The 17th and the earlier part of the 18th century was a time of magnificent Baroque and Rococo aesthetics.
One of the more influential designs of the century was the bow. Along with the feather, flowers and leaves, teardrops, and the girandole (three drops) - the bow design was pervasive.
Sévigné bows, were so named for a prolific 17th and early 18th century writer, Madame de Sévigné. A great friend of Louis XIV, the wearing of this bow form is credited with her name. And from this - its Iberian descendant, the “laca” form stems as well.
Stomachers were one of the “must haves” of the century. Gowns with elongated and flattened bodices were the ideal backdrop for trailing jewels down the breast and front. Some were worn high on the neck from a ribbon.
While this jewel was later converted to a brooch, its original type (fittings still intact) was a slide. A ribbon was threaded through the two gold tabs on the reverse, to wear at the throat. Naturally from that ribbon, a large and showy real bow was secured at the nape. It may still be worn this way.
This impressive stomacher is of the highest order of workmanship and materials. Gold of 18k is nearly woven into lace into a medley of shapes and pillows to hold the diamonds. Characteristic of the period, puffs of burnished gold hold diamonds at their apex.
Six possess shaped tufted pillows of gold at their bases. Typical of this region, one finds numerous jewels set with these domed cushions of gold and their sections and patterns. Light plays off these curvaceous surfaces and along with the lacy spirals of gold, play an important role in the jewel’s overall appeal.
Spirals and tendrils of gold illuminate a total of 40 diamonds, both table, and rose cuts. Its delicacy of gold work allows this to be wearable by many. Light and space help define the jewel with a delicacy that seems unimaginable for its time.
Similar examples can be seen in books such as, “Five Centuries of Jewellery” of the National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon on page 46 and 47.
Historical Notes: Portugal’s port in Lisbon, was a gateway from Goa in India for precious gems and gold pouring in from South America. The same for Spain and its routes to the New World. Riches made their way to the old world via its trade routes. Gold, diamonds, emeralds, topazes, and other gems literally flowed in to be disseminated through Europe and Britain.
Brazil was a center for gold and diamonds and these influxes of changed jewelry design forever. Gone was the reliance on metal work and enamel. From the 17th century onward, jewelry focused on gems, their color, and their brilliance.
We have the convents of Spain and Portugal to thank for many of our examples of 17th and 18th century grandeur in jewelry. Young women of noble families, who, for various reasons were not married by a certain age, were sometimes left under the care of convents. With them came their families’ donations of lavish jewels.
These convents were disbanded in 1834 and so the jewels worked their way back into the public. Often saved from the vagaries of remounting and re-working, particularly during later wars and strife. Tradition too kept these with families for generations and some still come to light in near mint condition.