The A-Z of Jewelry: P is for... Parure

Continuing our series exploring the history of jewelry trends, Sarah Jordan looks at the parure.

F or centuries, jewelry has been worn not only for adornment, but as a sparkling reflection of social class, taste and exorbitant wealth. From the Maharajas of India to the royal courts of Europe, some of the finest examples of jewelry are those that work together, with many complementary pieces forming one dazzling picture. A parure, which literally means ‘set’ in French, is the formal name given to a suite of jewelry, usually a combination of a matching necklace, earrings, brooch and bracelet (although a diadem and other accessories can also be included).

Parures rose to popularity in Europe in the 17th century, especially among royal courtiers. Due to their high-cost and the fierce competition to secure the best designer-makers, parures tended to be transformable and easily-adaptable. As pendants morphed into brooches and bracelets became hair ornaments, the parure began to symbolise trend-setting newness, something which was almost certainly enhanced by the advent of cheaper paste or hand-cut glass jewelry that offered the latest looks for a lower price.

By the 18th century, parures were an even grander affair, often incorporating shoulder adornments, shoe buckles, jeweled sword hilts and chatelaines. Towards the end of the century and into the early 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte gifted his first and second wives with elaborate parures, thought to have been designed by famed jewelers Marie-Étienne Nitot and Christophe-Frédéric Bapst. Few of these exceptional jewels have survived intact, although the Leuchtenberg sapphire parure, designed by Nitot and owned today by the Swedish royal family, is a remarkable example. It originally consisted of a tiara, necklace, brooch, a pair of earrings and four hair pins, although the original earrings were sadly lost.

A more contemporary example is the diamond and aquamarine parure (necklace, earrings, a bracelet and a brooch) gifted to Queen Elizabeth II by the Brazilian government. Although pieces were presented to Her Majesty at different times throughout the 20th century, they are designed to be worn together.

A simpler variation of the parure is the demi-parure, so-called because it includes fewer matching pieces. The term is used broadly, sometimes for as little as two matching pieces or occasionally for any suite of jewels that doesn’t include a tiara.

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