Evolution of the Jewelry Industry in America: Colonial Era

A lot of talk has been made about the future of retail. I cannot walk down a street or look out a window on my commute without being reminded of the shift in consumer spending. Store closing and out of business signs seem to be popping up in Boston and online. Type in ‘store closing’ and see what that search brings you the words: panic, scramble and apocalypse were in the three stories at the top of my list. Much of the retail ‘apocalypse’ talk has been pointing to the apparel part of the industry. The question I ask seeing these stories is what does this mean for the jewelry industry?

To be able to better understand the future it helps to understand the past. A very overused saying but still insightful. For the rest of the month I want to focus on the jewelry industry in America. This will be a return to my book bling series by focusing on one book: Jewelry in America (1600-1900) by Martha Gandy Fales. It is divided into 4-time periods:

[1] Colonial (1600-1775)
[2] Federal (1775-1825)
[3] Mid-19th Century (1825-1875)
[4] Late 19th Century (1875-1900)

This book is more than just pictures of antique jewelry Ms. Fales looks at trends of the country and how the jewelers and jewelry stores evolved. That is how we will learn and be better prepared for the future by recognizing how trends in the country affect trends in the jewelry and the industry.

Confucius states it best, ‘Study the past if you would define the future’. Why use a quote by a Chinese scholar that lived long before the time America was founded? Because the beginning of this story starts in another country, long before America became a country of their own…

In the beginning
History tells of the Pilgrims that came over from England to worship without persecution, but traveling to a new world was typically for trade or war over resources. In 1608 John Smith was with a crew to look for new resources. Settling in what is now Virginia, Captain Smith thought practically about creating an environment for survival not treasure hunting. Reading Fales stories about Smith reminded me of the 1995 Disney movie Pocahontas. So much of that movie was inaccurate but some of the plot was following history, the villain and leader of the crew, Governor Ratcliffe, is in a mad fever to find lots of gold, but the men have no real experience with it, they are hunters and builders not goldsmiths. But that doesn’t stop Governor Ratcliffe from having the crew devote their time to digging.

Disney Pocahontas scene: Governor Ratcliffe has crew dig for gold

Well in real life goldsmiths were sent over with Smith’s crew due to the false hope of their being large amounts of gold found. In fact, the crew included two goldsmiths, two refiners and a jeweler, none of which could practice their craft in the new world. What happened when there are no materials and few customers? The jeweler returned home to England.

Realistically, the crew needed to hunt and settle the land (build shelter, etc) to survive. Like Smith was doing in the movie as he surveyed the land.

Disney Pocahontas scene: John Smith explores new world

Had to sneak of photo Disney’s John Smith in!

Once more colonists settle trade picked up but the role of the jeweler was much different than it is today.

What was happening in this period?
• People were settling in America
• English influence
• Low morality rate

I mention the top two points in my story above but to touch on the last point, with this new land came disease and poor conditions of living that lead to deaths at an early age than we have now. Death was a major part of colonial life a fact that the people embraced and accepted as best they could.

How did these events affect jewelry trends?
As people came to America and started a new life they bought some jewelry with them but the trend in this era was simple jewelry. Colonists did not have a major need for extravagant jewels when they are doing daily chores. Also, many of these colonists had religious influence that did not put a lot of value on jewelry.

With the English being the ones who lead the start of the colonies in America, England held a major influence over the jewelry brought into the country. Colonists had their jewels brought from England and imported jewelry for buying. Jewelry was also still primarily for nobility and the rich. In addition, the trend until the late 17th century was that men wore far more jewels than women. Signet rings, buckles, buttons, etc. all sparkled on men with a high status.

With a low morality rate, memorial jewelry was a major trend. Lockets, rings, cameos, anything to mark the remembrance for those that had passed.

What gemstones were popular at the time?

Cannot fit all the jewelry I’d like to in this post but a great example of garnet jewelry from the time with a famous owner. This necklace was owned by Martha Washington, America’s First, First Lady. Order from London (no surprise there) by her husband George in 1759. Photo courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies Association, Virginia.

