Jewellery Around the World - France
Bonjour! Welcome to the next installment of our jewellery around the world series, this month, we thought we should honour our neighbour. Just an hour away on a plane, France has beautiful cosmopolitan cities, sun-soaked beaches, turquoise waters and dreamy lavender fields. Synonymous with luxurious fashion, food and wine, France is one of the most popular European destinations, with Paris being a major artistic pot of culture.
As we are so close to France, you can expect that antique British and French jewellery to be very similar in design, and it was! Yet, there are some discerning movements and styles that are unequivocally French and steeped in history themselves, so we thought - why not dedicate our next blog to this wonderful country?
From Baroque to Belle Epoque, let’s dive in.
Little History of France
From honey-hued medieval towns to glittering Belle Epoque Paris, France has a diverse and illustrious history. A major Catholic power in medieval Europe, France had some of the most luxurious Kings and Queens including Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette. Yet, France was not spared from a gruesome history too, the execution of Protestants in religious wars, its major 18th century revolution and it’s colonial invasion of Africa, has meant that France has also been privy to plenty of travesty and pain.
In relation to jewellery, France has been the cradle of style and fashion since the late Renaissance. France has birthed illustrious department shops, haute couture houses and prestigious dressmakers and was the major style influence in Victorian Europe and America.
The oldest city in France is Marseille, which was founded by the Ionian Greeks in 600 BC. Like much of Europe, ancient France was part of the Roman empire and a large part of its territory was known as Gaul. France also was inhabited by Celtic tribes and the Greeks, with many ancient Greeks settling in Provence.
It wasn’t until the 5th century AD that France became “Kingdom of the Franks”, which owes itself to its name today. The first ruler was Clovis I who united most of the northern and central Gaul territories. Clovis I also converted to Catholicism and made Paris his capital, starting the Merovingian dynasty in France.
Medieval France didn’t commence until the 9th century, with the beginning of the Capetian dynasty and consequently the famous House of Valois. During France’s medieval period, the country strengthened to become one of the most powerful Christian nations in Europe. The country was strictly Catholic in origin which impacted the greater Catholic powers. For instance many medieval Popes were French and also related to the monarchy.
France and England has had a mixture of both cordial and tense relations, especially as France conquered England in the Norman conquest.
Yet, there was a constant struggle for power amongst the Capet kings during its medieval period as France struggled to accept the overarching King’s authority. The tensions between the House of Valois and the Capet kings reached a boiling point in the 100 hundred years war, with a revival of French nationalism in the form of the Joan of Arc.
Renaissance and Early Modern France is grouped in the years 1453 to 1789, before the French revolution. Jewellery during the medieval period were mainly devotional and Catholic in origin, yet the idea of courtly love arose in France, which meant that many commissioned poésy rings which had poetic declarations of love inscribed on their surface.
French Poesy Rings, c.1400-1450, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
This period of France was known as the Ancien regime, and resulted in multiple wars with other countries and dynasties including Spain, Germany, England and Italy as each country wanted to be the dominant power of Europe.
There was also the rise in religious wars too, especially as Protestantism started to spread across Europe. France has always been a deeply entrenched Catholic country, yet England’s annexation from Rome and the spread of Protestantism in Germany resulted in the Huguenot uprisings calling for Calvinism. A central ruler during this time was Catherine de Medici, who was responsible for the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572 when thousands of Huguenots and conspirators were hunted and murdered.
During the 16th and 17th century, France started to expand as a colonial power in the world, claiming many of the North American territories, Canada, Carribean countries and African countries.
France’s lavish associations and style prowess started to grow through the reign of Louis XIV, also known as the “sun king”, this lead to a very stylised period in history known as Baroque and Rococo. The excessive and hyperbolic designs of these period were consequently associated with the aristocracy, an aristocracy that very famously fell out of touch with rest of the country, resulting in the French revolution.
