19 July 2016

Jewel History: Lady and the Beetle (1899)

Camilla of Bourbon-Two Sicilies wears her Ruby Dragonfly Tiara (Photo: FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

"Lady and the Beetle"
(originally appeared in the Washington Post on 16 Jul 1899)

"Have you the latest things in kissing bugs?" inquired a smart young woman of a downtown importer of fads and fancies in jewelry. The jeweler did not smile. He did not even look surprised. The bug habit has reached such colossal proportions by this time that he is prepared for almost anything. At this season the Washington girl who does not wear a yellow dragonfly, a pink mosquito, or a green and grinning lizard is considered woozy by her fair feminine friends.

The Duchess of Cambridge wears alligator earrings by Patrick Mavros (Photo: Tim Rooke - Pool/Getty Images)

This bug, reptile, and livestock fad was originated and given a start in life by a young Parisian actress, who actually horrified a Parisian audience by wearing apparently fastened to her fair white skin, a gorgeous emerald alligator, whose lustrous eyes flashed fire and created furor in the front boxes. She had glued the animal to her plump flesh because, being a Parisian actress, poor thing, there was little else in her stage apparel to which to fasten it.

The Duchess of Cornwall's Van Cleef and Arpels diamond and sapphire dragonfly brooches (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Observing the sensation she had created, she followed her "good thing" up with a turtle and a butterfly pasted to one pink shoulder, and finally crept into creepy beetles, darting diamond horseflies, and butterflies with wings of sapphire and ruby polka dots. That did it. Her flies caught on, and now what was only a fad became a mania. Today, Willie, instead of sending the girl of his weak-punch affections a pair of twin enamel hearts pierced by a diamond dart, presents her with a black diamond cockroach or a pink-winged mosquito.

Queen Margrethe wears a golden dragonfly (Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

The really up-to-date girl will wear, beside her collection of flies and reptiles, a tiny stock farm dangling from her chatelaine. This last should contain little gold pigs with turquoise eyes, frosted silver horses, blue enamel cows, and wild boars and roosters galore. Even tigers and elephants are permitted, and many bright suggestions might be gleamed from a half-hour spent at the National Zoo.

Princess Lilian of Sweden wears a necklace of scarab beetles, now owned by Queen Silvia (Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

A New York girl who is liable to overdo things has for garter buckles a pair of gilt butterflies, caught with patent fasteners. The little scolding locks at the nape of her up-to-date neck are held in place by a frosted frog of rare price. Her shirt waist is fastened down the front with a whole row of little black and gold bees, while her cuff links are black fireflies with topaz lights, and her hat is held in place by an emerald beetle and a pale pink turtle. When she sits in her box at the theater she actually scintillates with reptiles and gems, which crawl and creep over her bodice, while a bracelet in the form of a golden caterpillar encircles her fair white arm.

Queen Maxima wears a diamond insect brooch (Photo: Joern Pollex/Getty Images)

This is, however, as I have said, overdoing it. It would be in much better taste for each girl to select an individual bug, according to her particular fancy. The Washington girl, for instance, might wear the kissing bug on all occasions, and in all forms of her jewels, from her garter buckles to her tiara. A Jersey girl should affect the mosquito, and a Chicago girl might immortalize the pig. A Philadelphia girl should most properly wear a pretty gray enameled snail, while a New York girl could affect the neat and natty racehorse, which comes in plain or frosted gold.

Which royal insect or animal jewels are your favorites?