Creole Jewelry

Superb and fascinating, the jewels are as old as man: indeed appearing from the Stone Age, adornments are present in all civilizations.
First shell necklaces, animal tooth bracelets, the art of jewelry used new techniques and new materials in parallel with the increase in knowledge: gold and amber were worked from the Bronze Age, and Iron Age Silver.
Mastered therefore since ancient times, the art of jewelry has evolved through the alternation or amalgamation of different styles.

This is how the Creole jewel, like the Martinican man, born “at this unforeseen crossroads of civilizations” is the result of a mixture of different cultures and techniques.
Caribbean resurgences, European contributions, African survivals and local particularities were married and gave birth to the Creole jewel fruit of the ingenuity, imagination, and know-how of our craftsmen.
Gold threads, twists and gold plates of African and Arab origin, have been added to the fine chains and chiseled clasps of European tradition, to give, immersed in the reality of the flora and fauna of Martinique: apple-cinnamon , collars, caterpillars etc …
Also the Creole jewel, one of the most beautiful jewels of our heritage, turns out to be rich and varied in forms as in colors, as evidenced by the list and description which will follow.

The earrings
Martinique earrings are intended for people with pierced ears, they can however during their manufacture, by fantasy, be mounted on clips.
Ear piercing was formerly the concern of elderly women who operated using a cork stopper that they placed behind the earlobe, and a needle previously passed through the flame. The belief wanted that we do not pierce the ears in the plum season on pain of poor healing (appearance of kiloids).
a) The Rings: it was the first jewel offered to children for piercing their ears. About 1/2 cm in diameter, the rod is made up of a hollow ring and a rod which can fit into it so as to allow this ring to close completely. Mothers then had the possibility of turning it as they went along in the ear lobe by coating it with a fatty substance or a disinfectant in order to help good healing.

b) Creoles: of rounded shape, their clasp is a curved rod, welded to a ring which crosses the ear. Of various shapes and sizes, the ring can be simple and smooth, twisted, knotted or even cannellated; it is the earring considered to be the most ordinary.
Probably dating from the 18th century, they were worn very early by slaves and especially by freedmen. Thereafter, it was the jewel generally offered to little girls on the occasion of their “private communion”.

c) Sleepers: these are generally the earrings, decorated with small flowers, with little girls. However, they were also worn, studded with brilliants, by women of wealthy social class.

d) Cinnamon Apples: draw their inspiration from the local flora; they are made from the technique of Arab or African origin of superimposing gold plates.
The cinnamon apple is made up of a golden circle inside which are cones of the corollas with detached petals reminiscent of the scales of the fruit: these end at the top with a grain of gold. You should absolutely not confuse cinnamon apple and dahlia.

e) Dahlias: always made using the same technique, the dahlia is composed of a golden circle inside which are juxtaposed a series of round flowers having in their center a tiny grain of gold.
This superposition of flowers ends with a large grain of gold in its center. In terms of shape, the dahlia has a “flatter” appearance than the cinnamon apple, recalling the shape of the flower.

f) The “Negro Tete” : includes a circle of gold grains inside which are mounted in superposition a series of small flowers (the same as those of the dahlia) ending in a grain cabbage at the top – black women with the reputation of having the well-formed and “pointed” breasts (douboutt head) – hence this appellation so realistic.

g) Wasp nests: always using the technique of superimposing gold plates, the wasp nest as its name suggests, has a series of slightly curved cells. The general shape is that of a cone having at the top a flower with sometimes a grain of gold in its heart.

h) Caterpillars: the oldest are mounted in creoles; the caterpillar is made up of three twists of fine gold threads which are themselves twisted into a single body imitating the beast of the same name. There is another variant which is the caterpillar on pepper leaves: the earring carries in its middle a large grain of gold mounted as a pendant representing the pepper, and itself surmounted by a tendril simulating young buds.
This jewel can be presented, encircled by a gold ring, like cinnamon apples and dahlias.

i) Stone earrings: “We note the absence of precious stones (sapphires, topaz, diamonds …) as Anca Bertrand points out:” It is likely that we must see the absence of an African artisanal tradition which, especially in black Africa, works very little on inlays … “
It must above all be said that these stones were very expensive and were reserved for people of easy condition hence the use of onyx, garnet, amber, semi-precious stones much more accessible in terms of price.
– The “black stones”: the earring is composed of a gold circle surrounding a black onyx decorated in its center with a grain of gold.
– The purple or blue “nicolos” have the same arrangement.

j) The Tassels: of African or Arabic inspiration, the earring includes about eight small mats terminated by small gold balls mounted as a pendant on a worked ring. This is connected to a grain of gold or a love knot ending in a rod entering the earlobe.

k) “The nail rings”: very spectacular and very old, the nail rings use the technique of thin gold plates wound in the shape of a cylinder ending at both ends with two large grains of gold. These cylinders placed side by side are mounted in the shape of a basket surmounted by a handle crossing the earlobe.
We must point out that these earrings were particularly extravagant. Depending on fortune, the cylinders could be hollow or full.
Full, they made the earring much heavier and could distort the earlobe. It seems to us that these nail rings have their origin in the daily life of the sugar house: the cylinders are very reminiscent of the shape of “rolls” crushing sugar cane in the old sugar mills.

