A collaboration between Antique Animal Jewelry and Heart of Hearts Jewels.

Lovers of 18th Century Jewelry always fall head over heels for pieces that are carved, painted, and embellished to resemble miniature scenes under glass. Scenes of love, and loss, and friendship, so exquisitely executed. Skills now lost, never able to be replicated. Some were French and some were English but many of these rings were made in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th century.

We thought we would put our heads together and write about these miniature works of art. Hope you enjoy it!

Inscribed, 'I count the hours until we meet again'. Rings - Jewelry of Power, Love, and Loyalty by Diana Scarisbrick - P99

Defining 'German' rings

So where do we start? First of all, what is a German ring exactly?

By 'German' rings, we really mean rings that were made in territories where the German language is, or was, spoken. This broadly includes various states within the Holy Roman Empire, Prussia, and parts of modern-day Netherlands, Poland, and Switzerland. Language is an important distinguishing factor when identifying rings, and often the only way to identify a ring as German is via the language of the inscription.

As a general rule, a German inscription always points to a German origin, just as an English inscription always points to an English origin. French inscriptions, however, are in no way a clear indication of French origins, as French was considered the 'international language of love' as well as being the colloquial language of the educated German bourgeoisie until the 19th century. For this reason, many 'German' rings can have German or French inscriptions.

'An extraordinary mourning ring, circa 1790. The high carat gold shank supports a compartment with a most unusual mourning scene depicting Chronos, the personification of time. His wings and hourglass were early Renaissance additions and he eventually became a companion of the Grim Reaper, personification of Death, wielding his harvesting scythe. Here Chronos places a painted wreath of flowers on a tomb. The tomb is inscribed in German: Henriette Louise geb 12 Apr 1761 gest 5 Jan’y1793. [Born 12th April 1761, died 5th January 1793]. He carries a scythe and his hourglass lies abandoned on the ground, as time no longer matters. The ring is covered by a domed crystal. The ring is size M [US 6] and the head of the ring measures 1 and 1/4 inches by 3/4 of an inch. Exceptional carving on a microscopic scale, unable ever to be replicated.' - Michele Rowan

From rowanandrowan.com

Some Historical Context

To give some background to the production of jewelry at this time, a bit of context might be needed. In the 18th century, Germany as we know it now did not exist. Due to the peace treaties that were signed in The Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the area we now call Germany was divided into hundreds of states, duchies, principalities, free cities, and ecclesiastical states. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the two largest of these states - Prussia and Austria (Holy Roman Empire) - vied for dominance, with the smaller states seeking to retain their independence by allying themselves with one or the other, depending on political necessity.

With so many divisions, although the people were Germanic, they had little sense of national identity or unity. However, after France declared war on Prussia and Austria in the spring of 1792, taking control of the Rhineland in 1794, a more unified 'Germany' began to emerge. Under Napoleon’s rule, The Holy Roman Empire ceased to exist, the French occupation authorities pressured smaller states, cities, and entities to be incorporated into their larger neighbors, and Germany was reorganized from around 300 independent states to 39 much larger ones.

Emperor Napoleon I and Empress Josephine recentered the French court as the heart of European fashion, casting the French nobility as its 'trendsetters'. The Rococo styles of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the splendor that symbolized the hated feudal absolutism that the French Revolution had railed against, were vehemently rejected by the new bourgeoise and fell into total obsolescence. A new style was born - that of a new kind of classicism - embracing and remaking the styles of ancient Greece and Rome.

The Napoleonic court was full of ancient heroic symbols, with cameos being retrieved from ancient archeological sites in Italy and set in jewelry, creating a style of imperial Roman pomp that lent grandeur to Napoleon’s rule. However, the story was not the same for the other countries of Central Europe.

The 'German' neoclassical style

Following France’s victory and occupation of the German states, France demanded that a heavy war indemnity be paid, leaving the German states impoverished. Both the court and the people had to live as simply and thriftily as possible. In 1809, the Prussian royal family sold jewelry and tableware from the crown treasure, even contemplating selling the crown jewels in their entirety. Pearls and diamonds were not seen at court for a long time - being reserved by the nobility only for big occasions under festive candlelight - and under Freidrich Wilhelm III’s rule, a women’s association appealed to the Prussian public to give up their gold and silver in favor of a new style.

With a fundamentally different political and economic situation to that of France, the classical style was still taken on in Germany, but they sought a stricter, simpler, and more affordable form. Greek antiquity, in particular, seemed to convey the kind of noble simplicity and quiet greatness they wished to assume. With this in mind, across the German states, the style began to plunge into Greek classicism - from architecture and equipment to clothing and jewelry.

