Although mourning jewelry is typically associated with Victorian fashion, mourning jewelry dates back to at least the 15th century when miniature portraits (which were often worn as jewelry) gained popularity among European monarchy. In fact, the miniature portraits famously featured in Victorian mourning and sentimental jewelry is the product of centuries of development.
Miniature portraits on display at the National Museum in Warsaw.
The Origin of Miniature Portrait Jewelry
Mourning jewelry expert Hayden Peters argues that miniature portraits have their roots in the introduction of the printing press. “Miniature” stems from the Latin miniare, or “to color with red lead.” During the 15th century (and for some time before), hand-printed books often featured red capital letters (these books are also known as illuminated manuscripts).
By the 1460s, however, these handmade books faced competition from books created with the printing press. Although there continued to be hand-illustrated books, some illustrators turned their attention to creating miniature portraits.
By the 1520s, miniature portraits were popular items in French and English courts. Jean Clouet in France and Lucas Horenbout in England were two early notable miniaturists, creating miniature portraits for jewelry that could be worn around the neck or simply held in the palm of one’s hand. At a certain point, miniature portraits were used to adorn snuff boxes as well.
Portrait of a man against a background of flames by Nicholas Hollard, c. 1600.
Miniature Portrait Symbolism
From roughly 1580 to 1635, miniature portraits were fashionable gifts among society’s elite. They could be given unframed to a loved one, allowing the recipient to select their desired frame. In some areas, they were even the subject of public ceremonies. In addition to serving as memorial pieces, miniatures were of special important to those whose loved ones were required to travel or live far away. For example, a wife may have kept a miniature portrait of her husband while he was away.
Peters points out that the Humanist movement during the Renaissance may have played a role in the popularity of miniatures. Given the renewed focus on the individual (rather than the divine), it’s no wonder that people would want to carry around images of the people they held dear.
Miniature portrait of Charles I.
Miniature portraits also served as an outlet for individuals’ political loyalties. During the reign of Oliver Cromwell, some people carried around mourning portraits of Charles I to show their solidarity with the Crown.
Miniature Portrait Materials and Innovations
Miniature portraits were sometimes as small as 40mm x 30mm. Initially, they involved watercolor painted on stretched vellum. By the second half of the 17th century, most miniatures were created by painting vitreous enamel on copper, a method that was particularly popular in France. By the late 18th century, this method was mostly replaced by watercolor on ivory (ivory had become fairly affordable by this point).
Miniature mourning portrait of a young girl.
The quality of miniature portraits varied, of course, with some featuring exquisite details while others were created from classic templates and adjusted to more closely represent an individual’s features—with varying degrees of accuracy.
With the development of the daguerreotype in the mid-19th century, the popularity of miniature portraits eventually diminished in favor of photographic technology.
Photos: Wikimedia Commons, The Art of Mourning
There are several recommendations when it comes to proper jewelry storage—don’t let pearls get scratched in your jewelry box, keep chains untangled, make sure your finest jewelry is securely locked away (and maybe even insured!)… but we rarely consider the temperature at which our jewelry is stored.
Fortunately, this isn’t really a huge concern unless you live in a particularly warm climate or a climate with wildly fluctuating temps. If you do live in a balmy zone (even if for just part of the year), however, the following are a few things to keep in mind in regards to safe jewelry storage.
If possible, always store your jewelry at room temperature. This means avoiding attic storage if your attic isn’t temperature-controlled. This is especially essential if you’re storing silver—jewelry or dining ware—as warm temps may increase the oxidation rate of silver (that is, how fast it tarnishes). (Rest assured, however, that gold will not be affected by warm temperatures.)
In a warm climate, the temperature isn’t the only element to keep in mind. If your climate is both warm and dry, consider storing solid opals in water to prevent cracking. Opals naturally contain about 5-6% water, and the water used to store them will help prevent the opal from losing its water due to the low humidity. Simply place your opal in a piece of cotton or wool with a few drops of water and then into a zip-locked plastic bag to help retain the moisture. (Learn more about the different kinds of opals here.)
Light is another factor to consider. Gems that have been color-treated are vulnerable to damage (including color alteration) when exposed to UV light for long periods of time. Store them in an opaque box away from heat sources and direct sunlight.
Finally, think about the storage materials themselves. Heat, humidity changes, and direct sunlight can do a number to both unfinished and varnished wood and can even make plastic brittle and faded over time. Remember this if you store your jewelry in an heirloom jewelry box.
What additional tips do you have for best protecting your fine jewelry?
Many of my designs are inspired by the natural world. While I’ve created several pieces using elements directly cast from flowers, buds, twigs, and branches, I decided to go a different direction with these two pairs of earrings. Rather than directly casting budding flowers, these earrings feature stones that recall the delicate beginnings of a flower.