Revolutionary France (1789-1799) and Napoleonic France (1799-1815) was a huge pivotal shift in the country. The growing contempt amongst the lower and merchant classes towards the upper classes grained traction each year as famine, hunger and disease spread. What resulted was a complete bloodbath and civil war with power quickly changing hands and serious unrest in the country. Napoleon becoming Emperor was not an end to these wars, rather many coalitions in Europe combined in order to bring him down.
After these tumultuous years, France entered what was known as the long 19th century, this was where permanent changes within France occurred including Paris as the administrative and focal capital. This was also where France emerged as a luxury power within both Europe and the world.
19th Century French Fashion Plate showing two women dressing in both evening and day wear, A.Bruckner, Le Voleur, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
The Belle Epoque was one of the most culturally significant times in France. Considered to be a time of both peace and prosperity with major artistic contributions of Impressionism and Art Nouveau.
Portrait of Madame X, John Singer Sargent, c.1883-4, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Of course, France was a major battleground in both the First and Second World Wars, with Paris itself being invaded and held by the Nazi’s in the 1940s. After the Second World War, France stabilised itself possessing a rich cultural power, a centre of art, literature and fashion that boosted its tourism.
The Birth of Rococo and Baroque
Rococo and Baroque were two major design movements that impacted European design and French politics in the 17th and `18th century. These movements followed the mannerisms and classicism of Renaissance, yet these were overly ornate.
Baroque design was heavily influenced and patroned through the Catholic Church, where the pieces were designed to evoke an overall sense of awe and amazement. These pieces were deeply colourful, lavish and ornate. Interestingly, the term Baroque itself comes from the Portuguese “barroco” meaning “flawed Pearl” and the latin “verruca” for wart - not exactly the most glamorous associations! A complete paradox to the pieces that were created themselves.
French Enamelled Gold Openwork Pendant with Rubies and Pearls, circa late 17th century, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
Baroque architecture and jewellery had painted reliefs of cupids and angels, stucco, gold, marble and richly decorated hues. Baroque jewellery was excessive and ecclesiastical and was worn by the most prestigious in society.
Rococo elaborated on Baroque even more, verging away from asymmetry and using plenty of c-shaped curves and sinuous lines, similar to the Art Nouveau aesthetic in later years. Rococo also used warm pastel colours in excess like light blues, creams, pale yellows, and pinks and placed floral festoons at every occasion. Rococo became associated with the extravagance of Marie Antoinette, which as we all know, was not a favourable association.
Of course, although these designs were beautiful and largely admired, they became representative of the aristocracy. The excess and ornateness was cast within the ugly light of increasing famine and disparity amongst the lower classes, quickly alienating them.
After the French revolution, Baroque and Rococo designs did not resurface in the same way, yet they are embedded within France’s luxury and fashionable history.
Traditional Antique French Jewellery
So, now that you know more about French history (albeit perhaps a rushed history of France) and specifically Rococo and Baroque, lets take a look at distinctive French jewellery styles, ones that make France stand apart from other European creations.
Perpignan Garnet Jewellery
Perpignan Garnet jewellery is native to the Perpignan region in the South of France. Created in the 18th century, these pieces feature exquisite Perpignan Garnets mined in the region. These Garnets have a distinctive and bright fiery tone that is just gorgeous!
We have actually written an exclusive blog on Perpignan Garnets!
Although Art Nouveau first appeared in Brussels in 1890, the style flourished within Paris, just as the Belle Epoque started to bloom. The sinuous shapes and curves of Art Nouveau were applied to the Parisian Metro entrances and were shown at the Paris International Exposition in 1900.
Art Nouveau Opal Enamel Gold Tiara Comb, c.1903-1904, Rene Lalique, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
Art Nouveau was popularised by designers Louis Tiffany and Rene Lalique most famously, and also trickled through to furniture design, glassware and fashion.
You can find out more about the Art Nouveau period in our Lillicoco University page dedicated to this stylistic period.
Today a controversial term, esclavage translates to “slavery” in French and was also the name of an 18th century three chain plaque necklace that was worn in Normandy. It is interesting to note that apparently it was mainly the lower peasant classes that wore these necklaces, which reveals more about the name of the necklace and the power dynamic between the peasants and their landowners.
