Knowledge Centre > Jewellery History > Design Periods > Stuart

Stuart: 1603 – 1714

The Tudor period ended with Elizabeth I. As her closest living male relative, James VI of Scotland, son of Mary Queen of Scots, inherited the English throne, becoming James I of England. Stretching from 1603 to 1714, the Stuart era was a time of upheaval and instability, with the civil war between Crown and Parliament culminating in the execution of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell's republic. The crown was restored with the coronation of Charles II.

Much of what we know about Stuart jewellery is through the Cheapside Hoard. This was an old wooden casket filled with jewellery and gems discovered in Cheapside, in 1912 by a group of workmen. It is the greatest source of early Stuart jewellery in the world to date. Necklaces were in fashion and were often worn layered, with strings of pearls and gemstones. They could also be heavily enamelled. The skill of enameling was highly regarded in the Stuart era, and the innovation of painting opaque enamel is said to have been developed by a Frenchman, Jean Toutin of Châteaudun at this time. Examples of these ornate necklaces were discovered in the Cheapside Hoard.

By the mid-1600s, changes in fashion had led to new styles of jewellery. The softer pastel shades of European court dress lent themselves to gemstone and pearl decoration, and expanding global trade routes made gemstones ever more available. Diamonds became more accessible as did Colombian emeralds, Burmese rubies and Ceylon sapphires. The gems discovered also show surprisingly contemporary cutting styles. Rather than a large table facet, the stones have a domed, faceted arrangement in which one can see the start of the transition towards cushion and round shapes. These new faceting techniques increased the sparkle of gemstones in candlelight, and to best show them off, diamonds were only allowed to be worn in the evening.

When the civil war ended in 1651, extravagant fashions were quickly replaced by the plain styles favoured by Puritans, who advocated a conservative form of attire. As a result, over-ornamentation and jewellery fell out of fashion as they were seen as indulgences. Documents from the time of Cromwell’s republic state that the crown jewels and coronation regalia, which included the Tudor State Crown, were sold or melted down, destroying the crown jewels and the monarchy that they represented. During the republic, Royalists wanted to memorialise King Charles I. To do so, they wore jewellery with his initials, a crown or a likeness of him, which could be set in silver or gold. Often set under rock crystal, they became known as Stuart crystals. Popular until the end of the period, they were also worn as love tokens and wedding jewellery, with symbols of love such as hearts, knots, and flowers within them.

At the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, new crown jewels were needed. Modelled on those that were lost, they were created by the Royal Goldsmith, Sir Robert Vyner, for £12,184 and 7 shillings (thought to be around £1.5 million today). These form the basis of the crown jewels today. During the reign of Charles II, the number of pieces of jewellery worn decreased, as did the fashion for male accessories. Towards the end of the Stuart era, even rings fell out of fashion and paste was relied on due to the financial difficulties brought about by years of civil war, and the great fire of London in 1666. Despite this, necklaces, particularly pearl ones, stayed in vogue. The Stuart period ended with Queen Anne who died childless and so the line of succession passed over to George I.

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Updated 13/04/2024 at 3:17PM

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