Pearl and Rhodite Garnet Earrings
These earrings were created with cultured pearls, rhodite garnets 18-karat ear wire, and 22-karat hand formed gold blossom caps.
Rose Quartz Earrings
These earrings feature rose quartz with 18-karat ear wires and 22-karat gold caps.
The ever-captivating moonstone has been the subject of lore and fantasy across time and cultures—and it’s no wonder. The natural structure of moonstone beautifully scatters light, recalling the soft and luminous elegance of the moon itself (an effect known as adularescence that looks like a full moon shining through a thin veil of clouds—or moonlight glowing in water). In fact, according to Hindu mythology, moonstones are made of solidified moon beams. Furthermore, the Romans and Greeks associated moonstone with their lunar deities.
Moonstone used to be called “adularia,” a name that originated with a city in Switzerland, Mt. Adular (now St. Gotthard), one of the first sources of fine moonstone.
Like the moon, moonstone is often associated with feminine energy, sensitivity, and intuition. Moonstone has been so deeply associated with femininity that some beliefs connect it to pregnancy and childbirth.
Legends also say that moonstone helps you see the future (especially if the stone is placed in your mouth during a full moon). Other beliefs hold moonstone as a travel talisman, especially for those traveling at sea, a place ruled by the moon itself.
Moonstone Necklace Featuring Assorted Gems
In the tradition of crystal healing, moonstone is believed to aid the pituitary gland and the digestive system while reducing water retention and obesity. It’s also used to calm responses to stress and help its users avoid over-reacting to stressful moments.
Teardrop Moonstone Necklace
Moonstone has also been featured in art throughout the ages. Artisans of the late nineteenth-century Arts and Crafts movement featured moonstone in handcrafted silver items, and later, René Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany of the Art Nouveau era used moonstone in their jewelry. Moonstone found contemporary appeal with the “flower children” of the 1960s who sought an ethereal look. New Age artists of the 1990s also turned to moonstone inspiration.
Pocket watch by Rene Lalique (1860-1945), Ca. 1899-1900. Gold, enamel, moonstone.
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A stone with one of the richest histories in all of gem lore, the emerald continues to captivate and enchant jewelry lovers with its incomparable green hue. Because deep green emeralds with high clarity are quite rare (and incredibly valuable), the stone is often heat treated to enhance its natural color and improve its clarity. Emeralds are a variety of beryl—a mineral that grows with six sides and may grow up to a foot tall.
Gemologists consider emerald to be one of the oldest mined stones with evidence indicating that it was mined in Egypt as early as 330 B.C.E.—yet some estimates suggest that the oldest emerald stones may be up to 2.97 billion years old!
The name “emerald” comes from the Greek “smaragdus,” meaning green. Emeralds have been found in Columbia, Brazil, AfghanColombiaambia, and Egypt. The Egyptians featured emerald in their jewelry and burial rituals. Believed to be a symbol of protection, emeralds were often buried with monarchs. The stone was so greatly valued by Egyptians that Cleopatra claimed ownership of all emerald mines during her reign.
Roman scholar Pliny the Elder is credited with the following statement about the beautiful green stone: "Indeed, no stone has a color that is more delightful to the eye, for, whereas the sight fixes itself with avidity upon the green grass and the foliage of the trees, we have all the more pleasure in looking upon the emerald, there being no gem in existence more intense than this.” Meanwhile, it’s believed that Roman emperor Nero would watch the gladiator games through thin, flat emeralds.
The Muzo tribe of Columbia had such well-hidden emerald mines that it took the Spanish conquistadors nearly twenty years to discover them. Indeed, the violent conflicts between natives of present-day South America and European colonists shadow the history of emerald acquisition (usually on behalf of royalty) in Western European countries.
Gold, set with table-cut emeralds, and hung with an emerald drop from Colombia, currently exhibited at Victoria and Albert Museum.
In addition to being seen as a protective force, over the centuries, emeralds have also been credited with the ability to cure stomach problems, control epilepsy, stop bleeding, and ward off panic and anxiety. Some cultures even believed that emeralds granted the owner foresight—when the emerald was placed under the tongue!
Emerald is still celebrated as a symbol of rebirth, new beginnings, loyalty, and security—making it a perfect birthstone for the lush month of May. This lovely stone also serves as a gift for 20th and 35th wedding anniversaries.
Hooker Emerald Brooch, 1950. A beveled square-cut emerald in a platinum setting, surrounded by 109 round and 20 baguette-cut diamonds.
Are you a fan of emeralds?
