Jewellery Around the World: Austro-Hungarian Jewellery History
Another “jewellery around the world” post already? How time flies!
This month we decided to go completely gothic and shine a light on Austro-Hungarian jewellery history. Bewitching and beguiling, Austro-Hungarian jewellery is known as the epitome of ‘extra‘ with its larger-than-life gemstones and motifs.
The Austro-Hungarian empire dates between the 1860s to the 1920s and was one of the most powerful western empires in the world. Today, Austria and Hungary are two separate countries, with their own different identities and jewellery history. Nevertheless the combination of the two nations in this 80 year period saw some of the most bedazzling and out of this world creations we have ever laid our eyes on!
I mean, just look at this necklace...
The Austro-Hungarian empire saw the birth of Swarovski Crystal and was a leader in the Holbeinesque Renaissance revival jewellery trend, two things we will focus on today!
The Austro-Hungarian empire in a nutshell!
The Austro-Hungarian empire was one of the major European powers globally, second only to the British Empire.
Austria-Hungary was a constitutional monarchy that was created in 1867 and was dissolved in 1918. In the mid 19th century, the Austrian empire (1804-1867) had depleted to become a weak state, especially after the Italian war of independence and the Austro-Prussian war. There was also increasing dissatisfaction in Hungary at the time, with the Hungarian revolution in 1848. To both regain power and assume peace, the two countries realised that rather than rival against each other they should join together. Plus, there was also a desire for a strong central government, especially as their neighbours of Italy and Germany were growing into two large powers.
Map of Austria-Hungary in 1914, Source - Britannica
The Austro-Hungarian empire was ruled by the house of Hapsburg. If you are a Renaissance history buff, it is likely that you recognise the Hapsburg name. The Hapsburgs were one of the most notable families in Europe. Centuries before, the Hapsburg’s governed the Holy Roman Empire, with its ancestors on the thrones of Spain, France and the Papacy. Although Austria-Hungary was ruled by one monarchy, it had two separate parliaments and presidents overruling each country. The Austro-Hungarian empire also had some temporary control of Croatia, Serbia, Herzegovina and Bosnia too, although Bosnia and Herzegovina was still technically under the rule of the Ottoman empire. This created a range of disparate identities and tensions that ultimately culminated in its demise.
Photograph of Emperor Franz Joseph, c.1908, Source - Britannica
Austria-Hungary was known for having a distinct military presence, as well as being at the forefront of industrialisation and trade. Because of this, Austria-Hungary had a rise of both urban middle and upper classes creating more spending power and thus, more jewellery.
The Austro-Hungarians were mainly a Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic population, which was why Catholic motifs and symbols were widely celebrated in their jewellery designs. This Catholic rule also contrasted heavily with the predominantly Muslim state of Bosnia.
The Austro-Hungarian empire was at the centre of the outbreak of WWI with its archduke Franz Ferdinand assassinated by a person within the “Young Bosnia” and Serbian “Black Hand” movement. Prior to this, both Bosnia and Herzegovina were annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908, as there was a revolt in Bosnia. These tensions over “who owned who” plus the desire for independence were a few of many reasons why Franz Ferdinand was assassinated.
After the first world War when Germany was defeated, the Austro-Hungarian empire was dissolved, this was not only due to their defeat, but also their 1918 crop failures which lead to a range of economical problems within the country.
Although the latter part of the Austria-Hungarian empire was stricken with war and tensions, the empire is home to some of the world's most beautiful jewellery, as well as the costume jewellery legend Swarovski.
Austria-Hungary’s close proximity and alliance with Germany and Italy led to many overlapping jewellery influences, especially Renaissance revival and Holbeinesque. These techniques gave them an overtly Gothic look, fitting in perfectly with our Halloween month!
Why was Austro-Hungarian jewellery so incredibly grand? One of the main reasons was that Austria-Hungary was geographically placed in the belly of central Europe, neighbouring powerful military dominant countries like Italy and Germany. During the 19th century, as European empires dominated the globe, there was a sense of competition, arrogance and bravado amongst these countries. Each country wanted to be the biggest and the best, which ultimately was one of subtle undercurrents as to why World War I broke out. Yet, it wasn’t just in economic and industrial achievements that these countries wanted to be recognised for, but also the culture, fashion and the jewellery.
