Metal jewelry chains are something we take very much for granted. Since the chain making process became industrialized in the mid to late 1800s, we have come to expect plentiful, inexpensive and uniform chains for all our jewelry. However, it is important to remember that chains were once made entirely by hand, usually by soldering one link at a time. The genuinely handmade chains, whether gold, silver, copper or an alloy, are really very special and rare indeed and would have been treasured and highly valued by their original owners. Generally speaking, a handmade chain will be made with much longer and larger links than a machine made chain as it really is labor intensive to make a chain by hand. There was also a long interim period in history when the links were machine made or stamped but the chains were hand-assembled. I will do my best to get more precise details on this soon.
Chains have been loved in all eras, but in the mid-Victorian years their popularity reached a peak. In 1864, Peterson’s Magazine noted, ‘Necklaces are almost indispensable now with low dresses. Bold chains are six and eight times doubled and fastened here and there with thick round balls of gold, inlaid with jewels; the same style with pendant ornaments, is pretty for bracelets.’
The most common ways that chains were worn by women in the Victorian era were: slide chains, chains with a locket on and also a very long chain. Men, of course, wore watch chains.
In the Art Deco era very long chains were extremely popular. Here is a contemporary actress dressed in Art Deco era costume.
Here is an overview of all the kinds of chains that are commonly used in jewelry:
Albert or Vest Chain
Albert Chains were named after the style of watch chain Prince Albert wore. They were popular in the Victorian era. They have a bar on one end which is used to attach it to the vest button hole. The opposite end of the chain has a swivel hook to attach the watch. The chain is left exposed and often has a decorative fob. The watch is then worn in the vest pocket. ‘Victoria’ Chains were like Albert chains but were for women.
An alma chain has a ribbed surface and broad links.
These are named after the chains used for ship’s anchors. They are the same as a cable chain but with an extra cross bar.
A bead chain has small balls of metal joined by small lengths of wire, not longer than each bead in between.
Belcher or Cable Chain
A belcher or cable chain is the most classic kind of chain, made with interlocking links.
A benoiton is worn in the hair and consists of several chains which dangle from the hair and are then attached to the bodice. This was a brief fashion after the success of the comedy “La Famille Benoiton” by Victorien Sardouin in 1866.
Book or Venetian Chain
A book or venetian chain resembles a book binding having interlocking, folded links of flat metal. It was popular in the Victorian era.
Briolette or Box Chain
A briolette or box is similar to a belcher chain except the links are tighter together and are square in shape.
An intricate and complex chain that needs to be seen rather than described.
Curb or Gourmette Chain
A curb chain is made from round or oval interlocked links which are twisted until they lie flat. They can range from slightly flattened to completely flat. They can be solid or hollow and can be interlocked with other styles of china.
This is the same as a curb chain (see above) but the links have alternating lengths.
A herringbone chain is formed with V-shapes and will lay entirely flat.
Prince Of Wales
A Prince of Wales is a twisting chain made of circular links. Each single link has at least four others joining into it.
A rope chain creates has two twisting spiraled strands, created by many unjoined links.
A Singapore chain can also be called a twisted curb. The links are joined in such a way that, even when the chain is untwisted, there is a curve to it.
Snake or Brazilian Chain
A snake or Brazilian chain is an articulated chain, designed to move like a snake. It was first introduced in 1850.
A spiga chain has figure-eight links that form a 3D chain. It seemsalmost square, and looks as though the wire has been braided.
A trace chain is usually the simplest type of chain. The links are usually uniform in breadth and thickness.
This is another kind of pocket watch chain, similar to an Albert chain. It has a swivel catch on one end to hold the watch and a spring catch on the other for an accessory. They were worn across the vest from the left pocket to the right.
A wheat chain is made oflong, thin teardrop-shape links that all point in the same direction. The join of each link is like a tiny hinge.
Sources / further reading:
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