Regardless, esclavage necklaces were also worn by the higher classes and were often marriage dowry pieces. Many of the more expensive pieces were magnificent in design.
We think a traditional esclavage would be an interesting case study in a future blog post exploring the relationship between colonialism and jewellery.
Similar to the Portuguese filigree work in our Iberian Spanish and Portuguese jewellery blog, France had a traditional way of creating enamels. Specifically the town of Bourg-en-Brasse near Lyon was famous for their enamel work. These were tiny plaques that were decorated with pailettes of Gold and set within either gemstones or glass Paste gems.
The Bressan Enamels were incredibly fashionable in the second half of the 19th century within France and within the UK as they were featured at the London International Exposition in 1872.
Regional Cross Jewellery
It wasn’t just Bressan Enamels that were popular regional jewellery, there was plenty of different iterations of cross pendants and religious jewellery that were created throughout France. French Jewellery Historian Mike Fieggen has written a fantastic compendium on regional French jewellery in the 18th and 19th century. His enlightening discovery on regional cross jewellery illustrates just how much French jewellery varied within in region, and especially the national pride that jewellery could imbue. Below is Fieggen's comprehensive list of how each region interpreted the classic cross.
"Cross without Christ
articulated – North, Normandy, Languedoc Roussillon, Provence, Savoy
with arms of equal length - Savoy
with pendants – Béarn & Pyrénées, Brittany, Centre, North, Savoy
with diamonds – North, Picardy, Provence
with garnets or citrines – Auvergne, Languedoc Roussillon
with Rhinestones – Auvergne, Béarn & Pyrénées, Normandy, Provence
rod cross - Burgundy, Savoy
enamelled – Alsace, Languedoc Roussillon, Provence, Savoy
with filigree – Béarn & Pyrénées, North
with rays - Savoy (the flowered cross)
flat – Brittany, Centre, Dauphiné, Poitou, Provence, Savoy
reliquary - Brittany
tubular – Brittany, Savoy
Croix with Christ only
simple or openworked - Dauphiné, Savoy
with grains - Champagne, Ile-de-France
with pendants – Auvergne, Centre, Limousine, North
hollow with lens decor - Ile-de-France
hollow and flat - Provence
solid – Alsace, Champagne, Lorraine
tubular - Languedoc Roussillon, Savoy
Croix with Christ and Mary
simple or openworked - Alsace, Brittany, Centre, Savoy
enamelled – Auvergne
with pendants – Auvergne, Brittany, Centre, Limousine,
with rays – Brittany, Centre, Champagne, Savoy
reliquary- Brittany, Centre"
Poissardes and Dormeuse
Poissardes, also known as ear pendants, and dormeuse earrings are a type of traditional antique French earrings. A poissarde was actually originally a name for a french fish seller, but quickly became to mean a type of earring. Generally, it is believed that these fish sellers would hang mussel shells from their ears as a form of decoration or perhaps as an ironic farcical piece. Yet, poissarde earrings has also come to mean “fish hook” earrings. These style of earrings were often made from lightweight Gold and were very fashionable amongst the neoclassical fashion of the 18th and 19th century.
Dormeuse earrings, also known as sleeper earrings, were popular amongst french women because they were marketed as earrings they could sleep in. Petite in stature, dormeuse earrings were often made of Diamonds, proving that you can be just as glamorous asleep!
Parures are a matching set of jewellery that was popular amongst 17th century aristocracy. Consisting of tiara, necklace, earrings, bracelet and brooches, many of these pieces were modular with interchangeable components and separate locking pieces so they were transformative.
Although parure jewellery was popular throughout Europe, it was specifically known to be of exceptional quality amongst the French court. In fact, the artisans of Louis XIV were credited with the first parure inventions and Napeoleon Bonaparte had a particular penchant of gifting these gems to his wives.
We hope you have enjoyed reading this blog post!
Click here to see our collection of French antique jewellery!
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Love, Lillicoco xo