Aigrettes

Bust of a young woman, head turned to right, looking downwards; with aigrette, pearl necklace and fur-trimmed jacketEtching and engraving

Bust of a young woman with aigrette,
France. c 1725-1800
British Museum

Within the context of antique jewelry, the term aigrette refers to a jeweled hair or hat decorative piece that would have originally held a feather or plume. ‘Aigrette’ is French for egret, a type of heron. Originally an Indian fashion, aigrettes were worn on turbans as far back as the 12th century.

aigrette, for a turban
Antique Indian Aigrette

Sketchbook - Designs for jewellery by Arnold Lulls; Design for an aigrette with three plumes

London, c. 1585-1640
Design for an aigrette
V&A Museum

By the late 17th century the style had spread to Europe, no doubt brought back by the colonialists.  By the mid-1700s aigrettes became shaped like stylized feathers or plumes and were originally nearly always set with diamonds.  Around 1800 colored stones became popular and aigrettes became somewhat more accessible for ordinary people.  The Georgians loved aigrettes as they went so well with their wigs and elaborate hairstyles.

FOR DESCRIPTION SEE GEORGE (BMSat).  1794Hand-coloured etching

The Three Graces of 1794.
Satirical Print.
British Museum

Aigrette

Portugal, c. 1750-1760
Chrysoberyls and silver aigrette
V&A Museum

Aigrette

France, c. 1810
Aigrette with diamonds, turquoises, an emerald and other coloured stones
V&A Museum

Aigrette; gold, in the form of flowers and a feather, tied with a bow, with a trembler butterfly; dished closed-back, set with flat-cut garnets.

England, c. 1726-1775
Aigrette in the form of flowers and a feather tied with a bow and with a trembler butterfly. Gold with a dished closed-back and set with flat-cut garnets.
British Museum

The aigrette fell out of fashion for most of the 1800s but experienced a revival by the end of the century.  With the fashion for large hairstyles and Rococo flavored styles, the aigrette was once more in favor.  Often, they would be set en tremblant and they were considered perfect for wearing to balls and parties. Feathers in general became a very important fashion accessory and hats were often covered in them, with or without aigrettes.

Lady with aigrette c. 1890

1913 La coiffure française illustrée by Wintz from Coiffure francaise illustrèe

1913 La coiffure française illustrée by Wintz from Coiffure francaise illustrèe

1913ca. Hat with Aigrette by Mela Koehler (at AllPosters)

1913ca. Hat with Aigrette by Mela Koehler

ELEMENT D'AIGRETTE BELLE EPOQUE DIAMANTS

Belle Epoque Diamond Aigrette
France, c. 1910
Christie’s Sale 3506

By the 1920s the popularity of the aigrette was at a height.  The ‘flapper’ girls loved to wear aigrettes with headbands and their signature short bobbed hairstyles.  Once usually only with a feather or plume motif, an aigrette might now have another motif: flowers, birds, crescents or shooting stars. Nowadays, we often think of the aigrette as a particularly ‘Art Deco’ fashion.George Barbier (1882 – 1932)

Sources / further reading: 

http://antiques.about.com/od/pre1850jewelry/a/Aigrette100310.htm

http://antiques.about.com/od/HairHeadOrnaments/a/HeadHairOrnaments.htm

http://www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/Aigrette

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