Professional Jeweler Archive: For the Bride

February 2000

From the Vault

For the Bride

Lavish gifts of jewels from fiancé, family and friends celebrated a new bride’s wedding day

Weddings are a time of tender feelings and delightful anticipation enhanced by happy preparations. Today wedding gifts are either sent ahead or brought wrapped to the reception, their contents discreetly veiled. In the 18th and 19th centuries, however, the rich were expected to put on a show, and bridal gifts were proudly displayed at the wedding reception. Society columns printed detailed lists of the gifts received by the bride with intricate engravings of the most spectacular pieces, a practice that ended in the 20th century when it became obvious this was an open invitation to thieves.

Conspicuous among the gifts would be the bride’s corbeille de marriage, or wedding casket, filled with gifts of jewels from her fiancé, family and friends. Along with a fine house, carriage and servants, jewelry was an important and instantly recognizable indication of wealth. When the principle heir of a noble family became engaged, the family diamonds would be reset in the latest style for the bride.

Some Survive

Although most antique wedding jewelry has been dismantled and remade, select pieces have survived. A notable example is the large sapphire brooch ringed with diamonds that Prince Albert gave Queen Victoria the day before their wedding in 1840. The brooch was an instant favorite with the queen, who wore it on the bodice of her wedding dress and almost continuously until Prince Albert’s death in 1861. Queen Victoria willed the brooch to the crown to be held in trust for all future queens of Great Britain.

Wedding jewels reflect the taste and style of the time and often the preferences of the groom. In 1848, A.W.N. Pugin, the renowned Medievalist and architect who redesigned the Houses of Parliament, had a complete parure of jewelry designed in the Gothic style for his third wife, Jane. This parure – in quatrefoil and fleur-de-lis motifs – included a bandeau for the head, two rings, a bracelet, two neckchains, earrings, two large brooches and three cross pendants. Of the 12 pieces in the parure, three have survived and are on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

More Royal Weddings

Lavish gifts of jewelry were showered upon Danish Princess Alexandra when she married Albert Edward, prince of Wales, in 1863. The prince gave her a magnificent formal diamond tiara and a demiparure of necklace, corsage ornament and earrings of diamonds and pearls. Her father, Prince Christian of Denmark, gave her a Byzantine-style pearl and diamond necklace with a replica of the 13th century Dagmar Reliquary Cross hanging from the center. Additional gifts of jewelry came from Queen Victoria, dozens of other family members and numerous civic and social groups that collected money to buy them.

Society changed dramatically in the 20th century as a result of two World Wars, the Russian Revolution and the Great Depression. In the pragmatic and egalitarian age that followed, the wedding corbeille lost its place. Today, with few exceptions, the purchase of engagement and wedding rings is all that survives of this charming custom.

–by Elise B. Misiorowski

Each blossom is just discernible against its leaf in this ribbon-tied floral spray brooch of pavé diamonds in a silver and gold setting, a wedding gift from the seventh Earl of Elgin to his bride. It was bought in 1799 from Jefferys, Jones and Gilbert of Cockspur Street, London.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications