Gentlemen's Jewelry: From Shoe Buckles to Stickpins
While jewelry is generally thought of today as being much more a part of women's fashion than men's, that is certainly not the case historically. Throughout the centuries, men have used jewelry to showcase their wealth and status, proclaim loyalties, and to hold or hide personal and sentimental messages. In fact, in many periods (particularly the Georgian era) men frequently wore more jewelry and gemstones and were more at the center of fashion than the women of the time, since there were so many more men with money and means than there were women.
A gorgeous selection of antique tiepins
When thinking of Georgian and Victorian jewelry, you may well initially picture elaborate girandole earrings and the necklaces, tiaras, and keepsakes of queens and wealthy women - but men were actually often the primary makers, buyers, and wearers of jewelry. Both men and women wore sentimental mourning, love, and friendship jewelry, and gentlemen often also wore elaborately ornamented versions of everyday practical items: from bedazzled Georgian shoe buckles and buttons to hunting jewelry and elegant Victorian stickpins. Today's blog takes a dive into that fascinating world of gentlemen's jewelry.
This pair of rectangular buckles with incurving sides was formerly in the Russian royal collection. They are set with brilliant-cut diamonds and sapphires in silver and gold. Each chape has a shaped steel pinder, which is struck with the name of Glover, Europe, c. 1750-60, the chapes made in Birmingham
Victorian 14kt yellow gold pin topped with sterling silver and featuring a fox being chased by three hunting hounds, all studded with old rose-cut diamonds and delicate ruby eyes, c.1880s. A gold straight pin and c-catch clasp can be found on the back, allowing the pin to be secured to the wearer's garment
Georgian Gentlemen's Jewelry
The Georgian era created some amazing fashion trends amongst British men, like the 'Macaronis', for example. The name 'Macaronis' was given mainly to gentlemen who had recently returned from their Grand Tours decked out in exaggerated versions of the latest European fashions, talking to anyone who would listen of the delights of Italy, such as their incredible macaroni pasta. Satirical cartoons of the time leapt on this character, ridiculing these men who would call anything they thought elegant and uncommon 'very macaroni'. By the 1770s the term 'Macaroni' became specifically associated with gentlemen who wore colorful, tight-fitting costumes in rich fabrics like silks and velvets, as well as lavish jewelry and gem or paste encrusted buttons and buckles.
‘A macaroni dressing room’, colored etching by I.W., 26 June 1772
Via History Today
"...The knees of his crimson velvet breeches scarcely descended so low as to meet his silk stockings which rose without a spot or wrinkle on his meagre legs, from shoes of blue Meroquin, studded with diamond buckles that flamed forth rivals to the sun ..."
- A description of a Macaroni named Captain Whiffle in Smollett's novel Roderick Random (1748).
Jeweled Buckles & Buttons
For Georgian gentlemen, jeweled buckles and buttons were the height of fashion for most of the 18th century, many of which were silver or gold and set with precious colored gems, diamonds, or pastes. Not many examples with precious stones survive, as the stones were often re-used in later pieces of jewelry after bejeweled buckles and buttons went out of style in the 1790s, so most surviving examples use paste.
Left: Portrait of Louis XIV (1638–1715) after Claude Lefèbvre with a close-up of his shoe buckle. Right: Portrait of Louis XVI (1754-1793) by Antoine-François Callet with a close-up of his shoe buckle
Via Wikimedia Commons
Oval shoe buckle of paste set on silver, France or Great Britain, c.1770-1780
Silver shoe buckles set with pastes, England, c.1770-90
This love of bejeweled buttons and buckles carried on throughout the cut steel craze in Britain, where inexpensive steel could be made to shine and glitter almost like gemstones.
Cut steel buckles made in England and France, c.1840-1850
Cut steel buttons, the last pair perhaps later adapted for use as cuff links, c.1795-1800
'Steel Buttons/ Coup de Bouton' - a cartoon advertising the 'dazzling' quality of fashionable cut steel buttons (1777) - © The Trustees of the British Museum
In the later 18th century and 19th century, shoe buckles came boxed with a matching set of knee buckles, used to fasten breeches legs just below the knee. Often, dazzling buckles and buttons were complemented by matching rings, gem-encrusted sword hilts, and gems or buckles at the cuff and waist.
