It was Strass who cornered the market for artificial gemstones at the French court, creating ‘diamonds’ first from rock crystal gathered from the Rhine (hence the name ‘rhinestone’) and then from leaded glass.
Treated with chemicals and backed with foil to add colour, depth, shine, paste became hugely important in Georgian jewellery. Replicating the brilliance of precious stones at a fraction of a cost, it could aid with security (travelling with jewellery was notoriously risky) and proved an art form in its own right. Much of it was finely made by specialists or by the same craftsmen who worked with gemstones.
In collecting terms paste offers great possibilities. Often dismissed as mere ‘costume’ jewellery, it is an artform in its own right and the ultimate expression of design and craftsmanship over intrinsic value. While many 18th and early 19th century jewels were broken up for their stones and reset in more fashionable styles, paste has a much better survival rate. The Georgian foil-backed deep blue paste pendant drop necklace offered at Catherine Southon’s (24% buyer’s premium) February 2 sale at Selsdon is a case in point. Estimated at £200-300, it sold to a UK dealer at £3900.
Top-seller among the 170 jewellery lots at the Surrey sale was a large 1940s diamond-set and gold floral clip brooch by Boucheron.
Signed Boucheron London and in its original blue leather Boucheron case, the quality of the diamond and the name of a great jeweller ensured it would better the £500-800 estimate. A UK dealer’s winning bid was £4200.