At this point in the 19th century, nationalism was sweeping through Europe, with each country wanting to instil a sense of national pride. This had a big impact on the arts. For instance, the Etruscan revival jewellery in Italy and the Holbeinesque or “Alt-Deutsch” jewellery in Germany. Austria-Hungary wanted to add to this, but as a country that was effectively two countries smushed together, it didn’t have the same sense of cemented national culture. With this in mind, they copied a lot of popular designs of the time, but they made them larger, bolder and more bodacious to cement them as a jewellery power and a fashionable place in Europe.
Austro-Hungarian Gold Diamond Pink Tourmaline Ruby and Baroque Pearl Pendant, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
One of these fashions were the aforementioned Holbeinesque jewellery which was very popular in Germany and the Catholic countries of France, Spain, Russia and Italy. Holbeinesque was a type of Renaissance revival jewellery that rose to prominence in the 1870s. Holbeinesque literally meant “in the manner of Hans Holbein” who was one of the most prolific German portrait painters in the 16th century. These were mainly large droplet gemstone pendants and necklaces that were modelled on the jewellery portrayed in these Renaissance portraits and based on Holbein’s jewellery illustrations.
Six Pendant Designs by Hans Holbein the Younger, c.1532-1543, Source - Wikimedia Commons
Holbeinesque Garnet Gold Enamel Pendant, c.1860-1865, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
Collage of Jewellery in Holbein's Portraits, Source - Wikimedia Commons
Holbeinesque characterised much of Austro-Hungarian jewellery. These pieces were highly-texturised, colourful and large, with mannerist and mythological ornamentation. For instance, you could find fantastical beasts of hybrid human-animal forms, chimeras, griffins and putti and Christian symbols like quatrefoil, crosses and famous Christian legends. This style of jewellery was popular across Europe but was especially present within Austria-Hungary and Germany. These Austro-Hungarian designs also took inspiration from (or copied) a historic Transylvanian breast brooch called Hefteln which were large gemstone-set round brooches that were quenched with Enamel and small uncut gems!
16th Century German Mannerist Pendant, c.1550-1575, Source - The British Museum
Hungarian (In Transylvanian Style) Heftel Dress Ornament, c.18th Century, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Another reason as to why Austro-Hungarian jewellery pieces were so large and bold was because of their two famous and fashionable cities Vienna and Budapest. Throughout Europe, costume balls, operas, ballets and theatrical events were incredibly popular amongst the ruling and upper classes, and of course, people had to wear jewellery that matched these events. Vienna and Budapest were known for their early Gothic architecture, thermal baths, and music with both cities having fashionable Baroque and classical styles. This meant that they were sought after destinations for the wealthy and elite, so they created these captivating jewels for people to wear them to the society events and also take them home as a keepsake.
Yet, this didn’t last forever! Towards the end of the 19th century, Austria in particular was also becoming a centre for art and modernism. For instance the establishment of the Viennise Secessionists in 1897 by Gustav Klimt, Otto Wagner, Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffman sought to veer the artistic landscape away from this nationalism. This pluralist attitude wanted to unify painting, architecture and decorative arts under one style, much like the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movement in France and England. Although this was successful, and it is likely that many Austro-Hungarian jewellery artists followed this change and rejected the fantastical jewellery designs, the bold, vampirific and excessive designs of the former years had cemented themselves in Austro-Hungarian style and jewellery history.
Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer, Gustav Klimt, c.1903-1907, Source - Wikimedia Commons
Swarovski is one of the most famous fashion jewellery brands that exists today, and is of Austro-Hungarian heritage! Before Swarovski was founded in 1895, Austria-Hungary sourced its glass and paste jewellery from Bohemia which was an Eastern European centre for glass-cutting, yet, by World War I Austro-Hungary was soon to be the centre for glassmaking as Swarovski built their own glassworks factory in 1910. Not only did this put Austro-Hungary more on the map, but it was a huge moment in costume and fashion jewellery, and helped them generate economic revenue after the first World War. For instance, crystals were huge in post-war Europe and were very fashionable in the 1920s. Swarovski tapped into the fashions of the time and created the first crystal embellished flapper headband which was a worldwide success as well as collaborating with world-famous couture designers like Dior in the 1950s and Alexander McQueen in the 1990s. Swarovski crystals also embellished th 1950s and 1960s Hollywood cinema favourites like Gentleman Prefer Blondes, Breakfast at Tiffanys and the Wizard of Oz.
Although Swarovski’s success is outside of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the aforementioned antique Austro-Hungarian jewellery style, we just felt that we had to include them within this blog, as they are integral to the country as the French and Italian jewellery designers are to their own countries.