What was the role of the jeweler and jewelry store at the time?
Neither really existed at the time. There were not dedicated jewelers or jewelry stores. Silversmiths/goldsmiths doubled as jewelers and sold some wares in their shops. Not much was made with limited materials, skills and customers. Those that could afford the good jewelry bought from England, the most trusted source of jewelry at the time. England also had higher taxes on imports from other countries so English jewelry was what was most commonly sold.

I personally loved reading about a famous American patriot, silversmith and budding jeweler. Paul Revere was a Bostonian that has several silver pieces in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston as well as a ring I got to see on a trip there last winter.

There were a lot of years in this period but not too much happening in the world of jewelry in America. Next, I will look at the Federal Era and America’s freedom from England and how that made great changes for the jeweler and the stores! Sign up for emails and return for more Data in the Rough!

Revival Jewelry: Highlights from the Boston Exhibit

Spring will be here next month but while the weather is still deciding to go back to winter or move forward to warmer weather you can take in a new jewelry exhibit that has come to Boston. This new exhibit is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I signed up for a lecture last week to coincide with the new exhibit. The new exhibit is on revival jewelry. I was telling my dad about the lecture and the new exhibit when he asked ‘what is revival jewelry?’ My short answer was that is jewelry that is copied or inspired by jewelry from the past. Revival jewelry has a lot more history to it. I want to show highlights of the exhibit and hopefully give more detailed examples of what is revival jewelry is.

What is Revival Jewelry?

With images of the past readily available to artists, they can draw inspiration from the history, art and ideas to guide their current designs. Sometimes it is subtle and in other cases it is a copy of the technique.  This trend started in the early 1900s.

Revival Jewelry to connect with the past

Lots of exciting discoveries and inventions were made in this time but one discovery excited the early 19th century and that was the discovery of the Egyptian rulers’ tombs. Scarabs, hieroglyphics, golden gods were a few of the things that fascinated the British explorers and the public as they learned more about this exciting chapter in history.

The top item in the picture below, is a scarab from Egypt created around 740-660 BC. Beneath that is a brooch made of Gold, platinum, faience, diamond, emerald, smoky quartz and enamel by Cartier in 1924. Detailed view to the right.

To connect with a feeling

Nationalism

Revival jewelry was being made for the patriotic wave that swept over Europe in the 19th century cameos of Queen Elizabeth I were reemerging as a tribute to the current strong female monarch ruling Britain, Queen Victoria. The one featured as an example in the museum is below.  This cameo necklace was made around 1890 and made with gold, silver, diamonds, pearls, emeralds, agate, and glass.

Vacations

Different parts of the world are known for different styles and techniques in jewelry. Coral was a souvenir from Naples, micro mosaics were associated with Rome. Recall any trips where you have bought jewelry because it was inspired by images or techniques of the past?

Revival Jewelry to master old world techniques

Sometimes the best way to learn is recreating the art itself. Some of the techniques featured at the exhibit were:

Enameling

This pendant was a favorite of mine from this group. It is titled Girl Blowing Bubbles, circa 1910 made by a designer from Spain of gold, platinum, pearl, ivory, sapphire, diamond and plique-a-jour enamel.

Granulation

This is technique uses small balls of gold to add texture to the designs.

These gold earrings were made around 1870-1880 by Italian Designer Castellani. Look at the bottom part and see all those dots, each separate when added.

A more current artist, Italian born Andrea Cagnetti created this Chort pendant in 2002. This is 22 karat gold!

Revival Jewelry to recreate familiar creatures

Stories and lore of the past have captivated many throughout history but there are creatures that keep drawing mystery and inspiration to artists trying to say what it is that fascinates them with a certain subject like…

Snakes

As early as the beginning of creation these creatures continue to mesmerize people all over the world.

An amulet with a vulture-headed snake made in Egypt around 664-525 BC.

Snake belt by Elsa Peretti, 1970s made of silver and sapphires.

One of my favorite ways the snake is interpreted is by Bulgari. This diamond, gold, platinum, ruby, enamel watch created in the 1960s was one of the highlights for me of the exhibit!

Medusa

This was another theme that had my personal favorite piece. The Head of Medusa pendant created by Cartier in 1906! The materials are platinum, gold, diamonds, natural pearl coral and enamel.