The artificial styles of Rococo splendor were exchanged for new ideas of 'naturalness' and candor; with women attempting to resemble the Greek goddesses in portraits, their jewelry reflecting these ideals. They could not, therefore, be overloaded; at most, a diadem (the headdress of Greek goddesses), a shoulder bar, and an upper arm bracelet or ring were the perfect complement. At a time when little jewelry could be afforded, this seemed the perfect style to emanate.

A portrait painted by Joseph Grassi in 1802 shows Queen Luise of Prussia (Luise von Mecklenburg-Strelitz) classically decorated in this way. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

German Miniature-Work Rings

Gone were the days where the appeal of a piece of jewelry was based on the shine of diamonds and the play of light and shadow on expensive cut gems. Jewelry would instead be appreciated in the Germanic states for the opposition of matt and shiny metal and stone surfaces, and the delicate interplay of fine lines.

German miniature-work rings can be characterized as a bourgeoisie phenomenon, exemplifying the styles of the time. That meant, in many cases, that labor and fullness of composition were valued above expensive raw materials, using 'cheap' but labor-intensive mediums such as hair work and watercolor. They were not gem-heavy, but were instead heavy in sentiment, and enriched by the skill and love of the workmanship.


Some notable defining features of German miniature-work rings are the greater use of polychrome embellishments than in contemporary examples from France or England, and also a greater variety in the materials in general used for each piece: while French examples tended to use the same material throughout, many German rings were mixed-media compositions.

Miniature-work rings could be made of any combination of materials: enamel, colored glass (often foiled), ivory, and woven hair were often used for grounds; painted details were often done in polychrome, sepia, or en grisaille watercolors; ivory, boxwood, and mother of pearl could be microscopically carved into intricate miniatures; painted cut paper could be used to make small flowers and other details (likely influenced by Fenbein carvings from neighboring Switzerland); and embellishments frequently used gold wire, seed pearls, beads, masticated hair, and silk.

Lempertz Auction May 2019

A fine example of mixed media. White enamel, polychrome, hair, and glass

Germany 1790

From @inezstodel_jewelry- Sentimental ring from the late 18th century. Inscribed, 'Mein Herz Suchte und Fand Dich' - 'My Heart Searched and Found You'. The flaming torch symbolizes love and life, when it is turned upside down it symbolizes a life extinguished, but here it is lying on the ground as if cupid has dropped it - Sarah Nehama

Cut Paper Pendant from Schmuck, by Brigitte Marquardt - page 178

Boxwood Ring - © The Trustees of the British Museum (French)

Antique Animal Jewelry

From Schmuck 1780 - 1850, by Brigitte Marquardt - page 259 (1800-1820)

The patterned enamel border with champlevé gold pattern is a typical germanic feature

From Schmuck 1780 - 1850, by Brigitte Marquardt - page 258 - Designs for rings 1800 - 1820

Popular motifs also featured images of Cupid’s bow, torch, and quiver, doves and cherubs, and other decorative motifs like ribbons and garlands, foliage and flowers, rosettes, acanthus, laurel, and vine leaves.

Craftsmen & Artists

In essence, miniature-work rings were the product of many hands; a collaboration between trades, from goldsmiths and carvers to miniature painters and hair work specialists. The German cities and towns of Augsburg, Pforzheim, and Schwäbisch-Gmünder each had strong jewelry making specialisms - for example, Schwäbisch-Gmünder had a centuries-old tradition in the manufacture of devotional and traditional jewelry, and Augsburg was renowned for its miniature ivory carving - but for many other intricately carved elements, surviving examples suggest that there were only a few masters for such delicate work.

Famous German chronicler Dominikus Debler (1757-1836) mentions several such specific German artists and craftsmen who contributed to miniature-work rings in his records, including: miniature painters Schnitter and Merz; ivory carvers Faber and Ernst Maler (in Pforzheim); the painter Urbon (who made naturalistic flowers from all kinds of materials such as bone and silk); the carver Geiger who worked with mother-of-pearl; Andreas Scharf and his pupil Walther, who became famous for their fine hair work; the hair artist Rohner from Herisau; Hartmann, J.Recih, Spiller, and Rietmann, who created elegiac pictures in crushed hair and gum; and the eminent German ivory carvers G. Stephany and J. Dresch.

Themes & Motifs

The contemporary obsession with classical styles of antiquity led to many Greco-Roman motifs being used in jewelry of the time. Rings and pendants featured anything from architectural elements and monuments - like temples, obelisks, urns, and columns (whole or broken) - to trees, flowers, classical figures, and scenes from mythology.

