewellers like Francois Desirée Froment-Meurice and Rudolphi in France (c.1844) and A.W.N. Pugin (1846, see Plate 17) and his numerous imitators in England, whose work enjoyed widespread popularity after the 1851 Exhibition due to the success of the Mediaeval Court where Pugin's jewellery was shown.
Left: The Medieval Court at the Great Exhibition of 1851 from Illustrated London News. Right: Tabernacle included in the Medieval Court, now in Southwark Cathedral, London (modern photgraph). Neither image was in print edition.
All of the many different enamelling techniques were used during the second half of the nineteenth century, giving a wide range of different effects which were never more fully exploited than by the fin-de-siècle designers in France.
Painted enamels were the most widely used, both for the decoration of jewellery set with gem-stones and for miniatures of all kinds, portraits, views (the speciality of the Swiss and the Indians), pictures of flowers and animals, and even copies of amous old master paintings, Raphael being the most popular, vhich were fashionable for a period in the sixties and seventies. Successive experiments with colouring and firing the silicate of glass from which enamel is made produced greater delicacy and naturalism in the range of colour, culminating in the Arts and Crafts enamels where every device for enriching the colour and texture of the surface has been explored and is employed with great subtlety. The skin colours in particular had previously suffered from the limited range of tones available and it is this which gives the sitters in mid-nineteenth century portrait miniatures their characteristically doll-like appearance. Limoges, the [202/203] ancient French technique of painted enamel using mainly grisaille colours on a black or blue ground, was revived for the Renaissance-style jewellery of the late nineteenth century, and used for cameo-like medallions for the centre of brooches or pendants.
The opaque colours of these painted enamels provide a perfect foil to the gold and gems for designs like Pugin's Marriage jewellery or neo-Renaissance jewellery (Plates 60 & 61), but the revival of a number of other ancient enamel techniques widened the range of possibilities still further. The technique of Champlevé enamel which was used for the decoration of mediaeval church treasure was revived in about 1860, Cloisonné at about the same time for the decoration of jewellery in the newly fashionable Japanese style. In Champlevé, as the name implies, the metal surface of the jewel is hollowed out to receive the colour, whereas the Cloisonne method is the reverse, the design.being built up on the surface of the jewel by the application of flat gold wire, the spaces then being filled with the colour. Basse-taille is similar to Champleve, but the colours used are transparent which gives an appearance of depth to the design, particularly where the colour is applied over an engraved pattern. Tour-a-guillocher, enamel over engine-turning was used by Faberge at the turn of the century and became extremely fashionable. Transparent enamel over an engraved pattern is most effective when used to give a more naturalistic appearance to the leaves in flower jewellery or for the wings of the insects which were so fashionable towards the end of the century.
Plate 124a: An example of Taille d'Epergne used for mourning jewelry. Collection of author's family.
Taille d'Epergne is the name for the method which was used to decorate the mounts of mourning jewellery, in which an engraved design is filled with enamel, mainly in black or blue, (Plate 124, top) which is also sometimes found on the solid gold bangles fashionable in the sixties, and for small jewelled acces- sories like buttons and studs. Pliqué or piqué a jour is the method used to give a stained glass effect, sometimes for this reason called 'window enamels', by using translucent enamels without a metal backing, a technique used in Russia in the mid-century for making elaborate ornaments. It is really quite unsuitable for jewellery, for which it was extensively used in France at the turn of the century, since when the piece is worn the light cannot pass through the enamel and the effect is lost.
Considering the high survival rate of Victorian jewellery in [203/204] general, there is one mysterious shortage which is hard to explain. A very large amount of jewellery made of pearls was clearly worn in the nineteenth century, and the greater part of these jewels seem to have disappeared; it is probably because imitation pearls, from which many pieces must have been made, were extremely fragile. They were made by various methods, some more deceptive than others, the oldest of which was invented by a Frenchman called Jaquin, who established his business in France in 1686. A nineteenth century manufacturer of artificial pearls, named Truchy, who is mentioned in the reports of the Paris Exhibition held in 1849, was a descendant of M. Jaquin. These pearls were made by a process which involved introducing a nacreous substance made from the surface of the scales of small fish which were very common in the Seine and the Rhine, and which were also found in smaller quantities in the Thames, into small globules of blown glass. This substance was preserved in sal ammoniac and known as 'Oriental Essence'. A coating of wax was added to give the bead the right colour while preserving the lustre imparted by the fish scales, but the resulting 'pearl' was very fragile, being susceptible to heat on account of the wax, and liable to break under the smallest pressure because of the thinness of the glass. The French brought the manufacture of artificial pearls to a high degree of perfection; it is unlikely that the many people who saw her wear it realised that the 73 pendoloque pearls in the beautiful berthe necklace made for the Empress Eugenie of diamonds from the Crown Jewels were false — it had proved to be impossible to find a sufficient number of matching pearls of good quality within the limits of the sum that had been fixed for making the necklace.
'Roman' pearls were made in Italy by a method which rather resembled the ancient Chinese technique used for coating minute ornaments with mother-of-pearl, which was subsequently developed by the Japanese to produce cultured pearls (see below). The 'Roman' method consisted of coating beads made of alabaster with a nacreous liquid which formed a skin, but these pearls though less fragile than the French and German ones, were equally subject to disadvantages which gave them a limited life as the skin was liable to wear off or peel off if the bead was exposed to heat. The Chinese made pearls of this type from beads made of gum which were coated in the same way. [204/205]
Plate 106. Parure of seed-pearls. English c. 1840. Courtesy of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, Smithsonian Institution. The French excelled at making seed-pearl jewellery of this type, but both there and in this country the technique gradually abandoned towards the mid-century.
'Venice' pearls were the most durable being made of an igneous substance .which incidently produced the surface irregularities found in real pearls, and this could be polished to provide a convincing imitation of the surface lustre of real pearls. These pearls were offered for sale in London at the time of the International Exhibition in 1862, and were still to be had in Venice at the end of the century.
The appearance of the French glass pearls was improved by the discovery, in 1834, of opaline glass which gave the pearls a greater degree of transparency, as the wax coating could be omitted. The use of opaline for the beads led to the discovery of an ingenious method for faking pink pearls in which a coral bead of suitable colour was encased in this glass. The discovery that pearls could be 'cultivated' by the introduction [205/206] of a seed-pearl into the pearl-bearing oyster, a development of the technique mentioned above, used for many hundreds of years by the Chinese to produce tiny mother-of-pearl ornaments which, rather on the lines of gunpowder and fireworks, they never extended to produce pearls, was made by a Japanese named Mikimoto, a technique which has been developed so successfully that it has made the production of false pearls by all these ingenious methods both unnecessary and uneconomic. At the Centenial Exhibition in Paris in 1900 one dealer exhibited four strings of pearls among which was a necklace of false pearls made with the greatest ingenuity and care of which he was capable. The public were challenged to see if they could pick out the false pearls from the four necklaces, which, to the man's delight, turned out to be impossible (he claimed that nobody had succeeded in doing this); but the cost of making such convincing imitations as these was very high and the false pearls were as expensive as the real ones.
The French also excelled at the intricate task of making the seed-pearl jewellery which was fashionable in the early nineteenth century (see Plate 106, above), but it was out of favour by the middle of the century and seed pearls are mainly found in Victorian mourning jewellery. The Victorians favoured jewellery made of pearls set in gold in the shape of flowers and leaves fashionable in the '60s and '70s, otherwise pearls and half-pears were used extensively to decorate the borders and settings oi the garnet (particularly the popular carbuncle), amethyst, turquoise and other coloured stone jewellery, and for surrounding and linking together cameos.
Cameos were immensly popular throughout the nineteenth century; they had been brought back; to fashion by the Empress Josephine, who had been given a complete parure set with eighty-two antique cameos surrounded by 275 pearls. by Napoleon, and thereafter they were worn continuously. The fashion for wearing a cameo set as a brooch on a velvet ribbon round the neck was popular for more than twenty years. It was obvious that the enormous demand could not be satisfied by the small quantity of superlatively worked gems that were produced; during the century the production of shell cameos was increased enormously in Italy and even undertaken in France as well. Much [206/207] of the English neo-classic jewellery was set with substitute cameos in glass and jasper-ware.
Towards the end of the ighteenth century James Tassie had been experimenting with glass paste in an attempt to find a method of making cast copies of antique gems, and he evolved a process using powdered flint-glass, which could be coloured or made transparent or opaque at will, by which it was possible to make accurate reproductions of cameos or intaglios. James Tassie set up in London in 1767, and his reproductions, all of antique cameos and intaglios at this time, were very popular with London jewellers, who used them for rings, seals and other trinkets. A catalogue of his works listed over 15,000 items, and 500 collectors. Shelley, in a letter to Thomas Peacock requested him to buy 'two pounds worth' of Tassie's gems, which were to include a head of Alexander; with this degree of popularity it is small wonder that the majority of cameos and intaglios in Wedgwood's first catalogue of 'jasper-ware' were casts from moulds supplied by Tassie.
