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French Terms used in Antique and Estate Jewelry


aigrette, a gold or silver hat ornament or hair ornament to support a feather, or made in the form of a jeweled feather or sometimes a brooch supporting a jeweled feather. Shaped like an egret plume (hence the name), it was almost entirely set with small gemstones, and sometimes also enameled.

à jour [ah JOOR], open to the day. This is an open setting or what we would term a prong setting.

basse-taille [bahs TIE ee yuh], low-cut. Translucent enameling applied over an engraved or decorated metal surface.

bijouterie [bee JOU tee yay], French for jewelry, in general referring to pieces composed of gold and gemstones.

bijou [bee JOU], French for jewel.

calibré [ka lee BRAY], calibrated. Gemstones cut to exact specifications, usually used in groups where they must all be precisely the same size or graduated by calibrated increments.

cannetille [kana TEE yuh], flat twisted braid. Twisted gold or silver wire used as decoration or in a framework, i.e. around settings or to create decorative elements with in the overall motif. It is named after the type of embroidery made with very fine twisted gold or silver thread. The patterns are often the form of scrolls or rosettes made of tightly coiled wire.

champlevé [shamp le VAY], raised field. Enamel applied in stamped or engraved depressions similar to cloisonné but with out the wires.

Cire perdue, Literally LOST WAX. A process for casting metal. Its use was primarily for articles of intricate design in the round that could not readily be fabricated by chiseling, hammering, or more ordinary methods of casting. The technique for a solid object involved carving a model in wax, then encasing it in a clay or plaster mold and applying heat to cause the wax to melt and run out of a hole in the mold, after which the mold was filled under pressure with molten gold or silver.

cloisonné [klwah son NAY], partitioned off. Enamel applied in designs formed with metal wires or strips.

échelle [ay SHELL], ladder. Graduated brooches worn vertically (large to small) down the front of a garment.

en esclavage [awn es kla VAGE], enslaved. A necklace or bracelet of identical or graduated plaques joined by swagged chains, usually three or more.

en résille [aw ray ZEE yuh], in a hair-net. Flexible platinum trellis or net-work, usually set with diamonds, often used in a dog collar or choker, originated by Cartier in the early 20th century. en suite {awn sweet] Designed in like style to form a set.

en tremblant [awn trem BLÃNT], trembling. A flower head or other decorative element mounted in such a way that it has movement (trembles) as the wearer moves.

faux [foe], false or fake. Expression referring to man made stimulant gemstone and sometimes costume jewelry set with imitation gemstones, which is designed to imitate fine jewelry.

girandole [jee rahn DOLE], chandelier. Earring or brooch with three pear-shaped drops, suspended from the central body of the jewel.

guilloché [gee oh SHAY], engine-turned engraving covered with translucent enamel.

jabot [Jah BOW] (pin) lit., The double sided scarf pin used traditionally with cravats or ascots.

jarretière [jar et tee AIR] lit., garter. A bracelet, usually with a mesh strap with fringed terminals and sliding ornamental closure. Like a belt with a buckle or keeper, in English parlance a buckle bracelet.

joaillerie, French word for jeweler.

lorgnette [lorn YET], Eye glasses with an attached handle which the spectacles fold into. Sometimes they fold in half, often fabricated with ingenious spring mechanisms to flip the glasses out for dramatic effect at the touch of a lever or button. Also they are often suspended from a neck chain.

manchette [man SHET], cuff. Bangle or cuff bracelet tapered to fit the wrist and wide like a shirt cuff.

négligée [neg li ZHAY], negligent, careless. Pendant or lariat necklaces with two unevenly suspended drops.

objet de vitrine, an object of virtue, or a small object of artistic quality and of value, made of a precious metal and often embellished with gemstones, such as a snuff box. They are not articles of jewelry in the strict meaning of that term (not being worn on the person, although sometimes they are made for personal use and carried as personal accessories).

objets trouvés, literally found objects. Objects sometimes worn as articles of personal adornment in the form in which they are found in nature, i.e. teeth, bones, shells, pebbles, feathers, beans, and fish vertebrae, classically without setting or ornamentation except a hole drilled for suspension in more modern parlance a found object used in making a piece of jewelry.

orfévrerie, the French term for the type of jewelry that consists mainly of gold or silver, the product of the goldsmith, as distinguished from joaillerie and bijouterie.

parure [pah ROOR], set. A set of matching jewelry with three or more pieces, usually Ring, Earrings, Necklace, and also Bracelet and Brooch. There can be more than one of each type in especially elaborate suites. (demi-parure: two or three matched pieces, e.g., ring and/or brooch and earrings).

pavé [pah VAY], paved. In English the same or pavé. A style of setting in which many small gemstones (most usually small calibrated faceted diamonds refered to mele) are set very close together much as paving stones. Sometimes this covers the entire piece and sometime it is used in fields as accent or motif enhancements.

pendeloque [pan de LOKE], drop or pendant. A diamond or other gemstone that is somewhat or pear-shaped.

piqué [pee KAY], pricked. Setting gold or silver flat studs (tiny) or rivet-like snippets of wire in patterns, often in tortoiseshell or ivory.

piqué posé [pee KAY poe ZAY], Pique in floral or ornate motifs;

piqué point [pee KAY pweh], Pique in geometric shapes or dot patterns.

plaque de cou [plak de KOO], plate of the neck. Central ornament in a dog collar necklace.

plique à jour [pleek ah jOOR], (enamel) open to the day. Enameling which is translucent resembling stained glass.

repoussé [ruh poo SAY], pushed back or out. Raised design in front surface metal of a piece formed by working other side with punches and hammers, a form of hand raising or chasing.

rivière [ree vee AIR], river or stream. A necklace of graduated gemstones, (later in the 20th century. Most often diamonds), generally in a jour settings..

sautoir [saTWAHR], a long necklace or neck chain, strand of pearls or beads, generally terminating in a tassel or pendant.

torsade [tor SAWD], Twist, A twisted necklace usually consisting of strands of beads that can be worn draped or twisted often with a large ornamental catch that is meant to be worn in the front or at the side.

vermeil [ver MAY], Gilded silver, i.e. sterling silver covered with a layer of gold by plating of some type or by other processes.