The Affair of the Diamond Necklace

Last week, I delved into the recent sale of Marie Antoinette’s jewellery, but I didn’t have space to go into the bizarre tale known as The Affair of the Diamond Necklace. Strap in, everyone; this one’s a wild ride!

So, how exactly did a kerfuffle over a huge diamond harness contribute to the French Revolution? Yep, it was more of a harness than a necklace:

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Reproduction necklace based on sketches.

The necklace itself was actually commissioned several years earlier, in 1772, for the previous king, Louis XV’s, favourite mistress, the infamous Madame du Barry.

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Source: Wikipedia

Not one to believe that less is more, the king designed this monstrosity for du Barry, featuring a vast amount of diamonds, including 17 huge diamond drops:

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Original sketch of the necklace design. Source: Wikipedia.

Unfortunately for the jewellers who set about collecting the necessary stones, the king died of smallpox before they were done, leaving his debt unpaid. I know this may not have gone down well with an autocratic king, but this is a prime example of why you get money for custom orders up front, my fellow artists!

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Backed into a corner, the jewellers hoped that the famously lavish Marie Antoinette might want to buy the necklace off them instead. Unfortunately for them, the new queen was not one to wear someone’s sloppy seconds, especially if they were originally designed for a woman she despised and looked down upon.

In 1781, after trying to offload the necklace outside the country, the desperate jewellers once again tried to persuade Marie Antoinette to take it off their hands, but to no avail.

Enter con artist Jeanne de La Motte, who came up with a plan to further her status in court at the cost of the people around her. As you do.

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Source: Wikipedia

Her first play was to get into bed (literally) with the Cardinal de Rohan, a man Marie Antoinette happened to loathe because he’d been gossiping about her mother, naturally. Persuading de Rohan, who was presumably not too bright (or bothered about his vow of chastity), that she was cosy with the queen, La Motte promised to get him back into favour.

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Source: reactiongifs.com

Rohan began sending notes to the queen, with La Motte bringing him replies ‘from the queen herself’, and eventually setting up a meeting between the two at the cardinal’s request. Did this phase La Motte? Not one bit! She simply brought along a local sex worker with a striking resemblance to Marie Antoinette, and they all met in August 1794 in the rose garden at the Palace of Versailles.

Image source: By Kallgan - Unknown, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=336150

After La Motte’s friend had convinced Rohan that she (‘the queen’) had forgiven him, La Motte began borrowing large sums of money off the cardinal for ‘Marie Antoinette’s charity work’. She also started boasting about her relationship with the queen, which people seemed to believe.

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The enterprising jewellers, Boehmer and Bassenge, approached La Motte to try once more to sell the necklace to the queen, and she agreed. Following an incorrectly-signed note to Rohan instructing him to buy the necklace in secret so as not to raise tensions by buying lavish jewellery in a time of starvation.

Rohan merrily went on his way, and secured the necklace, after which La Motte and an accomplice merrily split it up and sold the stones on the black market!

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Unfortunately for them, it all came apart when the jewellers became suspicious of the lack of payment and notes ‘from the queen’, and went to Marie Antoinette herself to demand payment. The queen told them she had not ordered the necklace, had not received it, and most certainly would not be paying for it.

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With a flair for the dramatic, the king and queen resolved to arrest the Cardinal at one of the biggest religious celebrations of the year (presumably to make an example of him). When Rohan was ready to officiate the Assumption of Mary, on 15 August 1785, he was promptly arrested and brought before the court, then to the Bastille. Jeanne de La Motte, however, was not arrested until three days later, in which time she destroyed her papers relating to the fraud.

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Also arrested were Nicole Le Guay, the Marie Antoinette impersonator, and Rétaux de Villette, La Motte’s lover by whom she originally entered court society. Side note: Villette is described on Wikipedia as ‘French procurer, forger, blackmailer and prostitute’, which would make a pretty great Twitter bio…

Somehow, the feckless cardinal managed to worm his way out of punishment, but La Motte was whipped, branded with a V for ‘voleuse’ (‘thief’) on both shoulders (ew), and sent to prison at the Salpêtrière. Villette got off lightly, being merely banished, but La Motte’s unlucky husband was tried in absentia and sent to be a galley slave.

