Medium: Seed pearls, mother-of-pearl, horsehair, silk and yellow gold
Dimensions: L. 20 in. (50.8 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Jane H. Dehn, 2003
Accession Number: 2003.350.2
This seed pearl necklace is composed of three floral plaques mounted on thin sheets of mother-of-pearl and joined by two double strands of pearls framing fourteen pairs of leaves. A floral cluster hangs from the center plaque. The hundreds of seed pearls are strung on fine white horsehair, and the plaques are backed in silk for comfort. Seed pearl necklaces such as this piece were especially popular in the early to mid-nineteenth century. The transformation of such tiny pearls into a lacy confection is an artistic and technical accomplishment.
From its introduction to America during the Federal period, seed pearl jewelry became increasingly popular and was often presented to a bride at the time of her wedding. By the mid-nineteenth century it was considered de rigeur in the ballroom as well. Made from tiny pearls imported from India or China, it was at once exotic and elegant, and the fashion was said to flatter any woman. President Lincoln purchased a seed pearl parure from Tiffany & Company for his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, to wear at his inauguration. The delicate beauty of seed pearl jewelry ensured its continued popularity in America well into the 20th century, even after it had faded from fashion in England and France.