One of the reasons that some antique jewellery has survived for us to buy and wear today is because it has been altered or converted in some way. The gemstones may have part of an earlier piece which has been re-designed, the earrings may have been drops attached to a pendant or the pendant might have been a brooch but the pin has been removed and a loop for a chain added.
There are many reasons why an item might have been altered. One reason related to the changing expertise of jewellers and the equipment available to them. For instance, during the Renaissance, much of the focus of a piece of jewellery was on enamelling the gold surrounds of the gem and on ring shoulders, with the stones there just to provide a bit of colour. It was not until the middle of the 17th century that jewellers had the tools to facet and polish gems and so attention began to move from the setting to the gemstone. When the style of a piece of jewellery became dated, the stones were removed, faceted and re-set in the new fashion.
Another reason for altering jewellery was due to change in clothing and hair fashions. If hairstyles changed so that hair was worn covering one’s ears, then it became impossible to wear long dangling pendeloque and girandole earrings. So, why not convert them to a necklace or pendant? If low necklines were replaced with high necklines, then short necklaces were replaced with long chains and/or brooches.
The lovely hand painted miniature with the diamond surround shown in the photo at the top of the post is a re-purposed piece, with a gold Victorian bracelet links replacing possibly a plaited hair band. Not everyone wanted to wear someone else’s hair and woven hair bands would often stretch and become too loose.
As men’s clothing became less ornate, their gem set shoe buckets and buttons were converted into earrings and rings.
Cuff links, too, as they went out of fashion, were converted into earrings.
Next week, I will look at converted brooches.