Wearing a Pietra Dura necklace is like wearing a painting on your neck
For most of us in India, the Italian words ‘Pietra Dura’ – translated as “hard stone” in English- recall to mind the ‘Parchinkari’ art form thriving in Uttar Pradesh at present, and conjure up images of beautiful Mughal architecture from centuries ago. The floral parchinkari patterns which adorn the walls of the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal, among other royal palaces and mausoleums, are a wonder of design and technique. They were created by highly skilled craftsmen who laboriously cut, shaped and polished innumerable semi-precious stones, and then inlayed them with precision into slabs of white marble to ornament fine buildings. Their 21st-century counterparts in Agra capture the beauty of the same art form even today, but on a smaller scale- in artefacts, tabletops, furniture pieces, jewellery boxes, et al.
But the story of this regal inlay art remains incomplete without the mention of its Western avatar- Pietra Dura- which took birth in Italy and achieved its highest evolution in Florence under the aegis of the Medici family during the Italian Renaissance in the 16th century. There it was used to create ‘paintings in stone’ which would decorate doors, fountains, garden ornaments and also jewellery items like medallions and cameos. The following century, around the year 1660, inaugurated the tradition of ‘Grand Tours’ which involved journeying through Europe by wealthy, primarily aristocratic, European men for studying the legacies of classical antiquity and the Renaissance. From their visits to Italy, English men brought back native pietra dura jewellery pieces as quaint souvenirs for friends and family. These tours lasted till the 1840s, soon after which travelling became speedy and increasingly accessible to many more people due to revolutionary developments in the transport industry, such as the expansion of the railways and the steamship, in the Victorian era. This made England the greatest trading nation in the world and enabled the Victorians to travel throughout Europe and collect jewellery items which reflected their romance with nature. Among these, Pietra Dura jewellery consisting of beautiful stone-paintings of flowers and plants was very popular.
But tastes and styles flow in one direction for only so long. Jewellery aesthetics of the 19th century underwent many changes due to influences like Queen Victoria’s mourning period and events such as the discovery of diamonds in South Africa, rendering antique mosaic jewellery a thing of the past. But if vogues do not last forever, they aren’t forever lost either. They are cyclical; history is a recycle bin for our greatest ideas. The charm of the Pietra Dura Victorian brooches and lockets and pendants has endured for many. An article in Harper’s Bazaar Arabia magazine featuring Paula Al Askari, a collector and patron of arts in the UAE, in the Best Dressed 2018 (Women) issue, captured her love for antique clothes and jewellery, including her “beautiful Pietra Dura brooches” which she “often transforms into large rings”.
Today, many suppliers of vintage jewellery offer an opportunity to purchase to those who share Askari’s enthusiasm for antique collectibles, and their Pietra Dura jewellery collection includes items such as brooches, rings, pendants, cuff links, lockets, earrings, and much more. The price range is diverse since it depends on various factors such as the quality of craftsmanship, the condition of the item, the material (precious or non-precious) of the frame, etc. The cheaper pieces can be found for a double or triple-digit dollar figure, but the expensive ones could be sold for thousands. The important thing to learn is how to tell authentic Pietra Dura work (uses large pieces of semi-precious stones, often set in precious metal frames) apart from Micromosaic (small pieces of glass or stone, called tesserae) works. Pietra Dura jewellery has a far more refined and seamless look of finishing about it than micromosaic works do, and is, therefore, more expensive. Wearing a Pietra Dura necklace is like wearing an artwork on your person, or a painting on your neck.
If you wish to acquire Pietra Dura jewellery, which is a spirited meeting of art and fashion, enlist the help of the following brands:
1. Lang Antique and Estate Jewelery is a jewellery store housed in San Francisco, USA, which has been offering a wide collection of European and American vintage jewels since 1969. Owned by Mark Zimmelman, an experienced jeweller, and Suzanne Martinez, a senior gemologist and jewellery appraiser and historian, the store takes a restorative, environment friendly and educational approach to the acquisition and sale of antique jewellery to facilitate its sustenance in modern times. Their online stores can be accessed around the world and the informative articles published on their website carry forth the expertise of their in-house staff to a worldwide audience. An article entitled, ‘Mosaic Jewelery’, published in the Antique Jewelery University section, discusses the two kinds of mosaic jewellery- Micromosaics and Pietra Dura. It concludes by saying about the latter, “the quality of these items lies in the finesse of the work and the mount it is in. Coarser items were created towards the end of the 19th century and they usually are of very low value”, which is valuable guidance for shoppers.
2. 1stDibs is an online marketplace offering a curated inventory of contemporary, vintage and antique design products like furniture, artworks, jewellery and fashion, from over 600 hundred cities in the world. Customers can view listings on their website and interact with their trusted network of sellers, vetted by their in-house team of experts, to resolve all kinds of inquiries about products, price-negotiations, customisation, etc, from the convenience of their homes. Their mission is to raise the bar higher for those seeking the most beautiful things on earth. We have to concede that their selection of Pietra Dura jewellery is indeed one of the most beautiful we have ever seen and is priced high accordingly, which, we say, is entirely befitting.
3. Ruby Lane is another large curated marketplace for antiques, vintage collectables, art, jewellery, etc. All their products are pre-screened by an in-house team of art and antique professionals. Their Pietra Dura jewellery collection is an equal mix of expensive and low-priced items, and, is quite suitable for customers looking to economise without completely compromising on quality. Go through the entire collection so as to make the best choice.
Article By: Soumya Duggal