..minute globes of gold, each one perfectly round and smooth, soldered on the surface in exact lines…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 that they cannot explain it…
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1877
Between the years of 1800 to 1889, there were a number of important archaeological findings which greatly influenced jewelry design. These included Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek (Hellenistic) and Roman. To say that the newly discovered treasures impressed people would be an understatement; people were amazed, awed and astounded. Examining the discoveries, contemporary jewelers were often left confounded, unable to copy the exact techniques. Nevertheless, fashions soon reflected these profound new inspirations. I think it would probably be hard to overstate the excitement and magic of the era.
Between the years of 1806 and 1814, the French uncovered Pompeii. Herculaneum was also uncovered. Greek artifacts were discovered in Crete and Rhodes. In 1848, the influential book Minevia and its Remains, by Sir Austen Henry Layard was published. In it, the beautiful ancient treasures of Assyria were revealed and designers rushed to emulate the styles. The first major Egyptian Revival came after Napoleon’s campaigns in Egypt (1798-99) and the subsequent occupation of the British.
Etruscan Revival had its beginning in the early 1800s when the Italian jeweler, Pio Castellani, became enamored with Etruscan jewels that were first discovered around that time. The Etruscan civilization lived and flourished along the western coast of Italy from 500 BC to 300 BC. Masters of gold working, they perfected the technique known as ‘granulation‘. When the Etruscans disappeared, so too did this amazing technique. Castellani resolved to revive it. He never fully recreated the ancient Etruscan techniques but his worthy attempt did inspire the Victorian jewelry styles we know as Etruscan Revival. Etruscan Revival is the archeological neo-style that we are most familiar with in the world of antique jewelry. Etruscan inspired jewelry was usually crafted with heavy gold, often in high karat, and used the techniques of granulation, filigree and small beads. The bracelets were often wide bands. Scarabs were a very Etruscan motif as well as of course Egyptian. In 1852, the Castellani family son displayed at The Great Exposition in London and once again the ancient styles very much captured the imagination of the public. By 1864, Etruscan and other archaeological styles had spread to the USA.
In 1869, The Treasure of Priam was discovered, giving further inspiration to designers and the public. In the early 1870s, the treasures of the Temple of Kurium, were discovered and society responded with more ancient inspired designs. By 1887, many of these ancient jewelry designs were being made in silver, making them more accessible. One of the things I have found since studying archaeological revival is I now recognize just how wide spread the influences were; the inspiration has shaped jewelry design greatly to this day.
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