Among the state, splendour, and brilliant displays of wealth and taste at the coronation of the Emperor of Russia, at Moscow, will doubtless be remembered the celebrated suite of jewels worn by the Countess Granville, and known as 'the Devonshire Gems'. The collection is the property of the Duke of Devonshire, who intrusted the gems to Mr. C.F. Hancock, of Bruton Street, to be set en suite as ornaments to be worn upon the above memorable occasion by his Grace's noble relative. Mr. Hancock has accomplished his tasteful work with great success.
The difficulty in arranging the gems in such a manner as to bring out their peculiar beauties and render them the principal objects in the ornamental suite, and at the same time to avoid the heaviness which might be produced from the darkness and opacity of many of them has been surmounted; and the result has been their disposal in seven ornaments viz. a Diadem, a Coronet, a Stomacher, a jewelled Bandeau, a Necklace, a Comb and a Bracelet each of which is in itself matchless; while united they display a concentration of elegance the superiority of which will be apparent to everybody in any degree acquainted with the fine arts, and with the progess of the manufacture of the precious metals in the hands of the best artists.
In the summer of 1856 Earl Granville, nephew of the sixth Duke of Devonshire, set out with his wife Marie on the long journey to Moscow, where they arrived in mid-August. Lord Granville had been appointed to represent the Queen at the coronation of Alexander II, Tsar of Russia. They installed themselves in the Graziano Palace and prepared to join in the month-long celebrations surrounding this event of Byzantine splendour. In their baggage, along with valuable pieces of plate also lent by the Duke of Devonshire, was the fabulous parure described above. Of enameled gold set with large diamonds and incorporating 88 engraved gems from the historic Devonshire collection, this suite of ornaments furnished Lady Granville with jewelry of almost royal grandeur to wear in her role as consort to the British Ambassador.
The Duke himself had attended the coronation of the previous Tsar, Nicholas!, in 1825, in a similar capacity, and was thus well able to advise his nephew on the necessary preparations for his embassy.
The Russian love of jewelry and precious stones was famous and in order to match the almost barbaric opulence of Russian aristocratic taste this parure in the "Holbeinesque" style was devised. If the collection of antique engraved gems had not been used, the problem of providing the Countess with jewelry would have been formidable. C.F. Hancock was to claim that the idea was his own; the Duke, too, was credited with it. Sir Joseph Paxton, it is said, was instructed to act as intermediary in placing this important commission and it was he who selected Hancock's to carry out the work.
The design for the settings of the gems seems to have been based on the surviving Tudor frame in enameled gold of one of the portrait cameos of Elizabeth I. The authenticity of Hancock's chosen pattern of four-lobed formalized flower-heads outlined in white is confirmed by comparison with a contemporary piece which survives from the Tudor period, the "Gresley" jewel, similarly set with a portrait cameo and enclosing in the reverse two portrait miniatures by Nicholas Hilliard, as did the Devonshire cameo.
The "Gresley" jewel is depicted in a portrait of Catherine Walsingham, once attributed to Holbein (now in Birmingham City Art Gallery). These motifs of three- and four-lobed flower-heads outlined in white derived from the courtly jewels of France and Austria, examples of which, dating from the 1560s, are in the collections of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Of the Devonshire parure the correspondent of the Illustrated London News wrote.
The settings are after the manner of Holbein, they are remarkable for their tracery and the minute delicacy of the component parts, both in design and execution. The successful performance of this most difficult commission has not only established the fact that in this country the arts have of late years attained a state of perfection unsurpassed at any period since the renaissance, but that the workmen employed in connection with them are second to none in any country in the world.
This praise for the workmanship must have gratified Hancock, but in fact the name of the workshop responsible for it is not recorded. Although jewelry accounted for an important part of Hancock's trade, it is unlikely that their own workshop was equipped to carry out this skilled enamel work as well as the very different silvers smithing work for which the firm was principally celebrated.
It has been suggested that the clue to this mystery may lie with C.F. Hancock's marriage, for his wife was a member of the Edington family whose firm, Edington and Staudinger, and were manufacturing goldsmiths and jewelers. Possibly some of the great number of "Holbeinesque" pieces that were made to satisfy the demand created by the remark-able parure can be ascribed to this same firm at least, those supplied to Hancock's themselves.