According to The Lady's Magazine, King George III wore at his Birthday court of 1779:
"...an elegant set of mother of pearl buttons, set round with small brilliant diamonds . . . a garter, the george, and a star . . . His shoe and knee buckles were diamonds . . . a sword elegantly ornamented with jewels: likewise a brilliant diamond ring".
Knee buckles, silver set with pastes, oval with anchor-shaped pinder, England, c.1770
A small sword with a case and scabbard, with a cut-steel encrusted hilt and sheath mounts, c. 1775. Probably made in Woodstock, near Oxford - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
A steel dress sword with a leather scabbard. Hilt decorated with cut steel beads (Boulton) and blue jasper medallions (Wedgwood) - Via National Museums Liverpool and © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Victorian Gentlemen's Jewelry
As the extravagant fashions of the Georgian era faded and the Victorian era began, men wore fewer jewels, adhering to a strict dress code that allowed for only 'essential' jewelry items. Although those pieces were required to be understated, this made for an emerging new fashion for practical and useful but personal pieces, like very finely made watch chains, watches, fobs, and stickpins. Those who continued to flaunt dazzling jewels and did not adapt to the new, subdued fashions were considered 'fops'.
'Stick pins', also known as 'cravat/scarf/breast pins', were designed for the very practical purpose of securing a scarf, ascot, cravat, tie, or similar items of clothing, and were often made up of a long rod-like pin of up to three inches, worn vertically, with a decorative element at one end.
Incredible Victorian 18ct gold, emerald, diamond, and ruby snake tie pin
From Grays Antiques
Two bee-shaped stick pins photographed alongside a gold bee brooch, c.1870. Bees were a popularly depicted insect, symbolizing industriousness. They were particularly sought after for their association with Napoleon Bonaparte, who took the bee as his emblem to represent his status as Emperor
Antique stickpins/tiepins from @lemarquisdemahieu via Instagram
Antique horse and carriage Essex crystal stickpin
Antique Animal Jewelry
Right: Gustave Trouvé's electric jewels; the rabbit hammers the bell with drumsticks, the hummingbird beats its wings, and the skull gnashes its teeth or rolls its eyes. Right: The battery-operated skull stickpin, enameled gold with diamond eyes, French, c.1867. Designed by Gustave Trouvé and signed PICARD for A.-G. Cadet-Picard - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London via Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria: A Mirror to the World by Charlotte Gere and Judy Rudoe
'NOT FOR JOSEPH' stickpin with a mouse and mousetrap, enameled gold, English, c.1867. The mouse is trying to eat a piece of cheese without getting trapped, inspired by Arthur Lloyd's popular music-hall hit song 'Not for Joseph' of 1867 - ©The British Museum via Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria: A Mirror to the World by Charlotte Gere and Judy Rudoe
Left: Gold stick pin, the head enameled and set with rose-and brilliant-cut diamonds in the form of an Austrian imperial crown above the monogram E, Vienna, c.1872-98. Middle: tie pin made of gilt metal with a mosaic design, England, c.1830-1870. Right: Pin with an urn-shaped enameled gold head, silver set with brilliant-cut diamonds, England, c.1780-1810. ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London
A 19th-century diamond stickpin in the form of a Hunting Falcon with a matching turquoise and diamond pin, both c.1890 - From @symbolicchase via Instagram
Antique diamond and sapphire woodcock stick pin, with a rose-cut diamond head, a cabochon sapphire eye, set in silver with an engraved 18ct gold beak - From Grays Antiques
Mouse tie pin, gold, enameled cast iron, and a pearl. Paris, late 19th century
Leopard tie pin of gold, petrified palmwood, and rose-cut diamonds. Paris, late 19th century - From FAUNA: The Art of Jewelry by Patrick Mauries and Evelyne Posseme
A stickpin with a moonstone 'man in the moon' carved face surrounded by small Natural Burma Rubies and Diamonds, c.1830 - From Grays Antiques
A gold and jeweled pin brooch with an opal cut in the shape of a heart, centered with a diamond, and another diamond mounted above. Given to Prince Albert by Queen Victoria on their wedding day, 10th February 1840 - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021
Watch Chains, Watches & Fobs
These restrictions on men's dress did not mean, however, that gentleman's jewelry became any less sentimental. Watch chains became one of the most sentimental pieces of Victorian gentleman's jewelry, being the favored place to suspend tokens of friendship, love, and mourning, as well as watches, watch keys, fobs, seals, rings, charms, or lockets containing locks of hair, hidden messages, or other mementos. Prince Albert enjoyed hanging such things from his watch chain so much that those chains with mall additional sections of chain for hanging adornments were known as 'Albert Chains'.
