My Chinese Apothecary Chest: in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during an ex-pat assignment. Serves as the repository for my beads. Handcrafted. It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.
2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila! 52 Necklaces!
Week 28/Drawer 28: July 12, 2017: “Social Circumstances”
Twenty years ago, at the San Mateo (CA) Gem & Bead Show, I noted a large bag of sparkling metallic beads sold by the pound. I was impressed that they were labeled as “1890’s glass briolettes made in France”. I said I would take the bag. The vendor said “That’s $50.” I told him I would think about it. $50 was a lot of money to a beginning beader. But I was a Francophile also, having lived in Paris for a year after college. I quickly returned and paid for my exciting find.
The 1890’s were La Belle Époque in Paris and ladies wore outlandish hats, so I figured these beads were used in the millinery trade. Milliners, largely female, were the “queens of fashion” in that era and thus could dictate the next trend, charge high prices, announce the next novelty, charge high prices, ad infinitum. There were about 1000 milliners. Supporting them were 24,000 fleuristes who made the flower adornment, as well as many plumassiers who worked with bird feathers.
These women, especially the milliners, were befriended by artists and accepted in high society. Degas painted 27 known canvases where the hat captured the viewer’s eye. Recall also that the character Mimi in Puccini’s “La Boheme”, premiered in 1896, was a fleuriste. Coco Chanel, born in 1883, became a licensed milliner in 1910.
Alas, the millinery fashion rage turned into a sensitive subject when it became known how many birds were killed for the sake of a hat. Then the outbreak of World War I in 1914 changed the world and millinery was no longer necessary for everyday life.
Beads like these briolettes played a very small role compared to flowers and feathers. But I am happy to have made this two-strand necklace and still have a lot of them left in Drawer 28 for future projects.
A briolette is an elongated pear-shaped gemstone cut with triangular facets and top-drilled to hang like a bead. They are quite brilliant, reflecting light from any angle. To add to the bead’s sparkle, I found a gold-plated clasp and heart centerpiece last November in a memory-lane visit to the San Mateo Bead Show while visiting Sandra in San Jose, CA.
The necklace is 21” long and $129. Sandra claimed it for herself as soon as she saw it!