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Jewellery Around the World - Iberian Spanish and Portuguese Jewellery
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Jewellery Around the World - Iberian Spanish and Portuguese Jewellery

Jewellery Around the World - Iberian Spanish and Portuguese Jewellery

It is no secret that the world of jewellery is fascinating, especially antique pieces from the past. Like history of art, many different cultures, movements and designers collided to create interesting and fascinating pieces of jewellery showing idiosyncratic elements that make it truly unique. 

Inspired by our recent acquisition of rare Iberian foiled Citrine earrings circa 1780, we have decided to launch a new blogging series exploring the different jewellery styles, techniques and history around the world, which arguably has also influenced British jewellery from colonialism and the British Empire.  

The Empire in Red by Walter Crane, 1886, Source - Wikimedia Commons

From the history of Indian jewellery to Ottoman, Byzantine, Hellenistic, Etruscan, French, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, Italian, African, Japanese, South American, Thai and Chinese jewellery - we endeavour to explore a new country (albeit a country today or one that existed centuries ago) each month throughout 2020 to learn about their fascinating jewellery history and how this has shaped the antique and modern jewellery that you can buy today. (Akin to a natural history documentary but far more glittery and fashionable!)

First and foremost, we take a closer look at Iberian jewellery! 

The Iberian earrings that inspired this blog post are a dazzling pair of museum-quality chandelier earrings, with electric foiled Citrines that are known as “oil and vinegar” due to their vibrant spicy shade. Encrusted with rose-cut and table-cut Diamonds throughout, these pieces are undeniably a Portuguese masterpiece. These were only just sold, but we couldn’t resist diving more into their complex history. 

What is Iberia? 

Modern Spain, Portugal and parts of France were once part of the Iberian peninsula. This included Andalusia, Galicia, Castile, Leon, Navarre, Aragon and Catalonia. After the breakdown of Roman rule in 6th century BCE, this region in Europe was a mixture of both Christianity, Judaism and Islam, with the north being Christian and the south being Muslim. 

19th Century Map of Europe in c.1559, Source - Wikimedia Commons

Many historians believe that despite the obvious divide between these three religions, they cohabited well and created alliances. Especially in the realms of design, art and architecture, Christian, Muslim and Jewish people would work within the same workshops, where techniques were often shared. Although this may initially appear a utopian view of the past, as there obviously would have been tension and conflict between these different peoples, there is evidence within the plethora of gorgeous decorative objects, buildings and artwork that were created that shows collaborative efforts. 

For example, these two different pieces of jewellery, dating to the 15th and 16th century Iberia, have an extraordinarily similar aesthetic. Notably, the fine Gold filigree work and cloisonné enamel with intricate flowers, yet both pieces have religious inscriptions, one that is Christian and one that is Muslim.

Iberian late 15th-century necklace, "Hail Mary Full of Grace" Inscription, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Iberian late 15th century beads, Arabic inscription "Glory is God's Alone", Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

The Iberian peninsula began to break down during the 15th century where the major international powerful marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile took place. Isabella of Castile’s devout Catholicism led to the Spanish Inquisition, which essentially wanted to tighten the reigns on Iberia and make it a purely Christian country, leading to many wars and the breakdown of the once amicable relations. 

Queen Isabella I of Spain, Queen of Castille, Source - Royal Collection Trust. 

During this time, the fruition of the Italian Renaissance and the Papal powers of Italy also largely changed the decorative styles, painting techniques and jewellery created. However, the Islamic motifs that were once used did not fade out altogether, they were just incorporated with more Gothic and Italian techniques. 

So what were these different quintessentially Iberian motifs? Below we take look at these motifs that simultaneously occurred within architecture, design and jewellery.


Mudéjar was the original term that referred to the group of Muslims that remained within Iberia in the late medieval period despite the Christian reconquest. Mudéjar also soon became the name for a form of decoration which was heavily influenced by the Islamic art created during this period, yet was largely made by Christian craftsmen for Christian patrons - evidence that these techniques were favoured and loved amongst all religions. 

Mudéjar Roofs in Aragon, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Source - Wikimedia Commons

Mudéjar style was the application of these traditional ornamental and decorative elements within the western frame of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance buildings, commissioned by Spanish and Portuguese monarchies during the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. 

Tower of the Church of San Salvador, Teruel, Aragon, Source - Wikimedia Commons. 


In architecture, these forms included the horseshoe and multi-lobed arch, muqarnas vaults, afiz, fired bricks, glazed ceramic tiles, and ornamental stucco work. Significantly, these designs were favoured because they were enhanced under the bright sunlight of the Iberian sun. 

Patterns that were included here were girih, angled lines that formed an interlaced strapwork pattern and arabesques, rhythmic linear patterns of scrolling and interlacing foliage. You can see many of these breathtaking patterns in the jewellery that was created. 


Originating during the 16th century, the Manueline style of decoration was heavily prevalent throughout Portugal. An elaborate, excessive and heavily ornate composite architectural style that was named after King Manuel I (1495-1521). Many of these buildings had excessive maritime influences and the discoveries of Portuguese navigators, with clear inspiration from East Indian temples. 

