• Open the museum's jewellery box and find out about the fascinating stories these objects tell.

Wedgwood and jewellery

  • by Rebecca Klarner

Chatelaine

Theme

This piece of jewellery is not very familiar to modern eyes. It is called a chatelaine and originally it was designed to substitute the missing pockets in a women’s dress. Useful household items such as sewing tools, scissors, a coin purse, a clock key, a scent bottle, seals and not to forget the keys of the house were hooked to a series of chains which suspended from a decorative hook or clasp to be attached to the waistband. ‘Chatelaine’ was also the name for the lady of the house – she was the keeper of the keys and therefore a person of authority.

Over the course of time this accessory became more and more elaborate and developed into a type of jewellery in its own right. Chatelaines were made from precious metals such as silver or gold, but as well from pinchbeck - an alloy of copper and zinc to resemble gold - silver plate or cut steel.

This chatelaine mainly consists of two sets of chains suspended from two oval-shaped double-sided blue and white jasper medallions. They are mounted in cut steel frames and the chains themselves are decorated with beads of cut steel. The hook to attach it to the waistband is covered by a plaque elaborately engraved with two cornucopias.

The first jasper medallion features on the one side Fortuna and other side Hygeia. Three beaded chains connect it to the second jasper medallion and two other chains hold a miniature decorative padlock and a watch key, on hooks. The second jasper medallion features Hope and on the other side again Fortuna.

Five beaded chains of different lengths are attached, the longest holding a cut steel mount for a now lost eyeglass. The two outer chains both hold seals. One is in the shape of a six-lobed leaf, a form often found in gothic architecture. The seal features the letter S in a shell-ornamented frame. The other seal is shaped like a harp with the strings represented by small threaded cut steel beads; the actual seal was never engraved in the plate.

One of the two other chains holds a pear-shaped scent bottle for perfume or smelling salts, the other hook is empty to receive the key of the tea caddy. Tea was a very valuable commodity in the eighteenth century and the mistress of the house carrying this key would prevent any servant being tempted to try this exclusive and expensive beverage.

Catalogue

This chatelaine is decorated with two doubled-sided oval jasper medallions. It is made of several strings of cut steel beads and features useful pendants such as seals, a watch key or an eyeglass. Chatelaines were worn by the mistress of the house on her waistband and developed into a type of jewellery of its own rights over the course of time.