A Treasure Trove: Enameled Jewels from 1550-1700

Some Other Color than “Gold”

This post was inspired by my project for HSF Challenge #7.

The Renaissance and Baroque periods were immensely ornate. Deep colors were indulged in and everyone rich enough to afford them was donning clothes made of a ransom’s worth of fine silks, velvets, pearls, and gemstones. Why should gold be left naked? Though we sometimes feel that enameling is tacky looking (thanks in part to terrible mass-produced Christmas pins), the enamel artisans of the late-16th and 17th century achieved a look that is anything but cheap!

Enameled Gold Pendant with Rock Crystals and Pearls, circa 1610-20

Enameled Gold Cross Pendant with Rubies, Diamonds, and Pearl, circa 1610-20

Enameled Gold Ornament with Pearls, circa 1600

Small enameled gold ornaments like this would be sewn directly onto clothing. Many were later converted to have brooch-backs made, especially in the 19th century when Renaissance Revival style swept through European fashion.

Enameled Gold Brooch (later conversion) with Diamond and Pearls, circa 1610

Enamel work was often mixed in with precious stones. Even if the front of a piece was paved with large table cut gems, the smallest tongue of gold that showed between the stones would be covered with enamel. Early jewels are covered in bold, primary colors like deep red, bright blue, emerald green, fiery yellow-orange. Most pieces before 1660 feature enamel work applied to sculpted, 3-dimentional pieces. Though the actual thickness of the metal may not have been great, the combination of careful sculpting and enamel gave the pieces depth and presence. Many of the larger pendants were made and worn in Spain. Spaniards adored bold lines and colors. Their enamel work was often some of the most intricate and dense.

Enameled Gold Pendant (front and back) with Emeralds, circa 1650

The back of pieces were often more elaborately enameled than the front of the piece. Since almost all stones were placed in closed-back settings, there was plenty of space for the enamel artist to display his skills. Jewelry was made to be admired both on and off the body, so being beautiful from all sides was essential. Because enamel is made of fused glass particles, the colors do not fade as readily as other paints and pigments, so a piece enameled over 500 years ago will have colors as brilliant as the day they were fired. Bright colors were, of course, very popular, but the all-time favorite color combo was the dynamic duo black and white.

Enameled Gold Monogram Pendant (front and back) with Lapis Lazuli and Paste stones, circa 1600-30

Enameled Gold Ring with Garnet, circa 1550-1600

Rings, though small, almost always had at least a touch of enamel on the shank. Many of the gold rings from between 1500 and 1700 once had colorful enameled designs on the band and were not as plain as they appear today (it’s kind of like the famous Grecian marbles which we always admire for their clean, white simplicity, but many were brightly painted). The enamel wore off after years of wear, often helping save the metal underneath from damage or erosion, especially on silver pieces.

Enameled Gold Ring with portraits of Anne of Austria and her son (King Louis XIV), circa 1625

Enameled Gold Frame around an Enameled Gold Holy Shroud Scene under Crystal, circa 1650

During the 17th century, small scenes stamped or sculpted of thin, enameled metal set behind panes of rock crystal or glass soared in popularity. Religious scenes, mementos mori, and symbols of love were popular themes. After the execution of King Charles I in 1649, versions of these rock crystal jewels called Stuart Crystals made from woven locks of the king’s hair or his portrait became immensely popular among Royalists. Later monarchs were also honored in this manner, including Queen Mary and William III.

Rock Crystal Pendant commemorating the Death of William III, circa 1702

Enameled Gold Memento Mori Pendant, circa 1660

A popular motif since ancient times, the memento mori gained huge popularity as early Christian morality took hold of Europe. The focus on life after death was a big theme and the pivotal moment of death–the last moment to escape from the bonds of sin and hell–was an important event. The Latin “memento mori” roughly translates to “remember death.” Pendants, charms, and rings served as daily reminders of the fragility of life and the need to both live well and/or righteously. Due to their connections with death and the afterlife, memento mori motifs like the skull, skeleton, and crossbones also served as symbols of mourning.

Enameled Gold Mourning Ring surrounding a Lock of Hair, circa 1661

Enameled Silver Miniature Case, circa 1660

Enamel wasn’t just applied to gold. Silver gained popularity in the latter half of the 17th century as light blues and pinks came into fashion. A cheaper alternative to gold, silver was often used to make more utilitarian objects, such a chains and cases for sewing kits. The miniature case is an early incarnation of the locket. It is larger and deeper than a modern locket and would have held a portrait miniature, a popular aristocratic gift to send to friends, family, patrons, or lovers. Many of these cases reveal the trend towards more painterly decoration than enamel work of the earlier half of the century, which focused on accenting shapes rather than being the focal point of the design.

Enameled Gold Miniature Case, circa 1650-1660

Enameled Gold Bow Pendant with Ruby and Pearl drop, circa 1630-1660

Enameled Gold Badge, circa 1650-75

Enameled Gold Pendant with Rubies, Sapphires, Emeralds, and Diamonds, circa 1680-1700

By the 1680s, enameling styles had changed. The major difference between earlier pieces (those from before 1660) and later pieces (those after 1660) is that the way the enameling is applied slowly began to change as tastes in fashion changed. Stones and enamel were no longer melded together so freely, though the style remained relatively common in Spain and Germany. France was rapidly rising in power, bringing with it lighter, more romantic tastes in color and texture. By the mid 18th century, almost all decorative enamel work is smooth and is painted on relatively flat, 2-dimentional surfaces rather than the highly sculpted surfaces of the centuries before.