Imitation gold and silver chains sold by N. C. Reading & Co., Birmingham, late 19th century
From Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria: A Mirror to the World by Charlotte Gere and Judy Rudoe
Victorian 9 carat gold watch chain with a large patented bolt and snake chain, and at the other end a hook to fasten to a waistcoat button
Victorian snake watch chain from @sophiejanejewels via Instagram
Victorian gold nugget gentleman's watch chain
From Lang Antiques
Antique 18-carat gold trombone link Albert chain
Watch chain, consisting of two rows of figure-of-eight chains, with a ring at one end, and a larger S-shaped link at the other. Two short lengths of chain hang from the S-shaped link, with a cast acorn pendant at the end of each - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London
A collection of Victorian fobs, seals, and split rings from @alphaomegajewelry via Instagram
Charming and rare high carat Victorian musical fob with crown detail and engine turned base
Victorian nickel-plated brass Vesta case which doubles up as a whistle. The brass mouthpiece hinges open to store matches. Makes a lovely shrill sound - Antique Animal Jewelry
18-carat gold snake fob and split ring with a carnelian stone, c.1905 - Antique Animal Jewelry
19th-century gold, silver, and bloodstone hound fob with tiny diamond eyes.
A Victorian high carat parrot watch key and a high carat Victorian eagle fob
Keyless watch in a hunting case, engraved and engine-turned gold, with repeating mechanisms, stop-watch, a calendar and two-stage chimes, and an enamel dial. London, c.1891-2
Beautiful and very unusual antique pocket watch modeled as a large greyhound head holding a whip that forms part of the watch design - sterling silver and rose gold. Also hanging is the watch key
Poet Robert Browning's watch chain is said to have held a telescopic pencil, a ring that had been treasured by his beloved wife (poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning), and a twenty-lira coin that signified a cause his wife supported.
Portrait of Robert Browning by Rudolf Lehmann, 1884, and a close-up of his watch chain
Like the fobs and watch keys? There will be a whole blog dedicated to them coming soon!
Other Gentlemen's Jewelry
Cuff links, shirt studs, waistcoat buttons, and rings (particularly wedding rings, mourning rings, or signet rings used to seal documents or display initials or a family crest) were also under the list of acceptable 'essential' men's jewelry, provided they remained elegant, refined, and understated.
This ring was made to commemorate Hannah Darby who died in 1860. The jeweled letters AEI are from the Greek word for 'Always'. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning owned a ring with the same motto, which her husband Robert Browning wore on his watch-chain after her untimely death
A large men's antique ruby and diamond snake ring, likely a love or wedding ring as diamonds represent eternity and rubies represent passion - From Grays Antiques
Prince Albert's variegated gold ring, cast with rose gold and silver roses on a matted ground. The top set with large emerald, flanked by a foliate motif set with small diamonds. The inscription reads: 'Meinem lieben Sohn Albert zur Erinerung des 11t und 12t April 1835.' (My dear son Albert in memory of 11th and 12th April 1835). It was a gift to Albert from his father in memory of his confirmation
Victorian gold and sapphire snake cufflinks, each link in the form of an entwined serpent with cabochon-cut sapphire set head, linked together with gold chain, c.1890 - From Bentley & Skinner
Victorian cufflinks with oval garnets and old-cut diamond set stars, all on a yellow gold mount, c.1860
From Bentley & Skinner
Hunting & Sports Themes in Gentlemen's Jewelry
Hunting and sports were popular themes in Victorian era jewelry and were worn by both men and women. However, the sheer volume of men's jewelry like stick pins, cuff links, and fob charms decorated with foxes, hounds, rabbits, boars, stags, hunting horns, and horses suggests that the market for jewelry showcasing these themes was dominated by men.
