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Jewellery: Designs in Print and Drawing

Start Date 31 July 2017
End Date 29 November 2017
Venue Rijksmuseum
Location Amsterdam, Netherlands

From a cursory sketch to a detailed drawing, designing jewellery usually begins on paper. In addition to paintings, prints and drawings often constitute the only source of information about jewellery: over the centuries many pieces have been altered or melted down for their value.

Jewellery from the period 1530-1600 is largely inspired by figures from classical mythology and scenes from the Bible, often framed in architectural elements. Its sculptural character was shaped in gold, different precious stones, and brightly coloured enamelwork. Furthermore, irregularly shaped Baroque pearls were used as point of departure for jewellery in the shape of real and imaginary creatures, like dragons and sea monsters. Most of the designs are drawn to scale and rendered in perspective so that goldsmiths could use them directly as inspiration.

Gemstones from Asia and Brazil 

In the first half of the 17th century gemstones played a larger role in the fashioning of jewels. The Dutch East India Company not only brought back spices from Asia, but diamonds, pearls, and rubies as well. In the magnificent and classicizing jewellery of this period, large numbers of regularly cut gemstones were shown off to good advantage. As in the 16th century, colourful enamelwork was also used, though often only for the back of the piece. Fascinating designs with moresques (scrollwork patterns) and naturalistic motifs display a refinement in the art of enamelling.

In the 18th century precious stones, especially diamonds, took centre stage. In 1725 vast amounts of diamonds were discovered in Brazil, and subsequently shipped to Europe. In combination with new cutting techniques and safer candlelight illumination, the brilliant diamond jewels sparkled as never before. Those not in a position to afford them could make due with imitations in high-leaded glass – strass stones. Popular shapes were bows and the girandole, named after a candleholder with glass crystals. This motif was mostly used for earrings with three to five moving pear-shaped teardrops.

The 19th century witnessed many different styles in jewellery design. Among them, naturalism and neo-styles – referencing the Gothic age and the Renaissance – distinguish the work of the French designer and draughtsman Henri Cameré (1830-1894). In the second half of the 19th century he produced numerous jewellery and other designs on commission for Froment-Meurice, a famous French goldsmith family. The bright colours in the jewellery drawings indicate a colour of enamel or a particular gemstone.