From The Vault
The Fitted Case
A century ago, cases were a jeweler's prime promotional tool
When first gazing at a glittering array of antique jewelry, you may be
too dazzled to register that some jewels are displayed in beautifully made
fitted cases. These remarkable little works of art play an interesting role
in the jewelry world. Not only are they protective shields for jewelry,
they're also a calling card, the only acceptable promotional tool in an
era when advertisement was considered vulgar for upscale jewelers.
It's hard to know when fitted jewelry cases were first introduced. Apparently,
they've always been taken for granted because there's little information
about their development in print.
Based on examples that still exist, fitted cases were already prevalent
in the early 19th century. Many were made to house suites of matching jewelry,
known as parures, that were especially fashionable in the early 1800s. They
were superbly fabricated to provide each jewel in the parure with its own
particular place. The contour of each bracelet, necklace, pendant, brooch,
ring, earring and/or hair ornament was carved in wood to make the base of
the box. The cover, also contoured to fit snugly over the jewelry, was neatly
hinged to the base.
The assembled case was then lined with fabric or leather, and the name
of the company was stamped on the fabric lining of the lid. Fabric or leather
also covered the outside of the case; if the client was particularly important,
his or her initials or royal insignia was embossed on the top.
Use and Reuse
Literature about the incomparable jeweler Fabergé includes descriptions
of fitted cases routinely provided to hold jewelry and precious objects
made in his workshops. They were made of holly or maple lined with silk
and velvet. Cases to hold larger objects or more elaborate jewels were made
of oak, lined with suede and covered with cream velvet or fine moroccan
While virtually everything made by Fabergé was signed, there were
a few exceptions. Figurines carved solely of hardstone with no metal attachments
had no area that could be stamped. The only clue to their origin is the
perfectly fitted case embossed Fabergé.
It's impossible to rely on fitted cases alone as authentication for a
piece of jewelry. Jewelers were frequently called upon to remake jewelry,
and a new case was issued with the new piece. The original case was often
kept and reused for jewelry shaped like the original.
Changing Times & Needs
A few companies still custom-make cases for jewelry, though production costs
put them out of the reach of all but the most exclusive firms. Today's fast-paced
jewelry world calls for generic cases made to hold any ring, bracelet, necklace,
pendant or pair of earrings. To fill this need, dozens of companies now
offer an assortment of imaginative jewelry cases that appeal to every level
of buyer and are very cost-effective. As attractive and useful as the modern
cases are, however, they rarely equal the simple beauty of the perfectly
fitted case. Given the natural evolution of jewelry, the few pieces of jewelry
still in their original cases have an added cachet for collectors.
A fringed floral necklace and heart-shaped locket of gold
set with pearls, diamonds and rubies nestle securely in this charming fitted
box, covered with gold-embossed brown leather and lined with turquoise blue
velvet and cream satin from the late 19th century. The legend "J.W.
Benson, (jeweler) To the Queen, 250 Old Bond St., London" is stamped
on the cream satin on the inside of the lid. Courtesy of Neil Lane Inc.,
Beverly Hills, CA.
by Elise B. Misiorowski
Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.