Antique Animal Jewelry

The sun with gold wire rays is a distinctive germanic motif

- as is the temple and the bright green grass

A similar design from Schmuck 1780 - 1850, by Brigitte Marquardt - page 192, ring plaque 1800

Christie's (2014) - Late 18th Century Portrait Miniature Necklace

Note the sun with rays again, the temple and the bright colors

The Three 'Cults' of Feeling

Much of the popular German jewelry from this time conforms to one of the three 'cults' of feeling. These three cults consisted essentially of the 'cult of friendship', the 'cult of sentimentality', and the 'cult of mourning'. Across Europe, during this time of social and political upheaval and of unification, an emphasis was being placed on a heightened sensitivity to individual expression and the emotional life, acknowledging a new depth and intimacy between people that had not previously been felt. It was a requirement of this age of sensitivity to speak the language of the heart: friendship, love, and mourning.

Protestantism had first acknowledged the idea of relics as emotional memory objects, with a lively presence that acted on living bodies and minds. From this, many protestants developed a relic culture that valued the remains of evangelists and politicians. This was further compounded throughout the 18th and 19th centuries by the emerging fascination with objects of classical antiquity, seemingly filled with meaning and import. It is perhaps natural, then, that this feeling toward objects as being capable of holding, retaining, and evoking emotional memory bled through into the jewelry of the time.

In miniature-work rings, hair was often used for its emotional significance. It was considered 'pars pro toto' - a piece of the whole person; the lock of hair of a loved one - alive or dead - connected the memory of the person with something concrete to carry with you.

The Cult of Friendship

Relationships of like-minded souls, characterized by openness and soulful affection, were considered particularly desirable in German bourgeois life. Famous Germans of the age - such as Klopstock, Herder, Goethe, and Schiller - all pursued such friendships.

Therefore, at this time many miniature-work rings were given between friends as a Freundschaftsring (literally, 'friendship ring'). Friendship rings often featured such things as inscriptions of friendship and gratitude, and images of clasped hands, alters, and temples - places where the friendship’s fire could burn forever in honor of the friend - as well as Greco-Roman motifs of foliage and classical figures.

Inscribed 'Preuve de mon amitie', meaning 'proof of my friendship' (Dutch) © The Trustees of the British Museum

Cut Paper Pendant from Schmuck by Brigitte Marquardt - page 178 - 'AMITIE'

The paper cuts were made by folding several layers of paper and correspond closely in technique

and ornamentation to the baptismal slips that were made around 1790 in memory of

baptisms in the Bernese Oberland

Such rings were an expression of sentiment between friends and family; a pledge of unchangeable and loyal friendship, to keep the remembrance of, and longing for, one another alive - a notion not dissimilar from lover’s tokens. Surviving diaries show that these personal gifts meant a lot to givers and recipients.

The Cult of Sentiment

Amatory love and marriage rings were also popular. Such rings often featured tableaus of women in classical dress writing love letters, sacrificing at the altar of Venus, or lamenting the departure of a lover as a ship sails away from the shore. A man about to go on a journey might give his lady a ring with a clock dial on the bezel, symbolizing the sentiment: 'I count the hours until we meet again'.

Antique Animal Jewelry. The inscription reads, 'I count the hours until we meet again'

Inscribed, 'I count the hours until we meet again' Rings - Jewelry of Power, Love, and Loyalty by Diana Scarisbrick - P99

From Schmuck 1780 - 1850, by Brigitte Marquardt - page 412

Decorated with gold wire rays again, and inscribed 'Ewig Dein' - 'Forever yours'

Swiss National Museum Collection

From Schmuck 1780 - 1850, by Brigitte Marquardt - page 193 - watercolour on opaque glass

Städtisches Museum. The two pigeons hold a three in their beaks. We are told here that the 3 symbolizes the baby to come (as in there are three of us now), but in German, the word for three is 'Drei' which was pronounced in Saxon like 'treu', the word for Faithful, so it has a double meaning

Beatriz Chadour-Sampson's The Power Of Love - page 75 - Koch Collection

Ring with Altar of Love and Flaming Heart - Germany 1770 - 1800

The German inscription 'Unsere Verbindung macht uns glücklich' on this love ring

can be translated as 'Our relationship makes us happy'

Ring with Initials and concealed symbols of Love. Germany 1800.

Beatriz Chadour-Sampson's The Power Of Love - page 75 - Koch Collection

On the bezel is an inscription with a love declaration 'Amour Nous Unis' - Love has united us.

