Figure 1: Portrait of Marie Antoinette, Vigée LeBrun

Figure 2: Monument du Costume, Moreau le Jeune

In 18thcentury France jewelry was an integral part of court dress. It was a clear marker of status as well as a tool of noble ladies to draw attention to key areas. Long, dangling earrings emphasized long, thin necks. Chokers also drew attention to the neck with the wide bands of layered pearls or thin bands of ribbon with large enamel ovals (Figure 1). Other necklaces of long strands of pearls would wrap delicately around the neck and drop in a “V” to rest at the top of the cleavage, drawing the eye in a seductive manner (Figure 2). Large bracelets of layered pearls made the wrists look delicate and thin. Other types of bracelets would be ribbons, usually in a pastel color—typical of the fashion—with ovals of either enamel or cameo. On the oval faces the face or profile of a loved one was usually depicted. More elaborate bracelets could  be arranged with diamonds, sapphires, rubies, or other precious gems. These constituted everyday jewelry. More elaborate jewels for special outings, like the opera, would be delicate swirls of symmetrical designs made of silver or gold,  studded with jewels or pearls (Figure 3).

Figure 3: La Dame du Palais, Monument du Costume

These delicate designs would appear in all forms of the accessory  earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, which would be in setsas well as shoe buckles, hair

Figure 4: Gem mounting, Cutting of Diamonds, Encyclopedia

accessories and broaches. As these more elaborate pieces of jewelry were worn in evening settings the jewels helped to attract attention in low lighting. Candle light helped by reflecting off the intricate cuts of the jewels, capturing the lower light more easily (Figure 4).

Figure 5: Metal Jewelry, Goldsmith, Encyclopedia

Because of the radiance of the jewels and their placement next to the face on the ears and at the top of a lady’s bodice, they would almost “involuntarily” encourage “visual conduct” by forming a triangular line of sight making the looker flit across the upper body. Jewels were also used as decoration for bags and men’s accessories such as cane handles, stamps, pocket watches, and sword handles—a required accessory at court for men (Figure 5).

Marie Antoinette’s own predilection for jewelry brought attention to her and her implication in the Diamond Necklace Affair, though she was innocent,  was a warning against her ostentatious lifestyle.


Delapierre, Madeleine. Dress in France in the Eighteenth Century. Yale University Press : New Haven and London, 1997. *text

The Eighteenth-Century Woman, exhibition catalog at Costume Institute, Metropoltian Museum of Art, 1982. *images

Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, Diamantaire, Planche I-II, vol. 5 (1765). *images

Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, Orfèvre Jouaillier, Planche III-VI, vol. 5 (1765). *images

Paris : Life and Luxury in the Eighteenth Century. Bremer-David, Charissa, Ed.  Catalog of exhibit at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2011.  *text

Jessica Fromularo


1 Response to Jewelry

  1. asinger says:

    It’s very interesting that jewelry was used to elongate a woman’s neck and make women seem delicate. It is also interesting that jewelry could be seductive. Most of the jewels in the jewelry were probably imported, but was jewelry often made in France?

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