Early Victorian Seed Pearl JewelryEarly Victorian seed pearl jewelry first appeared in the second quarter of the 19th century at the beginning of what is known as the Romantic Period. Queen Victoria's reign in England was the height of the romantic period and lasted until the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert in 1861. Jewelry reflected romance during this period and seed pearl jewelry was the epitome of this sentiment. The most popular period of time was between 1840 and 1850 in England and the United States.
TiffanyElegant in appearance seed pearl jewelry was associated with pureness and innocence. A gift of seed pearl jewelry was often given to a girl on her 18th birthday as her first formal piece of jewelry or to a bride before her wedding. Seed pearl jewelry was worn for special occasions throughout her married life as well. Generally, seed pearl jewelry was sold in sets, which consisted of bracelets, earrings, brooches, a collar and a corsage ornament.
The design featured below is a full parure of seed pearl jewelry given to Mary Lucile Stevens by her mother in 1836. These pearls were passed down for several generations to succeeding daughters in the family on their 18th birthdays. In 1984 the sons of the last woman to inherit the pearls donated them to the Smithsonian where they are now on display in the Museum's Treasure House.
Seed pearl jewelry was first introduced in America during the Federal period. By the mid-nineteenth century, it was considered de rigueur in the ballroom as well. President Lincoln purchased a suite of seed-pearl jewelry from Tiffany & Company for his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, to wear at his inauguration. Made from tiny pearls imported from India or China, it was at once exotic and elegant, and the fashion was said to flatter any woman.
Imported from the Madras region of India or China seed pearl jewelry was made from hundreds of tiny seed pearls. Delicate and quite ornate with scrolled, flower and foliate motifs, ranging from 1.5 mm to 5 mm in size, the pearls were hand sewn onto a delicate pierced openwork mother-of-pearl frame using white horsehair thread. Silk backing was often used on the reverse of the mother-of-pearl frame. Seed pearl jewelry is seldom found in excellent condition today because of its delicate and fragile nature, and only rarely are entire sets found intact
ABSOLUTELY EXQUISITE ANTIQUE VICTORIAN - ART NOUVEAU, c.1890 - 1900, OSTBY & BARTON TOPAZ SEED PEARL NECKLACE IN ROSE GOLD . Although the piece is not signed, the piece was made by Ostby & Barton, one of the most well-known jewelry manufacturers of the period. firm Founded in 1879 they seem to have disappeared about 1950. Engelhart Ostby, one of the principals, perished in 1912 aboard the Titanic, while his adult daughter survived.
Miriam Haskell used seed pearls (as well as baroque pearls) in her designs during the mid 2oth century, with great success, bringing back a short revival of the popularity of them in jewelry. However, most of her designs used artificial seed pearls, rather than genuine ones.
I hope you've enjoyed this bit of history.