Paste Jewelry

Jewelry encrusted with diamonds was worn extensively by the wealthy and coveted by the middle classes throughout the eighteenth century. The expense of real diamonds and other gemstones created a demand for fake jewels. By the end of the seventeenth century lead glass could be faceted and colored to look like cut gemstones and colored foil was placed beneath glass to create the look of sparkling opals. These fake jewels were known as paste. Paste jewelry was much cheaper than real gemstones but also had another advantage: imitation jewels could be made in any size or shape the customer desired. With such freedom, jewelers could create fantastic pieces. During the century intricate floral and bow designs of paste were set in silver and gold. Paste jewelry offered the look of luxury to many more people and became extremely popular by the end of the century, when even the best jewelers made paste jewelry and royalty had copies of real jewelry made in paste. When many people began donating their real jewelry to the cause of the French Revolution (1789–99), the most extravagant designs faded from fashion, but paste jewelry endured as a symbol of affordable beauty.


Phillips, Clare. Jewels and Jewelry: 500 Years of Western Jewelry from the World-Renowned Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. New York: Watson-Guptill, 2000.

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