This section is from the book "Hints On Household Taste In Furniture, Upholstery And Other Details", by Charles L. Eastlake. Also available from Amazon: Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and Other Details.
In the same case was a kind of fillet for the head, composed of small uncut rubies and other precious stones inclosed in hexagonal and plain oval settings, and alternating with seed pearls in several rows. The last row is decorated with little pendants, each of which terminates with a tiny emerald. Another ingenious and pretty ornament, also intended to be worn in the hair, is one composed of seven gold pendants, six set with emeralds and rubies, and one with pearl clusters, attached by seven gold chains to a chased link. The pendants all differ slightly in form - some are quatrefoil, some are hexagons, some are heart-shaped; and it is to be observed that in this Indian work generally, when gems are introduced in the design, they are either left completely uncut (as when they are used for pendants without setting), or they are only just trimmed sufficiently to make them handy for the manner in which they are to be held. The notion of grinding and paring gems down to a uniform size for a necklace or bracelet is a thoroughly modern and European one, and helps to render our jewellery formal and uninteresting. In old and Oriental work we find the collet or rim which is to hold the jewel accommodated to the shape of the latter. Gems which are intended to be placed in a row, or to balance each other in design, are matched pretty nearly in size but never with scrupulous accuracy. The result is, that the collets all vary a little in outline; and this, so far from interfering with the general effect, seems to me to add greatly to its interest, for such irregularity is a direct evidence of manual work, whereas fashionable jewellery of our own day looks as if it had been made, and indeed is to a great extent made, by machinery. Why our lapidaries should be obliged to waste time, and labour, and precious material, in order to make two little stones precisely like each other, is a mystery which I must leave the genius of modern taste to explain.
Among other objects in the same collection is a set of eleven little gold tablets, measuring about an inch and a quarter across, and about one-sixteenth of an inch thick. They are of octagonal and oval shapes, chased up into grotesque groups of men and animals, and surrounded by a delicate leaf border. The interstices between the figures are cut away, and this open work thus formed appears relieved upon a ground of emerald-green foil or enamel. Minute as the details of this design are, they are executed with great spirit and knowledge of drawing. It is a peculiarity of all good conventional ornament, whether in low relief or in superficial decoration, that the space which it occupies is generally found to balance in equal proportions the space of the ground on which it is relieved. This condition has been admirably observed in the work to which I refer. The tablets appear to have formed links or compartments in a necklace or waistband.
Very different in style, but designed with great naivete and picturesque effect, are the examples of Russian jewellery exhibited in the east side of the South Court at Kensington. The date to which they are ascribed is that of the seventeenth century, but they have all the character of much earlier work when compared with the taste which prevailed in more civilised parts of Europe during that period. These specimens consist of earrings, neckchains, pectoral crosses, devotional tablets, etc, simple in general form, and boldly but artistically treated. Twisted gold and silver wire is frequently introduced as a decorative feature. One of the crosses is of silver gilt, ornamented with green enamel in a foliated cloisonne pattern. In the centre is a garnet, and at each end of the cross is a turquoise. Another good example of this class is a small spherical pendant of silver-gilt filagree work, about an inch in diameter, set with turquoises and garnets. In this Russian jewellery, as in the Indian work, the setting of the precious stones continually varies with their shape, and is no doubt what modern London jewellers would call rude and clumsy. French art of the same period, and even of a much earlier date, is on the contrary, elegant and minute in its finish. A charming necklace of gold filagree work, ornamented with rosettes in white enamel, and set with emeralds and rubies, may be seen in one of the flat cases of this court. It appears to have been purchased by the Kensington authorities for nine guineas. It would have been cheap at double that sum. Close by this jewel is a pendant of enamelled gold, set with emeralds and sapphires. In its centre is a little onyx cameo representing a profile bust of the youthful Hercules in relief, and probably copied from the antique. The design of the goldsmith's work is presumed to be Italian, and of the sixteenth century - perhaps rather too late in it for purity of mere decorative form. But the skill and execution of the work are admirable. An exquisite example of Rhenish-Byzantine design (from the Soltykoff collection) appears in the adjoining case, It is a crucifix of cedar wood, coated with a thin plate of beaten gold. It is decorated with delicate cords of gold-twist laid on in a relieved pattern, and plaques of enamel occur at each extremity of the cross. The figure, of walrus ivory, seems hardly equal to the rest in merit of design. The above, of course, are only a very few out of a host of objects at Kensington, the description of which might serve to illustrate principles essential to this department of 'household taste.' Mr. Beresford Hope's collection alone (or rather that portion of it which is lent to the museum for exhibition) contains treasures of art in connection with manufacture which no one can examine without profit, but which it would be impossible to enumerate here.
Among the specimens of modern work, a silver bracelet damascened in gold with a niello ground, manufactured by Mons. J. Roucon, of Paris, and the very successful copies of ancient Irish brooches, executed by two Dublin firms, Messrs. West and Messrs. Waterhouse, are well worth notice. They at least show us that there is no lack of mechanical skill or ingenuity in this branch of industrial art at the present day. The real deficiency lies in a want of appreciation on the part of the public. As soon as this appreciation is felt and good designs are in common request, there is no reason to doubt that they will be supplied.
I cannot conclude this chapter without calling the reader's attention to the inestimable advantages and opportunity for improvement of national style in this and almost every other branch of manufacture, which this country possesses in the South Kensington Museum.
However much opinions may differ as to the system of instruction in design adopted in that Department, there can be no doubt that the truly magnificent collection of objects assembled there, and the facility afforded to students who may desire to inspect and study them, reflect the highest credit upon the authorities entrusted with its care. By such means, the art-workman, his employer, and the public whose encouragement and patronage are necessary to both, may learn that which alone can rescue English manufacture from its recent degradation, viz.: - the formation of a sound taste.