A pretty early late Georgian or early Victorian seed pearl tiara with floral design
CONDITION: some loss as expected otherwise good vintage condition
SIZE: 4 ins w x 2 ins h (10 x 5 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1830s – 1840s
MATERIALS: metal, mother of pearl, seed pearls
Here is a very beautiful seed pearl tiara which probably dates from the late Georgian or early Victorian period.
There was an etiquette to jewelry wearing at that time. Seed pearl jewelry, on account of its appearance of fragility and purity, was considered suitable for young girls. Young ladies at that time did not wear precious stones such as diamonds, which were the perquisite of married women. Therefore complete suites of such ornaments were often given to brides. It is possible that this ornament originally belonged to such a set.
The tiara has a lovely three dimensional floral design which is typical of the era. There is some loss at the apex of the design, and on the lower band where the ornament rests upon the hair. This can easily be remedied by a skilled artisan or someone with a sure hand and keen eye.
The rear view shows that the encrusted seed pearl motifs are secured onto a foundation of pierced mother of pearl, which is traditional in such work. The large centre panel is reinforced by a metal band, as is the lower edge of the tiara.
Jewellers typically used seed pearls imported from India and China. The pearls were strung on silk or white horsehair and then attached to a mother-of-pearl backing drilled for that purpose. As fashions in clothing became fuller and heavier during the mid-19th century, the jewelry tended to be fuller, with fewer open spaces. Consequently, the seed pearl pieces became so large that some people thought that they might need more support. So metal supports were sometimes added to the back of larger pieces of jewelry.
The foundation of all seed pearl jewelry is mother of pearl. The shell is bought in thin plates, measuring from 1½ to 2½ inches square. One of the most popular and attractive patterns is the English scroll which we see in our example above. If a design is to be repeated, a brass figure is made. A design is first made by drawing on a paper or cardboard; then a brass plate or pattern is cut out, leaving spaces wherever there are to be no pearls. After this a slab of stock mother of pearl is then pierced wherever a pearl is to be secured, and the pearls for its embellishment are chosen, and are strung onto the mother of pearl outlines with a special horsehair thread. All the work that remains for the jeweller is the addition of each element into the final ornament.
By the mid-1800s, seed pearls were in high demand. The Victorians favoured the look of these delicate, almost lace-like pieces against the skin and often associated seed pearl jewelry with purity. They were especially fashionable as bridal gifts. An 1870 newspaper article noted how such pearls were "exquisitely beautiful and constitute an appropriate and elegant present to a young bride."
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