My dear jewellery historians, what is it that strikes you about this ring on first appearance? Look at it carefully and we’ll talk more about it after the jump…
Had a good look? Yes, it’s a beautiful thing and look at those colours…
The 18th century introduced the expected levels of mourning that alter during the 19th century, usually tailored towards Court practice, but the basics of First, Second and Court (permeating into Third) Stages of mourning provided the fundamental basis for what mourning jewellery and fashion would become. What does this have to do with such a wonderful ring? Firstly, the adherence towards black and non-reflective surfaces and the use of jewellery in various colours to denote the stage of mourning is an importance factor. In terms of fashion, first stage mourning required that “bombazine dresses trimmed in black crape, black silk hoods and plain white linen were worn with black shammy leather shoes, glove and crape fans. Jewellery was not permitted. Second mourning consisted of black dresses, trimmed with fringed or plain linen, white gloves, black or white shoes, fans and tippets and white necklaces and earrings as necessary. Grey lusterings, tabbies and damasks were acceptable for less formal occasions.”
You can find out a lot more about this in my textiles articles of the 18th century here (Part 1) and here (Part 2), but the introduction of coloured motifs in fashion were something which grew more in prominence during the 19th century and this was facilitated by the introduction of coloured dyes and more rigid Court standards. In jewellery terms, hairwork was common by second and third stages, with the purple of an amethyst or the blue or turquoise being introduced with various colours of trim to standard dress. Many jewels were reappropriated during the 19th century to facilitate this, and moreover, to reuse a jewel in context of its wearing (a future generation may remove the hair and replace with paste or a jewel for various reasons, from mourning application to simply fashion) and this may happen in the span of a lifetime or a century.
As for this particular jewel, it comes from a time of great social change. This was a change with the dramatic swing towards the Neoclassical period, which reinterpreted the daily values of lifestyle and art culture. Hence, the use of the foiled amethyst (approx. 1ct.) and 2 side, oval, rose-cut diamonds, (approx. .25ctw) reflects the social standing of the piece in terms of how it was presented, rather than reinterpretation of the jewel.
For its time, this style was becoming more of an anachronism, as it was on the precipice of the change into neoclassicism, which is another reason why it is exemplary for its form.