I thought I should start this post by defining what a festoon necklace is as it is not always clear. The word ‘festoon’ is defined in the Chambers Dictionary as ‘a garland suspended between two points; an ornament like a garland’ from the French feston, which is apparently connected to the Latin festum, meaning a festival. That means that we need to know what a garland is. It is defined as ‘a wreath of flowers or leaves; …a crown; ornament’ from the French garlande. So have these definitions clarified anything? Actually, I am still a little unclear about what a festoon necklace is.

Antique citrine festoon necklace

Shirley Bury, in her two volume ‘Jewellery: 1789-1910’, talks on p 63 about the two types of necklaces that were common between 1790 to around 1800. One was a rivière of stones in individual collets but the other, the most common type, is comprised of a necklace centre, often serving as the clasp connected ‘by multiple festoons of fine chains, beads or stones…Sometimes further chains, interspersed with smaller units echoing the shape of the necklace centre, were suspended perpendicularly from the main necklace’. Examples of necklaces from 1805 show pietra dura plaques joined by two rows of gold chains (p232), shell motifs linked by three rows of threaded seed pearls in 1810 (p153), and even as late as 1826-28, a festoon necklace of two strands of pearls joined at the front with a central drop (p279). By 1830, though, Bury notes that while the necklace with a central feature was still worn, the linking chains, while sometimes still festooned, were often shorter (p 282).

Festoon necklaces are not mentioned by Bury again, apart for one or two elaborate necklaces with diamond chains worn by royalty, until the Edwardian period when necklaces with gold chain festoons came back into fashion, along with diamond set garlands and festoons.

Late Victorian gold festoon necklace

Daniela Mascetti and Amanda Triossi, in their book, ‘The Necklace’, talk about Festonné design necklaces as being ones that incorporates festoons (p217). They point to necklaces from the Classical Greek period with intricate festoons of gold chains in different tiers (pp 13 and 24) and, like Bury, to 18th century necklaces. They discuss the esclavage necklace which ‘consisted of a basic open-work band embellished with single or multiple central festoons, often enriched with pendants ‘ (p61). Esclavage means ‘slavery’ in French. The style originated as peasant jewellery in parts of France. Henri Vever, the famous French Art Nouveau jeweller, described them as a ‘necklace mounted in slavery’, meaning that the chains were entwined and enslaved by each other (M C W Fieggen, ‘Traditional French Jewellery’, 2021). The elaborate ecalavage necklaces in the middle of the 18th century were to become less ornate by the end of the century as noted by Bury, but more opulent versions made of chains of gemstones were to be worn during Napoleon’s reign. Interestingly, Ginny R Dawes with Olivia Collings in ‘Georgian Jewellery’ don’t refer to festoon necklaces at all, describing them as swag necklaces.

Antique Indian silver festoon necklace

So, from the above, I would expect a festoon necklace to be made of chains, comprised of metal or gemstones, which are joined together usually at the front of the necklace and at various points around the necklace so that the chains hang like swags or drapes.