goldsmiths • jewelers • gemologists

The Art of Piqué

By Rebekah V. Wise,
Antique Specialist, R. W. Wise, Goldsmiths

 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 work.

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 rapimage1.jpgjewels 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. 

Such 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: .  


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Newly published;
The French Blue
a novel of the 17th Century by Richard W. Wise.

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