Among many types of antique jewelry the amazingly beautiful things made of pearls, tiny as a poppy seed, known as seed pearls stand out. They impress with their complexity and some special tenderness! I am very interested in these fantastic creations of human hands! What is their story? Where and when were they first made? What is the technique? In this article I present the fruit of my searches.
In Europe, the use of "seed pearls" jewelry first became popular in the late Georgian period, from the last quarter of the 18th century to the first quarter of the 19th century. Then only really wealthy families could buy these wonderful things. The real boom, however, culminated at the beginning of the Victorian era, between 1837 and 1860 — during the period when rapid industrialization of Europe created the middle class, which could afford such jewelry. It was a time when symbolism reigned and symbolic meanings were attached to different types of precious stones and jewelry motifs used in personal jewelry. Jewelry decorated with seed pearls was associated with innocence and purity and considered a perfect gift for young girls for their 18th birthday, as their first official piece of jewelry, or for a bride on her wedding day.
In 1908, in England, a book was published describing an incredibly complex method of making these wonderful pieces of jewelry. The description is taken from it.
The basis for jewelry is a thin plate of mother-of-pearl. One of the most popular and attractive patterns is the "English scroll". To make brooches, for example, the design is first made by drawing on paper or cardboard; then a plate is cut of mother of pearl using the pattern, the artisan makes the holes for pearls. Then appropriate pearls are selected and put on a pearlescent base on special hair strands. All the work that remains for a jeweler is adding a clasp or earring fixtures.
All pearls used for jewelry were purchased on threads and in clusters in India and China. The best were those known as "Chinese seeds of pearl", they were drilled and strung in bundles weighing three ounces. The hole was so small that a silk thread of the required strength was too thick and could not pass through the pearl, and only a horsehair could be used for such pearls. The Indian Madras pearls, however, had larger holes and could be strung on silk.
The best white horse hair was used for stringing these "seed pearls" because of the holes drilled in them, as a rule, were too small to permit the use of silk. It was very important that the hair for stringing was cut from a live horse, as otherwise the hairs were too fragile. These hairs were packed in bundles of 8 to 14 inches in length, and often only one ounce from the pound was chosen to use — the rest didn't suit, as the quality had to be perfect!
From the second quarter of the 19th century (the Georgian era) gold jewelry with "seed pearls" also became popular. Especially brooches with favored motifs of flowers, bouquets, stars and swallows! Such products often had other stones: peridot, garnet, sapphires, turquoise, and coral.