The Fitted Case

November 1998

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 leather.

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.


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