By Katie Austin
The Renaissance (14th-17th centuries CE) was a time of unparalleled advancement in secular human thought, art, social policy, scientific experimentation, music and discovery. As the name suggests, the period was rebirth of sorts, ushering in a new age of appreciation for and encouragement of intellectual and cultural pursuits heavily influenced by Ancient Grecian and Roman societies. Stars from this era included scientist Galileo Galilei, painter and sculptor Michelangelo, first novelist Miguel de Cervantes, political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli, father of the Protestant Reformation Martin Luther and playwright William Shakespeare, but who were the true stars of the Renaissance when it comes to jewelry? Diamonds!
Until the Renaissance, diamonds weren’t seen as worth much or even desired in jewelry, for that matter, but why? Interestingly, the same quality that rendered diamonds unwanted in the past was exactly what made diamonds so desirable from the Renaissance right up to today: colorlessness. Until the late 15th century, the preciousness of a stone was directly tied to its color and people of wealth and power largely insisted on adornments of gold and colored gems. That’s why King Tut’s sarcophagus is dripping with lapis lazuli and turquoise and why St. Edward’s Crown in the UK monarchy’s family jewels is coated with just about every colored stone imaginable instead of our precious diamonds. On the rare occasion that diamonds were worked by lapidarists, they were polished into smooth cabochon stones instead of faceted gems, with little fanfare.
We have one man to thank for that tradition shifting to faceted diamonds: a Belgian by the name of Louis de Berquem. In 1475, de Berquem developed what he considered to be “the perfect cut”, which we today know as the rose cut. The rose cut consists of a flat bottom with a domed, faceted top that comes to a slight point in the center, which is meant to resemble the physical properties of a rose. Instead of a clear, marble-like gem, people could finally see what diamonds do best- reflect and refract light to flash with incredible color and fire within their facets. While we no longer consider the rose cut to be the ideal cut for diamonds or gemstones, it’s still important to recognize that de Berquem and his rose cut diamond changed the jewelry industry forever. They caused a major shift in the jewelry tastes of the rich, connected and powerful, which trickled down to the tastes of everyday people. De Berquem is basically the reason why so many of you have a diamond engagement ring on your fingers. De Berquem also created a lasting style of stone cut. Even if the rose cut is no longer considered the “ideal cut” of a white diamond, you’ll still see gorgeous, rose cut black diamond rings in the cases of The Jewelbox.
As you know from reading earlier posts, the pearl has long been a treasured jewel, adorning the bodies of everyone from the Ancient Egyptians to the Romans. It was the Renaissance, though, that saw a really interesting reinvention of the use of pearls in jewelry. Just like with diamonds, baroque, or irregularly-shaped, pearls benefited from the undeniable creativity of Renaissance jewelers. Before the Renaissance, baroque pearls were valued by royalty, but you’ll notice as you look at crowns and other royal jewels that even the baroque pearls in them are smooth and relatively consistent teardrop shapes. There just wasn’t as much use for asymmetrical, “lumpy” pearls. Jewelers of the Renaissance, though, in their wit and wisdom, realized that Baroque pearls often form shapes that can easily represent portions of animals and people in figure art. Suddenly, lowly baroque pearls formed the gentle curves of a woman’s torso on a brooch, the twisted tail of a sea serpent pin or, as you see, the well-muscled torso of a fierce, golden lion on a pendant. This level of imagination encouraged jewelers to work with the unusual shapes of baroque pearls to create pieces of art as uniquely fascinating as the people who wear them. That’s why you’ll see so many beautifully individual baroque pearl pieces created by The Jewelbox, from elongated “stick pearls” set as dreamy dangle earrings to the custom pendant at right of a baroque pearl transformed into a dear little mouse pendant.
Where did jewelry go after the 17th century? Visit The Jewelblog next week for a peek at what bejeweled adornments were like in the Colonial Period!