29 January 2014

Jewelry 101: Parure

Sapphire parure of Queen Marie-Amélie of France, on display at the Louvre [1]
Jewelry 101: Parure

Another day, another new feature unveiled here at The Court Jeweller. This is the first post in a series that explores the terminology used to describe the royal jewels we've been happily gazing at here so far. Our first jewelry term is one that I've received many requests about: the parure.

Like lots of the words used to refer to various aspects of jewelry, the word parure is a French term. It's a word that doesn't really have an English equivalent; it refers to a matched set of pieces of jewelry that are intended to be worn together. The word comes from the French verb parer, which appropriately means "to adorn."

Empress Joséphine [3]
Jewelers have been producing parures for centuries. The sets gained popularity in France with the ancien régime during the seventeenth century. These parures would have greatly resembled the sets that we see today; they included brooches, necklaces, rings, and earrings, but some of the later eighteenth-century parures also featured additional ornaments like shoulder brooches, shoe buckles, and even jeweled sword hilts [2]. But these early parures didn't include one of the pieces we're accustomed to seeing in more modern examples -- there were no tiaras in the sets. 

Tiaras began to be incorporated into parures at the French imperial court of Napoleon I. A number of the earliest examples of complete parures that have survived to the current day were once worn in France during this period. Attempting to emulate the splendor of the previous royal courts, Napoleon purchased parures for his first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais (see photograph at left), and his second, Marie Louise of Austria. His favored jewelers included Marie-Étienne Nitot and Christophe-Frédéric Bapst, both of whom produced parures for the French court that are still worn by royal women today. A parure of cameos from the French imperial period, often attributed to Bapst, is worn by the Bernadotte women in Sweden; the tiara from the set has become an important bridal tiara for the royal family. Bapst is also frequently credited with the emerald parure that today belongs to the royal family of Norway.

Silvia of Sweden [4]
Jewel historians use several versions of the term parure to classify sets of jewels. A parure that consists of at least three pieces of matched jewelry is generally referred to as a full parure. These suites of jewels can consist of a number of pieces, but they often include a tiara, a necklace, a pair of earrings, bracelets, and at least one brooch. The sets also sometimes include additional pieces, like rings, hair combs, or even jeweled fans or watches.

Several royal collections include impressive full parures. The Leuchtenberg sapphire parure, owned today by the Swedish royal family, was constructed as a full parure by Nitot (see photograph at right). It originally consisted of a tiara, a necklace, a brooch, a pair of earrings, and a set of four hairpins. (The original earrings were separated from the rest of the parure at some point; later, two of the hairpins were converted into a replacement pair.) The Danish royal family possesses a ruby parure that also dates to the Napoleonic era. This particular parure was made for Napoleon's fiancée, Désirée Clary (who later became queen of Sweden). Pieces of the set were worn by Désirée at Napoleon and Joséphine's coronation; today, the ruby set is worn by Crown Princess Mary. (The tiara from this parure was not a part of Désirée's original set; her parure included a set of hair ornaments that were later adapted into the tiara, which has been altered several times.)

Queen Elizabeth II [5]
A newer full parure can be found in the jewelry collection of Queen Elizabeth II. Her aquamarine parure consists of diamond and aquamarine jewels that were given to her in the middle of the twentieth century by the Brazilian government (see photograph at left). Although the pieces were gifted on separate occasions, they are designed to be worn together. The set includes a necklace, earrings, a bracelet, and a brooch. The queen decided to supplement her parure by commissioning a tiara from a separate jeweler (that would be Garrard); because it was constructed later and by a different jeweler, it is technically not part of the original parure, but it was designed to coordinate with the existing pieces.

Matched sets of jewelry that include fewer pieces are generally called demi-parures. Precisely how many pieces a set must have to be a demi rather than a full parure varies according to different sources. Some say a demi-parure only includes two matched pieces, but I've seen the term used more frequently when describing parures that lack a tiara. One of the most notable demi-parures currently in royal hands is the amethyst demi-parure owned by Elizabeth II. The amethysts originally belonged to Queen Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent. The set consists of a necklace, three brooches, a set of hair combs, and a pair of earrings. As you can see, this set would fit into the latter categorization of "demi-parure" -- it has plenty of matched pieces to qualify it for full parure status, but it doesn't have a tiara, and so it is apparently downgraded. Another significant royal demi-parure can be found in Sweden: the family's pink topaz set (again, this set includes several major pieces but lacks a tiara).

Margrethe II of Denmark [7]
There's also a term for a parure that was cobbled together from similar pieces of jewelry: a married parure. One of the best examples of this can be found in Denmark. Queen Margrethe II often wears a "parure" that consists of a diamond and pearl tiara, necklace, brooch, and earrings (see photograph at right). But the pieces were not constructed by the same jeweler, and they weren't made as a set; the tiara and brooch both belonged to Louise of the Netherlands, while the necklace and earrings were wedding gifts to her granddaughter, Louise of Sweden. But the jewels were left to the family's property trust as a set, and they are frequently worn together [6]. The Swedes also have a married parure in their collection -- it consists of a number of cut-steel pieces that once belonged to Queen Hortense of Holland.

It's much more unusual to see major parures worn outside of royal circles today. The official state duties that royal women attend offer them a rare chance to wear these full sets of matched jewels. You'll see full parures in various forms at state banquets, royal weddings, and other white-tie occasions. Which royal parure is your favorite set?

1. Detail of photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
2. See the Encyclopedia Britannica entry for more.
3. Detail of François Gérard's Joséphine en Costume de Sacre, available via Wikimedia Commons; original here.
4. Detail of photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
5. Detail of photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
6. See Trond Norén Isaksen's blog for more.
7. Photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.