The bezel can be opened and inside are the initials of the couple. The symbols such as the altar of love, the flaming hearts, and the doves holding a wreath, underline the love theme of the ring. The shank in the classical style suggests a date of about 1800.

Koch - Ringe - Anna Beatriz Chadour - Volume 1 - p 297 - German Ring 1800

A pendant in the Städtisches Museum is almost identical and enables us to reconstruct the scene.

Possibly the figure was holding a torch as a sign of love. Note also the classical dress

and the gold wire background.

The Cult of Mourning

The cult of mourning and melancholia is partially an import from England. The English Graveyard Poets influenced the development of morbid melancholia in England, and jewelry lamenting death and suffering became in vogue in England from around 1770, and in Germany from 1780.

Mourning rings of this time often featured such architectural motifs as temples, obelisks, pyramids, and altars - motifs associated with human encounters with the gods.

Koch - Ringe: Volume I - Anna Beatriz Chadour, p 294 - German Ring late 18th century

The inscription 'Souvenir', meaning 'Remember' leads to the mourning theme with urn and weeping willow. Similar pieces were produced in the German Jewellery-producing town Schwäbisch-Gmünder from the late 18th century and exported all over Europe. With French wording, this may have been intended for the French market, or it may have just been used as the language of love.

Koch - Ringe: Volume I - Anna Beatriz Chadour, p 294 - German Ring late 18th century

The spray of forget-me-nots coming from the urn underlines the significance of the word 'souvenir' and its use as a memorial ring. The use of color hints at its germanic origin.

Koch - Ringe: Volume I - Anna Beatriz Chadour, p 294

The combination of the urn with the rose and dove symbolizes love and grief for the deceased beloved.

The spirals of corded wire are very similar to a piece in the Osterreiches Museum fur Angewandte Kunst, Vienna. Again the use of color and tightly packed composition hint at its germanic origin.

Gisela Zick - Gedenke Mein'Freundschaftsspiel und Memorialschmuck - plate 22

Dutch ring 'Ouderliefde' - 'parental love' ouroboros around two flaming hearts and the initials A.L.S.

Gisela Zick - Gedenke Mein Freundschaftsspiel und Memorialschmuck - plate 11

'Ewig Theut'? - 'Forever Yours'? - 1801

1783, German mausoleum navette mourning ring

'zum andenken gewidmet' - 'dedicated to Memory' - 'Gestorben den 1 Oct 1783

Gestorben den 22 Juli 1714'.

Photo and Ring from the collection of Sarah Nehama

Koch - Ringe: Volume I - Anna Beatriz Chadour, p 293 - late 18th Century German ring

The German inscription, 'Son noch Lange', means 'Sun for a long time'. The hair in the background belonged to the beloved who died, and the sun symbolizes the heart and flaming love. The urn, myrtle, and forget-me-nots stand for eternal love

And finally some classic micro ivory scenes...

The finest ivory micro-carvings are so finely detailed that they can often only be fully seen with a magnifying glass. Some were made in the tenths or even hundredths of a millimeter range. They were considered 'Mirabilien', miracles made by human hands. © Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim

This scene depicts two women, two men, and a seated person, perhaps a child, feeding sheep. A particularly three-dimensional effect is achieved by painting thin trees in the distance on the blue background colored with crushed cobalt glass. Both the ivory carving scene and the gold setting in the form of a leaf hem are typical for rings by PJ Hess and the goldsmith's work of that time.

Natural History Museum Vienna

Visit Marion at @heartofheart.jewels and Evie at @antiqueanimaljewelry.


© Fine Art Images/Heritage-Images

Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763-1814), born Marie-Josèphe-Rose Tascher de La Pagerie, was the first wife of Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte I, and Empress of France. Joséphine was born on the island of Martinique, where she was raised until she was married off at age 16 to Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais, with whom she moved to Paris. Although she gave Alexandre two children, the proud Vicomte was ashamed of her non-Parisian manners and lack of sophistication and refused to present her at the court of Marie-Antoinette at Versailles. His disdain grew so great that eventually, in March 1785, Joséphine obtained a separation from him.

For 3 more years, Joséphine stayed in Paris, learning the ways of the fashionable Parisian world, before going back to Martinique in 1788. In 1790, a slave uprising forced her to return to Paris, in the midst of the Revolution. Her husband, Alexandre, was guillotined in June 1794, and Joséphine herself was imprisoned until the coup d’état put an end to the Reign of Terror, and she entered once again into Parisian high-society.