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But it’s not over yet! After a year’s imprisonment, La Motte escaped dressed as a boy, and fled to London, from where she published a savage memoir blaming everything on Marie Antoinette.

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So why did the queen take the fall despite the evidence acquitting her?

This all went down in 1784-5, just 4 years before the French Revolution broke out and the monarchy came to an end. The profligate, Austrian Marie Antoinette was already wildly unpopular, the subject of a lot of vicious political cartoons (seriously, the picture below was the cleanest one I could find…), and her reputation didn’t need much of a push to hit rock bottom.

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Source: Wikipedia

Unfortunately for her, public opinion sided roundly with La Motte, with some suggesting the queen had used her as a way to get some petty revenge on Rohan, or that she simply wanted some new jewels and was stealing from the public purse to get them. Following the affair, the pamphlets against her (read: political porn) began to be produced at an even greater rate, fuelling the anti-monarchy sentiment that eventually led to Marie Antoinette’s own beheading in 1793.

As I said earlier…

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If you’re interested in learning more about the scandal, the chapter on it in Aja Raden’s Stoned has a lot of great detail and is also a really fun book. And if you just can’t get enough, Jonathan Beckman has written an entire book on the subject. Enjoy!

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Disney Designs 5: Sale As Old As Time

The Goblin and I recently watched Beauty and the Beast for the first time in a few years, and you know what that means… Time for another Disney Designs post!

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Source: tenor.com

It’s not entirely clear in which historical period Disney’s 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast is supposed to be set, but a quick Google suggests some time around the mid-to-late 18th century, so let’s go with that.

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Source: giphy.com

In the film, Belle is too busy swooning over the Beast’s gargantuan library (wahey) to wear very much jewellery, but you know who was around at this time who did? You guessed it: Marie Antoinette, the soon-to-be-headless Queen of France.

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Marie Antoinette (pictured here pre-guillotine, obviously..!) Source: Wikimedia Commons

As it happens, Marie Antoinette’s jewellery collection was just auctioned at Sotheby’s in Geneva, after going on display for the first time in two centuries. The collection was sold alongside other royal gems from the Bourbon-Parma family, and the whole lot broke Sotheby’s records, going for a whopping £33.63 million!

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Source: Tumblr

Before the French Revolution broke, she saw the writing on the wall and shipped some of her jewels off to her nephew in Vienna, meaning that they avoided the dismantling which befell the pieces left behind… and, indeed, their owner!

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Source: giphy.com

So, let’s take a peak inside Marie Antoinette’s jewellery box… (Ok, that’s probably enough innuendo now…)

 

It’s clear from first glance that this famous historical magpie was a BIG fan of both diamonds and pearls. Unlike today, where cultured pearls are plentiful and relatively affordable, in Marie Antoinette’s time, naturally-occurring pearls were very rare, and required many hours of life-threatening dives to obtain in any great number. Is it any surprise, then, that they were a favourite of this image-conscious royal?

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly, some saved jewellery was later broken up and reset anyway. This was and continues to be common practice amongst aristocratic families when it comes to heirlooms, since the component gemstones are often more valued than the piece they’re set in. Thus, it’s not unusual to see particularly beautiful stones set and reset into more contemporary pieces over the centuries.

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A 19th century diamond brooch made from stones smuggled out of Paris by Marie Antoinette. Image (c) Sotheby’s.

If you’re interested in the relationships between family members and gems, Sotheby’s have put together a handy family tree to show where each piece came from:

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Source: Sotheby’s (c)

The most famous and anticipated piece sold at auction was this pendant, fashioned from an enormous natural pearl (26 x 18mm!), topped with a diamond bow and large solitaire diamond:

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Image (c) Sotheby’s

It sold for *drumroll please* £28.4 million, beating its £1 million estimate by, er, quite a way, and beating the record previously set by Elizabeth Taylor’s Peregrina pendant.