The method of making the paste from which these gems were cast was kept a closely guarded secret during Tassie's lifetime, but he revealed it to his nephew, William Tassie, who succeeded him and carried on the business until he retired in 1840.
Wedgwood's 'jasper' cameos, which decorate so many of the small jewels of cut-steel produced by Matthew Boulton and the other Birmingham manufacturies, were developed at the end of the eighteenth century. These cameos though extremely fragile, were popular for jewellery and produc un continued throughout the nineteenth century though with a noticeable falling off in the delicacy and inventativeness of the designs after the death of Josiah Wedgwood.
As well as these two well-known methods of imitating cameos there was the less successful cameo-encrustation method which was mainly used to produce glass cameos for the decoration of glass -ornaments. A patent for the manufacture of 'Crystallo ceramie', or cameo-encrustation, was taken out by the Southwark glass-maker, Apsley Pellatt, in 1819, and a certain success was achieved in making small ornaments, but the process was too prone to failure to be used extensively. The resulting 'cameos' [207/208] look like engraved crystal. 'Parian' pottery, a dense white substance developed for the reproduction of marble sculpture, was used for jewellery in the fifties and sixties, but the designs used were similar to those found in carved ivory jewellery, and the pearly lustre Beleek porcelain was used for the same purpose. Imitations of cameos were painted on enamel, (these enamel 'cameos' are also found in Italian Empire jewellery) and on porcelain. Thomas Bott, working for the Worcester Porcelain Co., used enamel on porcelain for imitation cameos and Limoges enamels, and delicately painted porcelain plaques set in gold were ihe fashion for bracelets, bracelet clasps and brooches in the mid-nineteenth century. The jeweller Robert Phillips exhibited in the Great Exhibition of 1851, a necklace 'into which is introduced a series of beautiful enamels from the Worcester manufacture, painted by the delicate hand of Mr Bott.' These enamels are portrait cameos in a rather inept imitation of the Roman style, English 'antique' jewellery design was still in its infancy at this period. This necklace is shown in the Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue of the 1851 Exhibition, on p.68.
In the seventies Messrs. Strong-i-tharm, of Pall Mail, introduced a novelty in the shape of carved rock-crystals coloured in oils which were used for small pieces of fashionable jewellery like scarf-pins, studs or brooches. In general the designs were ol a distinctly sporting nature, dog's heads, game-cocks, foxes' masks, club burgees and heraldic devices (even sinisterly life-like eyes and insects) rather than any subjects of classical inspiration. In spite of all these experimental methods of making cameos which were developed the demand continued to be satisfied largely by the extensive production of shell cameos. The financial advantages offered by the experimental methods were out-weighed in nearly every case by the extreme fragility of the material employed.
The subject matter of nearly all these cameo imitations, like that of the cameos themselves, is fairly conventional, relying on classical subjects for nearly all the designs; even the Victorian portrait cameos manage to have a faintly 'Roman Emperor' look about them. Only at the end of the century Emile Gaulard, a French gem-engraver born in 1842, dared to abandon this classical style, which even he had been using for his early work, and he began to experiment with a near-abstract style carried out in opal [208/209] matrix or super-imposed stones, both considered unsuitable for engraving as they do not show the contrasts demanded by the design of conventional cameos. Gaulard produced one work, entitled Vers l'lnconnu, which was shown at the Paris Salon in 1902, which was probably the closest that gem-engraving ever came to using the freedom of line and the inspiration of organic forms characteristic of the Art Nouveau style, which was so successfully used in the jewellery of the turn of the century.
One Victorian contribution to jewellery design, though by no means so significant as the Gothic or Archaeological revivals, which had a considerable influence on the course of modern jewellery design, was the extensive use of hardstones like agates, lapis-lazuli, malachite and jade. The Victorian interest in mineral collecting, which had made so many lesser stones popular, was responsible for the fashion for jewellery made from the indigenous materials of the British Isles, such as the 'Scotch pebbles', the agates found in Perthshire and near Aberdeen, and the flourishing industry in Whitby producing jet jewellery which was not all intended for mourning jewellery. Another of these local industries was based on the fluorspar mines in Derbyshire whose resources were used to produce a small amount of jewellery as well as the better-known larger ornaments. The Derbyshire fluorspar mines were re-discovered in the first half of the eighteenth century; at the end of the eighteenth century and in the early nineteenth century, the owner of the mines, the sixth Duke of Devonshire, set up workshops for the manufacture of panels decorated with stone inlay in imitation of pietra dura work, examples of which were lent to the workmen by the Duke from his famous collection of marbles at Chatsworth. The jewellery which was made, in the form of crosses and brooches decorated with flowers and insects in different coloured fluorspar set into a background of black Derbyshire marble, was in the style of the popular Florentine intarsia work. The types of stones which would be found in this English work, were Castleton 'blue John', a corruption of bleu-jaune, fossil coral, red marble, or oakstone barytes, but the colour range of the local products was considered inadequate for the more elaborate designs, and greater variety was achieved with the addition of more exotic materials such as coral, turquoise, lapis-lazuli, malachite, shells and glass. Queen Victoria visited the [209/210] Derbyshire marble mills in 1833 and bought a number of small ornaments from the cottage where they were made.
