When It Comes to Jewelry, What Is a Parure?

You might not be familiar with the term, but these sparkly suites are sought after by collectors.

Parure: The word transports you to an opulent and dreamy world of trembling candlelight and rustling silk gowns — if, that is, you know what it means.

Borrowed from the French, parure denotes a matching set of jewels. A full parure may include a necklace, earrings, a brooch, a bracelet (or two) and perhaps a ring as well. The very grandest are topped off by a tiara. For those who prefer a lighter look, there is the demi-parure. Demi means half, but in practice, a matching brooch — or necklace — and earrings meet the definition. And although the heyday for both versions was the 19th century, fabulous parures have been created ever since.

Jewels today can be bought and sold wherever there is access to the internet. Still, there is something alluring about dealing with jewelers possessing both a physical location and a venerable history, like the two whose parures are discussed below: London’s Bentley & Skinner, situated in Piccadilly, and Joseph Saidian and Sons, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Both firms began trading in the 1880s, the former a few blocks from its present site, the latter in what is now Iran.

Both are also connected with royalty, either directly or indirectly. Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II and King Charles have been Bentley & Skinner clients. Joseph Saidian and Sons is the custodian of the 74.53-carat fancy yellow diamond centerpiece of the shah of Iran’s crown, the Ahmad Shah, whose acquisition in 2001 the family describes as “the ultimate act of poetic justice,” since it was the shah’s fall that forced the Saidians to flee their native country. In addition, the firms share a commitment to purveying the finest jewels. Their divergent histories, however, are reflected in Bentley & Skinner’s depth in antique pieces and Joseph Saidian & Sons’ focus on mid-20th-century ones.

This aquamarine and gold suite, from the early 19th century, consists of a tiara, earrings, necklace, pendant, brooch (convertible to a clasp for a bracelet) and, tucked under the brooch in its fitted case, a petite hair ornament. For all the gold and gems it’s composed of, it is surprisingly light. “After the Napoleonic Wars, there was not a great deal of precious metal,“ Bentley & Skinner’s Ilias Kapsalis explains. Et voilà: Thin gold came into vogue.

The pendant and earrings of this Bentley & Skinner micro-mosaic demi-parure were crafted using hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tiny colored-glass tesserae, echoing the breathtaking, if considerably larger, tesserae walls of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Even the iridescent green flies are delightful. Surely, the pendant could be worn on a chain over a cashmere sweater to a work meeting and, with earrings popped on afterward, to cocktails and dinner.

Ariel Saidian, who earned a GIA diploma before he had a driver’s license, joined his father in the family business in 2006. The parures he highlights reflect his passion for Van Cleef & Arpels, whose work he calls “the world’s premier jewelry.” The first, pictured above, features turquoise and diamonds. The set consists of a flower brooch, a necklace, a bracelet (convertible to two bracelets if desired) and earrings. “It is rare” Saidan explains. “it is hard enough to find one special jewel — families that inherit parures tend to break them up.” So this set, he adds, “is a real treat.” It’s wearable, too. Sporting all pieces at once would not look over the top.

Van Cleef & Arpels is also the maker of this knockout 1960s deep-blue-sapphire and diamond demi-parure comprising a necklace, bracelet and earrings. It comes with a nice provenance, too, formerly belonging to the Chalk family, which donated the 37.8-carat Chalk Emerald to the Smithsonian. This parure is definitely not for a work Zoom. But if you owned it, you might wear it around the house for the sheer pleasure of it.

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