of Jewellery - Fine or Fake
Gold in Egypt 3000 BC
In the ancient world gold was the preferred metal for making
jewellery. It was rare, did not tarnish and best of all it was
malleable, so it could be worked fairly easily.
Magnificent bracelets, pendants, necklaces, rings, armlets,
earrings, diadems, head ornaments, pectoral ornaments and collars
of gold were all produced in ancient Egypt, the land of the Pharaohs.
Excavations by Howard Carter in 1922 led to the great discovery
of Tutankhamun's tomb and many gold funerary artefacts, all showing
the art work of ancient Egypt.
Gold and Gems in Greece 1400 BC
ancient Greece, beads shaped as natural forms like shells, flowers
and beetles were manufactured on a large scale. Beautiful
and delicate necklaces and earrings were found in burial sites
in Northern Greece. By 300 BC the Greeks were making multi
coloured jewellery and used emeralds, garnets, amethysts and
They also used coloured stones, glass and enamel. Carved
cameos of Indian Sardonyx (a striped brown pink and cream agate
stone) along with filigree gold work were widely made. Beads
were made by joining two flat pieces of gold and filling them
Italian Gold and Roman Coinage
Eight centuries BC the Italian Etruscans in the Tuscany region
produced granulated textured gold work. They made large
fibulae or clasps, necklaces, bracelets and earrings. They
also made pendants that were hollow and could be filled with
perfume. The Italians are still renowned for high quality stylish
trend making gold work today.
In coinage the Romans used 18 and 24 carat gold. Being
fairly easily available the coinage was the craftsman's raw material
for decorative jewel work. 2000 years ago the Romans were
using sapphires from Sri Lanka, cloudy emeralds, garnets, amber
and Indian diamond crystals. When England was under Roman
rule, fossilized wood called jet from the North of England was
carved into interesting pieces.
C13 th Medieval Sumptuary Laws
Sumptuary Laws in C13 th Medieval Europe came into force and
capped luxury in dress and jewellery. Townspeople in France,
were not allowed to wear girdles or coronals made of pearls,
gemstones, gold or silver. Similar laws existed in England. The
fact that these laws forbade yeomen and artisans from wearing
gold and silver indicates how the status of jewellery and sumptuous
dress had become widespread beyond just the nobility.
Gems and Pearls Real and Fake
Jewels have always been used as love tokens and whilst many
pieces were fine gems and precious metals, good fake jewellery
intended to deceive existed. True gemstones and pearls
originated from the east and were bought chiefly by the Italians. The
Italian merchants then sold the goods on in Europe. Good
glass imitations were often used and sometimes with intent as
in royal funerary robes and children's jewellery.
Flawless, round, natural, large white pearls were prized more
than precious gemstones. The finest of pearls were provided by
South India and the Persian Gulf. The Italians, particularly
the Venetians and people from Murano, could make imitation glass
gems and pearls that were very good likenesses of the real jewels. Recipes
for false pearls existed in 1300 when white powdered glass mixed
with albumen (egg white) and snail slime, produced beads that
were used as imitation pearls.
The Importance of C17 th Earrings and Dress Ornaments
In the C17 th a woman always donned her earrings whether dressed
or undressed. By day fake pearl earrings and paste earrings
to coordinate with clothing were acceptable. Fine diamond jewellery
was kept for evening and embroidered stomachers which formed
part of the dress frontage, could be decorated by jewels.
of left and right coordinating jewelled pieces called dress ornaments
decreased in size as they were placed down the stomacher. Sometimes
the sleeves or skirts were decorated with smaller matching brooches.
Dress ornaments in the form of diamond bows and shuttles. As
many as 42 shuttles could be used to decorate a dress.
17 th Century Fake Pearls and Strass Paste Gems
In the 1630s large quantities of pearls were used as clothing
accessories. To be truly fashionable pearls needed to be
worn in abundance. In the C17 th , Jaquin of Paris patented
a method of making fake pearls. He coated blown glass hollow
balls with varnish mixed with iridescent ground fish scales. The
hollow balls were then filled with wax to strengthen them. This
method made Paris the main producer of fake pearls for over 200
Paste is a compound of glass containing white lead oxide and
potash. Paste jewellery was usual in the 1670s and was
worn at court. The best and most long lasting paste jewellery
was produced after 1734 by Georges Strass. Most fake jewellery
was Paris led. Just about any kind of fake gem could be made,
including fake opals. Many pieces of fake jewellery have
survived in their original setting, but fine estate pieces of
real gems were often broken up for resetting into more fashionable
styles of the era.
