Cannetille is considered to be related to filigree or to be a kind of filigree. It differs from filigree in as much as cannetille is three dimensional and filigree is flat. Specifically, cannetille is created with curled, twisted, spiraled, scrolled, beehived or coiled wire. It can also have tendrils and repoussé (places of raised metal). Like filigree, it can either have a backing or be open work. Cannetille is usually gold, although not necessarily.
Cannetille appeared to emerge in England and France in the 1820s and continue in popularity into the 1830s. Some say it was inspired by the Portuguese, others by India, others say it appeared to emerge independently in France, then spread to England. Regardless of origin, cannetille flourished in the period of peace and artistic expression after the Napoleonic wars. The word ‘cannetille’ is also used to describe a type of French embroidery method which has a similar appearance and technique and is created using gold thread. It appears that this is where cannetille jewelry might well have found its inspiration.
After the Napoleonic wars gold was very expensive and in short supply. Cannetille jewelry could be created to give the appearance of a much larger piece using less metal. The styles of cannetille jewelry seemed to be nostalgic and reminiscent of many European folk styles which are still made and worn today. By the 1820s and 1830s cannetille jewelry was being worn all over Europe, reaching a height in 1830. Brooches and parures were the most popular. When bracelets were worn, they would be worn one on each wrist, as had been the style for centuries.
Starting in 1830, Castellini of Rome led an Etruscan and Greek revival in the world of jewelry. Many revival pieces also incorporated cannetille.
Christie’s Sale 5414, The Sunday Sale, 28 September 2008, London, South Kensington
An early 19th century portrait miniature and gold bracelet
The central oval painted ivory portrait miniature depicting a young girl, to a three colour gold border with flowerhead and cannetille detail and mesh bracelet with cannetille terminals, circa 1830
Cannetille is very time consuming to create and requires great patience from the jeweler. Of course, all Georgian jewelry was made entirely by hand. There are two main methods for creating cannetille: Thread cannetille and plate cannetille. Thread cannetille is when the piece is made entirely from gold threads and has other decorative elements soldered on to it. Thread cannetille is particularly lightweight. Plate cannetille is made from a thin plate, usually open work, and then has decorative elements soldered on to it. Larger pieces tend to be made from plate cannetille.
Cannetille in the Georgian era was often set with gems such as pink topaz, citrine, chyrsoberyl, garnet, turquoise aquamarine, amethyst, glass and paste. Glass and paste were considered just as high status as gems and would be set along side them even on the most expensive pieces. Gems in the Georgian era were foiled.
Cannetille continued into the Victorian era although dwindling in popularity by the end of the mid-Victorian era. Even though there are some cannetille Art Deco pieces, cannetille never returned to the popularity it experienced in the Georgian era. There are some very convincing cannetille reproductions masquerading as much older than they are so caution is advised when purchasing. In the Victorian era, cannetille style jewelry was sometimes made in molds by the English; if you exam it very closely with or without a loupe you can generally see that it is made all from one piece of cast metal rather than many fine soldered pieces. Mold made pieces are obviously not as valuable although they can still be desirable.
Sources / further reading:
Castellani and Giuliano: Revivalist Jewellers of the Nineteenth Century. Exhibition catalogue. London: Wartski, 1984.