From the Vault
THE CRESCENT BROOCH
Crescent brooches were one of the Edwardians' favorite jewelry choices -- especially using diamonds and pearls
by Elise B. Misiorowski
Beautiful and mysterious, the crescent was one of the most widely used motifs in jewelry of the late 19th century in Europe and America. A carryover from the Neo-classicism of the late 1700s, the crescent motif was reintroduced in jewelry around 1888 and remained in favor through 1910. Linked with the Edwardian style, the crescent became popular about the time Edward and Alexandra, Prince and Princess of Wales, were starting to have an impact on society. The Edwardian style - known for its monochromatic look featuring diamonds and pearls - favored motifs worn by royalty from previous centuries.A 0.95-ct. old-mine-cut diamond centers the star in this crescent and star pin. The piece has a silver top and gold back, not to mention 55 smaller old-mine-cut diamonds totaling about 6.80 carats. The pin is courtesy of J&SS De Young Inc., New York City. Photo by Robert Weldon
Until platinum was introduced for jewelry use in the late 1890s, diamonds and pearls were set in silver to complement their essential colorlessness and were backed with gold for stability. Gold also protected the wearer's clothing and skin from tarnish. Initially, platinum settings for diamonds and pearls also were backed with gold, though that was unnecessary because platinum doesn't tarnish. The gold backings added credibility to the value of the piece until platinum became universally accepted as a precious metal and was used on its own.
Diamond-set crescents were the most in demand, induced by the abundant supply of diamonds discovered in South Africa at the time. Other white gems often used were pearls from the Persian Gulf, opals from Australia and moonstones from Ceylon. Sometimes crescents were set with new finds of sapphires from Kashmir and rubies from Burma, typically in combination with diamonds or pearls. Crescent brooches could be set with single, double or triple rows of gems in many variations. Three-row crescents were often set in a slightly rounded mounting with larger stones making up the center row giving the piece a pleasing, three-dimensional aspect.
The crescent most often appears as a single brooch, though the motif was used also for bracelets, necklaces, pendants and smaller scarf, lace and hat pins. The crescent brooch almost always came with a double-pronged hairpin fitting so it could be worn in the hair. This style, á la Diane, refers to the goddess Diana, whose emblem is the crescent moon. Sometimes other motifs would be combined with the crescent, including stars, birds, flowers and trefoils. The star and crescent illustrated here was especially popular worn á la Diane.
Perhaps the most beguiling combination was the bee and crescent brooch signifying "honey-moon." The bee and crescent made it an ideal gift for a groom to give his new bride, a custom that could easily be revived today.