…She is a complete angel. Look at her. Is not she an angel in every gesture? Observe the turn of her throat. Observe her eyes, as she is looking up at my father. You will be glad to hear (inclining his head, and whispering seriously) that my uncle means to give her all my aunt’s jewels. They are to be new set. I am resolved to have some in an ornament for the head. Will not it be beautiful in her dark hair?”
Emma, Chapter 54
Have you ever wondered what type of jewels Frank Churchill talks about in this passage?
The Churchill’s obviously had a large estate, money and riches. Part of that inheritance would have been some ancestral jewels no doubt. Mrs Churchill’s jewels were probably made in the mid to late 18th century, and were as a consequence, most probably, fabulous.
A book which I can recommend should you want to know what the jewellery of this period looked like is Georgian Jewellery by Ginny Redington Dawes and Olivia Collings:
They are dealers in antique jewellery and this book is sumptuously illustrated with fine examples of jewellery of the period. Sadly, it is now out of print and the price for second hand example takes my breath away, but perhaps you can find it in a library if you don’t already own a copy.
Back to jewels. Mrs Churchill most probably owned jewellery dating from 1760. We are not told her age by Jane Austen but perhaps she was in her 60s when she died? In that case she most probably had sets like this:
This is a parure of foiled topaz circa 1760. The term foiled means that the gems were set behind a tiny piece of foil, which was cut to shape, to add lustre and brilliancy to their appearance.
She almost certainly owned earrings in this style, girandole, which was fashionable throughout the 18th century:
The girandole earrings was usually of this design-a central bow from which were suspended three pear shaped pendants, and of course the jewels resembled chandeliers of the period, hence their adoption of that name..
And when wearing her jewels altogether perhaps she might have resembled George III’s bride, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, as shown here in a portrait by Thomas Frye dating from 1761.
Or she might have owned jewels resembling these- diamond jewels given to Mrs. Fitzherbert by the Prince of Wales:
The trend in the early 19th century was for lighter, but still symmetrical pieces. So Jane Fairfax may have had some of the jewels new set into this style, a multi gemstone pansy necklace:
The fashion for jewelled flowers resembling pansies persisted throughout the 19th century, because they were love tokens: the French word for pansy flowers was Pensees which was also the French word for thoughts: being given a piece containing representations of these flowers therefore indicated you should always remember the giver of this jewellery.
And it was not at all unusual for older pieces to be broken up and to be re-set, sometimes adding new stones, sometimes not. For example, this is an interesting piece, placed on the bill for the work involved in re setting it.
It was supplied by Rundell Bridge and Rundell- the Prince of Wales jewellers, in 1806 to Luke Dillon, 3rd Lord Clonbrock. ( the illustration was taken from my copy of the catalogue, Royal Goldsmiths: The Art of Rundell and Bridge 1797-1843 by Christopher Harrop.)
This is a picture of their premises in Ludgate Hill in London- their shop can be seen on the left at the sign of the Golden Salmon (and please do enlarge this picture to see the detail- you can do this for all the illustrations to this post merely by clicking on them)
Some brilliant cut diamonds costing £450 were added to Lady Clonbrocks existing diamonds, which were then taken out of their old settings and this new necklace was created. Looking at the bill, the re-setting of the diamonds cost 16 guineas.
Lord Clonbrock had estate in Ireland worth £10,00 per annum in 1799… and that of course was Fitzwilliam Darcy’s income in Pride and Prejudice. In that case I would dearly like to see inside Elizabeth Bennet’s jewellery case after she married Darcy ;-)
As to pieces of jewellery that could be worn in the hair, tiaras, of course, were fashionable in this era: the empress Josephine of France wore them to great effect.
But there were other types of hair ornament, like these:
en tremblant pieces that could be worn together as a tiara, or separated to make three or more different pieces: a stomacher brooch, a shoulder ornament
or a single hair comb.
En tremblant meant that the pieces were affixed to small, finely coiled springs and so that as the wearer moved, the ornaments trembled and the gems sparked even more.
So there you are , on the day Emma with Romola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller airs in the US on PBS Masterpiece theater, a speculative glimpse of Mrs Churchill jewels …enjoy, do.