There were many other pieces, cameos, crosses, coins, but these were some highlights to give you a better understanding of the different types of revival jewelry. What is your favorite era? A piece above that you really liked? If you are in the Boston area between now and August 2018 you should make plans to see Past is Present: Revival Jewelry!

Marie Antoinette: How a Diamond Necklace Ruined a Queen

book-cover

Marie Antoinette has been described as a beautiful, witty, wasteful, out of touch, the list can go but in How to Ruin a Queen by Jonathan Beckman, he describes a view of the Queen I never saw her as, clueless. Beckman details and pieces together the history of Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair as though you are part of the jury. He presents the different angles of the story that seem like unrelated events but combined created an unbelievable domino effect that lead to the end of the French monarchy.  There were three key parts that created this incredible story. The first transports you to 18th century France where you learn about a little girl named Jeanne whose father was the illegitimate son of priapic Henri II. Henri II was a king who ruled France from 1547 to 1559.  The family lost their right to reign in 1562 and the France was filled with uncertain times as the War of Religions took over the country.

Thankfully the family did not try and put Jeanne’s father in power, he was lazy and squandered his money. He married a beautiful maid that worked at his family’s home when she became pregnant. This woman was Jeanne’s mother and wanted to live an entitled life. This was not to be the family was broke and Jeanne and her siblings spent their early life begging and being beat by their mother. Jeanne’s father died and not long after Jeanne’s mother left her children, Jeanne age 6, to fend on their own.

Jeanne found a couple with children who took Jeanne and her younger sister in. The family tried to teach Jeanne a trade so she could make a modest living but that did not satisfy the wants of a girl who remembered her father’s tales of being a descendant of a King of France. Jeanne thought marriage would be a good escape except she got pregnant by a man with no fortune and little promise of moving up in his situation. The children died at birth and Jeanne was left with a husband she did not care for or would provide her the lifestyle she wanted. Both her and her spouse spent money quicker than they could make it and were always in debt to someone.

It did not seem that their future held any promise of living with little care of money.

The second part was Cardinal Rohan; he had come from a long line of family members whom had held high offices in the Royal Court. The role of Bishop for the French Court was the job Rohan was striving for. His downfall was he loved the excitement of court and got caught up in the gossip. He was working in the Austrian court when he overstepped his bounds and spoke rudely of Empress Maria Theresa. Her daughter, Marie Antoinette never forgot the slight and embarrassment to her mother. She held a grudge against Rohan from then on. That episode occurred around 1772.

The third part, the makers of the necklace. Louis the XV, Louis the XIV’s (the Sun King) son, wanted to have a special gift made for his long-time mistress Madame du Barry. Louis XV wanted Boehmer and Bassenge, a Parisian jewelry company to create a necklace so grand the likes had never been seen before. They took to the task of collecting the diamonds for a necklace named ‘The Necklace of Slavery’.

Sketch of Diamond Necklace
Sketch of Diamond Necklace

 

It had 647 stones and weighed 2800 carats. The streamers to the side went down the wears back to balance them out, so they would not fall forward! The cost today for this necklace would be around $14 million dollars. Unfortunately, Louis XV died two years later and Madame du Barry was banished from court. Louis XVI offered to buy the necklace for his wife and Queen Marie Antoinette but she refused it. From other sources the reasons were the money should go to other parts of the government/country. Another was she did not want jewelry made for another woman and a woman the current Queen did not like. So the jewelers were stuck with a necklace and no buyers.

Replica of Diamond Necklace
Replica of Diamond Necklace

This is where the stories intertwine, Jeanne wants money and feels entitled to have her share of prestige that was denied her due to her past. She lies about knowing the Queen. Rohan is desperate to get back into the Queen’s favor for his promotion that the possibility that this woman could help was an opportunity that he could not walk away from. The jewelers heard of Jeanne’s connection and got an opportunity to see if she could convince the Queen to rethink buying the necklace.

Jeanne gets her hands on the necklace and she and her husband try to pawn off a few stones at a time. They are not too successful and time is running out to keep fooling the jewelers that the Queen owns the necklace and will pay for it soon. When the news reaches the Queen about the necklace and its payment the King has Jeanne and Rohan arrested and a trial take place about all the secrets. One interesting idea that was mentioned was that the Queen would never have wanted that necklace, not because of the previously mentioned reasons but because it wasn’t her style. She was mentioned to like leaving her graceful neck free of adornment.

