Monday, November 30, 2015

A Quick Study of Pearls

     During my research, there has always been a constant – PEARLS.  Much of my focus has been on making historically-inspired and reproduction jewelry.  Earrings set with garnets, colored glass beads, and pearls are documented as early as the 3d and 2d Century BC.  That isn’t to say that gemstones, glass, or paste weren’t worn, they were and sometimes in combinations.  Between the 11th and 16th centuries, due to the hair and headgear of the ladies, earrings were not as prominent as they became again in the 17th Century.  The drop, which included pearls, from a gold “S” hook or ring and ribbon suspended from a hoop can be seen in the mid to late 16th Century.

Elizabeth Poulett by Robert Peake

     Yes, they had pierced ears.  Pierced ears normally had a hoop or wire threaded through the ear to support the pendant element.  My focus is as early as the 16th and 17th centuries when English courtiers adorned themselves with single pearl drop earrings. 

Detail from a portrait of Elizabeth Stuart, Princess of England, Scotland and Ireland by an unknown artist, ca. 1606

     Pearls go in and out of favor for other types of jewelry which included diamonds, paste, and other gemstones, throughout the centuries.  Pearls have been associated with purity and love.  Multiple colors of gems are often seen added to pearl and seed-pearl jewelry throughout time. 

     Some jewelers offered mock or imitation pearls versus real pearls, where some were made of plain shells, or blown glass filled with wax (or with shell and fish scale paste), and were more affordable.  The majority of pearls in Georgian jewelry are from oysters found in the Persian gulf , and seed pearls were from India.  Jewelry with pearls were made into earrings, necklaces, hair ornaments, rings, and even set into brooches.  It looked wonderful with gold, cut-steel, or other materials as they came in and out of favor.

     I have included portraits with pearls shown to illustrate just how the pearl drop transcends time ~

Personification of May, 1745, Thomas Burford

Dorothy Murray, 1759-61, John Singleton Copley

Gervase Spencer, 1760

Portrait of a Young Woman in Powder Blue, 1777, by George Romney

Dorothy Hope by Joseph Wright, circa 1780

Marie-Françoise Henriette de Banastre, Duchesse de Bouillon, 1789, by Jean Laurent Mosnier

Alexandra and Elena Pavlovna, by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, ca. 1795-1797

Anne-Louis Girodet, Hortense de Beauharnais, 1808

Portrait of princess Maria Amelia of Brazil by Frans Xavier Winterhalter, 1845-47

A Lady with Pearls
(Taken from

References –
Earrings from Antiquity to the Present, Daniela Mascetti and Amanda Triossi, 1990 Thames & Hudson Ltd, London

Jewelry in America, Martha Gandy Fales, Antique Collector’s Club Ltd., Woodbridge, Suffolk 1995

Georgian Jewelry, Ginny Redington Dawes with Olivia Collings, Antique Collector’s Club Ltd., Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2007

Copyright K. Walters at the Sign of the Gray Horse.  None of this can be copied or used without the permission of Kimberly K. Walters.