Saturday, July 31, 2010

Inside Scarlett's Jewelry Box

“You can have all the cash you want for the house and all you want for your fal-lals.  And if you like jewelry, you can have it but I'm going to pick it out.  You have such execrable taste, my pet.”
--Gone with the Wind, Chapter XLVIII

On the heels of what certainly was our most somber post to date, we decided that we needed a much more lighthearted topic today to balance things out. (And, yes, never let it be said that we don't know how to kick off the weekend in style here at How We Do Run On, posting an entry on prison camps on a Friday evening.)  

So on a much less grim note, today we bring you a discussion about the jewelry that could have found its way into Scarlett's jewelry box following her marriage to Rhett (provided, of course, that Mr. Butler didn't deem it execrable). As a handy visual aid to guide our discussion, I put together a collage that shows a possible glimpse into Scarlett's jewelry box, complete with all circa 1870 jewelry. You can scroll over any item to click on it and get more information, while below I've outlined some of the main trends in 1860-1870s  era jewelry (which, of course, are all visible in the collage). A complete list of all jewelry pieces with links is also available after the jump at the end.
With the rise of the voluminous hoop skirt in the early 1860s, jewelry started to become larger and heavier in order to stay in proportion with the broad silhouettes of the time. And as the 1860s turned into the 1870s, ladies’ dress of course only got more elaborate with bustles and fringe and flounces and pleats galore--meaning big jewelry continued to rule supreme. And big often went hand in hand with dramatic details, like clustered gems, intricately engraved metals and tassel and fringe accents (examples of all of which you can find in the collage above). 

Overall, the general motto of the time pretty much was "bigger is better." Massive jewelry was seen as not only conveying high-quality, but durability. So Scarlett’s love of gaudy jewelry, while perhaps on the outer boundaries of what we’d call tasteful today, was well aligned with her era’s standards.  Just forget that part where MM said that "It was an era that suited her, crude, garish, showy, full of over-dressed women, over-furnished houses, too many jewels..." Oh well. 

Color, Color and More Color.
Not only was jewelry of the period generally oversized, it was also awash in colors--so many  colors of gems, in fact, that I will gladly let Harold Clifford Smith, author of Jewellry (1908), take over and provide you with a full account:  
“The general tendency lay in the direction of the coloured stones popular in ancient times — the topaz, peridot, aquamarine, and amethyst; together with precious stones, such as emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds, and with pearls. The latter were generally reserved only for the most sumptuous ornaments, but were occasionally used in conjunction with jewels of less value. The stones most commonly used were carnelians, moss-agates, turquoises, garnets, pink and yellow topazes, as well as coral, mingled together.”
--excerpted from Jewellery (1908)
In the collage, you'll find the following rainbow of gemstones on display: garnets, amethysts, peridots, pearls, emeralds, rubies, diamonds, citrines, and turquoise. 

Cameos Make a Cameo.
The quote excerpted above actually offers us another clue about period jewelry, with its mention of "stones popular in ancient times." For the Victorians were just wild about ancient cultures, especially those falling within in the Greco-Roman tradition and, more broadly, all things Italian (as we'll see with the Etruscan Revival). Out of this fascination came the revival of the cameo style. Cameos first returned to jewelry boxes in the late 18th century, thanks in part to Napoleon's interest in the Roman world, but would only become widespread starting in the mid-Victorian era. Cameos were made out of a variety of materials--shell, lava, coral, ivory, jet, onyx, and even gemstones--and, beginning in the 1860s, they became larger and more ornate (shocker). So in homage to this trendy style, we have a fancy pair of cameo earrings on display for you in the collage. 

Trust in the Etruscan Revival.
I wasn't lying when I said the Victorians were wild about ancient cultures. In fact, jewelry of the 1860-1870s featured too many 'revivals' of ancient and medieval jewelry styles to count. But one of the most popular was what was called the Etruscan or Archaeological Revival. As its name suggested, it got its inspiration from the archaeological digs in Italy which unearthed gold treasures from the ancient Etruscan civilization. The Etruscan style featured an intricate form of metal decoration called "granulation." A nice period description of the technique can be found in a 1877 account from Harper's New Monthly Magazine:
"[I]t is found that the effect is produced by minute globes of gold, each one perfectly round and smooth, soldered on the surface in exact lines, each globe touching the next... How were they made, and how were they soldered on in such absolutely true lines? The ablest gold-workers in America (and that is to say the ablest in the world) tell us they cannot explain it."
Although gold-workers might not be able to explain how their ancient predecessors created the technique, they were certainly able to reproduce it themselves--and reproduce it they did in droves. You can find several examples of the Etruscan Revival in our collage (the Etruscan pendant necklace, the love-knot brooch-pin, the fringed earrings, and Archaeological Revival bracelet). Additionally, close-up looks at the granulation technique can be seen here and here.   