Marriage and Coronation Jewelry

Now a sophisticated and fashionable figure in Paris - described by many as strikingly beautiful, captivating, and sociable - Joséphine caught the eye of a rising young army officer named Napoléon Bonaparte. They married in a Civil Ceremony in 1796, and after Napoléon became emperor of the French in May 1804, Joséphine persuaded him to marry her anew with religious rites. She was coronated alongside Napoléon the next day, as Empress of France.

This ring would likely have been given by Napoléon I to Joséphine in 1796 (the year of their marriage). Gold ring enameled with blue and cut to form the letters "JNB" (Joséphine Napoléon Bonaparte) in the center, with foliage on either side. The outer rim of the ring bears the inscription "sincere love" on a blue enamel background. © RMN

Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte I was very enthusiastic about art, fashion, and particularly jewelry, believing that collecting and displaying these things would help to restore France to the place it had held before the Revolution, as the center of luxury goods and fashion. Joséphine soon became one of the leading collectors of art, from sculpture and painting to interior decoration, and set many trends in jewelry and fashion, with Marie-Étienne Nitot appointed as her official jeweler.

Wearing tiaras and diadems had been falling out of fashion for some time before the turn of the century, but thanks to the coronation of Joséphine, the wearing of tiaras and diadems was brought back to life. A symbol of majesty and power since ancient times, Napoléon I chose the tiara as an emblem to express the magnificence of his reign.

A fragment of: "The Coronation of the Emperor Napoléon I and Coronation of Empress Joséphine in Notre-Dame de Paris, 2 December 1804" by Jacques-Louis David. © Musée du Louvre

Neo-classical Jewelry

The face of a new regime whose splendor must be shown, Empress Joséphine could often be seen dressed in gold, pearls, and stones. In this revival of French jewelry, however, it was very important to Napoléon I that the jewelry being created for his and Joséphine's reign did not too closely resemble the jewelry of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, the monarchs who were guillotined during the Revolution.

As a result, Joséphine's jewelry took on a new, neo-classical style, looking back to Greek and Roman origins. Ancient symbols such as laurels, oak leaves, and ears of wheat, were featured in many of her pieces, bringing the illustriousness of Antiquity to Napoléon I's reign.

Photo via Chaumet. Wheat Sheaf Tiara - Chaumet - Nitot, Circa 1811. Gold, silver, and diamonds. Chaumet Paris Collection.

A pair of drop earrings formed of two pear-shaped pearls. Personal jewels of the Empress. Collection of the Duke of Leuchtenberg. ©RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum)

Sentimental bracelets made by Nitot. These acrostic bracelets combine colored stones with alphabetic letters spelling out the names of "Eugene" and "Hortense", Joséphine's two children by Alexandre.

Photo via Chaumet.

Greatly interested in the discoveries being made at the time of ancient artifacts in the ancient Roman sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii, Joséphine wore many pieces of jewelry made from Roman cameos brought back to France from Italy - which were raised images carved on hard stone, often depicting mythological scenes or figures.

Portrait of Empress Joséphine (1763-1814), Rueil-Malmaison, châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau

© RMN-Grand Palais

Empress Joséphine's shell cameo diadem, presented to her by her brother-in-law, Joachim Murat. Gold, shell, mother-of-pearl, cameos, pearls, precious and semi-precious stones.

Photo via jewellermagazine.

This Tiara or diadem is part of a Neo-classical parure or set of jewelry, made of ancient Roman engraved gems. Gold diadem, decorated with enamel and mounted with carnelian intaglios, mostly Roman, 100 BC -200 AD, with some 18th-century stones probably carved in Italy.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

This Tiara or diadem is part of a Neo-classical parure or set of jewelry, made of ancient Roman engraved gems. Gold with enamel, with cameos of layered agate, jasper, and jasper agate.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

This comb is part of a Neo-classical parure, or set of jewelry, is made of ancient Roman engraved gems. Gold comb decorated with enamel set with carnelian intaglios which are Roman dating between 100 BC and 200 AD. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

This brooch is part of a Neo-classical parure, or set of jewelry, and is made of ancient Roman engraved gems. Gold brooch with enamel decoration, set with a Roman carnelian intaglio (100-200 AD) © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

This pair of earrings is part of a Neo-classical parure, or set of jewelry, is made of ancient Roman engraved gems. Gold earrings with enamel set with carnelian Roman intaglios (100BC - 200AD).

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Gold and enamel belt clasp with a cameo of layered agate, the cameo probably carved in Italy (1780-1800).

