A Girl’s Best Friend: A Pearl Bracelet – Leticia Alvarez

Bath Fashion Museum. 1800-1810. BATMC 2003.524 A

Bath Fashion Museum. 1800-1810. BATMC 2003.524 A

Author: Great Britain

Author: Great Britain

“Hereas this kingdom is now become a great part for Diamond and other precious Stones and Jewels, from whence moft Foreign Countries are fupplied, and great Numbers of rough Diamonds are fent from Abroad to be cut and polifhed here, which is a great Advantage to this Nation…” (Great Britain).

Diamonds, jewels, and stones — due to their uniqueness and limited quantity — became important products to the economy of England.  Therefore, since they held a high economic value, they became associated with the elite class. Diamonds, jewels, and stones alone do not carry an aesthetic or consumer appeal, but jewelry does, such as the pearl bracelet. Since the materials used for the pearl bracelet are unique, elegant, and have rare beauty, the pearl bracelet is used to make a statement of wealth, status, and power in society. In addition, the pearl bracelet serves as an example of the gender distinction present in the eighteenth century.

This bracelet is made of pearls, cat gut, and mother of pearl. The pearls are delicately lined up by the use of cat-gut and pieces of the mother of pearl are sparingly placed along the strings of pearls. The largest piece of the mother of pearl is located in the center of the outline shape of a whole flower (Bath Fashion Museum).

During the eighteenth century, the consumer revolution took place in England. Initially, only the elites were able to partake in the consumer economy, but due to various factors (increase in wages, desire to obtain goods, new production and manufacturing techniques, and so on) paved the path for middle-class and working-class to afford consumer goods. As Neil McKendrick declares, ‘…More men and women than ever before in human history enjoyed the experience of acquiring material possessions…’ (Koscak, 2014). However, hierarchies are always present in society. Therefore, the symbols of wealth, power, and status must be represented to establish class differentiation and to maintain order in society. One of the various ways to represent wealth, power, and status is through the use of fashion accessories, more specifically the use of a pearl bracelet.

An example of the representation of wealth, power, and status through fashion is illustrated in Maria Edgeworth’s novel, Belinda. Lady Delacour invites Belinda, the protagonist and Mrs. Stanhope’s niece, to live with her temporarily in London. At Belinda’s arrival, she receives a letter from Mrs. Stanhope. She states that she sent Belinda’s bracelet with Mr. Clarence Hervey; this act is a way of introducing her to a man of a high rank in society. Mrs. Stanhope describes Mr. Hervey as a fine man who has connections and is wealthy (Edgeworth 2). Only the wealthy are associated with what the British government names as “precious stones.”

In Amanda Vickery’s article, Fashioning Difference in Georgian England, she discusses the creation of eighteenth century designs for both women’s and men’s objects in luxurious furniture. Vickery argues that both consumers and producers expected for gender distinctions to be visible in products and appearances, but this expectation expanded in the eighteenth century. For instance, a geometric design was attributed to men and graceful, irregular designs to women (Vickery, 345). Likewise, the pearl bracelet was designed for women with an emphasis on femininity by using elegant, smooth pearls and more importantly, by placing an intricate flower placed on the center of the bracelet.

In addition to the present expectation of gender differentiation in products, “educational literature advised that young gentlemen be taught to judge architectural and landscape improvements, while girls were trained to give order and neatness, color and texture indoors” (Vickery 345). This is a clear example of the specific gender roles in society: men’s role is to construct and the women’s role is to design. This is directly related to the pearl bracelet because it depicts the woman stereotype of neatness and soft color which is what the women were trained to do.

1800. Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections.

1800. Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections.

1775-1800.  Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections.

1775-1800.
Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections.

Brooches and bracelets are both organized under the category of accessories/jewelry. As mentioned above, the pearl bracelet was worn to signify power, wealth, and status and was a product of the consumer revolution. Pearls were also used in brooches, but the accessory itself had a deeper and sentimental meaning than the pearl bracelet. Hair had been used in sentimental jewelry, but in the eighteenth century, hair was placed prominently at the center of an accessory. The reason for wearing hair brooches was to remember the dead and to cherish the living (Victorian and Albert Museum). Similarly, the “L’amour” brooch was worn to appreciate and express love for the living. In brief, the pearl bracelet had a hierarchical and political meaning whereas the brooches had a sentimental and personal meaning even though both are placed under the same category of fashion, accessories.

Bibliography

Edgeworth, Maria. Belinda. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Print.

Great Britain. An Act for the free importation and exportation of diamonds, pearls, rubies, emeralds, and  all other jewels and precious stones. [London ],  [[1732 [i.e. 1733]]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. UC Los Angeles. 11 March 2014

Koscak, Stephanie. ‘“The Great Renunciation”? Commercialization, Politics, and Gender.” University of California: Los Angeles, CA. Lecture. 9 January 2014.

Unknown (production). Hair Brooch. 1800. Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections. Museum number: 958-1888. Online. 11 March 2014. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O122832/brooch-unknown/

Unknown (production). L’amour Brooch. 1775-1800. Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections. Museum number: 970-1888. Online. 11 March 2014. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O126174/brooch-unknown/

Unknown (production). Pearl Bracelet. 1800-1810. Bath Fashion Museum, Bath. Fashion Museum. Museum number: BATMC 2003.524 A. Online. 11 March 2014. http://www.museumofcostume.co.uk/collections/collection_search/SearchDetails.aspx

Vickery, Amanda. “Fashioning Difference in Georgian England: Furniture for Him and for Her,” in Early Modern Things: Objects and their Histories, 1500-1800, ed. Paula Findlen (Routledge, 2013), 342-59.

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One thought on “A Girl’s Best Friend: A Pearl Bracelet – Leticia Alvarez

  1. Stones alone do not hold much value other than being a stone but when made into a fashionable item like jewelry I can see how that upholds high aesthetic and consumer appeal. What I found interesting to note is that brooches and bracelets were used as sentimental piece to cherish the living. Although I’m still a bit confused as to what they necessarily means, I can only assume that it would be to celebrate living life. If that is the case, does that mean there are specific brooches that do not include pearls that would be born in time of mourning the dead?

    It is by far interesting that as time has progressed since the 1700 to the present, women still hold jewelry with sentimental value. As jewelry ages it does not lose its value, instead it builds stories and that itself can be more valuable than any market price.

    I have never had an interest in pearls but it is quite different that it would have a gender distinction. We have seen throughout the quarter that there is a thin line between certain gender distinguishing articles. For example, both males and females used the powdered wig even though it originally began as a way for women to not deal with their own hair. I would not be surprised to know that monarchy leaders wore pearls to demonstrate their wealth, status, and power amongst those in their society.

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