Nature has long been an inspiration to artists in the field of jewelry design, giving rise to some of the most exquisite floral jewelry masterpieces ever created.
From Monet’s dazzling water lilies to Georgia O’Keefe’s stylized blossoms, botanical depictions have always been revered. As emblems of emotion and means of expression, floral motifs have long held a steady, symbolic place in history. Across different cultures, botanicals of all sorts are recognizable. When the Turkish Embassy Letters of Lady Mary Wortley, wife of the British Ambassador of Constantinople, were published, the idea of flowers representing emotions came to be. In 1819, the first real dictionary of floral meanings and floriography, Le Langage des Fleurs, brought the language of flowers into the modern vernacular.
Undoubtedly, no other category of the decorative arts has embraced the floral motif quite like jewelry. For centuries, jewelry has been crafted as a means of expression, appearance, and religious veneration. As universal forms of adornment, the practice of crafting and wearing jewelry items in various forms has existed has existed since prehistoric times when carved pieces of bones and shells were used as protection from danger and markers of status.
Ancient Egyptians adorned themselves in lavish wide collar necklaces in designs of their beloved lotus flower. As time progressed, the discovery of metals transformed jewelry trends to craft and culture. The evolution of metal working techniques led to the ability to craft more sophisticated and intricate styles.
Regard for floral jewelry indeed blossomed during the Renaissance era (1300-1700). Popularized by scribes of who wrote prose surrounding the romance of floral blooms, floral motifs in jewelry articulated the affections and sentiments that could not be spoken freely during this period. Notable royalty, like Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleaves, favored short necklaces shrouded in depictions of lovely Dianthuses and Violets paired with colored enamel.
Jewelry of the 17th century reflected entirely new styles in fashion, perhaps the most important one being the emphasis on floral designs. During this time, craft techniques continued to mature: advances in jewel cutting techniques and more access to gemstones, among others. Culturally, design motifs expanded through global trade and changing fashions demanded brightly colored, ornate designs, greatly influenced by East Asian styles. A renewed enthusiasm for natural, botanical motifs captured the attentions of jewelers and consumers alike, resulting in jewelry that featured asymmetrical blooming tulips coupled with delicately placed colored enameled and other gemstones.
The late 19th century Art Nouveau movement, perhaps one of the most pivotal stylistic innovations to date, followed a strict diet of flowing, organic, lines that spoke to nature. Consequently, floral motifs re-emerged as high style. Orchid hair ornaments, brooches, and flower necklaces complemented by plique-a- jour enameling were much admired and sought after.
In recent years, the boundaries of jewelry have continued to re-define themselves, all the while mixing in characteristics of the past. Though the concept of depicting flowers in jewelry dates thousands of years, the beauty and ideology of floral depictions for both special occasions and everyday use remains the same.