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Napoléon I’s sister, Caroline Murat, who became Queen Consort of Naples in 1808, is said to have gifted many cameos to Joséphine, which were probably later mounted into her jewelry. Napoléon I himself also had a great interest in carved gems and particularly liked this neo-classical style as a reinforcement of his desire to channel the Emperors of ancient Rome in his reign as Emporer of France.

A Nullified Marriage

In 1810, Joséphine had still not provided Napoléon I with a son. Under pressure to produce an heir, the couple agreed to nullify their marriage, allowing Napoléon to seek out a new, politically convenient marriage with Marie-Louise, daughter of Emperor Francis I of Austria. Joséphine retreated to a private residence at Malmaison, outside of Paris, where she continued to entertain lavishly. Napoléon provided her with a substantial yearly allowance and continued to write her passionate love-letters while away on campaigns.

The Parures

Joséphine de Beauharnais had many parures, or sets, of jewelry. There were several inventories made of her impressive collection, but since jewelry was often gifted to family members and passed down through lines of inheritance, and since some of Joséphine's jewelry was passed on to Napoléon I's new wife, Marie-Louise, it's unclear where a lot of it ended up.

It is clear, however, that Joséphine was incredibly fond of jewelry and had a lot of it, from pearls and emeralds to amethysts and rubies; there are very few paintings in which she is not wearing an impressive parure or set.

Photos: © RMN-Grand Palais (musée des châteaux de Malmaison et de Bois-Préau)

Given the unknown whereabouts of much of Joséphine's collection, the Musée National des Châteaux de Malmaison & Bois-Préau has had several reproductions made of sets of Joséphine's jewelry that featured in her portraits.

Empress Joséphine wearing an Emerald set ©RMN

Reproduction of an emerald set worn by Empress Joséphine (tiara, earrings, necklace, two bracelets). Metal gilded with fine gold; Swarovski crystal; glass beads. These jewels were commissioned by the Malmaison museum at the Maison Privilège Orfèvrerie. © RMN

Portrait of Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763-1814), Empress of the French.

© Paris-Musée de l'Armée, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/image musée de l'Armée.

Reproduction of a pearl set worn by the Empress Joséphine (tiara, earrings, necklace, belt). Metal gilded with fine gold; Swarovski crystal; glass beads. These jewels were commissioned by the Malmaison museum at the Maison Privilège Orfèvrerie. © RMN

© RMN-Grand Palais (musée des châteaux de Malmaison et de Bois-Préau)

Reproduction of a sapphires set worn by the Empress Joséphine (tiara, earrings, necklace, belt). Metal gilded with fine gold; Swarovski crystal; glass beads. These jewels were commissioned by the Malmaison museum at the Maison Privilège Orfèvrerie. © RMN

There is a lot of speculation about who now owns some of these sets of jewelry and specific tiaras and diadems. For example, there is an Emerald Parure in the possession of King Harald V of Norway, who is descended directly from Joséphine through the Duke of Leuchtenberg, which is often claimed to be the very same Emerald Parure that Joséphine wore herself.

However, many of these claims are problematic and seem somewhat unlikely, given the dating of the gemstones and the alterations to the styles of the various parures. There are, however, several pieces of existing jewelry that were gifted by Empress Joséphine to some of her relations.

A half-set purchased by the Empress Joséphine (necklace and earrings). A two-row necklace of twenty-three small medallions in red glass paste, connected by a double gold chain. On the back of five of them is engraved: "given / to / Van Hée" "by SM / the empress". The necklace and earrings were offered in 1805 by the Empress to one of her goddaughters, Joséphine Van Hée. © RMN

Believed to have been a gift from Joséphine de Beauharnais, Empress of the French, to her daughter-in-law, Princess Augusta of Bavaria, Duchess of Leuchtenberg. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

Photo: Sotheby's

The Empress Josephine Tiara

The Empress Joséphine Tiara was made in 1890 by Russian jeweler, Carl Faberge. Empress Joséphine never wore the tiara herself, but several of the pear-shaped briolette diamonds set within it did belong to her and have an interesting story behind them.

France's relationship with Russia, specifically with Tsar Alexander I of Russia (who ascended to the throne in 1801) was not an easy one. During Napoléon I's reign, he had not one, but two wars with Russia. After the first war, a treaty was made, but when Napoléon I failed to honor his side of that treaty - refusing to support Russia in fighting Turkey because Alexander had refused to give his sister's hand in marriage to Napoléon while he was searching for a new, heir-producing wife - they went to war again.

In 1814, Russian troops secured Paris. Under threat of mutiny, Napoleon abdicated his throne and went into exile. One month later, Alexander I paid a visit to Empress Joséphine in her private residence. He was obsessed with making peace in Europe, and he went to her to do it, seemingly satisfied that she was completely separate from her exiled and estranged husband.