Photos: Wikimedia Commons
The best part of owning jewelry, of course, is wearing it! But we can’t wear all of our jewelry all of the time. Artistically organizing and displaying our jewelry is a great way to enjoy the jewelry we’re not wearing at the moment, add a splash of beauty to our living space—and show off our impeccable tastes in the process.
We recommend displaying your more casual jewelry or jewelry that could easily be replaced. For truly valuable pieces, it’s better to store them somewhere safer where they will be protected from gathering dust and getting lost in the shuffle of things.
Display your favorite rings in a pretty dish.
Tip: In some cases, less is more. Too much jewelry in one dish defeats the purpose of displaying your jewelry.
Tip: Scour thrift stores and antique markets for vintage busts and designer forms. These pieces can "wear" and show off your jewelry when you're not!
Go for a modern, minimalist approach with this DIY Mountain Necklace Display featured on The Merrythought.
Tip: Unfinished wood can make a beautiful, refreshing statement.
Try this Delicate Necklace Solution from Cupcakes and Cashmere.
Tip: If you're going to pin your jewelry to a wall or board, opt for delicate pins in gold, silver, or white.
What are your favorite ways to organize and display your jewelry?
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Photos: Cupcakes and Cashmere, I Heart Organizing, Crafts Unleashed, The Everygirl, The Merrythought
Enamel in jewelry and decorative work goes by a few names—vitreous enamel, porcelain enamel, and painted glass. The word enamel comes from the Old High German word smelzan, which means to smelt.
Enamel jewelry can feature several vivid hues.
In jewelry, enamel is a decorate coating applied to metal. It begins as a powder with a texture similar to that of baby powder. It’s fused to metals using high temperatures (1,380-1,560°F). Although enamel powder comes in different colors, the initial colors of the powder do not ultimately represent the vivid colors resulting from the high-temperature fusion process.
The temperature of the fusion process as well as the metal oxides content of the enamel determine the resulting color’s intensity as well as its transparency. Generally speaking, higher temperatures yield more durable, translucent enamel while lower temps yield softer, more opaque enamel, which is more vulnerable to damage.
Enamel jewelry is made using fine, colored powder.
The Origins of Enamel Jewelry
Enamel design can be traced back to the ancient Persians who called the art meenakari. The ancient Egyptians also practiced enamel work on stone objects and pottery—and less frequently on jewelry.
Chinese cloisonné wine pot, circa 18th century.
The art of enameling seemed to know no geographic bounds and spread to China, Rome, Greek, Celtic territories, and the Byzantine Empire. Each culture brought its own style to the art. The Chinese, for example, perfected the cloisonné technique. Cloisonné is also known as the "cell technique." Wires are adhered to a surface in a desired pattern; the artist then fills the spaces created by the wire with enamel.
A Fabergé egg.
More recently, enamel jewelry gained popularity during the Art Nouveau era in art and design in Europe and the United States (1890-1910). Artists like Peter Carl Fabergé specialized in bibelots (baubles), like the elaborate enamel egg pictured above. Other artists, like George Stubbs, used enamel to create portrait miniatures. This period was an especially ripe time for jewelry making and design in part because enameling allowed artists like René Lalique and Eugéne Feuillâtre to create intricate, nature-inspired jewelry. Enamel also offered a way to feature vibrant color in jewelry without the use of precious stones.
Common Design Styles in Enamel Jewelry
There are several design styles in enamel jewelry (including cloisonné, mentioned above). The following are just three that you may come across.
A stunning and delicate plique à jour creation by René Lalique.
Plique à Jour. French for “glimpse of day,” this style was popularized by French enamelists René Lalique and Eugéne Feuillâtre. In this style, vivid, fairly translucent enamel is suspended between gold or silver wires without any backing. The light shines through the enamel, creating a beautiful stained-glass effect.
A contemporary example of champlené enameling.
Champlené. French for “raised field,” in this style, the jeweler creates a depression in the metal (by cutting, hammering, or stamping the metal). They then fill the depressions with enamel, layering the the enamel until it reaches the height of the surrounding metal, creating a mostly smooth surface.
The baise taille technique allows enamelists to create nuanced texture in the smallest of pieces.
Baise Taille. French for “low cut,” this style features a pattern created in the metal over which enamel is applied. The pattern shows through the glass for a unique texture.
Caring for Enamel Jewelry
To clean enamel jewelry, soak the piece in warm, soapy water for five to ten minutes. Use a soft cloth to remove noticeable bits of dirt. Rinse the piece and dry it with a lint-free cloth.
If your enamel jewelry is damaged, please take it to a jewelry or artist who specializing in enamel. Repairing antique enamel is an especially delicate process since using high temperatures to fuse new enamel may negatively affect the older enamel on the piece.
Are you a lover of enamel jewelry? What's your favorite style?
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