As with the gem-stone cameos of the period, the Victorian public considered that this modern inlaid work was the equal of anything produced by Renaissance craftsmen, and it is doubtful whether making comparisons which show this to be untrue would have impressed the Victorians at all. They were obviously seriously concerned that this work, as well as the cameos and the copies of Greek jewellery and Etruscan granulation might one day be confused with genuine antiquities; indeed this has happened on some occasions, though increasingly rarely as knowledge expands and the scientific means of measuring the age of organic substances are improved.
Although a method of imitating the ancient technique of decorating jewellery with granulation that was truly indistinguishable from the original Etruscan work was not discovered until the nineteen-thirties, a certain amount of nineteenth century work has, from time to time, passed for genuine antique jewellery, both deliberate fakes like the famous 'Tiara of Saitapharnes' and other works by Rouchomowsky, and the Neapolitan copies of jewellery from the local excavations. Etruscan style jewellery made by Carlo Giuliano, one of the finest craftsmen working in England was presented to what was then the South Kensington Museum after his death by his sons; it was stolen shortly afterwards most probably to be disposed of as genuine Etruscan jewellery. A photograph of this jewellery is reproduced in “Art Forgeries and Counterfeits,” an article by M.H. Spielmann in the Magazine of Art (1903-1904), from which it is possible to see how very close to the antique originals these jewels were. Nowadays the temptation to pass Victorian work off as antique jewellery is considerably reduced by the fact that this type of nineteenth century jewellery is very much sought after on its own merit.
Examples of work by the Castellanis: Left: An Earring in the Etruscan Style. . Middle: A Brooch with Granulation in the Etruscan Style.. Right: Brooch with cameo of Medusa. Reproduced courtesy of Susan Weber Soros, Director of the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, which holds copyright on this image, and the owners of the original object. Not in print edition.
The public's conviction that Castellani had succeeded in discovering the secrets of the Etruscan technique ensured great popularity for his Archeological jewellery and that of his imitators. The successful imitation of the Etruscan granulated and filigree decoration of gold-work did represent a considerable technical triumph. The ancient work is of incredible delicacy and the granules of gold are almost indescribably small, the problem of [210/211] attaching them to the surface which was to be decorated proved almost insoluble, and when it was finally solved, the technique was found to be extremely demanding of time and patience.
The popularity of this gold jewellery and the heavy settings for jewels which were fashionable in the mid-nineteenth century had raised the amount of gold used in this country from the relatively modest consumption of the 1801-10 period to the massive amount, at least ten times as great, used in the period 1851-60.
Large deposits of gold and silver were discovered in the middle of the century, gold in California in 1847 and in Australia in 1851, silver in the famous 'Comstock Lode' in Nevada in 1860. Small quantities of platinum had been discovered in the early nineteenth century and the middle of the century saw the first use of this new metal in jewellery, but the real popularity of platinum did not come until the turn of the century, gold continuing to be the favourite material throughout the Victorian period. Aluminium [211/212] was discovered in 1827 but it was not until 1854 that a way of processing it for industrial use was developed, and at this time some experiments were made with using aluminium for sculpture and for a small amount of jewellery. This new metal seemed to be of great potential interest to jewellers as it is light and easy to work, and more important still, it does not oxydise, which was the great defect of silver from the jeweller's point of view.
Plate 108. Set of jewellery in aluminium and gold. French (?). 1855-1860. Courtesy of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, Smithsonian Institution. In the fifties a small number of experimental pieces of jewellery were made in aluminium but they seem to have been regarded merely as curiosities.
