LONDON - In their second blog highlighting jewels from their recent book, Celebrating Jewellery, Exceptional Jewels of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Daniela Mascetti and David Bennett choose five pieces from the first chapter, ‘The Nineteenth Century and Earlier.’

The 19th century saw a complete upheaval in political, social and cultural traditions and the jewellery of the time reflected these changes. The growth of Empire led to greater access to rare stones and metals, while an emerging middle class, and new manufacturing processes created a new market for jewellery. The taste for Romanticism was captured in naturalistic designs, and a renewed interest for the middle ages-inspired historic revival jewellery. Archaeological discoveries, exploration, and increased contact between the east and west fueled a passion for exotic and brightly coloured pieces.  

An English diamond tiara, First quarter of the nineteenth century.

This fascinating diamond tiara from the collection of Christian Lady Hesketh celebrates the Act of Union in 1801 which united Great Britain and Ireland, in its use of the emblems of the rose, the thistle and the shamrock – for England, Scotland and Ireland respectively. This important historic event for the United Kingdom inspired a number of jewels, most noticeably perhaps the pearl and diamond circlet worn by King George IV at his coronation in 1820. This tiara also shows how jewellery of this period was often multi-purpose. In this case the five diamond-set motifs can be detached from the mount and worn separately as brooches.

A carved onyx portrait cameo habillé of Napoleon by Nicola Morelli.  
This portrait cameo of Napoleon by Nicola Morelli expresses the essence of Empire and temporal power; yet a carved lapis plaque set in the back applied with a chased gold eagle holding a thunderbolt in its claws is a reference to an even higher authority: Jupiter. The turn of the nineteenth century saw the high point of portrait cameo production, mainly as a result of the prodigious talents of Italian gem engravers such as Morelli and Girometti. Napoleon was particularly fascinated by the glyptic art and opened a school in Paris modelled on that in Rome. The bulk of portrait engravings were of course commissioned for purposes of State throughout Europe, but, by the mid nineteenth century, tourism had become a major support for the industry as well.

A rare peridot and diamond parure dating from the early nineteenth century attributed to Koechert of Vienna.

This peridot and diamond parure was made for Archduchess Henriette of Austria, née Princess of Nassau-Weilburg for her wedding in 1815. The sheer scale of this suite of jewellery is astonishing, and even in the opulent surroundings of the court of Archduke Karl of Austria it would have caused a sensation. Peridots of this size are extremely unusual, especially when they are of fine colour, deep saturation and good purity as is the case here. These examples would probably have been mined either in Brazil or, more likely, the legendary Island of St John (or Zeberged) off the west coast of the Red Sea – the source mentioned by Pliny and which later fell under the control of the Khedive of Egypt.
Butterfly and moth brooches from the end of the nineteenth century.
The sapphire and diamond example came from a British noble family, whereas the
more flamboyant, and slightly later, multi-coloured brooches (bottom), set with
opals, emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds, came from the Spanish collection
of the 18th Duke of Plasencia. The two enamelled examples (top) are by Carlo
Giuliano, the great Italian Revivalist jeweller who had established himself in
London in the last third of the nineteenth century. Butterfly brooches were popular,
especially in England, from the 1860s and remained a staple of the jewellers’
repertoire until the First World War. These brooches are from the best period.