18ct gold brooch featuring a hunting horn with a hound dog - the dog accented with a rose-cut diamond collar, c.1870-1880 - Victoria Sterling via The Jewellery Editor
Victorian solid 14k hunting-themed watch chain with three snakeheads, one fox clasp, and a dog head. If you look close you will see a snake biting the end of the dog’s nose
‘Silver and silver-gilt watch-chain with stag-hunting motifs. French, made by Névillé for Morel et Duponchel, about 1848.’ Hunting chain from the British Museum featured in Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria: A Mirror to the World by Charlotte Gere and Judy Rudoe, fig. 103, p.142.
Rare French silver and gold hunting chain with Hounds, Stags, Deer, and Foxes, modeled here as a women's necklace but would have likely been worn by a man as or on a watch chain, c.1849-54
An unusual pair of gold cufflinks each depicting a hunting hound in raised repoussé with diamond eyes and a goose hanging from its mouth - the trophy of a successful hunt, c.1880. Crafted in 14kt yellow gold. On the back of each cufflink is a curved bar that ends in an oval-shaped stud
A wily reverse intaglio fox set inside a golden hunting horn brooch, c.1900
From Lang Antiques
High carat gold hunting fob c.1830 with a fox watch key. The fob is adorned with hounds and a cheeky hidden fox head; the base holds a carnelian seal with arrows and boar head - Antique Animal Jewelry
A hunting fob showing two hounds chasing a hare, the bloodstone seal beneath depicting two hounds hunting a wild boar - Antique Animal Jewelry
French Victorian 14kt gold hunting stickpin in the shape of a French horn and riding-whip, c.1860's
Antique hunting themed stickpins: rabbits, foxes, and birds
Victorian running fox stickpin set with rose-cut and mine-cut diamonds and a tiny ruby eye - From @franziska_vintage_jewels via Instagram
Horse racing was a particularly beloved sport of the Victorian era, especially amongst the French, and women and men alike wore all sorts of pieces of jewelry with equestrian themes, fashioned as horseshoes, stirrups, whips, bits, nails, spurs, and even the horses themselves. Men's watch chains hung heavy with horse-themed pieces, with some chains themselves even being equestrian in nature, like the 'curb chain' named for the chain from a horse's bridle-bit.
Reverse intaglio crystal stickpin depicting a horse within a rose-cut diamond horseshoe, platinum-topped, 18kt gold mount. Via Skinner
A late Victorian horse riding crop & hat brooch, the hat set in white with rose-cut diamonds alternated to blue and yellow enamel to a yellow gold riding crop with rose-cut diamond-set handle, c.1900
From Bentley & Skinner
A double-sided enameled hunter pocket watch made by the world-renowned watchmaking company Louis Audemars & Cie, during the late Victorian era (c.1885-1900). Presumably made for the German market, this 14kt rosy yellow gold self-winding timepiece features a colorfully dressed jockey riding a horse with mountains in the background on one side, and a scenic house beside a bridge-covered stream aside two pine trees below mountains on the other, both with an etched flower motif border
Reverse intaglio crystal brooch depicting two horses mounted in a 14kt gold stirrup
Other sports such as greyhound racing, fishing, sailing, rowing, croquet, tennis, cycling, ice skating, and more also found their way into Victorian-era men's jewelry, alongside other interests and souvenirs...
This is a sample case of transatlantic cables laid in 1858, 1865, and 1866, from three separate attempts to lay a submarine telegraph cable across the Atlantic, enabling the first transatlantic message to be sent by Queen Victoria to the American President on 28 August. Soon after, companies like Tiffany & Co. and New York jewelers Ball, Black & Co. were selling pendants, charms, and watch keys set with slices of transatlantic cable so that gentlemen could wear a souvenir of this remarkable and topical event
From Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria: A Mirror to the World by Charlotte Gere and Judy Rudoe
Antique Victorian silver dog whistles to hang from your watch chain
14k gold mounted Essex crystal reverse intaglio Trout pin, in a fly rod border
Victorian Fish Motif Gold Locket
From Lang Antiques
Here's some more antique gentleman's jewelry we love!...
A collection of antique shirt and tie jewelry from the amazing @lemarquisdemahieu via Instagram
Antique gentleman's mourning jewelry, from Ann Brown to Quinten Macadam to B. Chew aged 71 to little J.D aged only 9 months, and Baron 'AA' to Mr. Chauncey
- Also from @lemarquisdemahieu via Instagram