Dawn's Costume Guide

Elizabethan Beaded Jewelry

In the portraits of the nobility of Elizabethan England two things stand out: the rich use of textured fabric, and the lavish display of jewelry. Today you can reproduce a lot of the beautiful clothing using affordable fabrics and a lot of spare time doing the detailed work. Amazingly, you almost have to be nobility to reproduce the jewelry, even in plastic rhinestones.

Looking at portraits I noticed something, though. Not all the jewelry is gold encrusted with diamonds and rubies. Some of it is beads (much of that is pearls) and reproduceable by those with even a modest budget and a local craft store.

Beaded Necklaces

Example #1: From a portrait of Elizabeth I, about 1580. She wears pearls strung in this pattern, alternating what looks to be about a 6mm pearl with a very tiny pearl, perhaps even a glass bead. The Queen wears a long strand of pearls doubled around her neck. This is a popular style and appears in many portraits of the time period.

Example #2: From a portrait of Frances Crowker, about 1587. Five pearls alternating with a single large textured gold bead. Worn as a long strand tripled, or perhaps 3 strands, reaching waist length. The pearls look to be about 5-6mm in size.

Example #3: From a portrait of Elizabeth I, about 1590. The Queen wears what appears to be 6 to 8 strands of beads in a pattern similar to this. I estimate each strand to be 5-6 feet in length to loop down to her waist as shown. The faceted red beads appear to be glass, or perhaps garnet as they are rather reddish-brown in color. The pearls in this necklace range from silver to almost black.

Janet Arnold describes the necklace thus "There are five sorts of beads -- tiny black ones which may be jet, larger reddish brown and pearly ones, which may be glass, with both round and long spiral beads of gold enamelled black." QEWU, p41. The spiral beads are similar to those shown in example 2, but shaped in a straight tube not an oval. There seems to be a gold tube in place of the round gold bead after every 4-6 repeats of the pattern, but it is hard to tell because the strands overlap in the portrait.

Here's a photo of a necklace that I made, and a detail from the original portrait. I probably could have used larger garnets in my reproduction, but I was limited in what I could get.

All text and artwork copyright 1990 - 2000 D. Duperault. NOTHING on this site may be reproduced or distributed by any means without my written permission. This information offered in good faith, and worth only what you paid for it.
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