Thursday, March 15, 2012

Diamonds! How Brilliant!

Diamonds have always been special! As we all know, they're a girl's best friend. As another song says, Diamonds are Forever!

Interestingly enough, the first "brilliant" cut diamonds were introduced in the mid-17th Century, also known as the double-cut stone. But, the brilliant cut that we all know and love, was developed by Vincent Peruzzi, a Venetian gem polisher, in 1700. He increased the number of crown facets from 17 to 33, known as the triple-cut, thereby increasing the jewel's fire and brilliance! Of course, today more cuts are being developed as precision tools allow for advancement, but the Peruzzi set the standard for quite a long time.

The 18th Century was known as the "age of gems", though not all gems were precious, and to fill the great demand throughout Europe, "paste" was used.  Paste is not imitation stone, but a brilliant glass that could be used when precious stones could not. Think, today, of the Swarovski crystal, as an example, with its radiance and rainbow effect.

The French, of course, set the tone of fashionable jewelry, with jewelry making becoming such a demanding profession that two types of jewellers evolved! One was the "bijouterie" who worked with gold and enamel, and the other, the "joaillerie" who mounted diamonds and precious stones.

All the rage were the "parures", or matching sets of necklaces, earrings and bracelets, and sometimes even a tiara. Men's parures might include sword, buckles, buttons. Also coveted was the "chatelaine", which could carry a miscellaneous assortment of small, utilitarian objects, like thimbles, scissors, magnifying glasses, scent-cases, patch boxes, keys, watches, etc. By 1785, they were the most popular wedding gift, the the essential "equipage" for the bride!

The English court set an interesting custom that included the rental of fabulous jewels for special events. The stones were hired from a local jeweler, and when the occasion was over, the jewels went right back to the shop!. Think of the "red carpet set" of today that don lavish jewels for the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the Tonys, etc. Most of those jewels are rented, too, and work as an advertisement for the jewelers who offer them, including Harry Winston, Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpel.

Back to "paste" for a moment. Though the origins of the work are unknown, paste is a collective word for cut glass that is faceted to resemble the real thing. Georges Frederic Strass, an 18th Century Parisian jeweler also lends his name to this type of stone. Around 1730, he became so well-known for these pseudo-gems, that they are often called Strass. He was appointed to the post of jeweler to the King of France in 1734, and his fame became assured. Even Marie Antoinette "resorted" to wearing them, as we, too, will wear something just because it's the newest thing that's all the rage!

Think of the new plastic watches, bracelets made of bottle cap rings  or rubber that support a cause.

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