After 1760 the production of fake jewellery spread to London
and to Birmingham. Steel which was produced easily during
the industrial revolution was used for settings for marcasite
and jasper ware cameos. Glass and Wedgwood porcelain paste
cameos were made in English factories and were very popular too.
Ornate shoe buckles of paste, steel and tin were part of fashionable
dress. A similar fad at this time were elaborate paste
jewelled buttons, fashionable in British society. As well
as fake jewellery gaining popularity, semi precious jewels such
as uncut garnets became usual as part of less formal day dress.
When Napoleon eventually emerged as Emperor of France in 1804
he revived jewellery and fashion as a new court of pomp and ostentatious
'Joailliers' worked fine jewellery and 'bijoutiers' used less
The members of the new French imperial family had the former
French royal family gems re-set in the latest neo-classical style. These
new trends in jewellery were copied in Europe and particularly
England. Greek and Roman architecture were the main influence
for designs as famous discoveries of ancient treasure had not
Parures were a matching suite of coordinating precious gems
which could include a necklace, a comb, a tiara, a diadem, a
bandeau, a pair of bracelets, pins, rings, drop earrings or and
cluster stud earrings and possibly a belt clasp. Both Josephine and
later Napoleon's second wife had magnificent sets of Parures.
After Napoleon's cameo decorated coronation crown was seen,
cameos were the rage.
Sometimes cameos were carved from hardstone, but more often
from substitutes like conch shells and set pieces of Wedgwood
When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 jewellery was
romantic and nationalistic. It gave attention to the pressure
of European folk art, which later influenced the Arts and Crafts
Movement. Until mid century most western jewellery came
from Europe, but soon jewellery began to be made in America and
Although jewellery had been made by multiple methods of production
for centuries, mid Victorian mass production in Birmingham (England),
Germany and Providence, Rhode Island meant that standards were
Victorian women rebelled when they saw some of the machine made
jewellery on offer, although much of what has survived is of
good quality. Many wore no jewellery at all, or bought
from the artist craftsman jewellers who emerged at much the same
Some jewellers like Tiffany began to make fine jewellery of
such high standard that they soon opened shops in main cities
There was a huge fashion for mourning jewellery which highlights
how sentimental the Victorian age was. The initial months
of mourning were unadorned by jewellery of any kind. As
the mourning rituals increased, mourning jewellery developed
as a fashion item. Jet jewellery was worn a great deal by Queen
Victoria after Prince Albert's death.
Jet from Whitby, North of England was set into mourning pieces. All
types of material that were black were used and almost all included
a lock of the dead loved one's hair. Hair was also plaited, braided
or twisted very tightly until it became hard and thread like.
To many of us living in the twenty first century the use of hair
is an unattractive side of some antique jewellery.
Arts and Crafts Jewellery
The new design philosophy of Arts and Crafts that sprang up
after 1870 was a reaction to mass produced goods and inferior
machine made products. It was a reaction to the shoddy
interior and ornamental products of the industrial revolution. Leaders
of the movement in England included William Morris & John
Ruskin and they promoted simple Arts and Crafts
of designs based on floral, primitive or Celtic forms worked
as wallpapers, furniture and jewellery.
The polished stones used in Arts and Crafts jewellery gave a
medieval, simpler, gentler, tooled hand made look and feel to
items. People inspired by the movement to produce work
of a more individual nature included Liberty of London and Renee
Mackintosh of Glasgow. By 1900, Arts and Crafts as a movement
declined, so Art Nouveau, a more ostentatious version started
in France took root.
Art Nouveau jewellery follows curving sinuous organic lines
of romantic and imaginary dreaminess, with long limbed ethereal
beauties sometimes turning into winged bird and flower forms. The
movement began in Paris and its influence went throughout the
The Frenchman René Lalique was the master goldsmith of
the era of Art Nouveau producing exquisite one off pieces. As
an art movement today, the style is still admired and still copied.
Magnificent floral and botanical forms often worked in enamel
were inexpensive and became so popular once mass-produced, that
the Art Nouveau style declined.