Alexander visited Joséphine several more times, and it is said that he was impressed with the character, integrity, and maternal anxieties of Empress Joséphine. The two took many walks together, discussing France's co-operation with Alexander's efforts, and Joséphine's fears for France's future. During one visit, he gave her a present: several briolette diamonds, which are now set in The Empress Joséphine Tiara.

The Empress Joséphine Tiara. Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Photo via Wikipedia Commons.

In the weeks that followed the collapse of the French Empire, Joséphine entertained not only Tsar Alexander I, but many other European dignitaries from nearby countries. She was ill at the time, however, and one morning, after catching a chill while walking with the Tsar, she retired to bed. Six weeks later, she died, and shortly after her funeral Alexander bought a significant number of paintings and sculptures from her collection, leaving her children with ample security, and ensuring that she would always be remembered for her impeccable taste in art, fashion, and jewelry.


This week’s blog is all about jewelry and politics, and how they have been tangled-up together throughout several momentous events in history. In this blog, we focus on jewelry during the English Civil War, the Restoration, and the exile of King James II and his son.

Since ancient times, jewelry has always been associated with political strength and authority, worn by leaders and monarchs all over the world. There are tales aplenty of gems and pearls passed through whole lines of kings and queens, as well as stories of jewelry given as marks of favor, from the royal courts to the papal palace. Crown jewels, medals, gifts, and commemorations: each piece tells its own interesting story of politics and power.

During the English Civil War, jewelry took on another level of significance, where certain pieces were worn as symbols of allegiance, by followers claiming their loyalty and their side in the events of history. It was a divisive and bloody war: on the one hand stood the Royalists, staunch supporters of King Charles I and the monarchy, and on the other stood the Parliamentarians, supporters of the rights and privileges of Parliament.

From left to right: King Charles I (1600-1649), Reigned 1625-49A, photo: © National Portrait Gallery, London; Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), Lord Protector of England, photo: © National Portrait Gallery, London.

During the Civil War, Royalist supporters wore various items of jewelry featuring portraits of Charles I or inscriptions of Royalist sentiments and symbols as a display of their allegiance. Charles I’s wife - Queen Henrietta Maria - was responsible for distributing many of these lockets, slides, and particularly rings, to supporters who lent their money to the Royalist army and cause. Some of the jewelry produced in this time includes portraits of both Charles I and Charles II, signaling support for the continuation of the Stuart line.

Finger-ring; gold with slender hoop and oval bezel with a portrait of Charles I in enamel on a blue ground; the shoulders and sides of the bezel are enameled with black designs on white. The inside is inscribed. Photo: © The Trustees of the British Museum

Gold ring with black enameled floral scrolling and a central rose on the outside and an enameled inscription inside: 'OBBAY THY KING'. The placing of the inscription inside the ring indicates that it was made for a Royalist to wear discreetly during the Civil War. Photo: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Plum-stone pendant, carved with the heads of Charles I on the obverse and the future Charles II on the reverse. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In 1649, the Royalists lost their fight to the Parliamentarians and surrendered. King Charles I was publicly executed and the rule of the country was turned over to the head of the government, Oliver Cromwell. After the King's death, more jewelry featuring his portrait was made to commemorate Charles I, some of which incorporated locks of the King's hair.

This style of jewelry - using hair and portraits - was common for mourning jewelry, worn to honor the memory of passed loved ones. These pieces, however, would not just be worn by close relatives and friends but were worn by many Royalist supporters across Britain, not just to honor the dead King's memory, but also to indicate their continuing loyalty to the monarchy.

Many Royalists considered Charles I's death to be a sacrilege against his divine right to rule as king, and images of him often show his eyes gazing upwards towards Heaven to symbolize this. Inscriptions in the jewelry, too, often included angels and other imagery symbolizing his kingly divinity. Royalists supporters continued to wear such jewelry even after they were defeated and Cromwell took over, but this was dangerous to do, so they often wore them hidden from prying parliamentary eyes, under a flap or inside a locket.

At first glance, this ring looks like a typical, expensive mourning ring with a large diamond at its center flanked with black enamel. However, the oval bezel of this ring is actually a hinged lid concealing an enameled portrait of Charles I. By wearing the ring with its lid closed, the wearer could keep their Royalist allegiance secret during the years of the Commonwealth and Protectorate. Via Teaching History with 100 Objects & The British Museum.

