I have been working with gemstone beads for the past couple of days, partly because we’ve reached that bleached-out time of year when the green of summer has faded, but the tints of autumn have not yet taken hold, and I’m craving rich, deep colours. But also partly because I’ve been looking at pictures of Renaissance jewellery, which is lavishly adorned with gemstones, particularly pearls.
You can see examples on portraits of the ladies (and indeed gentlemen) of the Tudor court. Many of the designs are incredibly intricate, some are rather gaudy, and most are completely over-the-top by today’s standards. Few people would consider wearing a diamond ring with a stone the size of a large walnut, as Henry VIII was reputed to do, and the sheer weight of some of the pieces would make them severely impractical.
One style that I did think would translate into a simpler, more contemporary design is the choker-length string of pearls or beads, adorned with a central pendant. You can see this in various guises in the portraits below, usually accompanied by longer stands of pearls. Interestingly, the exception is the picture of Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife and final wife. By the time her portrait was painted, the low, square neckline has clearly gone out of fashion, and she wears a single gemstone choker with pendant, framed by a high collar. The other portraits are believed to be (l-r) Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I and Jane Seymour.
My take on this style is much less sumptuous and elaborate. I have used beads in the front section of the necklaces only, and completed them with silver chain, which I think looks a little more modern. The pendants are also simpler, although I have added a little gemstone drop to the silver heart design. I tried a pendant on the amber necklace, but it was too much with the different shapes and colours of the beads. I decided to leave it plain, and let the beautiful autumnal tones of the amber speak for themselves.
The choker is usually between 35.5 and 41 cm (14 – 16 inches) long, and it’s a really versatile necklace length. As demonstrated by Catherine Parr, it looks good in the open neck of a shirt or blouse, but it also works well with a v-neck or a boat neck, and adds sophistication and elegance to off-the-shoulder or strapless tops.
I’m already working on another renaissance-inspired necklace, this time using pearls, so keep an eye on my online shop.