06 November 2014

Jewel History: Extravagant Splendors of the Modern Woman (1904)

Constance Cornwallis-West, ca. 1907 (source)

 "Extravagant Splendors of the Modern Woman"
(originally published in the Washington Post, 6 Nov 1904)

From the London Mail -- The desire for jewels and the extravagantly splendid displays now made by women who delight in such manifestations of wealth are two of the main characteristics of the power dress exercises over women in this luxurious age.

A million sovereigns sounds an incredibly huge sum of money to sink in precious stones, but the gem-caskets of some of our great ladies represent that value very closely, and it is actually touched in a few notable instances.


Lady Curzon, Vicereine of India, ca. 1903 (source)


Quite moderately wealthy young married women do not consider their catalogue of jewels complete with two or three tiaras, a string of pearls capable of being measured by the yard, a stomacher brilliantly ablaze with gems, a dog-collar, and numerous necklets, rings of various colors to match various gems, to say nothing of aigrettes of diamonds, bracelets, brooches, and little ornaments by the hundred.



One single necklet of pearls -- only a string that closely clasps the throat -- has been known to cost £90,000; a tiara swallows up any sum up to £25,000, and even more when it contains practically priceless stones; one brooch may easily represent £500, while a stomacher can scarcely cost less. Hence, to be bedizended in gems that represent £100,000 is not a difficult task for the woman who likes a barbaric display and can afford to indulge her whim.


Queen Ena of Spain, ca. 1906 (source)


The extravagance this craving for gems leads to is excused by some people on the score that precious stones are a good and sound investment, while the dealers in imitation gems truthfully aver that it fosters their trade.

A very quaint fashion from old times is the agrafe of brilliants, an ornament resembling a bow and bands of diamond duplicated so many times as to trim a dress from the decolletage to the hem of the skirt.

The ornaments graduate in size so that at the foot of the dress they are much larger than they are at the waist, thereby producing a very elegant effect. These necessarily are rarely to be seen in real stones, but sets of them are being sought in old French paste, which produces as brilliant an effect as real diamonds, and can scarcely be detected from them by the eyes even of experts.

Ornaments of this caliber are found upon quaint Old World dresses made with the corsage a point, and the full, simple skirt of bygone times. One ordered the other day for a woman whose vogue is the picturesque was made of cloud-gray satin, and was quite untrimmed save for the agrafes and a berthe and elbow-flounces of rich old lace.

Juliet nets of diamonds and pearls are so much more beautiful than those of colored stones that they are likely to last longer than the rest of their kind in the favor of the wealthy woman. A new set is made of gold lattice work, fastened where the lattice crosses with rosettes of diamonds, and all round the edges festooned with a glittering fringe of the same precious stones.

Very lovely aigrettes, composed of a pair of diamond leaves, the edges of which meet in the center, are being made purposely to be worn with the Marie Stuart coiffure, which dips in the center of the brow and causes a semi-conventional ornament of this kind to look unusually charming. The jewelers have been very busy lately inventing new ornaments or fresh ways of wearing old ones. How to make use of very long ropes of pearls, since it became less fashionable than it was a few years ago to wind them round the throat, has been a problem to the wealthy possessors of such baubles which has at last been answered.


Sophie of Prussia, ca. 1903 (source)


A string of pearls twisted twice round the throat and then looped in front on the low corsage with fastenings here and there composed of jeweled brooches is, comparatively speaking, an old tale. The latest adaptation of this idea is to festoon the jewels at the back of the corsage as well as in the front, and if the strings are very long indeed, the effect produced is of the utmost magnificence. In some cases a complete berthe of splendid gems is provided by means of one long necklace of gems, or two or three worn at the same time.