Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Baubles, Bangles And Beads

The British Imperial State Crown, containing the 317.4-carat Cullinan
Diamonds were initially prized more for their magical powers than for their beauty, and worn as talismans rather than as objects of personal adornment. It took over five centuries for them to achieve their present preeminent status in jewelry. The process was a gradual one, moving through four stages.

The first stage came about in the second half of the fifteenth century when the art of cutting and polishing diamonds began to develop in Europe. The art was already well known in India, but it was not until 1476 that it began to make great strides in Europe under the leadership of Louis de Berquen of Bruges. But although de Berquen is popularly credited with being the father of the diamond-cutting industry, the results of his endeavors and those of his pupils were still rudely fashioned stones. There was as yet little understanding of the optical properties of the diamond, and the stones lacked fire and brilliance. 

Nevertheless diamonds were growing increasingly popular in court circles, particularly in France. They enjoyed a great vogue at the court of King Charles VII whose mistress, Agnes Sorel, encouraged the celebrated French merchant adventurer, Jacques Coeur, to import them from India. She is generally regarded as the first woman to popularize the wearing of diamond jewelry.

 A diamond and sapphire necklace from a suite that once belonged to the Empress Marie Louise, second wife of Napoleon. After the exile of Napoleon, the empress returned to Vienna and the jewelry remained in the possession of the Austrian royal family. The whole collection including this necklace was buried in 7945 to save it from the Russian occupying forces.
It was Cardinal Mazarin of France in about 1640 who launched the second stage. A greatlover of diamonds, he sponsored experiments by the Paris lapidaries who used various combinations of facets to discover how to produce the most brilliant result. They re-solved upon a pattern not too far removed from the modern brilliant but with only thirty-four facets, seventeen above the girdle and seventeen below. Inevitably, it was called the Mazarin cut. The cardinal is also reputed to have encouraged the development of the rose cut into forms of much greater brilliance.

The immediate effect of these experiments was a dramatic boost in the appeal of diamonds over the colored precious stones that were formerly in favor. No longer were diamonds simply colorless gems desired more for their rarity than their beauty, to be set in gold and enamel and surrounded by rubies and emeralds. They were now brilliant in their own right and could dispense with such settings. A further filip to the popularity of diamonds was given toward the end of the century by the Venetian cutter Peruzzi. He developed a fifty-eight facet cut which is widely regarded as the predecessor of the modern brilliant.  

The Star of South Africa.By the turn of the century, diamonds had become firmly established in the world of jewelry, but because of their comparative rarity they were still not greatly used outside the circles of the rich and famous. It was the diamond discoveries in Brazil in 1725 that totally changed the supply picture and initiated the third stage. For a time the European market was literally flooded with diamonds and they became the stock in trade of every jeweler, much more so than any other stone had ever been. They were used for every conceivable item of jewelry, as well as for objects like snuff boxes or miniature portrait frames. 

But the enormous popularity that they enjoyed during the reign of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette was partially responsible for their eclipse during the final decade of the eighteenth century. The wearing of not only diamonds but almost any form of jewelry was to risk being identified with the luxury and idleness of the ancien regime, a link that could have had fatal consequences during the years of the Terror.

The seizure of power by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799 restored order and stability to France and the establishment of his imperial court in 1804 provoked a love of display almost as great as that which dominated the court of his unfortunate predecessor. Indeed, the passion of the Empress Josephine for diamonds rivaled that of Marie Antoinette. It was she who started the fashion for diadems or tiaras which was taken up so enthusiastic-ally during the final quarter of the century by the "queens" of American society. 

The collapse of the First Empire in 1814 brought a renewed period of austerity to France and even when interest in jewelry reawakened with the return of the Bourbons, the vogue was for the colored stones and enamels of Gothic and Renaissance art. Diamonds had to wait for the accession of Napoleon III and Eugenie in 1852 for their return to favor.

Earring with a rare blue 6.61-carat diamond suspended from a cluster of white navettesIn nineteenth-century England diamonds were much in demand. The young Queen Victoria was a great lover of jewelry and diamonds in particular, and the new rich of Britain's industrial society were quick to follow her lead. The death of the Prince Consort in 1861 was followed by a period of more somber display, but diamonds came back into prominence from the 1870s onward with the discovery of the South African diamond fields.

The South African fields were the richest source of diamonds ever known, but since their discovery coincided with the United States' meteoric rise to wealth and power, the diamonds did not swamp the market as the stones of the first Brazilian finds had done. A whole new market had opened up which, together with the demand from Europe, was capable of absorbing as much as the mines could produce. This was the fourth and final stage in the diamond's rise to become the world's premier gemstone. 

Adequate supply matched by permanent demand, coupled with the almost infinite variety of sizes, shapes and quality meant that the jewelers of the world could use diamonds in any piece of jewelry they produced, from the most in-expensive to the almost priceless. Diamonds had, in fact, become the gem of the people in a way that Marat and Robespierre would never have believed possible.

Watch by Andrew Grima, with a jagged "glass" of tourmeline quartz and pave set with diamonds
This new era in the world of jewelry received a tremendous boost from the rise of the motion picture industry, which created a totally new category of the rich and famous that people could identify with. Queens and princesses and society millionairesses had been in a world apart, but the new screen goddesses were not. The lives of many of them had been a "rags to riches" story and they often played exactly the same part on the screen, thus becoming a symbol of the limitless possibilities inherent in a democratic and affluent society. They were not hated or envied. As a result they were imitated in an unprecedented way. 

Their dress, their hair-styles, their make-up and their jewelry set the fashion for the country and for the world. The history of diamonds in jewelry, especially over the past century, has been very much bound up with the history of the great jewelry houses. Today their names are synonymous with fine diamonds; and if diamonds are the stock-in-trade of jewelers the world over, to some they are much more than that. To Tiffany's, Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, to mention only a handful of the great names, diamonds are part of their history.

Ring by Andrew Grima; a 55.61- carat pear-shaped diamond set in platinum, with a ribbon of baguettes.
Although Tiffany's started life in the midst of the recession year 1837 as a "stationery and fancy goods store," it was an instant success; and as New York society recovered from the slump, the founder Charles Tiffany rapidly increased the variety and improved the quality of his merchandise. Always keen to seek out the latest novelties, wherever they might be found, in 1841 he imported a range of paste jewelry from Paris which the ladies of New York were soon falling over themselves to buy. The success of this line prompted Charles Tiffany to go for the "real thing," and from 1845 onward the store sold only diamonds and ceased to stock paste.

Writer – George G. Blakey
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