 

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Source: Tumblr

It’s a total the queen herself would likely have been proud of, although it is true that her lavish tastes were exaggerated by her contemporaries. After all, can you blame them? The opportunity to tie Marie Antoinette to 1784-5 scandal known as ‘The Affair of the Diamond Necklace’ was too good to resist amongst the anti-monarchy feeling of the day…despite the fact that poor old Marie Antoinette had nothing to do with it. But that’s a story for next week’s post…and it’s a banger!

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Source: tenor.com

Spotlight on: rose quartz

It’s getting dark and autumnal and I love the knitwear-boots-hot-drinks vibe but I’m less keen on the greyness, so today I’m looking at things through rose-tinted glasses – or rather, rose-quartz-tinted glasses…

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Source: giphy

Sorry… But really, though, a bit of blush pink crystal is a nice way to brighten up a rainy day, so let’s take a look.

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Source: gfycat.com

What even is rose quartz?

  • It’s a type of oxide mineral.
  • It’s the second most abundant mineral in the Earth’s crust.
  • The name ‘quartz’ comes from the German for ‘hard’ (snigger snigger), and the ‘rose’ part is, of course, a reference to its pale pink hue.
  • It’s generally thought that rose quartz’s pink colour is due to trace amounts of titanium, iron, or manganese.
  • The colour is also photosensitive, so don’t leave your rose quartz pieces in direct sunlight for long periods of time if you want them to stay pink!

Myths, legends, and hidden meanings

From Ancient Egypt to modern crystal enthusiasts, rose quartz’s pretty pink colour and association with romance has created mystical ideas aplenty, but Ancient Greek and Roman myths are the most romantic.

The first is that rose quartz was the physical gift of love bestowed upon humans by Cupid/Eros, the Ancient Greek/Roman god of love. Alternatively, another Greek myth told that rose quartz gained its colour from the blood Aphrodite spilt trying to save her one true love, Adonis. Both lovers bled onto the stone, and this was meant to represent true love. Kinda gross, kinda romantic…

Either way, rose quartz has also been said over the years to have the properties of:

  • Resolving arguments
  • Preventing wrinkles
  • Bringing love into loveless situations
  • Signifying that a deal had been completed
  • Fostering compassion

Whether or not you believe in its special qualities, one thing that’s undeniable is rose quartz’s gorgeous blush pink colour, which has made it popular in designs throughout the centuries…

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Ancient Egyptian necklace made from rose quartz, emerald & ceramic. Royal Ontario Museum. Image by Robert Weldon.
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Sketch of a rose quartz earring by Charlotte Isabella Newman, 1860s. Image (c) Victoria & Albert Museum.

And there’ll be sun, sun, suuuuuun…

This year, the British summer has lasted longer than a few days in May, and we’re all pretty shocked. The vitamin D, blue skies and bright light are fab; the sweaty air, less so…

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Anyway, I’m sat in front of a fan with a cold glass of Pinot Grigio in hand and I’m ready to spread some extra sunshine in the form of sparkles (what else?!).

As long as humans have existed, the sun has been a source of fascination, an object of worship, and a muse for artwork, so it’s no wonder it features in jewellery across time and space. Here are five of my favourite pieces of sun-themed jewellery…

Medal Of The Qajar Order of Aftab, 19th Century CE

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Image: Islamic Art Museum, Malaysia

This beautiful, honorific badge is a gorgeous demonstration of how to mix materials. The central, painted enamel inlay bears the face of the female sun (aftab), which emanates platinum rays set with sparkling diamonds.

The Qajar Dynasty of Persia ruled from 1779-1924, and the Order of Aftab was introduced in 1873 by Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar, the King of Persia. It had two classes, the first for female sovereigns and the spouses of reigning kings, and the second for princesses, women of high rank, or others deemed worthy of special appreciation. The Shah created the order before embarking on a trip to visit foreign dignitaries around the world, which is why Queen Victoria of England was one of the first recipients of a first class order badge.

