Utility jewel

Utility jewel

  • Pendant watch key.


  • Couple.


To close

Title: Pendant watch key.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 6 - Width 4

Technique and other indications: Citrine, gold, topaz, colored glass.

Storage location: National Museum of Malmaison Castle website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Picture reference: 03-012541 / MM40.47.486

Pendant watch key.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

To close

Title: Couple.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Stereoscopy.

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Picture reference: 02-012762 / PHO_1983_165_278; INV_685

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Publication date: March 2008

Historical context

The chain's jewelry specialty continued to grow throughout the 19th century, especially under the Second Empire. Adapting to all levels of fortune, it also corresponds to all tastes, because shapes and models are constantly being renewed.
The public's enthusiasm is unabated in the export markets. The investigation into the Fabrique de Paris organized in 1860 by the Chamber of Commerce (Paris Chamber of Commerce, Statistics of industry in Paris, 1864) describes the main types of chains exported: châtelaines (very elaborate watch chains, decorated with patterns) vest chains, fancy or jewelery bracelets, objects which cling to chains: groups, charms, keys, seals ...
The chainists employ semi-industrial methods to obtain small series. One of his innovations, cited in the Vienna World's Fair of 1873 report, consists of "continuous spirals, each turn of which fits seamlessly into the previous one. The set forms flexible necklaces that resemble flattened snakes, which are made into very practical necklaces and bracelets ".

Image Analysis

The first image shows one of the objects intended to be hung from a watch chain and sold in quantity by chain jewelers. This large (4 x 6 cm) watch key, made in gold in the mid-19th century, bears witness to a certain refinement. The materials chosen: topaz, citrine, colored glass ... harmonize in yellow hues that match that of the metal, carved from the horns of plenty.
The second image, a very traditional photographic portrait of an anonymous couple, dates from the second half of the 19th century. The young woman prominently wears one of the chain industry's finest specimens, a Leontine. This ornament “holds the middle between the collar and the belt hook,” explains Henri Vever. The watch is suspended by a slide from a large chain attached to the neckline by a small brooch. The Léontine serves as both a necklace, a watch holder and a belt hook.


These two models of "useful jewelry" belong to what was called in the 19th century fine jewelry, a segment of the jewelry range that favors metalwork and uses relatively precious materials. The Léontine is made of a supple gold cord; the watch key, also in gold, is adorned with semi-precious stones.
Their owners therefore had to enjoy a certain standard of living and belong to the bourgeoisie. This utilitarian kind of jewelry is moreover entirely in accordance with the somewhat stereotypical imagery of the middle bourgeoisies of the nineteenth century, who favor the values ​​of work and rigor. The very large French bourgeoisie prefers, as soon as its fortune allows it, an ostentatious way of life in line with the aristocratic model of the Ancien Régime.
The chain industry isn't confined to the model line-up shown here. The 1884 law liberalizing the manufacture of export jewelry represents an additional impetus for chainists. Their success is especially noticeable during the Universal Exhibition of 1900. The rapporteurs note that these manufacturers have been able to keep "a quality production while offering low-grade gold chain (14 carats, 12 carats and 9 carats) of an irreproachable finish and an immense variety ”while“ the most numerous chains, inexpensive, are manufactured in silver ”. (Reports of the international jury at the 1900 World's Fair, 1901). Nineteenth-century jewelry has been able to adapt remarkably to these heterogeneous clienteles, with an array of ornaments corresponding to the means and lifestyle of each.

  • jewelry store
  • bourgeoisie


Henri VEVERFrench jewelry in the 19th century 1800-1900Paris, H. Fleury, 1906-1908.Companies & Representations(n ° 20, 2005) "Powers of the Gothic"

To cite this article

Jacqueline VIRUEGA, "Utility jewel"

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