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The Renaissance and exploration both had significant impacts on the development of jewelry in Europe. By the 17th century, increasing exploration and trade lead to increased availability of a wide variety of gemstones as well as exposure to the art of other cultures. Whereas prior to this the working of gold and precious metal had been at the forefront of jewelry, this period saw increasing dominance of gemstones and their settings.
A fascinating example of this is the Cheapside Hoard, the stock of a jeweller hidden in London England during the Commonwealth period and not found again until 1912. It contained Colombian emerald, topaz, amazonite from Brazil, spinel, iolite, and chrysoberyl from Sri Lanka, ruby from India, Afghani lapis lazuli, Persian turquoise, Red Sea peridot, as well as Bohemian and Hungarian opal, garnet, and amethyst.
Large stones were frequently set in box-bezels on enamelled rings. Notable among merchants of the period was Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who in the 1660s brought the precursor stone of the Hope Diamond to France.
When Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned as Emperor of the French in 1804, he revived the style and grandeur of jewelry and fashion in France. Under Napoleons rule, jewelers introduced parures, suites of matching jewelry, such as a diamond tiara, diamond earrings, diamond rings, a diamond brooch and a diamond necklace. Both of Napoleons wives had beautiful sets such as these and wore them regularly. Another fashion trend resurrected by Napoleon was the cameo. Soon after his cameo decorated crown was seen, cameos were highly sought after. The period also saw the early stages of costume jewelry, with fish scale covered glass beads in place of pearls or conch shell cameos instead of stone cameos.
New terms were coined to differentiate the arts: jewelers who worked in cheaper materials were called bijoutiers, while jewelers who worked with expensive materials were called joailliers; a practice which continues to this day.
Articles of jewelry made during the period of the Renaissance from the 15th century until the early 17th. The style was developed in Italy, under the patronage of the Medici in Florence, the Sforza family in Milan, and the Renaissance Popes in Rome, and spread to France, the Low Countries, Spain, and the Courts at Prague and Augsburg, with relatively little impact in England. The most renowned of the early designers of jewelry were Benvenuto Cellini and Hans Holbein The Younger, but a host of later designers (e.g. Erasmus Hornick, Etienne Delaune, Daniel Mignot, Hans Collaert The Elder) published books of their designs which influenced goldsmiths and jewellers throughout Europe.
The articles that were most popular were the enseigne (hat badge), the pendant (especially the baroque pearl jewels), and finger rings. Engraved gemstones and portrait cameos were often used, and the decoration was frequently in architectural style or commesso style or with émail en ronde bosse.
Among notable jewels of the period that are now in England are the Canning Triton jewel, Darnley jewel, Barbor jewel, Phoenix jewel, and Lyte jewel. It is difficult to establish the origin of many pieces, and some have been attributed by some writers to the country of the maker, by others to the country of his patron, and by still others on the basis of opinions as to style.
From: An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewelry, autor: Harold Newman, publishers: Thames and Hudson