IF you’ve read Shakespeare, you’ll know his writing is rich with gemstone references. To mark The Bard’s birthday on 26th April, we’re going to take a look at the beautiful and opulent jewels that inspired him.
We’ve also chosen 24 stunning Elizabethan style jewellery items for you to view. All of them are available in our collections today!
Just click on the images to find out more.
“In emerald tufts, flowers purple, blue, and white.” —Merry Wives of Windsor
Floral jewellery was extremely popular during the Elizabethan era. Some of the royal jewellery Shakespeare might have seen would have showcased diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, pearls or turquoise arranged like flower petals, and offset with lustrous gold and silver leaves.
“I’ll set thee in a shower of gold and hail rich pearls upon thee.”—Antony and Cleopatra
Jewellery in Shakespeare’s age was, relatively speaking, much more expensive than today. Only royalty and noblemen could afford diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, rubies and pearls. The lower, but still wealthy classes – such as prosperous merchants – adorned themselves with more affordable gems like coral, quartz, turquoise, agate, opal and onyx. Cameo work carved from seashells was also popular.
“A heart it was, bound in with diamonds.”—Henry VI
Refined gem cutting techniques had not yet been developed in Tudor times. So any diamonds that Shakespeare would have seen, would have been carved into pyramid shaped “point cuts”. Softer gemstones like opals were often polished into smooth domes called cabochons. Emeralds, rubies and sapphires were mostly given a flat, rectangular “table cut”.
Today, gem cuts are much more faceted, but many are still based on the 16th century shapes. For example, the modern princess, emerald and oval cuts are simply variations on the old point, table and cabochon shapes.
As for precious metal settings, in Shakespeare’s day gems were most often secured to jewellery by wrapping gold or silver around them – similar to the rubover setting used today.
“With these crystal beads, heaven shall be bribed!”—King John
Religious motifs were very common in 16th century English jewellery. Cameo brooches depicting saints were very popular and noble women would demonstrate their piety by wearing elaborate cross pendants made from rows of colourful gemstones set in silver or gold.
Were you inspired by our Shakespearean jewellery blog edition? If so, leave us a comment below and tell us which antique jewellery styles you love!