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Aigrettes and the French-Ottoman Alliance

Between 1438-1740, the Pope chose all his Holy Roman Emperors from the Hapsburg Empire, which encompassed Austria, Spain, and Italy. To oppose them, the Ottoman Empire made a military alliance with France, England, and the Dutch. The conquest of Nice in 1543 was accomplished through a partnership between King Francis I and Sultan Suleiman I, the Magnificent. It took Nice away from the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Francis and Suleiman also took Corsica in 1553, the Hapsburg Empire’s most important communication port.

Ottoman Emperors wore egret feathers and jewels on their turbans. The French took this idea from them, and the aigrette was first a decoration for men, either of royal birth or of high rank in the French army.

By the 1700’s aigrettes were worn by both men and women. This is Empress Catherine of Russia in 1711.

This is the turban-crown of Sir Jang Bahadur, the Nepalese prime minister from 1856-1877. The headdress, with aigrette, symbolized the bond between religious and secular leadership on the Indian sub-continent.

These are amulets of a mughal and his princess, provided by our author Gina Hellweger:

In the Belle Epoque, c. 1913, aigrette tiaras became the rage in women’s fashion. They came in wing shapes for the opera, and egret feathers were expressed either in jewels or attached to magnificent diamond tiaras. In these two stunning examples, Cartier made this male Islamic royal status symbol

into these.

There is a Belle Epoque aigrette tiara on sale for $4400 at The Three Graces. It is made of topazes and diamonds. I like it.


For more scholarly research, please examine these books, which can be found in our Resource Library.

Le Peigne Dans Le Monde


Timeless Tiaras

Two Combs I Like on Ebay

The first is this Victorian ivory comb with carved lilies of the valley in a swirl pattern that meets in the middle. There is a slight chip at the back, which does not detract from its value. The comb is English, c. 1850, a beautiful piece. I’ll post the final price at the end of the auction. I have already been outbid, and do not have a snipe bid registered to win. What I’ll be interested in is whether a new or experienced collector takes this.

The second comb is a stunning Birmingham silver piece by Henry Adcock. A gallery of flowers is surrounded by a frame of polished silver “gems.” On top are three sea shells, meticulously decorated. Marked. c. 1810. The dealer wants $811 in a Buy It Now. I would not pay full price, but this comb is a star. What I’d want to know is whether this seller has the time to wait for the $800, or does the comb have to move. In the latter case, there is room for negotiation.


For more scholarly research, please see these combs in our Resource Library.

Hair Combs: Identification & Values

Combs and Hair Accessories

The Comb: Its History and Development

Jen Cruse: Rolled Gold on Victorian Hairpins

The process of producing rolled gold, invented in Birmingham in 1785 by a London manufacturer, was known as gold plating until the 1840s, when electro-gilding methods were introduced. Rolled gold is produced by fusing a thin layer of gold alloy over a base metal, or more often, over a brass or copper alloy. It is then rolled out into sheets of varying thicknesses, depending on the intended use. Rolled gold wire is extruded by enclosing a metal core inside a rolled gold tube and drawing it out to a desired diameter, in either a solid or hollow state.

Rolled gold is often marked RG indicating its authenticity, and is sometimes qualified by a figure to show which carat gold has been selected. In the USA in the 1870s, a double form of rolled gold was introduced, particularly for making pocket-watch cases. Termed gold-filled or rolled gold plate, it was simply a base metal with a gold alloy soldered to both sides.

Rolled gold is relatively light in weight, a property which helps to identify it. It was considered to be a form of embellishment that produced the same effect as solid gold. When applied as a decorative material, it offered a lighter and less expensive alternative.

These three hairpins have coiled rolled-gold headings with attached tines of blonde tortoiseshell (2) and brass (1). British 1870-90. Between 4 & 5 inches (10 –12.5 cm) in length.


The Comb: Its History and Development

You may also examine the website of the Antique Comb Collectors Club.

Creative Museum: The Riches of the French Empire

Multimedia exhibitions on comb scholarship are the hallmark of the Creative Museum. “The Riches of the French Empire” shows us how fashion expressed the tragedy of revolution, themes of antiquity brought back a refined aesthetic, Napoleon recognized a business opportunity, and how men put women in charge of exhibiting their wealth. The comb was an essential fashion element in every development.

When the monarchy was overthrown, the voluminous hairstyles of Marie Antoinette disappeared. During the Reign of Terror (1793 – 1794), the guillotine took the lives of 16,594 people. In 1795, many women of noble descent cut off their hair to honor those condemned to death. Hairstyles had evocative names such as “The Sacrificed One,” and “The Victim.”

When we juxtapose this painting of Marie Antoinette from the Musée Antoine Lecuyer and this portrait of a woman after the Revolution (painter: Louis-Léopold Boilly, Musée du Louvre), we can see the traumatic effects of terror, when it follows a revolution.

However, the French admiration of antiquities shaped the Directory Era (1795 – 1799), and women grew their hair long again. Napoleon saw a business opportunity. Classical tendencies could give a boost to the trade in luxury goods. With this aim in mind, he proclaimed himself Emperor of France in 1804 and gave the job of making French fashion cross the bridge between pre- and post-Revolution to his wife, the Empress Josephine.