Diamonds Become a Girl’s Best Friend.
Prior to 1871, only alluvian diamonds (diamonds discovered via the natural erosion of earth) were available. So it's no surprise that diamonds were extremely rare and expensive in the early Victorian era. But the discovery of diamonds in South Africa in 1866, followed by the opening of the Kimberley mine in 1871, started to change that, kicking off a 'diamond rush' of  fresh supplies of the highly coveted stone and making diamond jewelry the height of style. While still the purview of the wealthy, diamonds increased availability meant more diamonds in more jewelry, allowing it to become the new best friend of a whole era of well-to-do Victorian women, perhaps our dear Scarlett included. 

So that in a nutshell (or a jewelry box) concludes our look into Scarlett's jewelry. Wouldn't it be nice to borrow a piece or two from her collection?


  1. Oh I wrote a post and it seems to have been eaten by the internet! Anyway, hopefully this won't show up twice. I loved loved loved this entry about jewelry! I was actually thinking about asking if one of you could write something on this since I had researched this a bit but never came up with all that much information. (I tend to get frustrated when I don't find what I want fast ;))Anyway, thanks for posting this! It was a really interesting read, epsecially since I have a bit of an obsession with jewelry.

  2. Sara, I'm so glad you enjoyed the post! I have to say it was one of my very favorite topics to research thus far, especially because I have a little bit of an obsession with jewelry too. I also find it fascinating that "typical" jewelry of the time was so opulent. I mean, unless I somehow get to a) attend the Oscars or b) meet the Queen of England, I don't think I'll ever wear jewelry as fancy as some of the pieces in that jewelry box. And yet back then, this type of jewelry was prevalent and celebrated. Crazy!

  3. I found this post fascinating too. I've always wondered about Scarlett's jewellery. I think a very interesting topic would be Scarlett's jewellery box at the opening of the novel. There are a few hints dropped throughout - especially at the Bazaar When Dr Meade asks the ladies for their jewellery.

    "Scarlett's first thought was one of deep thankfulness that mourning forbade her wearing her precious earbobs and the heavy gold chain that had been Grandma Robillard's and the gold and black enameled bracelets and the garnet brooch."

    The precious earrings, I believe, were aquamarines, which Gerald had bought her and she thinks of toward the end of the novel when she realises she doesn't love Ashley.
    So I guess we'd be looking at a garnet brooch and the bracelets, circa 1860. The gold chain that belonged to her grandmother could be much earlier, perhaps 1820s or 30s.
    We know that she had a couple of rings at least, as Charles crushed them into her hand when he was holding her hands at the barbecue. We also know that her engagement ring was a sapphire solitaire, which the yankees got their hands on later.
    We also know that she liked to borrow her mother's garnet necklace and earrings, which I believe were a wedding present from Gerald, so we are looking at mid 1840s.
    Sorry, I've started to think in type, and don't want to bore anyone!

  4. @ MM. Oh, don't apologize. Your comment was very nice. Perhaps we should try to to make a collage with that, though it would be a little harder to find as many pictures of earlier jewelry.

  5. So probably when AR in the horrendous "Scarlett" states that Rhett only allowed her pearls it most likely far from the truth.

    Even if Rhetts taste lay more to the simpler elegant side of things, he must have been influenced by the general trends of the era, and therefore going for colourful things with plenty of stones ;)

  6. @M- Oh yes- I do think Ripley's assertion that Rhett only bought Scarlett pearls was off base. Like you say, there were lots of colorful things with plenty of stones and I'm certain many of them found their way into Scarlett's jewelry box, especially at the very beginning of the marriage when he wanted to spoil her.

    Although to be perfectly honest, Ripley's reference about the pearls was one of the few details I liked in Scarlett--not because I buy it, but because on some level I could sort of see Rhett buying Scarlett only pearls just to annoy her.

    Hmm... I wonder if maybe once the marriage started to break down the jewelry Rhett picked out for Scarlett got progressively more boring, out of spite?

  7. To be honest, Scarlett has a lot of details that I like. It is just the overall storyline that goes a bit off.

    The things I liked were mainly the small reflections and notions like the one about the pearls ;)

    I think Jewellery was just one of the things that Rhett cut back on when the marriage went downhill. Probably also the interest in her wardrobe in general also faded. I mean if they didn't share any talking bar a polite comment or an angry rush of words here and there then it would seem strange if he was involved in an intimate detail of her life such as her wardrobe.

    Once again it really hits me HOW little time MM actually spent elaborating on their marriage... such a shame.


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