Antiques Column: Jewellery set with polished lead glass
Costume jewellery made from non precious materials is often more evocative of its age than precious jewels.
Worn since antiquity when the Romans excelled at glass imitation gemstones, this “secondary” jewellery exhibits impeccable craftsmanship and clever use of strong period style at relatively low cost.
Costume jewellery sold now usually dates from the late 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and is by and large British or European.
Jewellery set with cut and polished lead glass in imitation of gemstones was first created in France in the 1730s by the jeweller Georges Frederic Stress.
This paste jewellery was often cut and backed with foil to give colour and depth and then set in silver in dish like coilet settings.
These jewels were popular in France and Britain and in Spain they were even worn in court.
Paste jewellery is very collectable and reasonably priced, although Georgian paste is considerably more valuable than the mid to late Victorian examples and will always realise higher prices, especially the earrings.
Pinchbeck, which is an alloy of copper and zinc, was invented around 1720 by the English watchmaker, Christopher Pinchbeck, as a substitute for gold.
It was the perfect partner for paste, as it could be intricately chased, engraved and coloured just like fashionable gold work.
Popular designs included wide mesh bracelets, muff chains and hair ornaments. Other imitations exist but genuine Pinchbeck is characterised by its rich burnished colour and matt surface.
Later 19th century gilt metal, often erroneously called Pinchbeck, was ideal for less expensive versions of fashionably extravagant jewellery, lockets, bracelets and brooches.