Wednesday, November 18, 2015

19th Century Material: Garnet

Oh Garnet, that deep I've mentioned before, red is my favorite color. I actually didn't know that much about garnet before I began researching for this post. I knew it existed, and that women wore it during the 19th century. 

Since I'm a bit nosy when it comes to researching, I found myself scouring my Victorian sources for references to garnet in terms of jewelry. What I found was shocking! No, not really. I found that garnet jewelry existed, just like other materials from the 19th century. 

The use of garnets in jewelry dates back to ancient times. The bible references the old term "carbuncle" as a possible stone gift from God to King Solomon. Pharaohs adorned themselves with garnet. The origin of the latin "granatus" or seed, represents the pomegranate that Hades gave Persephone to ensure her return to the underworld. Basically, garnet is one of those classical things that never goes out of style, like being on time or complimenting the hostess of a party.

In the 1500's, Bohemian garnets were discovered in Europe, and their popularity rose. People even used them as a "defense" against the plague. They can be found all over the world in different colors, with many deposit around the United States. It was later added as the birthstone of the month of January. 

It's no surprise that the Victorian lady fell in love with this stone. The deep red hue shows up many times in fashion magazines in terms of fabric choice. So many references to "garnet" silk! I'm in 2015 and I'm wondering why I don't have a dress like this...

Photographic Evidence
So here's the problem with photographic evidence of garnet. Garnet is is coral. And many of the surviving originals are either a smooth or bohemian cut stone. I've looked through tons of photos, and none of them struck me as *distinctly* garnet. I shall have to collect as much textual documentation and examples of surviving originals as possible. As I've said with other research, sometimes things will crawl out of the woodwork later!

Textual Documentation 
BEAD AND BUGLE WORK, Godey's Lady's Book. February, 1855.
The next pattern is a bracelet now much in vogue; it is chiefly worked in seed-pearls, seed-coral, cut garnet , black cut-glass, and blue or turquoise beads. It is very simple and easy of execution, though somewhat tedious. 

Vincennes Weekly, December 1855
Finally, after throwing open two or three doors and drawing back a silk curtain, amid a great waving of incense and constant genuflections, I saw the Iron crown in its case of crystal, supported in the hands of two bronze cherubims. At my request, the priest took it from its resting place, and I had leisure to examine it carefully. I found it to consist of six links of pure gold, perhaps two inches, or more, in width, and very thin. In fact, it resembled very much a highly ornamented dog-collar.— Its outer surface was beautifully enamelled with green leaves on a white ground. It was also set at regular intervals, with emeralds, garnets and sapphires.

The National Era, October 1857
I have in my possession an article of jewelry , which cost me many an uncomfortable twinge, though it was certainly not stolen. Neither was it begged, borrowed, given, or bought; yet, looking at it, I often feel myself in the position of the old man in the nursery tale, who, having peculated from some churchyard a stray ulna, or clavicle, was perpetually haunted by the voice of its defunct owner, crying, in most unearthly tones, "Give me my bone?" Now, the ornament that had unluckily fallen to my lot - I picked it up in the street - is a miniature brooch, set with small garnets , in heavy antique gold.

PARIS ITEMS, Godey's Lady's Book February 1858
One of the most admired of the new evening dresses is of amber-color silk. It is made with a double skirt; the corsage in folds, and the short sleeves rather full. With this dress a wreath of marigolds, with garnet centres, is to be worn in the hair.

Vincennes Gazette, June 1859

CAPRICES OF FASHION, Godey's Lady's Book, September, 1859
Oxidized silver is now to be found not only in waistbands and fancy buckles, but in all sorts of jewelry. This style, after being neglected for some years, is now in high vogue again. The same may be said of large stones, such as topazes, amethysts, garnets , and fretted jewelry in colored gold.

Great Bargains, Frank Leslie's Weekly, March, 1861

THE MARRIAGE OF THE PRINCESS ALICE, Godey's Lady's Book, October, 1862
By Princess Augustus of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha— A four-row garnet necklace and bracelets, with diamond and garnet snaps.

UNTO THE END, Godey's Lady's Book, July, 1864
Just then Ethel came in singing from the garden. She nodded to us gayly, and commenced arranging some late autumn flowers and leaves in a small vase on the table, singing all the while. She looked more dangerously beautiful than I had ever known her. The triumph of conquest thrilled in every look and tone; it flushed through the clear crimson of her cheek, and shone in the purple splendor of her luminous eyes; it rang in the electric thrill of the music that throbbed through the still room, like an immaterial presence apart from herself. It was an old Spanish song her mother had taught her, where the flashing rivers leap into the light under the clear skies of her native land, and the unfamiliar wards mingled with the quaint rhythm of the melody like the chiming of far-off bells. I realized how the Sirens sing, sitting on their gray rocks by the sea-shore, timing their strains to the cadence of the tides. The unearthly sweetness of her singing oppressed me like the stifling sweetness of some tropical blossom that intoxicates and poisons while it entrances the senses with a delirium of joy. On her hand was Earl's ring, a heavy, curiously-wrought band of gold, centred with a single garnet , delicately cut into it..

GENERAL SMASH, Godey's Lady's Book, October 1865
One evening, at the close of the season, when arraying herself in a lemon-colored tarletane, to grace with her presence a party at her friend's, Carrie St. Clair, she actually for a moment thought to herself, when conning over the formula to be observed that evening:—“Really, I'll not bother about the insensible creature any longer.” A few moments afterwards, however, when clasping the circlet of garnets around her throat she caught a glimpse of their becoming splendor, and a still more bewitching view of a very bright face, she repented.

As I suspected, loads of research existed to support the use of garnets in the 19th century. Necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and brooches all could be so prettily adorned. I found it fascinating to learn the price of such jewelry, within a $5-12 range. Calculated within a U.S. inflation calculator set at 1860, the sale price is at $130 for the $5 set. As such, I imagine garnets as a special gift or treasured piece in a family collection. Of if you came from an upper class background...a shopping trip? Prices would vary based on geographic location and type of jeweler. 

Surviving Originals

The variety of cuts and coordination of garnets was truly surprising. The stone can be smooth or faceted, appearing in several different hues. As the textual documentation suggested, nearly every form of jewelry could be bedazzled by garnets. I'm particularly fond of the flowers, as that emulates the 19th century love of all things natural. The bracelets are another surprise; I can imagine the almost-gothic circle around a delicate wrist, flashing while she dances the night away.

While still not my absolute favorite stone of the 19th century (*cough* coral) I have a new appreciation for garnet. Maybe it's the mystical red that makes a piece feel...ancient? Mythical? Delicious? I should stop personifying my research before I go crazy! Also, here is a set of earrings using garnet that I added to my shop:
The tricky part of garnet is that we do not have the same variety available today. I am limited in what I can work with. I also had to accommodate my methods to address the problem of supply. This means that a very invisible plastic thread is used to create the piece to emulate the style and design. These are little compromises that we must make on occasion when trying to create affordable, research based jewelry for the reenacting community as a whole. It would be inaccurate for us all to wear the same style/stone too.

Whew! It's been awhile since I've published any of my research on here. I have a few blog posts still in the works, so be prepared for a few in a row. I pinky swear promise I'm done being lazy! 



No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...