Friday, March 1, 2013

What do you "collet?"

(Trust me, you'll think that title is funny in a minute...or at least worthy of a groan.)

Ever had one of those days where you have the perfect outfit but you just can't decide what jewelry to wear with it? Well, never fear: it happened to our ancestors, too.
By Charles Howard Hodges

That's right, Grandma. WEAR ALL THE BLING.

Anyway, this portrait is what got me started, really. There's obviously a lot going on there, but my favorite is her rivière necklace. That's the really shiny one with all the stones, also called (wait for it...) a collet necklace. A bit of browsing on the interwebs told me that there are actually plenty of originals still around, although they can range in price from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. They also range in date from the mid to late 18th century all the way up to the early 20th century and it seems that the style was indeed popular for over a century (for those who could afford it, of course.)

The earliest examples of rivière necklaces I found date from around 1760 (though let it be known that I'm definitely not an expert on earlier periods!), like the one worn in this portrait of Anne Fairchild Bowler, wife of Rhode Island merchant Metcalf Bowler.

By John Singleton Copley c. 1763
National Gallery of Art
This mannequin from the Kyoto Costume Institute is decked out in all her mid-18th century splendor, wearing a similar necklace, down to the pendant hanging from the center.

KCI Digital Archives, 1750-60
It's not terribly uncommon to see matching pendants on this style of necklace; some of them were even removable, so the necklace could be worn in different ways.  Pretty clever, considering what these things must have cost!  This one c. 1780 has a little hooky bit on the center stone so you can dangle something off it if you want...

Golden Topaz collet necklace c. 1780
S.J. Phillips Ltd

Here's another example that belonged to First Lady Elizabeth Monroe around 1817, so while we're jumping ahead a bit on the timeline you can still see how similar the styles are.

National Museum of American History
The settings vary in intricacy, some being very simple and some with a little more flair.  The whole point was to cover as little as possible of the gem, though, so you won't typically see anything too chunky around the stones.  Here's a closeup of a garnet rivière  c. 1800, where you can see the decorative "beading" on the gem mounts.

Third Floor Antiques

The early 19th century had a lot to offer in terms of surviving orignals and portraiture featuring the collet necklace.  Sometimes it's part of a set or parure, sometimes it stands alone.  Below is a gorgeous example of an opal parure owned by Hortense Bonaparte.

Château d'Arenenberg, musée Napoléon
Yeah, want.  Grabby hands...definitely!  Fortunately for those of us who don't bear the title "reine," there are some examples around that are just as nice, even if they aren't as extensive a collection.
From Antiques & Uncommon Treasures

Okay, so I'm not 100% sure that's a collet necklace, but there's a good argument for it given the level of detail in the miniature.  Besides, isn't she lovely?  She was sold as simply "Lady in Tiara," and I love the unusual, bright color and the way it matches her other accessories.  It's also a nice example of a partial set, since she's not wearing any other visible pieces (earrings, bracelets, brooches, etc.)  Also, it's nice to see that the stones in these necklaces (and sets) weren't always diamonds or precious stones...sometimes you see "soft" stones or semiprecious gems, too.

Gold & Agate Rivière c. 1830 
No. 1 Mayfare
The above necklace is not only an example of the use of cabochons as opposed to faceted stones, but also shows a graduated style--the stones in the center front are bigger than those in the back.  You can actually see that in a couple of the examples above, but there seems to be a pretty even mix among the samples I saw.  I assume it was personal taste as well as what you could afford that dictated which style you'd wear!

Almost a hundred years after the earliest examples I saw, the rivière is still in fashion--quite a feat, given how much styles changed in that intervening century!  Franz Xavier Winterhalter painted a portrait of Queen Victoria in 1859 wearing a rivière of diamonds...which means it can't have gone too much out of style, right?

Wikimedia Commons
And it wasn't just the royals.  The fashion in this portrait of Maria Pia of Savoy puts it right in the middle of the 19th century, and here's another collet necklace making a prominent appearance.

Wikimedia Commons, no artist given
Pretty spiffy, eh?  One style of necklace, spanning a hundred years of fashion!  But wait, there's more.  This survived up into the 20th century!  This next one is gorgeous, with some extra detailing on the settings and a beautiful bright, sunny color.  Also, the circular stones are a bit unique...lots of the originals seem to be oval, or oblong, but I've only seen a couple circles.

Citrine rivière necklace, circa 1870
Simon Teakle

For the most part, the style stayed pretty similar over a couple hundred years, with minor details (to my eye, anyway) that differentiate when each one was made.  The example below dates to the early 20th century, and you can see in the closeup that there are only a few differences between it and the earlier examples above.

Early 20th Century Amethyst Paste Necklace
The Three Graces 
I guess the takeaway from this is that everyone loves a shiny, right?  So maybe you don't end up like the woman in the first portrait I posted, with every single piece of jewelry you own bedecking your figure...but as far as history is concerned, you can't go wrong with a timeless rivière.

And, P.S.  Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue apparently agrees.  Can't argue with that fashion advice, eh?  Yeah, that's right...not one, not two, but THREE apparently original collet necklaces.  If only...right?

Oh, P.P.S.  If you'd like a couple more pictures that I didn't publish here, feel free to visit my Pinterest board, A Riviere Runs Through It (grooaaaaannnn)


  1. Great post! Thanks for all the great info on the collets. I want one now!

  2. YUM. Sparkly little candies. So glad there is a name for them, they're one of my favorite styles of necklaces but when I'd try to explain it to someone or go to find pictures, I'd get frustrated. I'd like to collect some collets...

  3. These are lovely! I'm on the hunt for one to go with my regency ball gown. Any idea if half-moon shaped gems would be accurate?