The first class badge was fashioned in platinum and diamonds, the second uses brilliants rather than diamonds, and is only a semi-circular sun rather than the full disc. Both were worn on a pink and green sash, and all badges were made to this design until the order changed in 1939 with a change of dynasty.

Gold brooch by Castellani, Rome, c.1860

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Image: 7000 Years Of Jewellery, ed. Hugh Tait

This brooch was made around 1860 by the Castellani jewellery company, which specialised in archaeologically-inspired pieces to cater to the 19th Century CE trend for neo-classicism. It’s based on the Greek sun god, Helios, with both the rays and Helios’ hair executed using the popular but difficult ancient technique of granulation, and is approximately 3.25cm in diameter. It was inspired by a Hellenistic Greek ornament in the Campana collection.

Minoan gold brooch, 17th Century BCE

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Image: Encyclopaedia Britannica

Found in a Minoan tomb in Mallia, on the island of Crete, this brooch features the sun’s disk, covered with granulation and held up by two bees, right at the centre of the the piece. The delicate and sophisticated work, particularly for the time in which it was made, involved in the piece is one of the reasons I love this brooch so much. It’s also interesting for its symbolism, because bees were believed to be messengers between the living world and the dead, as well as being the symbol of the Minoan-Mycenaean goddess Potnia. This explains both the work put into the piece and the fact it was found in a tomb – I love it when jewellery has a clear design inspiration!

Sunburst costume pendant, D’Orlan, Mid-20th Century CE

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Image: ebth.com

This piece was made by D’Orlan, a mid-century Canadian jewellery company, and I love it for its vibrant colours and mixed stones. Although it’s costume jewellery, fashioned in gold plating and imitation gemstones, the mixture of tones within the piece give it a fun, vintage charm. It has alternating pink, purple, blue and green rhinestones, turquoise and coral-coloured cabochons, and faux pearls, all channel-set into the cast gold-plated sunburst shape.

Silver suburst necklace, Graham Watling, 1973

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Image: hashtag-silver.com

This sunburst necklace is a little more abstract than the other designs on this list, and that’s exactly why I like it. The artfully-alternating lengths of silver seem to shimmer on the chain, designed to move with the wearer and create a sunny halo round their neck. The designer, Graham Watling, was part of the ‘Renaissance of British Silversmiths’ in the 1970s, and the epitome of the phrase ‘it’s never too late to try something new’ – after a military career and 17 years teaching Arts and Crafts, he completed a BA Hons in silversmithing and began designing and selling his creations!

 

Famous jewels: Jackie O’s engagement ring

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Source: Glamour Magazine

It’s been a busy week, so here’s a quick mini-blog to tide you over until my next full-length post later this week. In my various sparkly research I come across a lot of famous gems I squirrel away to look at at a later date, so here’s one of my favourites, made by French jewellery firm Van Cleef and Arpels…

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Source: Pinterest

Subtle this one is not, but that’s why I love it. I mean, look at this sparkle! The First Lady was famously fond of emeralds (as am I!), so her engagement ring features a 2.84 carat square-cut emerald and a 2.88 carat square-cut diamond within a beautiful open-halo setting of 12 marquise-cut diamonds, as well as numerous smaller round diamonds along the gold band. Phew – no wonder its estimated value today is an eye-watering £966,000!

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Aside from the craftsmanship and sheer wow-factor of the ring, I love the two stand-out square-cut stones nestled together in their laurel-like surrounds. They’re the perfect pair, and a lovely representation of the promise of engagement – if only JFK hadn’t been such a rubbish, philandering husband, he and Jackie could have been the same! Still, at least she got this gorgeous sparkler out of him…

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Source: Pinterest

Let me know your favourite famous jewels in the comments – I love discovering exceptional pieces that I’ve never seen before!