Ironically the parure itself seems rarely to have been worn. Of the Russian occasions little is recorded. It is said that Lady Granville wore the stomacher for the ball given at the Graziano Palace. The great wonder of the evening, a temporary ball-room improvised by Paxton in a great marquee supplied by Benjamin Edington and shipped out from England, was described by the reporter from the Illustrated London News, but Lady Granville's dress was not mentioned and the jewelry is not recognizable in either the illustration to this report or that in the Russian souvenir album presented to each of the guests.
The parure or rather selected pieces from it, since it is not feasible to wear all seven ornaments together was worn at the inauguration of the New State Supper Room at Buckingham Palace in 1857.
Again we are indebted to the indefatigable correspondent of the Illustrated London News: "At the ball the Countess Granville wore the magnificent parure of the Devon-shire gems which the Duke of Devonshire had arranged by Mr. Hancock expressly for the Countess to wear at the coronation of the Emperor of Russia at Moscow." On its own, however, this would not be enough to explain the rapid spread of the enthusiasm for the "Holbeinesque" style. We learn from a report in the Morning Chronicle (30 April 1857) that the Duke had allowed the suite of jewels to be exhibited (at the Mechanics Institution in Manchester, February to March 1857), thus giving the public an opportunity to see it and Hancock's competitors the means to imitate the enameled settings.
It was to be exhibited thrice more, in 1861 at the Archaeological Institute in London and again in London at the 1862 and 1871 International Exhibitions.
Hancock himself is credited with the decision to lighten the richly coloured gems and their toning settings with the large diamonds that were placed at intervals on all the seven pieces. He feared that the effect would otherwise be too sombre. It is significant that only he among the many exhibitors to display "Holbeinesque" pieces at the 1862 International Exhibition should have shied away from recreating directly the pattern of enamel work used for the Devonshire parure. The bracelet in the "Holbeinesque" style re-creates fairly closely the interlaced work of the parure, but that too is set with gems predominantly, the enamel work being of less importance. He did not resist for long the pressure of fashionable demand and his surviving "Holbeinesque" pieces echo, like those of other firms such as Howell and James, John Brogden and Hunt and Roskell, the enamel work of the parure.
It is possible that Edington was the supplier of "Holbeinesque" pieces to some of these other firms. Brogden was a manufacturing jeweler, not a retailer, and the survival of his design book, with its many versions of "Holbein" pieces, suggests that he was also an important source for these jewels.
It is remarkable that the highly important Devonshire commission should have gone to Hancock's. The firm had been established only six years earlier, and at neither of the two great exhibitions (1851 and 1855) was Hancock's jewelry particularly noticed. The Royal jewelers at this date were Garrards (they still hold this appointment); Robert Phillips had been established for nearly ten years and was beginning to make a considerable reputation; other possible contenders for this valuable commission included Hunt and Roskell, or John Brogden, whose impressive display with his one-time partner Watherston at the 1851 Exhibition in London had attracted favourable attention. Another impressive display in 1851 that of Rowlands and Son of London even included a bracelet in the "Holbein" style.
Charles Frederick Hancock (1807-91) 'opened his own shop at 39 Bruton Street in P: 1849. Until that year he had been a partner in the firm of Hunt and Roskell of 156 New Bond Street, successors to the celebrated Regency firm of Storr and Mortimer. Hunt and Roskell were important rivals to Hancock, particularly in the field of sculptural silverwork, and it is significant that Hancock styled himself a successor to Storr and Mortimer also, presumably a shrewd exercise in commercial credibility.
Possibly the , naming of Queen Adelaide as his patron was related to his claims on these august origins, since the Queen died in the very , year Hancock set up his business and she cannot by that time have had much interest in commissioning jewelry or plate.
A surviving piece from this early date, cased for Hancock, is an example of the "County Cavan" brooch, an archaeological revival jewel by West of Dublin patented in 1849 and a popular exhibit at the 1851 Exhibition. These devices that Hancock employed to set up the business in the early days may not have been necessary.
A man with great entrepreneurial flair, he was clearly destined to succeed in spite of the strengths of his well established rivals. Between 1849 and his retirement in 1869 he managed to entice Royal clients from all over Europe to his shop. The firm's jewel cases proudly list Queen Victoria and the Prince and Princess of Wales on the labels, but the letter and hill headings go much further, listing the crowned heads of nearly all the Western European countries as well as "Their Imperial Majesties" of Russia.
Many of the English aristocratic families patronized Hancock's; Mrs Disraeli, too, was a frequenter of the shop. But Disraeli was not entirely defenseless against the extravagances that he might have suspected Hancock of luring her into. C.F. Hancock is portrayed or rather caricatured as the egregious Mr. Ruby in the novel Lothair (1871), rubbing his hands with glee as he bamboozles the hero into a far greater expenditure than he had intended.
Hancock's own display at the Great Exhibition was concentrated on the firm's specialty, the elaborate silver groups, sculpted by Rafaelle Monti and Henry Hugh Armstead for example, the "Goodwood Cup", a group in silver mounted on an ebony pedestal based on the legend of Robin Hood, and another representing "Guy of Warwick contending with a dragon". Another ambitious production was "The entry of Queen Elizabeth on horseback into Kenilworth Castle". The Queen is accompanied by the Earl of Leicester and a page, with two greyhounds in the foreground. This was modeled by an even more famous sculptor, Baron Marochetti.
In Paris in 1855 Hancock staged a repeat performance with models of Napoleon I crossing the Alps and Napoleon III on horseback; these were modeled by Eugene Lami, a French artist much favoured by the French Imperial couple. The former of these models was commissioned by the Emperor, and the latter subsequently did duty as the "Doncaster Cup".
It was at this point that C.F. Hancock first conceived the idea of mounting the engraved gems from the Devonshire collection as a suite of jewelry. He is said to have approached the Duke with this suggestion and to have been permitted to make a selection from the collection which was shown at the Paris exhibition.
This important display went unremarked by the re-porter from the Illustrated London News, but Hancock's initiative does explain why he was chosen to execute one of the most important jewelry commissions of the 19th century. For Hancock, 1856 was a sort of annus mirabilis: not only did he supply the Devonshire parure, but he was also chosen by Lord Panmure to be responsible for supplying the Victoria Cross for the newly instituted order for gallantry that had initially been ordained by Queen Victoria to reward conspicuous bravery in the Crimean War. The crosses were made of metal from guns captured during the Crimean campaign. The awards in this new order were first presented in June 1857, and the Cross is still supplied by the firm to this day.
In spite of this enormously auspicious beginning, Hancock's, while mounting suitably impressive displays at successive international exhibitions, failed to maintain the momentum of the Devonshire commission. Their trade in jewelry remains something of an enigma, with apparently no surviving marked pieces to give a nucleus of documentary evidence; and the history of their activities in the remaining years of the 19th century has to be put together from contemporary publications.
Catalogues of the international exhibitions reveal that Hancock's continued with the elaborate sculptural silverwork: in 1862 a series of vases dedicated to Shakespeare, Milton and Byron was shown in London to considerable acclaim.
In Paris in 1867 the "Tennyson" vase won a gold medal for the firm; a vase modeled by Raffaele Monti and Owen Jones was bought by Napoleon III. The Emperor also purchased jewelry valued at £1,765.
By this date C.F. Hancock had virtually retired. In 1866 his son Mortimer had joined the business, and when his other son, Charles Frederick, entered the firm in 1869 C.F. Hancock retired completely. It is perhaps to the sons that the emphasis on jewelry in these years is owed.
Hancock's most impressive jewelry display was mounted in 1871, with a glittering show of brilliants, rubies and both black and white pearls contrasting with historical and archaeological revival pieces in the manner of Castellani. Writing of the jewelry in the 1871 Exhibition, the correspondent of The Queen remarked: "We have already spoken of Messrs. Hunt and Roskell's very meritorious jewellery. The only two other English celebrities are Messrs. Brogden and HANCOCK. The latter firm shows a tine display of precious stones, one pendant containing an emerald of remarkable size. Their Byzantine and Etruscan tablet bracelets are good examples of the respective styles, and unexceptionable in workmanship."
Included in this display was also a neck-lace in cloisonné enamel, probably in the Japanese taste, by Falize of Paris. In 1867 C.F. Hancock had spent six months in Paris, remaining for the whole duration of the Exhibition. He would have had many opportunities to make valuable contacts, and this collaboration with Falize may have been the result.
A surviving cased parure of enameled gold set with corals is probably of this date as it tits in well with the style of not very authentic "archaeological" goldsmiths' work favoured by the British public. Other cased examples of this type of filigree enamel-work suggest Hunt and Roskell as the source, possibly as importers, since the work is typical of Roman jewelry of this date.