Gold pendant with the royal cipher of Charles I in gold wire mounted over what is thought to be the king's own hair, under glass. At the back, the inscription 'CR REX MARTYR' describes King Charles I as a martyr. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Enameled gold commemorative ring, the oval bezel with a crystal enclosing a miniature on vellum of Charles I and on the reverse an enameled white skull below a crown between C and R. There is a palm in black enamel and a crystal on the shoulders. The hoop is inscribed inside 'sic transit gloria mundi', meaning 'thus passes the vainglory of the world'. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Enameled gold commemorative ring for Charles I, the oval bezel enameled in white with a skull above CR in black. The shoulders chased with masks and enameled black. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Gold commemorative ring, the oval bezel set with a crystal enclosing a miniature of King Charles I, between two brilliant-cut diamonds in silver collets. Worn as a sign of allegiance to the Royalist cause. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Silver, heart-shaped locket, the obverse inscribed 'Prepared be to Follow me/CR', and on the reverse 'I live and dy in loyaltye'. On the inside 'I morne for monerchie' with a medallion of King Charles I, indicating the unflagging allegiance of the jewel's royalist owner. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

One of the seven mourning rings given at the burial of Charles I, it has the King's Head in miniature, behind a Death's Head, between the letters C and R, and is inscribed with the motto, 'Prepared be to follow me'. Finger-ring; enameled gold, the oval bezel with a portrait of Charles I on a blue ground, the sides with flutes in black enamel, the shoulders enameled black. The back of the bezel is enameled with a skull flanked by monogram, all in white on black, with a black enamel inscription inside the hoop. Photo: © The Trustees of the British Museum

Enameled gold commemorative ring, oval bezel with a revolving center. On the obverse, an intaglio portrait of Charles I, and on the reverse a skull between C and R with a coronet above and a royal crown below. Inscribed 'GLORIA' and 'VANITAS'. Engraved inside the hoop is 'Emigravit gloria Angl', meaning 'the glory of England has departed'. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Enameled gold ring with an oval bezel set with an enamel miniature of King Charles I, with a border of rose-cut diamonds in silver collets. The back of the bezel and hoop are enameled in black with floral ornament. The shoulders are set with a rose diamond. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Gold ring with a posthumous miniature portrait of Charles I. The back is enameled with a white skull. Many such images in enamel, generally of poor quality, were produced for distribution to followers of the Royalist cause. Photo: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

Gold commemorative ring, the oval bezel set with a crystal enclosing a miniature of Charles I. Many of these kinds of rings may have been hidden until the Restoration.

Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

After the Restoration of 1660, even more commemorative jewelry was produced. Charles II wanted to preserve the memory of his father, and the jewelry was to be worn openly as a sign of allegiance to the new regime, or in some cases, as an indication of continued Royalist support.

This is a political jewel made both to commemorate Charles I and to show support for the young Charles II. Oval pendant set with an enameled double portrait of King Charles I and King Charles II. The gold frame is enameled, the reverse painted with flowers on a white ground. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

28 years later, Charles II’s successor - James II - was exiled for his Catholic and absolutist views. The rings featuring Charles I and II's portraits would be taken up once again by supporters, as well as new rings commemorating James II and featuring portraits of his exiled Catholic son, James Francis Stuart, to show their desire for the restoration of Catholic Stuart rule. Circulating and wearing the images of the Stuarts reinforced the idea that this was the legitimate royal family, temporarily exiled, but poised to one day return and take back the throne.

Gold memorial ring for James II of England and VII of Scotland, with an oval bezel set with a faceted crystal enclosing the monogram JR in gold wire below a crown supported by two angels in silk. The foliated shoulders are enameled in black. Wearing this ring would have constituted an act of mourning as well as an expression of continuing support for the Stuart claim to the throne. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Gold ring, the octagonal bezel set with a table-cut crystal enclosing a portrait of the 'Old Pretender' or 'Old Chevalier' - James Francis Stuart - on ivory. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Gold ring, the oval bezel set with a crystal enclosing a miniature on vellum of Prince James Francis Stuart, the 'Old Pretender', or 'Old Chevalier', with openwork shoulders. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Of course, the English Civil War is far from being the only historical event where jewelry played an important part. From fights for independence to revolutions to modern-day politics, jewelry has had - and continues to have - an important role in expressing opinions, beliefs, and support. For a little bit of background information on jewelry in the lead-up to the French Revolution, you can read our blog about Mary Antoinette: Her Story In Jewels.

To wrap up, here some of AAJ's mourning jewelry, hair jewelry, and jewelry featuring miniature portraits or political inscriptions:

For rare Georgian and Victorian jewelry, follow Antique Animal Jewelry on Instagram.

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