Botanical and Other Themes of the 17th Century
The 17th and 18th centuries came with manifestations of the brilliance and magnificence of jewelry, which echoed in the aristocratic lifestyle. "The early 17th century witnessed the waning of Spanish influence over European court life, and the emergence of the French as the leaders of style."[ 4.]
The design of the ring included new themes and techniques. It was an era that showed an emphasis on massed gemstones arranged in abstract symmetry rather than the sculpted and enameled figures of earlier settings.
The complex ring designs of Renaissance were "gradually simplified as the 17th century progressed".[1.] Heavy sculptural shoulders and bezels became plainer frameworks for more abundant gemstones in the new rose-cut style. In 1661 the Parisian jeweler Robert de Berquen lamented that wealthy ladies, jealous of their rivals' sparkling rose cuts, were reducing the value of their diamonds by having them recut." [1.] So, referring to the sources, writes Rachel Church in her book of rings. [1.] In general, during the 17th century "there was an increased emphasis on massed gemstones arranged in abstract symmetry rather than the sculpted and enameled figures of earlier settings." [4.] The brilliance of diamonds began to express more clearly the range of cultural expressions of the baroque age. "The increased imports of Indian diamonds, sapphires and rubies enabled jewelry of great intrinsic value to be produced, and the advances made in cutting and polishing diamonds were to have an immense impact on design." [4.]
Although during the 17th century enamel technique was widely used in jewelry. Enamel was mostly constrained to the underside of rings, often in naturalistic floral styles. The study of botany and the exotic flowers that were introduced to Europe were also the great subjects of curiosity and extravagance for the rich customers. And, of course, it was an inspirational source for artists, jewelers and craftsmen. Rare flowers were considered luxury items. For instance, tulips that were introduced from Turkey, created some kind of "Tulipomania" during the early 17th century.[ 4.]
Botanical themes and natural sciences have been widely used to create ring designs. These were designs based on the botanical world by French artists such as François Lefebvre, Gilles Légaré and many others were disseminated through design books, creating an international style. [1.]
The 18th Century. The Colors of Floral Themes & Simplicity of the Neoclassical Style
During the 18th century an exquisite Rococo stylistics was featured in the jewelry. Style features were displayed in the delicate and sometimes fantastical creations of Rococo jewelers in the first part of the century. Second half of the century created a passion for elegant Neoclassical rings. During that era rings were also used to affirm political loyalties and commemorate public figures.[ 1.]
One of the brightest achievements of the 18th century jewelry were delicate and colorful giardinetti (from Italian - "little garden") rings. It was a jewelry trend that was actualized in the middle of the century. "Drawing on the fashion for flowers in jewellery, silks and interior design, gemstones and glass were set in a framework of metal to create bunches and vases of flowers". [1.] These floral themes were depicted as tiny baskets of flowers made from colored gemstones and rose-cut diamonds in delicate openwork settings. [4.]
In the 18th century, new materials and techniques were also tested. "In 1763 the gem engraver and modeller James Tassie (1735 - 99) of Glasgow and the scientist Dr Henry Quin developed a hard glassy paste that was particularly suited to reproducing fine details. Tassie and his nephew William then mass-produced moulded glass portraits and imitations of ancient gems to be set in rings."[1.] An interesting addition to the neoclassical style features came from "the ceramics firm of Wedgwood. "[1.] This firm also copied classical designs, using its trademark "jasperware (a type of fine unglazed porcelain) to create small plaques to be set in jewelry."[1.]
Also in the second half of 18th century silhouettes or profiles were set in rings to be given to friends and lovers. They were a great commercial success as an alternative to painted miniatures because they could be reproduced quite quickly and cheaply.
And another interesting addition to the family of the 18th century rings was the marquise ring. It was rather popular in the latter part of the 18th century. Its bezel was boat or oval shaped and filling the space between the knuckle and the first joint. They were really elaborate and often consisted of a diamond or diamond group on enamel or glass on gold, with the diamonds, often grouped into a pattern, sometimes set in silver. [3.]
To be continued...
References & Further Reading:
1. Church R. Rings. - London: Thames & Hudson, Victoria & Albert Museum, 2017.
2. Newmann H. An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewelry. - London: Thames & Hudson, 2000.
3. Pearsall R. A Connoisseur's Guide to Antique Jewelry. - New York: Todtri Book Publishers, 1999.
4. Phillips C. Jewelry: From Antiquity to the Present - London: Thames & Hudson, 1996.