Enameled Watch and Case, circa 1686-1700

All of the pieces featured in this article are from the collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum. You can find many, many more beautiful examples of enamel from different eras by using the handy advanced search option to narrow your search by year, technique, material, or object type.

(Note to American researchers: Use “jewellery” instead of “jewelry” as a search keyword. The former is the British spelling of the word and the V&A, being British, does not recognize the American spelling as well)

For more examples of Renaissance enameled jewels, you can also check out the Jewel Book of the Duchess Anna of Bavaria.

Find of the Month: Stuart Crystal Breeches Button!!!!!

September 2012

I’m crazy for Stuart Crystals. They’re tiny, old, glittery, sentimental masterpieces: all my favorite characteristics of an object! However, I never dreamed I would ever be able to hold one, much less own one. Besides the fact that they are exceptionally old, they’re fairly scarce since they were only made in England between the 1650s and 1730s. All these factors add up to one well-deserved, but hefty price tag!

Going broke for Baroque!

There was no way I could afford one of these beauties, not without winning the lottery or selling vital organs, or so I told myself.

I was scanning the internet for a set of Victorian button for the Gabby dress when I found this:

OMG! OMG! Was it, maybe? Yes? Could it…?!

It was listed for $40. The seller called it a “18th century rock crystal breeches button” and only listed the dimensions (1/2 inch), but I had to have it. When I bought it, I thought it was empty–no hair, no cypher, no colored foiling. When it arrived, it was scratched, yet underneath you could see that it actually did have a little trefoil cypher inside which you can just barely make it out in the original scan!

Stuart Crystal Breeches Button, circa 1690-1700

Cut Collet Detail

Silver back of the Button

Trefoil Cypher (off-center)

For being over 300 years old, it is in remarkable shape. It has lots of surface scratches and has lost pretty much all of it’s foil color, but I love it–squealing like a giddy school girl– love it!

I am beyond thrilled to own this tiny piece of British history.


I Need Your Help making a Stuart Crystals Wikipedia Page!

Help Wanted!

I was doing research the other day on Stuart Crystal Jewelry and was stunned that there wasn’t a Wikipedia page for it. I attempted to create one, but according to Wikipedia, I do not have enough credible sources to back up my article. I am pasting a copy of what I wrote (along with the few sources I found) in the hopes that someone else here might be able to either expand on what I wrote, add sources, or perhaps make a fresh version of the article. I think that Stuart crystals are historically important and if Morris the Cat can have a Wikipedia page, why don’t these pieces of history have one?

Here is the entry I drafted:



Stuart crystals are a form of 17th and 18th century mourning jewelry. Stuart crystals get their names from the House of Stuart. The crystals were pieces of political jewelry that commemorate the execution of King Charles I in 1649. The first jewels were made from locks of King Charles’ hair preserved under faceted rock crystal (quartz), often decorated with his initials or miniature portrait. They were worn by Royalists who opposed the king’s execution on the grounds that as God’s chosen leader, Charles I was above the law and his death was not justice, but murder. Later, the crystals were adopted by Jacobites who opposed the deposition of James II and the Stuart monarchy in 1688. Since supporting fallen monarchs was dangerous, many Stuart crystals are small and were worn in secret. However, as the 17th century continued, Stuart crystals evolved into mementos mori and generalized commemorative jewelry. They remained popular into the 18th century until larger, more neoclassical jewelry came into fashion.


Stuart crystals come in three main forms: slides, rings, and earrings. Original Stuart crystals were rings or ribbon slides, but many were later converted into other types of jewelry. Stuart crystals almost always contain hair, often woven so finely it appears like cloth. [1]

In addition to hair, a Stuart crystal may contain gold initials, filigree designs, colored foil, portrait miniatures, and enameled symbols. Skeletons, skulls, doves, angels, cherubs or putti, and flowers are the most common type of symbolic charms found inside Stuart crystals.


Gordon, Cathy. “Stuart Crystal Jewelry.” Web. 18 June, 2012. http://imageevent.com/bluboi/stuartcrystal

The Three Graces. “Reference – Helpful Terms & Glossary.” Web. 18 June, 2012. http://www.georgianjewelry.com/reference/helpful_terms

McFerran, Noel S. “The Jacobite Heritage.” Web. 18 June, 2012. http://www.jacobite.ca/

British Broadcasting Corporation. “Charles I (1600 – 1649).” Web. 18 June, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/charles_i_king.shtml


I know that it isn’t a full article or anywhere near complete, but I thought it would be nice to have at least a little stub for people who are trying to find out more information about these fascinating gems. There are tons of historians and jewelry experts out there who could really help fill this little gap . Any information (and especially sources) would help!

Ruby Laners and Costume History Enthusiasts, here’s looking at you!

If you are savvier with creating entries than I am or want to view the critique on the entry I submitted, here’s the link to the Wikipedia Talk page so you can edit it:


I also posted this as a note on Facebook so you can share it with anyone you know on FB who might be able to help:


I’ve never actually made my own Wikipedia page before, but I knew when I submitted it that it was a little low on sources (and pictures). Sorry if it seems like I’m getting a little frazzled by this, but I’m a strong believer in sharing information and making research easier for everyone. If you have any sources, links, or information that could help out, please leave a comment!

Thanks for collaborating on this project with me!