The French Revolution of 1789 did away with noble rank, and brought the great tradition of French jewellery to an end. These external displays of wealth were symbols of the monarchy, the court and aristocratic status, and were not a part of revolutionary ideals. Mere possession of such items could lead to the guillotine.

Under the Directory, sober restraint was the order of the day. Iron military decorations made their appearance, along with rings, brooches and bracelets decorated with patriotic slogans and portraits of revolutionary heroes.

With contributions by
Hassan Ben Toutouh, Pierre Branda, Karine Huguenaud, Claudette Joannis, Thierry Lentz, Ronald Pawly, Diana Scarisbrick and Jan Walgrave

Under the reign of Napoleon I (17991814) the decorative arts returned, and jewellery again became part of court life. Napoleon’s fondness for the latter gave renowned jewellers such as Nitot their hour of glory.

Jewellery and apparel were employed to various ends: as political and diplomatic tools, they served to create bonds with the Empire’s friends and foes. They also were a form of propaganda for the grandeur of France and the power of its ruler.

Under Napoleon, the Empire style came fully into its own. However, “Napoleonic style” and “Empire style” are not necessarily the same thing. Understanding Empire style gives the reader a better understanding of an entire range of jewellery and its visual and/or symbolic meaning.

Published to accompany the exhibition at the Musée du Diamant in Antwerp, Belgium from 1 October 31 December 2010.