VICTORIAN JEWELLERY SETS
Large sets of matching jewellery, sometimes of precious stones but often
of coral, pearls or ivory, were the height of fashion in the first half of Victoria's reign.
A large parure is a set of matching jewels comprising a necklace, brooches, bracelets and earrings. A demi-parure has just a necklace, a brooch and a bracelet. They were large and expensive and were fashionable among women of substance from the middle of the 19th century.
Some sets had one stunning ornament perhaps a grand necklace or a tiara - which could he taken apart with a tiny screwdriver to form, for example, two dress clips, a brooch, earrings and a single brilliant stone that, added to a shank, made a ring.
At the height of Queen Victoria's reign, jewellery was a sign of social status as well as taste. It was worn by women to show off the wealth of the men who kept them; the richer the husband or father, the more sumptuously his wife and daughters were adorned.
Traditionally, it was only on her marriage that a woman could indulge a love of jewels to the full, for unmarried girls were supposed to dress modestly. A husband would give his new bride a beautifully designed jewellery casket, with compartments containing ornaments for different purposes and times of day. The most important of these was the set of matching dress jewellery - the parure.
Presented with a few basic pieces of this set at her wedding, the wife would add complementary pieces to it over the years. She only wore her parure on special occasions such as balls or family celebrations and for visits to the theatre or the opera.
By 1900, large parures, with their formal look, were no longer fashionable and women were combining items of jewellery with a flexibility that heralded the century ahead.
A custom-made, velvet-lined, red leather jewellery box containing an elaborate set of matching necklace, earrings and brooch with floral designs in coloured stones in a gold setting.
Whole parures come up for sale at auctions and high class jewellers although the chances of finding a bargain are slim. Over the years many have been split up when their owners passed them on to daughters and grandchildren; the individual pieces are generally more affordable and are certainly more likely to be worn today.
The most practical way to see the very best parures is to examine those kept in museum collections. Fashions were set by Queen Victoria and the leading ladies of the royal court.
TOP JEWELLERY DESIGNERS
Two of the favourite jewellery designers among the fashionable ladies of Victorian high society were Castellani and Giuliano. Their pieces have never lost their value and they still fetch the highest prices. Whole sets complete with their original cases by these makers are extremely hard to find and potential buyers should be wary of fakes.
Both Castellani and Giuliano presented their jewels in hand-crafted boxes which are almost impossible to imitate today. The Castellani cases were usually made from burgundy-coloured velvet or leather. The Giuliano family commissioned their cases from various firms, usually in green and gold-tooled Morocco leather. Boxes made by Guichard for the Guilianos had a small gold 'G' stamped near the hinge. Though the original cases are highly valuable, they often contain cardboard which is acidic and tarnishes silver and silver-mounted jewellery. Silver pieces should be carefully wrapped in acid-free tissue paper and stored in boxes.
Victorian jewellery was once considered dowdy and fussy and few people wanted to buy it. But not any more. In a relatively short time, fashions have changed and 19th-century pieces frequently hold pride of place at auction house jewellery sales. On the right occasion, a fine piece is still a joy to wear and a complete matching set can be breathtaking.