I looked up some photos to see about her taste in jewelry.

marie-antoinette-portraits

Other evidence is put out there but that was something I had not thought could be a major insight into Marie’s style.  What do you think a good point or not?

I won’t go on with how it ends for the major players but obviously, it tarnished Antoinette’s already fragile reputation. The trail started in August of 1785 and judgement was passed in May of 1786. For those that know important dates in 1791 the French Revolution, ended the monarchies major influence and in 1792 the family was arrested with Marie Antoinette being beheaded on October 16, 1793.

Today though is Marie Antoinette’s birthday, born November 2, 1755. The book had a statement that seemed fitting when looking at the lives of those involved in this scandal, either knowingly or unknowingly. You are never more unwittingly in peril than when you think you’re the author of your own fate, but are in fact a character in someone else’s plot. Something to think about in our own lives.

ma_2_photo
painting of Marie Antoinette

I’d love to know your thought on this piece of history! Have you read the book or seen any of the movies that mentioned the necklace? Hilary Swank starred in a movie based on the scandal, The Affair of the Necklace (2001), did you see it? I hope you enjoyed this post return soon for more Data in the Rough!

Opals: A Time When They Were Cursed

It’s October! A time for Fall Festivals, Daylight Savings Time, and October Birthdays! Oh and of course Halloween! Being in the New England area you cannot escape this holiday, not that I want to. Part of the fun of Halloween is the spooky stories. So I thought for this post I would look at the time opals were considered bad luck.  Opals are referenced in many cultures, aborigines believed opals were the ‘creator’s footprint that touched the earth at the base of a rainbow to bring harmony.’ Which is similar to an Arabic legend stating opals fall ‘from the heavens in flashes of lightning.’ Whatever way you describe them the flashes of color are undeniably breathtaking. It’s hard to think anyone could see these stones as bad luck.

dragon-opal

The bad luck started in 1829 after a popular novel written by Walter Scott, Anne of Geuerstein, made this reference to opals. The plot entailed, ‘Lady Hermione, who is falsely accused of being a demoness, and dies shortly after a drop of holy water accidentally falls on her opal and destroys its color.’ I see this as fiction and not to be interpreted literally but the public at the time viewed this story differently. The way the public interpreted the text, ‘to mean that this genius author was warning of the bad luck an opal can bring, so they stopped buying the beautiful gemstone.’ You read that correctly, the public stopped buying opals and the opal market plummeted 50% within a few months of the novel’s publication. The market stayed down almost 50 years.

What brought opals back in fashion? A celebrity endorsement, by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Prince Albert was fond of opals and had jewelry for his Queen made with several.

the_secret_of_englands_greatness
Painting of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the Queen is wearing an opal tiara in this picture

One notable one was the Oriental Circlet a tiara made in 1853 by Garrard and designed by Albert. The Queen’s daughter-in-law had many of the opal jewelry switched out with rubies but I have photo shopped some opals in to recreate this tiara to its former beauty.

albert-opal-tiara

The tiara as it is now with rubies. From my research it seems Alexandra was a bit of a believer in the opal superstitions, or didn’t want to take any chances.

albert-ruby-tiara

Which do you like better the rubies or the opals?

Prince Albert’s love of opals was not enough to shake the curse, Queen Victoria who openly thought this superstition nonsense bought opal jewelry for her daughters as wedding gifts. This was a major sign of approval. Buying a wedding gift must be thoughtfully picked and there are plenty of superstitions associated with being married. This gesture made it clear if it was good enough for the Queen and her family then there was reason anyone else could give to counter that. This seemed to put opals back in fashion and have remained sought after gems ever since. Below is a pair of gemstone earrings owned by Queen Victoria that have some white opals included.

victoria_opal_earrings

Do you have any jewelry that you felt held a strange power or had occurrences that you couldn’t explain? Had you heard the superstition that opals were bad luck? Do you own any opals? I have seen plenty at the auctions and they aren’t cursed enough for them not to get a decent bid! Below are a few I’ve enjoyed viewing. Hope you enjoyed the article and come back for more treats from Data in the Rough!

opals-at-auction