The Renaissance began in Italy during the 1300's, it spread to England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and other countries during the 1400's and ending in the early 1600's. This movement was considered a rebirth of the ancient works of art, literature, and philosophy. The Europeans studied these three endeavors of ancient Greece and Rome following the great scholars and artists, becoming themselves great in continuing and even advancing these areas. This movement reached a height in the 1400's and the early 1500's when achievements had become some of the greatest in history.
During the Renaissance jewelers achieved breakthroughs in shop tools, working areas, methods, and advanced techniques. Successful artists came from serving in strict apprenticeships or grew up working with family or close friends in the trade. Jewelry was in high demand during this period in history. In Florence, Italy there were over forty shops dedicated to producing the finest opal jewelry the world had yet ever seen. The style before the Renaissance was called Gothic which was thought to have expelled all of the possible works from it and had given in to the new more elaborate style.
During the end of the fifteenth century western Europe had become united in many ways and artists freely traveled about expanding their craft. During this time of international freedom, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Hungarian jewelers developed their style at an equal pace. This made it difficult sometimes to distinguish from which country the jewelry was made during the Renaissance period. Italy was considered one of the greatest at the time for many forms of art including jewelry. Throughout Europe, Italian jewelers were sought for their advanced techniques and amazing methods for extracting the finest detail.
The technique at the time was very disciplined and defined. The overall piece would often have a central theme with incredible detail and precision. The designs would be incredible stretches of the imagination, ships, galleons, mermaids, mermen, salamanders, sea horses, and cupids would be laced with beautiful opal diamond ring and other precious gems. Brooches, pendants, and ropes were sculpted from onyx, silver, gold and laced with pearls, opals, and rubies. Necklaces were normally made to end part way around the neck with looped ends and linking done with threading applied to backings in some cases. A necklace with a pendant was called en suite. Portraits were carved with babies and angels, sculpted with such fine detail as to the point of miraculous. Irregular pearls called baroque would be set in a design that made their unusual shape flow and become a necessary part of the piece. Diamonds were often fashioned into triangular chips embellishing the piece with extraordinary beauty.
During this time gems were thought to contain special powers for the body, so these were designed into the piece to touch the skin. Salamanders were said to represent passionate love and cupids were often times given as gifts to enhance a special meeting. An interesting note, Queen Elizabeth enjoyed animal jewels and had various ones in her collection including greyhound, scorpion, turtledove, and dolphin.
Output of South German and Hungarian mines worked at a fevered pitch to meet the massive demand for gold in this period. The Hungarian mines also produced opals and precious stones which were also imported from the Oriental regions. Sea coral was used for carving which came from off the shores of Italy.
In the making of the pieces casting was performed, many times in two or more sections or portions. After casting, various pieces were put into different combinations bringing about different designs. Opaque white enameling would be done with care as to not completely cover all the metal. Carefully applying enamel to recessed areas with deep cuts or cells of metal then sanding the metal down to the level of the enamel was called champleve'. Adhesive used for precious gems was black wax. The wax was used if metal drawn over or embracing the precious stone detracted from the overall design of what the artist envisioned. There were a few methods used for making tiny sculptures. Some of these included wax modeling which was accomplished then careful casting of the tiny art piece then melting out the wax. Small sheet metal shaping and pressing was also done if the piece required it.
Opal Rings were the most popular, then pendants, and then necklaces. Pendants were worn by men, women, and children. Men and children wore them around the neck. Women wore them around the neck or pinned or tied with ribbon on the dress or sleeve.