Belles of the Nouveau Epoch:
Art Metal Jewelry Boxes Display “Motif de la Femme”
The Victorian Era is that period of the 19th Century during which Queen Victoria (1837-1901) reigned. Although named after an English monarch, the ideals of the Victorian Era traversed continents and American culture soon felt the effects of rapid change and development in nearly every sphere: advances in medical, scientific and technological knowledge as well as changes in population growth and location. With the advancement of technology during the Industrial Revolution and the movement of rural populations to the urbane, the mingling of social and economic strata resulted in the emergence of what is now commonly referred to as “the middle class”. This new level of societal hierarchy especially desired to act in a manner befitting their class and did so via education, dress, and home furnishings.
The ambitious and hard-working middle class and their resultant prosperity established an appreciation of the fine arts including literature, architecture, and finely made crafts. It also placed inordinate importance on wealth and extravagance. Victorian homes were elaborately decorated with furniture, paintings, and trinkets, as wealth was associated with ostentatious display and décor.
The plush lifestyle of Victorian citizenry continued to influence American culture well into the 1900’s – most often through art (paintings, metal works, and furniture). The Victorian lady was a common theme and used to ornament trinkets adorning women’s dressing tables. Jewel boxes, clocks, pin cushions, hair combs and brushes displayed lounging ladies upon their chaises or admiring their reflection through a looking glass.
Jewel boxes in particular-today also called Jewel Caskets or Trinket Boxes-are delightful remembrances of our American past. Often discovered with a “motif de la femme”, these art metal jewelry boxes are as richly diverse as our own American heritage, varying in style, composition, and use. These and other items were popular palates for the artist wishing to portray Victorian life and for the American woman wishing portray the life of a Victorian lady.
To find more information about these quaint, but beautiful art pieces, you may read about them in the first book published on the subject, The Jewel Box Book
JEWEL BOX FINISHES Art Metal manufacturers experimented with many finishes. Jewel caskets were electroplated with gold (sometimes called “Ormolu”), silver, and a variety of other finishes such as “French Bronze,” “Roman Gold,” “Pompeian Gold,” “French Gray,” “Parisian Silver,” and copper. About 1911, ivory finishes were introduced. These boxes were painted with enamel, then finished with various oxides, resulting in “Old Ivory,” “Oriental Ivory,” and “Tinted Ivory.” Ivory enamel finished boxes were advertised as “more lasting than gold- or silver-plated boxes” and, in fact, they were.