Paste Jewellery

Paste Jewellery, or ‘false diamonds’ as it was sometimes known, came about due to the experiments of an Englishman, George Ravenscroft, back in the 17th century. He was frustrated by the nature of glass used in jewellery, which being so soft was easily worn down. He began experimenting with new compounds of flint, potash and lead oxide and produced ‘lead glass’, a material that was hard enough to cut and polish like a gemstone.

However, it was not Ravenscroft who gets the credit for popularity of paste jewellery, that honour lies with George Frederic Strass, a Parisian jeweller in the 18th century. Strass played with the concept of lead crystal further still until he could imitate diamonds which when mounted in silver settings could rival the genuine.

Strass’ jewellery took the form of its original counterparts with pastes set in silver or silver gilt, usually backed with tinfoil to increase sparkle and many were decorated with strips of gold or gold beading for an extra touch of glitter.

Although paste Jewellery continued to be popular up until the 1930s, it became somewhat ‘cheap and cheerful’ and lacked the beauty and finish of the 18th century examples.

Antique paste jewellery is popular in the salerooms when it is embraced for what it is; elegant, beautiful jewellery in its own right, not merely a copy of real diamonds. It is marvellous to handle, versatile and enriching to wear and a perfect expression of the period in which it was constructed.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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