Jet-setter

 

One of the best things about running this business is that I get to create beautiful things that become a treasured part of my customers’ lives, and I get to do that by stretching my design wings. I recently undertook a commission which was heartfelt, exciting and challenging, and I thought I’d share it with you…

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My client was Suzanne*, a lovely woman who owned a treasured but somewhat battered piece of Whitby jet which had been passed down to her by her grandmother. The piece of jet had an extra-special meaning to Suzanne, because her grandma played a big role in raising her, and she wanted it turned into a wearable piece of jewellery so she could carry the gift with her everyday. She was also concerned about the potential to develop arthritis in the future, so she wanted the ring to be adjustable.

As well as being delighted that Suzanne had entrusted this piece of jet with such sentimental meaning to me, I will admit I was a little nervous! Jet is notoriously difficult to set, being quite a flaky and fragile stone. However, the challenge was exciting, and I explored a number of different design options to set this stone into a silver ring, since, after some discussions with Suzanne, it became clear that she favoured rings over other types of jewellery.

I knew as soon as I saw the jet that I wanted to make a design feature of the missing corner rather than crafting a setting to hide it. After all, this jet is a piece of Suzanne’s life story, and life has its imperfections as well. I wanted to embrace the history of the 150-year-old stone, and Suzanne was also excited about this idea, so it was full-steam ahead! We decided to go with the double-band design, and Suzanne absolutely loved it.

After receiving the ring, she sent me a lovely email telling me that she plans to pass the jet down to her own daughter in the future – I could not have been happier or more touched.

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Side view – this is how I achieved the adjustable ring. It can be altered by gently squeezing the sides, and the rounded ends allow a comfortable fit.

I also love the way the design turned out, and the whole process was one of the best commissions I’ve ever had. Sometimes I can’t believe I actually get to do this job!

*Not her real name; I like to maintain my clients’ privacy unless they wish to be a part of blog posts etc.

Disney Designs 4: Dun(broch) mind if I do

Time for another Disney Designs post! This week we’re going to run, fly, chase the wind, touch the sky…and take a look at Queen Elinor’s necklace.

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Ok, maybe just that last one, then…

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If you’ve not seen the film, Queen Elinor of Clan Dunbroch (above) is the mother of Merida, the flame-haired archer princess who is Brave‘s protagonist. Also, if you haven’t seen the film, I highly recommend it. Although a bit short on songs for my taste, it makes up for it with its focus on Merida and Elinor’s relationship, its lowkey, dry humour, and Merida being a generally cool but also realistic 16-year-old. I won’t spoil it for you if you’ve not seen it, but there is an excellent bit with an archery competition…

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To get back to the point of this blog, when it comes jewellery, as well as her gleaming green circlet, Elinor also has a bear pendant which she gives to Merida before the ill-fated suitor contest:

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….aaaand then Merida trades it to a witch. Ouch.

Anyhow, Elinor’s necklace is in a recognisably Celtic style, which makes sense given the story’s 10th century Scottish setting, but I wondered how it compared to what people might really have been wearing at the time.

 

Circular pendants and brooches with interlocking patterns were certainly popular in 10th century Scotland, but it seems there were more abstract than animal motifs. The never-ending circle motif was everywhere, just as it is on the walls of Merida’s castle:

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The three-animals-in-a-continuous-circle motif was widespread in Far East Asia, along the Silk Road, and in the Middle East, in the form of three hares rather than three bears. Although it’s uncertain when exactly the symbol travelled to Western Europe, it does not seem to appear consistently before the 13th century ,so Brave is a little early on that one.

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13th century Iranian tray depicting the Three Hares. Photo by Chris Chapman.

However, animal heads as part of the triskele motif were found in Scotland and Ireland from the 5th-6th century:

 

I didn’t find any examples with bears from the period when Brave is set, but bears’ teeth were popular amongst those with slightly more hardcore tastes…

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9th – 11th century CE

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And if anyone fancies channelling Merida? Well, I’ve made a new design: a Celtic-inspired shield necklace just for you…

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Just don’t go trading it with witches, now!

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