Manueline ornamentation in Jeronimos Monastery, Belem, Portugal, Source - Marshall Henrie, Wikimedia Commons.

Facades of columns, windows, portals and arcades were incredibly curlicued to the max. Several elements included:

  • Elements on ships i.e armillary spheres, anchors, ropes and cables
  • Elements from the sea i.e shells, pearls, strings of seaweed
  • Botanical motifs
  • Symbols of Christianity
  • Islamic filigree work
  • Semi-circular arches
  • Multiple pillars
  • Lack of symmetry
  • Crenellations
  • Azulejos

18th Century Azulejos, Igreja da Misercordia, Tavira Portugal, Source - Wikimedia Commons


Translating to “in the manner of the silversmith” plateresque was a highly-ornamental style that affected the artistry created in Iberia and Spain. Characterised by floral designs, chandeliers, mythical creatures and festoons, and with a Gothic spatial arrangement. The most remarkable remnants of plateresque architecture is in Salamanca, Spain. 

The idea was that the decoration was made as carefully as if they were works of Goldsmiths rather than architects. The plateresque was also very similar to Isabelline which was a Castilian style of architecture that was known for being more Italianate than Spanish. 

These buildings were incredibly flamboyant, resulting in equally flamboyant jewellery. 


The Visigoths were the early Germanic tribes that flourished and spread throughout late Antiquity during the Migration period. Yet it is their treasure and highly skilled goldsmithery that has led to an immense impact on both the architecture of the Iberian peninsula and the jewellery that was created. 

Votive Crown of the Visigoth King Reccesuinth, 7th Century, Source - Wikimedia Commons 

Spanish and Portuguese Jewellery Styles

This culmination of different cultures and Iberian influence in architecture had a knock-on effect on jewellery. The opulent stucco buildings and extravagant patterns would have been a visual feast for goldsmiths and jewellers. Portugal and Spain were staunchly Catholic, which meant that reliquaries and crosses were created in abundance. Yet the undercurrents of Moorish design was also heavily prevalent too. 

Not to mention, Portugal and Spain were some of the greatest international powers in the world during the Renaissance, meaning that their advanced trade gave them access to the world’s prolific gemstone mines. There was also a Gold rush in Portugal during this time which majorly impacted the way and the amount of jewellery that was made. 

19th Century Portuguese Gold Stirrups, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Unfortunately, jewellery prior to 1755 is incredibly hard to find, this is due to a the major earthquake and consequent tsunami that devastated the Portuguese landscape. Yet, to get a sense of what Portuguese jewellery looked like simply looking at the artwork of the monarchy, you get a sense of the opulence and excess. 

When Portugal was being rebuilt, the monarchy understood that jewellery was integral to its economic success, meaning that extra streets were commissioned that were exclusively given to goldsmiths and jewellers. Here, the jewellers would work and craft their pieces on the streets, and prospective buyers could wander between the sellers, making Portugal highly lucrative in the jewellery trade. 

In 2017, an exhibition in Lisbon, in partnership with Sotheby’s, showed the vast glittering collection of S.J Phillips. This was a beautiful display of rare 18th-century Portuguese jewellery.


It is no secret that filigrees are a technique that dates back to thousands of years, yet the Portuguese adopted this and completely made it their own. Signature filigree shapes are the heart of Viana, both a symbol of the sacred heart of Jesus and the Portuguese city of Viana do Castelo. What’s more, this stunning heart was also symbolic of honesty and generosity.

Filigree Heart of Viana, Oporto, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum


Laça is a style of jewellery that was incredibly ornate, popular amongst the Portuguese nobility and monarchy in the 17th century, and it possessed a distinct Portuguese identity. To the modern eye, the way that the brooch was worn is akin to both a brooch and a pendant, however, it is quintessentially antique in every way. 

Spanish Laça Pendant, c.1700, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum

In a traditional laça, Gold was finely worked like lace into a cruciform design (the shape of a cross), and was hung from bowknots, openwork necklaces or ribbon. These were often accompanied by matching earrings that were five tiers long!

Portuguese Pendant, c.1750-1799, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum

Coloured gems 

As seen through the pictures of the exhibition from Lisbon, antique Portuguese and Spanish jewellery fully celebrated the mixture of coloured gemstones, as the prosperity of families was judged by the amount of jewellery they owned, even men wore bejewelled regalia!

Spanish Emerald Pendant, c.1680-1700, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum

Jewelled flowers, laças, earrings, brooches, necklaces and rings were an artistic combination of various tints and tones, achieved through coloured gems and foiling. The Portuguese’s powerful trade links, meant they could easily get their hands on Emeralds, Rubies, Sapphires, Topaz, Chrysoberyls, Amethysts, Rock Crystal, Aquamarines, and Citrines. 

Signature styles included Minas Novas, white topazes that were faceted like Diamonds, pavé set gems and marquise cuts (due to the emerging influence of Parisian styles), and brilliant-cut Chrysoberyls. 

We hope you have enjoyed reading and learning about this fascinating style of jewellery! We will let you know when our next jewellery around the world series is live - any guesses about which country we will do next?

Our blog post next week is themed upon International Women's Day - so keep your eyes peeled!

Love, Lillicoco xo 

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