Crafting tortoiseshell into decorative objects can be traced to the
17th century when French Huguenots made elegant accessories which also
had a practical purpose: snuff boxes, needlework cases, patch boxes and
etui. These were inlaid with mother-of-pearl, silver or gold to create
pretty patterns and designs.
The inlaying of mother-of-pearl, precious
metal, (silver or gold) is known as the art of “piqué”. When heated,
tortoiseshell becomes soft and pliable. Under pressure it is then able
to be molded into a desired shape. While still warm, the decorative
motifs are inscribed on the surface, then inlaid with pieces of gold or
silver (stars, balls, stripes or lines), in a technique known as
“pricking”. This process became known as “piqué”(from the French
“piquer”, to prick) , and thus became known as tortoiseshell piqué
Tortoiseshell jewelry became popular in the first half of the 19th
century, c. 1830, but it wasn’t until the 1860’s that it reached it’s
apogee. The naturalistic flowers and leaf designs of the first half of
the century gave way in the second half to more geometric designs of
balls, stars, dots, stripes, and criss-crosses. Victorian
tortoiseshell piqué jewels took many forms: brooches, earrings,
pendants, haircombs, rings and necklaces. Today these pieces are
rare, and even rarer still are those in which the piqué is intact.
These piqué earrings are of extraordinary quality and beauty; a
combination of gold and silver piqué in a three hoop design, bearing a
naturalistic motif of flowers and vines with graduating dots.
pieces of piqué are always desirable and collectable. R.W. Wise,
Goldsmiths, located at 81 Church St. in Lenox Village Massachusetts,
specializes in fine antique and estate jewelry. Find more rare period
jewels from the Georgian, Victorian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco eras on
our website: rwwise.com .