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A Set Of Gold Victorian Jewelry
( Article orginally published December 1961 )
This handsome gold Tiffany parure, consisting of brooch and earrings, was made in 1871. It reflects the American post-Civil War taste for elegance in decoration. In a red leather box, red velvet lined, this set is on display in the Chicago Historical Society museum.
The brooch is fashioned of two gold circles, with twisted gold wires around the rim of the outer circle which is incomplete. A pendant hanging from the inner circle has three elongated drops.
Each earring is composed of a small square of gold adorned with a wire rosette similar to the one on the brooch. From the square is suspended an incomplete circle with a ball in the center. Below this are three elongated drops. The ear-rings are for pierced ears.
Fortunate owners of antique jewelry enjoy it more because of its history. One of the pleasures of studying objects of the Victorian period is the intellectual enjoyment that comes from searching out their provenance. Few materials or decorative elements originated during that period; for the most part Victorian artists and craftsmen relied on the past to guide them.
To find the earliest use of metal ornaments for personal adornment is to go back to the dawn of history. Historians tell us that as soon as primitive peoples learned the use of metal, all of them seem to have been seized with the same idea, that of beating the metal into flattened circles, punching a hole into each circle, and in some way attaching the discs to themselves or to their clothing, as embellishments.
The first piece of useful jewelry was the brooch. A pin became . necessary when primitive man dressed himself in an animal skin which he brought up over his shoulder. Probably he fastened it with a pin supplied by nature, a thorn.
The first metal pin was a bent wire, not unlike a modern safety pin, and had no ornamental value. The early Romans called such a pin a "fibula."
The reader will find it interesting to compare this kind of pin to the human fibula, which is attached to the tibia with a similar clasp-like joining. Many old Roman pins of the fibula variety have been found in England, dating from the Roman invasion.
By the seventh century brooches had achieved a decorative value. During the Middle Ages the brooch as used more for its beauty than as a cloak fastener. The use of the brooch as an adornment reached a fashion height during the Elizabethan period when small brooches were pinned on hats, on caps, even on sleeves.
Ear-rings, too, have come a long way. The idea of wearing ear-rings apparently occurred to all early peoples. In biblical times ear-rings were worn as charms or amulets, and were believed to have a protective power to insure the safety of the wearer.
Greek and Roman women wore ear-rings, as did Greek and Roman goddesses depicted in statues. During medieval times the hair was worn over the ears, so the use of earrings declined.
With the coming of the Renaissance, styles changed. Ear-rings regained their popularity and have remained fashionable ever since. Queen Victoria favored ear-rings in various styles, long, large, bejeweled.
The decorative elements of this set are drawn from many periods and places. The rosette of eight petals can be traced back to Assyria in the pre-Christian era.
The flattened wires in spirals which surmount the circle in both pin and ear-rings may be compared to the classic Roman rinceau. The twisted wires outlining the circle rims will remind some of our readers of the twisted rope motif often found on furniture by Hepplewhite.
Victorian ornaments are of interest to collectors today not only for their beauty and value, but also as composite pictures of decorative devices used in ages past. Many Victorian brooches and ear-rings, such as these, are oil' fine gold and of superior design. They are beautiful and wearable today.