Jewels in the Assyrian style shown by Hancock's in 1871 are also difficult to pinpoint to a particular maker. Both Brogden and Edwin Streeter were certainly suppliers of similar pieces. Brogden could have been the supplier to Hancock's as well as to other retailers. On the other hand, Streeter had a considerable and complicated involvement with Hancock's which has yet to be fully documented, and the Assyrian pieces, which resemble examples advertised by Streeter, may well have been provided by him.
In two portrait drawings of his wife, the artist Frederick Goodall has depicted her jewelry in unusually minute detail. At her neck, in one of them, Alice Goodall is wearing an Assyrian style brooch which is now in the British Museum (Hull Grundy Gift).
The unmarked gold brooch is worked in shallow relief with a representation of King Ashurnasirpal pouring a libation over a dead lion, taken from the reliefs in the throne room of the great palace at Nimrud, which were discovered by Sir Austen Henry Layard and displayed at the British Museum from the late 1840s. The very elaborate necklace that Mrs Goodall wears in the companion drawing is in the Egyptian taste, recalling Goodall's Orientalist inclinations and his travels in search of subject matter.
The form of the necklace recalls Hancock's 1871 exhibit, and it is apparent from an illustration of the firm's display at the 1873 Vienna Exhibition that they continued to favour this type of model. The large lotus bud pendants on Mrs Goodall's necklace might even be ancient Egyptian faience, obtained by the artist in the East. Also a feature of Hancock's 1873 display was a group of the crescent-and-star head ornaments like the one Mrs Goodall wears in her two portraits which, incidentally, were executed only a year later in 1874.
The star item in the 1873 showcase, however, was an emerald and diamond tiara which had been purchased on the eve of the opening of the Exhibition by the Earl of Dudley, a patron with a penchant for magnificent jewelry. The points of the tiara were finished with drop shaped emeralds, facet-cut rather than polished en cabochon a great technical feat.
As to other details of Hancock's activities that can be gleaned from contemporary sources, the firm had from the early years enjoyed Royal patronage, and their press-cutting books and diaries record some of the Royal commissions.
For the wedding of Princess Louise, daughter of the Prince and Princess of Wales, to the Duke of Fife in 1889 Hancock's supplied the wedding tiara and brooch and made up the bridesmaids' bracelets with the "LF" monogram surmounted by coronets in diamonds from designs by the princess herself. In 1893, for the wedding of Princess May of Teck to the Duke of York (later Queen Mary and King George V), more valuable presents were supplied.
The exiled Empress Eugenie, perhaps remembering the jewels purchased from Hancock's by her husband in Paris in 1867, ordered an elegant peacock feather in diamonds, very much in the French taste of that date. If it survives it may well now be described as French, since it was so closely modeled on similar pieces produced by Boucheron.
In the previous year the firm had been involved in an important transaction. Hancock's sold to W.W. Astor an out-standing ruby and diamond necklace for £7,500, on 15 January 1892. This necklace had once been part of the great ruby and diamond parure from the French Crown Jewels, sold by order of the Third Republic in 1887. The complete parure consisted of twelve items, nearly all of which sold for more than the estimates. The House of Bapst had been responsible for the mounting in 1816 of the diadem, and much of the work of resetting the pieces for subsequent use, first for the Royal Princesses during the reign of Louis XVIII, and then for the Empress Eugenie, was done by the firm.
Both of the necklaces from the parure were bought at the sale by Bapst, the "great necklace" (the one sold later to Astor) for FF 77,500.
After that sale an American banker, Mr. Bradley Martin of New York, the partner of Pierpont Morgan, managed to buy the diadem, a pair of bracelets and a pendant in the form of a Greek cross from the parure. These he gave to his daughter, Cornelia, Countess of Craven. After her death a sale took place at Sotheby's on 30 November 1961 of her "Magnificent Casket of Jewels".
At some point a ruby and diamond necklace resembling the "great necklace" from the parure had also come into her possession, and it too, with the suggestion that it was in a somewhat altered state from the original, was included in the sale. In fact the actual necklace from the parure was sold twenty-one years later in Geneva by Christie's and a colour illustration is included by Bernard Morel in his monumental work on The French Crown Jewels (published by Fonds Mercator, Antwerp 1988).
Hancock's history is typical of many similar firms in the second half of the 19th century. The mixture of selling, exhibiting, dealing in rare pieces, supplying Royal gifts and devising elaborate silver trophies matches the activities of many of their rivals; yet they have survived the upheavals of the present century while some once more celebrated firms have disappeared.
Writer – Thames & Hudson