Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Gifts of Grandeur: A Stomacher of Rock Crystal and Paste Set in Silver, 1760

England, 1760
Silver set with foil-backed rock crystal and paste.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the Eighteenth Century, jewelers were able to meet greater consumer demand by offering imitation stones set in silver as alternatives to their costlier pieces. Similar in style to works which glittered with diamonds, these costume alternatives were suitable for travel when transporting real jewels would have been unwise or for families who wanted to give the appearance of great wealth during more difficult financial times. For as long as there’s been jewelry, there’s been costume jewelry, and this stomacher shows just how clever jewelers had become in imitating the real thing.

This bodice ornament, known as a stomacher, was meant to be worn on a lady’s gown between her neckline and waist. Regal and noble ladies had begun to wear such jeweled pieces on the cloth front of their gowns (also called stomachers) and by the mid Eighteenth Century, this was the height of fashion.

Here, we see a combination of faceted rock crystal and paste (basically glass formed from a fine powder—often diamond powder) which has been backed in foil to increase the shine and sparkle. In candlelight, these inexpensive stones looked much the same as diamonds. Even the cut of the stones mimics the popular diamond cut of the day—rose-cut. Being as rose-cut diamonds were usually foil-backed themselves, the look of the costume piece wasn’t too different from the look of an expensive article.

Made around 1760 in England, such a piece would have been sold by a reputable up-scale jeweler, probably quite discreetly.

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