Neo-classic style became refined in French society. “Hair was parted at the side, swept back, and edged with kiss curls. A comb held up a high bun.” Josephine’s innovations gave birth to the French Empire comb. Its harmonious shape and splendid decoration make them museum pieces today.

Iconic women were essential to spreading this new fashion. Besides Josephine, there was her daughter Hortense de Beauharnais from her first marriage

Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister,

and Madame Tallien, who wore the favorite diadem decoration, coral beads.

The Creative Museum has an outstanding collection of French Empire combs. Some have rubies, others have pearls. You’ll have to see the presentation to get all the information on them. But they are absolutely gorgeous.


For more scholarly research, please see the Creative Museum’s presentation The Riches of the French Empire.

The Hair Combs of Lucien Gaillard

Lucien Gaillard (1861-1942) was a contemporary of René Lalique and achieved equal fame c. 1900, as Art Nouveau and Japonisme swept Paris. However, unlike Lalique, Gaillard’s animals and insects were proportioned exactly. He did not elongate parts of his animals to express Symbolist philosophy. In his famous “Bluebird” comb, he observed the arch of birds’ bodies as they dove in flight and made each bird a slightly different size. You may compare Lalique’s landmark “Two Swallows with a Stalk of Oats” to Gaillard’s “Bluebird,” which sold at Christie’s for $218,000 on Oct 21, 2009.

Gaillard also paid homage to the Japanese use of realistic proportions with cherry blossoms. An Edo artist painted this cherry tree in gold maki-e tortoiseshell comb: The Miriam Slater Collection.

Gaillard carved his cherry blossoms out of horn, painted the tree bark, and depicted flower buds with pearls.

One of Gaillard’s other masterpieces resides in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Two dragonflies fight over prey. They are asymmetrical, but the design is perfectly balanced. In addition, Gaillard mixes translucent stones, semi-translucent wings, and opaque bodies.

Here are some other combs from a 2004 catalogue by Millon & Associés:

A painted horn relief of mulberry branches supports blue-white glass flowers on each end of this comb.

Gaillard spread an orchid and attached a silver ring to the inner petals. The ring sports two ladybugs and two pearls.

This horn comb’s sculpted gold leaves hold a mother-of-pearl bud. Notice how the stem of the center leaf overlaps the middle tine of the comb.

The Creative Museum also has two combs similar to the designs of Lucien Gaillard. One has clear horn leaves embellished with a paste-diamond spray and a green cabochon, and the other is a pair of ginko leaves. One ginko leaf is edged with paste diamonds, while the other has a lighter green cabachon.


For more scholarly research, please examine the books Christie’s used, which have been added to our Resource Library. They are both by Alastair Duncan.

Paris Salons 1895-1914: Jewellery, Vol. 1: The Designers A-K

The Paris Salons, 1895-1914: Jewellery, Vol. 2: The Designers L-Z

Some Lovely Things

First up today is a 19th Century Portuguese tiara made of gold metal, sapphires, and baroque pearls, c. 1840. It sold for $1100.

We continue with a French blonde tortoiseshell back comb, c. 1890. The center ornament is a blue and white cameo of angels posing as the three muses. It is encased with diamonds. On each side are pearls separated by two gold leaves with a diamond in the center, and side blue enamel plaques with diamond roses. It sold for $3200.

Our last comb is by George Fouquet. The scrolled top of this blonde tortoiseshell comb is bordered with diamonds, and graced with opal leaves on both sides. Calibré-cut amethysts, three diamonds and a gold leaf reside in the middle. The piece is signed G.Fouquet and sold for $11,176.

Child & Child

Best known for its British Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau jewelry, this firm opened in 1880, producing neo-Renaissance pieces. From 1891 – 1916, the imaginative, bright enamel work on their peacock, wing, and insect designs won them Royal patronage. In 1916, the firm closed.

This piece, which is signed, might be part of their earlier work. Hinged to a tortoiseshell comb, the silver tiara is laced with garnets. What I love about it though is the hat on top with its ribbons flowing through silverwork. It sold at Sotheby’s for 1350 UKP.

However, when Child & Child’s artistry became revolutionary, one of their most famous pieces was a tiara of two bright blue enamel peacock wings, which sold at the Tadema Gallery in London. I know the price range was over 20,000 UKP, but I cannot imagine the exact, final price.

Final Prices at Sothebys

We’ve been following a lot of combs sold at Sotheby’s auctions. I thought it might be useful to list their final sale prices to get a sense of the comb market. Like any antique, the highest prices went to pieces that were made by the hands of a master who changed the way the world thought about art. The great masters made combs-as-jewelry and combs-as-ideas. Each thumbnail photo will be linked to the original post, so everyone can see the description.

Meiji Set I Bought

I am buying a very interesting late Meiji kushi and kogai set. Although the material is tortoiseshell, has gaps in the gold makie paint to allow light to show through the comb, has the Meiji feature of the design folding over the top of the comb as it goes from front to back, and the size and shape are definitely Meiji, this set is creeping toward a modern aesthetic.

Like modern Japanese sets, the design objects are bigger, the painting goes over the tines of the comb, there is a bigger picture on the front and a punctuated design on the back, and most notably, there is color. I think the red flowers on this comb got to me, and I had to have it. But I love this set because it has one foot in the past and one foot in the future.