Sunday, May 9, 2021

When Did it Become BLING? Part II


Submitted Even the dog in this royal family wears bling, with a pearl collar.

Submitted Even the dog in this royal family wears bling, with a pearl collar.

In my last column, I sort of left off when it was the golden age of being a goldsmith (no pun intended). It was when even ordinary citizens in the Middle Ages could afford nice jewelry and not just gold wedding bands; Lavish earrings and pendants were the bomb. In case you may have not noticed, I’m talking about the Europeans. Back here in the colonies bling just wasn’t a thing!

Besides, 99% of all jewelry was created in the old country anyhow. I’m quite certain there were no goldsmiths aboard the Mayflower. It’s a fact that the Pilgrims found personal adornment of any kind of jewelry “ungodly,” even a simple metal belt buckle was unacceptable. The Puritans, on the other hand, did wear some jewelry (most likely rings and crosses) and wore fine pearls and other adornments during special occasions. This was one reason that led the Pilgrims to separate from the ungodly Puritans. Besides, our ancestors were worrying more about their next meal, or surviving another New England winter, and the last thing on their mind was a shiny piece of jewelry. As more and more Europeans came ashore so came lavish pieces of jewelry, not to mention the Spanish who brought BLING to a whole new level.



Meanwhile, back in Europe there were more kings, queens, princesses and princes than you could shake a stick at. Seriously more than you can imagine, and the best way to flaunt your wealth was wearing over-the-top royal jewels, right down to the pets they had in the court. Yes, puppies adorned with pearls.

Sadly, the peasants nearly starved while cats and dogs of the royal families wore lavish jewelry, No wonder Marie Antoinette lost her head, it wasn’t just about eating cake.

As folks became more civilized in the 1800s, jewelry was used in a more functional way, not just for the bling factor. Everything from buttons, hat pins, stick pins, hair combs, cuff links, and even spectacles and monocles, were made from solid gold. Rings and pendants, especially lavaliers (simple gold or silver filigree pendants with diamonds, rubies or sapphires, almost always embellished with tiny seed pearls) were popular. I‘m sure your great grandma never left the house without wearing one!

Jewelry in Great Britain, and even her colonies, took an odd turn with the death of Prince Albert in 1861. With death, Queen Elizabeth brought mourning to a whole new level. She secluded herself from the public for over two years. The people’s jewelry became black and drab, out of respect. Being blingy was out of the question and in bad taste. Lots of black onyx and black jet was used, and brown was the new bright color. The Victorian age brought the advent of mourning jewelry. Today it is considered a bit macabre because the pendants, earrings, rings and bracelets would incorporate portions of hair or bone fragments from the deceased.

1901 the Queen died and Edward, her son, rose to the throne. Thus began the Edwardian age. Luckily, the mourning period was not extensive and jewelry became bright and beautiful again; Intricate and spectacular diamond pieces, bright and joyful ruby and sapphire rings and colorful pendants. The semi- precious gemstone, natural garnet, with its blood red color became the poor man’s ruby substitute. Even today garnet is as popular as ever in the southeastern parts of Europe.

Next came my favorite jewelry era or the “pieces de resistance.” Art Nouveau emerged late in the 1880s, and that evolved into Art Deco after World War I. (More later on that time of unusual bling.) Until next time… If you got it, flaunt it!

Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith and has been Marco Island’s go-to jeweler since 1994. His workshop, Harbor Goldsmith, is located at the Island Plaza next to Beall’s. Richard welcomes your questions or comments. He can be reached at 239-394-9275 or

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