A bracelet of aluminium and gold was made by the French jeweller, H. Bourdoncle, in 1858, which is now in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris and a demi-parure also in aluminium and gold which is now in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design in New York (Plate 108 above), dates from the same period. In spite of these and various other pieces of experimental jewellery using unusual techniques and new materials, gold, being very versatile and capable of a variety of textures and colours which were fully exploited by the designers of the period, was the natural choice for all kinds of jewellery. It is curious that one of the uses to which gold has been put most consistently throughout the history of the art of jewellery is one which least well displays these qualities. The making of filigree jewellery has been practised by all ancient civilisations whose jewellery reached any degree of technical sophistication, and has been popular almost uninter- uptedly ever since, and is a characteristic technique of almost all the types of peasant jewellery which -survive in the nineteenth century. As a display of technical virtuosity fine filigree jewellery is quite remarkable, the most skillful practitioners of the craft were Indian children, whose small hands and delicate touch were most suited to the intricate task of assembling this work.
Owing to its fragility much of the glass bead jewellery of the Victorian period has disappeared. The glass beads manufactured in the nineteenth century are of a variety and quality that will never be seen again; it seems unlikely that the ingenuity of the plastics manufacturer will ever equal the skill and inventativeness of the Murano glass-workers and the jewellers of the Piazza San Marco (image) in Venice, whose glass bead jewellery was justifiably world famous. The visit made by Mr and Mrs Ruskin to the glass factories on the island of Murano in December 1849 is described in Effie in Venice, by Mary Lutyens p. 79, and is presumably the visit which precipitated the following diatribe against mechanical labour [212/213] which Ruskin published in The Stones of Venice, which incidentally provides a detailed description of the process of making glass beads:
For instance, glass beads are utterly unnecessary and there is no design or thought employed in their manufacture. They arc formed by first drawing out the glass into rods; these rods arc chopped up into fragments of the size of beads by the human hand, and the fragments are then rounded in the Furnace. The men who chop up the rods sit at their work all day, their hands vibrating with a perpetual and exquisitely timed palsy, and the beads dropping beneath their vibration like hail. Neither they, nor the men who draw out the rods or fuse the fragments, have the smallest occasion for the use of any single human faculty; and every young lady, therefore, who buys glass beads is engaged in the slave-trade, and in a much more cruel one than that which we have so long been endeavouring to put down.
Beads were at the peak of their fashionable popularity in the seventies and eighties but the bead manufacturers and the jewellery firms in Venice were well known tourist attractions throughout the whole of the Victorian period. The visit to Murano which so appalled Ruskin provided his wife with the opportunity to buy several bunches of coloured glass beads to be made into necklaces, and all kinds of bead jewellery could be bought from the celebrated shops of the Piazza San Marco.
The small quantity of this glass jewellery that remains to us gives some indication of the richness and variety of the bead-manufacturers' invention, the delicacy of colour and gold that is unequalled by anything produced today. This art, like so many of the demanding techniques required by the delicate design of early nineteenth century jewellery, is virtually lost. Another casualty to add to a list already sadly long, which includes the fine seed-pean work which was more or less abandoned in Europe by the middle of the century, as was the eighteenth century art of tortoise-shell pique, which was replaced by the much coarser and generally rather ugly tortoishelle or papier-mache work inlaid with silver and mother-of-pearl which was first introduced in about 1830; and the great decline towards the mid-nineteenth century of the art of filigree, the filigree work of the forties and fifties compares most unfavourably with the fine French and Italian filigree of the Empire period. To anyone who has seen the mosaic-work and the Florentine pietra dura work of even the early nineteenth century — already sufficiently unlike the work of the Renaissance craftsmen to call forth criticism from the purists — there is no need to point out the deficiencies of the modern imitations. Accustomed as we are in the twentieth century to a standard of craftsmanship so very much lower even than that achieved by the Birmingham jewellery of the Victorian period, the endless Cas- sandra-like cries of woe from the Victorian critics seem somewhat exaggerated. 'The world is full of cheap gimcracks, in this awful age, and they thrust in at one at every turn', cries Mrs Gereth in the nineties [The Spoils of Poyton, by Henry James), echoing the words of all the critics of modern design who had by this time been deploring the effects of the industrial revolution for close on a hundred years. But if much was lost through the increased mechanisation of all the processes in the manufacture of jewellery, [214/215] there were also great gains. Wide experimentation with unusual techniques, and successful revivals of ancient methods, put an astonishing range of possibilities at the disposal of the goldsmith or the jeweller, and these possibilities were exploited to their fullest extent by the craftsmen of the late nineteenth century, the jewellery design of the fin-de-siècle reaching hitherto unexplored heights of originality. [215/216]
8 March 2015