Queen Alexandra's Pearls
Most fine jewellery in the 1900s was white and made from either
diamonds or pearls. Queen Alexandra initially wore dog collar
chokers, called a 'collier de chien' to cover a small scar on
For state occasions and formal events she plastered herself
in arrangements of pearl necklaces. The rarity value of
real pearls then was such that an American skyscraper exchanged
hands for the price of a pearl necklace.
This is not so ridiculous as it seems, as fine south sea pearls
still command a high price.
Pearls were very fashionable, but still very, very costly. After
the 1890s Kokichi Mikimoto of Japan produced highly acceptable
cultured pearls by placing a small bead into an oyster shell. The
bead coated itself with nacre (mother of pearl) and so good looking
pearl jewels became more affordable.
When I see Mikimoto pearls today I always think their lustre
far surpasses any other pearl made this way.
Various combinations of pearl necklaces come in and out
of fashion with regularity so pearls too are a must. Both
fake and real freshwater or cultured pearls are very affordable
today. Many are now bought from China since trade
opened up in the nineties. The price of pearls has
dropped by about a fifth in the past 10 years and the Chinese
are making waves in the pearl world with their cheaper
prices. The Japanese have suffered disease in their
pearl beds as well as facing competition and are finding
it hard to compete with China's prices.
Pearl necklaces and pearl earrings can lift a complexion
and bring light and radiance to the face taking years off
a woman whatever her age. If you can afford it, invest
in a pair of Mabe pearl earrings. They have a wonderful
white glow with a size about one centimetre across and
look expensive. Expect to pay about £300 for
a pair trimmed with 9 ct gold. Look after them by
rubbing gently with a pure silk scarf, store in their original
box and always put them on after applying perfume and hair
products. A matching real pearl necklace freshwater
or cultured, will enhance them and you.
Pearls are currently back in fashion again and with the
modern twist of being interspaced on gold wire or floating
on special synthetic cord they are essential to the millennium
look. Look out for variations too on drop pearl earrings
in the next year or so.
In the 1920s Lalique designed good mass produced quality
glass jewellery. Fake, or costume jewellery was sometimes
then called cocktail jewellery. It was greatly influenced
by Coco Chanel (1883-1971) and Elsa
Schiaparelli (1890-1973). They both encouraged clients
to use costume jewellery and to mix it with genuine gem
pieces they already owned. Both designers offered
imagination and fun and both often sported fabulous fakes.
In the late 1930s Napier of the USA was at the forefront
of manufacturing fake cocktail jewels, which offered glamour
and escapism. Napier still produces excellent contemporary
By the 1940s and 1950s American culture was very dominant
in Europe. The influence of movie films and the prominence
of film stars set the fashion in manners, make-up, hair
and clothes. People wanted look alike copies of outfits
and jewellery worn by screen idols. It was widely
believed that Hollywood glamour would rub off on you if
you had the clothes and developed the look.
The Second World War in Europe halted production of fine
jewellery when metals were rationed. New estate type,
fine precious metal and gem jewellery was simply not available. Quality
costume jewellery which was flourishing in America, became
much more acceptable and was a real alternative to fine
Because of technical advances in production methods, a
huge range of styles was available from America, and since
it was so popular the market became dynamic and inventive
1980's Television Influence - Dynasty, Dallas and Diamante
In the 1980s there was a huge revival of costume jewellery
after the glitzy scenes from the television soap operas
Dynasty & Dallas were
watched by 250 million viewers in the consumer boon of
the 1980s. Diamante by day became the norm in reality
and earrings reached such huge proportions that the 1990s
saw a reaction which quickly dated lavish dress jewellery
as the fashion for tiny real diamond studs or a fine stud
pearls became the only earring to wear. As soon as
the fashion was declared dead by everyone, including grandmothers,
it was revived again in 2000AD by the fashion cognoscenti. Now
fabulous fakes, especially brooches have gained ground
Jewellery for the 21 st Century
Costume jewellery can enliven a fashion wardrobe and bring
a dash of panache especially for one off special occasions. Costume
jewellery can be superb. The superb is usually plated
at least seven times with 18 or 22 ct gold.
grade Cubic Zirconium man made imitation diamonds often
set in precious metals is of such a good standard that
almost everyone can afford to have attractive jewellery.
The best crystals used in costume jewellery are the first
grade crystals that the top Austrian firm Swarovski can