l) Cane bundles: come from the same experience and use the same mounting technique; the gold cylinders are smaller than before, chiseled and knotted with a gold leaf simulating a “mooring” of sugar cane.

m) The vine leaves: the more recent model, of European inspiration, includes two vine leaves framing a bunch of grapes, the whole being enclosed in an oval ring. There are two other variations; one including the bunch alone, and the other the leaves and bunch of grapes without gold rim.
We can see alongside these most common traditional forms, a series of more fanciful ear pendants drawing their inspiration from the local fauna and flora (bouquets of flowers, birds on the branch, …), made according to same techniques of working with fine gold plates.

On the other hand, some “bourgeois” cassettes contained European-inspired models set with precious stones, pearls, cameos, Louis XVI, Empire style, etc.
Currently, we are witnessing an emergence of new models always inspired by the local flora and fauna – such as hibiscus, anthuriums, snakes – or folklore (heads of Martinique calendars), geography (map of Martinique ).
Certain other traditional jewels, such as gold grains, cabbage grains, convict links, which were formerly worn only as a necklace or bracelet, have been readily worn for thirty years as earrings to complete the ornaments.

According to the fantasy also of the jewelers, the models are mixed: we then find wasp nests decorated with onyx or garnet, black stones and cabbage seeds, pendants composed of three or four black stones linked together by a chain , gold grains and pearls … etc.

II. The Brooches
Larger in size, they adorn earrings including cinnamon apples, wasps’ nests, black stones, nicolos, caterpillars, negro tete and cameos.
The 1950s saw the appearance of spider and orchid spits from Guyana and Venezuela.

III. The Rings
As Anca Bertrand points out: “(…) we will notice the absence, among this people of manual workers, of the finery of the hand. While wealthy people have made their hand an object of refinement (lacquered nails, rings), the West Indian woman for whom the hand remains in perpetual contact with the earth and manual labor has not invented a single ring ”.
On the other hand, the tendency for thirty years is towards the invention of models of rings complementing the ornaments (gold grain, convict, black stones, cabbage grains, garnet, hibiscus, anthurium …). This shows the profound change that has affected Martinican society.
The louis d’or offered for baptisms or communions were often mounted on a brooch or in rings.

IV. Necklaces
In various shapes, necklaces were the main element of the set; sometimes reaching 7 meters, they practically covered the neck.
Some, like other jewelry, have survived the centuries and are made by our jewelers in more modest proportions. We distinguish also

a) The forçat : this necklace is composed of pairs of oval, hollow and interlocking links, each pair being composed of a smooth link and a striated link.
It can be worn as a choker, necklace or long necklace (the most common form in the past), symbolically reminiscent of the slave chain. It was offered as a token of attachment to the beloved woman. The links of this necklace can be of various dimensions.

b) The Collier-choux: is made up of a succession of gold balls strung on a chain. Each ball is composed of two striated hemispheres of the same diameter and welded to each other. In the past, this necklace particularly accompanied the skirt-shirt outfit and could go three to four times around the neck. The hollow and light balls give this jewel the fragility of a shell.

c) The Golden grain necklace: A string of smooth and round golden balls, hollow or solid, this jewel reminds by its appearance the pearl necklace. These are forbidden to people of color, it is believed that artisan jewelers have invented a jewel imitating them.
In the past, it was worn in several rows around the neck. There are currently variants which are more or less recent: the choker with grains of degraded size, the long necklace with spaced grains, and a whole variety with grains of different size or alternated with pearls, garnets, cabbage grains. ..

d) The«Gros-sirop»necklace is a succession of two double welded links, nested one inside the other; rather used in sautoir, with casseroles, it accompanied the grand ‘ceremonial dress.

e) The “syrup merchant”: is a rarer necklace which also accompanied the ceremonial dress. It is made up of a series of two small flat grooved and nested rings: one is placed vertically, the other horizontally.

f) The gourmette or flat link necklace: includes hollow links welded to each other with alternating a beveled link and a smooth link.

g) The twisted chain: is made of twisted gold thread reminiscent of a rope: it is very common in North Africa. It is most often worn in a necklace or choker.
There is a new, more recent variant; the degraded twist worn at the crew neck.

h) The cucumber chain necklace. These are oval links with an interlacing of watermarks inside, mounted spaced apart on a chain with small round links.

i) “coral” and garnet necklaces: use one, stones (facet cut garnets) from Venezuela or Czechoslovakia, the other coral cut in baguettes or pearls, strung on a gold chain or a cotton thread for the less affluent.
The coral and later the amber, were worn for their therapeutic virtue (good blood circulation, regulation of the tension …).

j) The barillets and the cassolettes. A key element of the necklace, the barrel generally serves as a clasp: richly crafted and of different sizes, it is most often worn at the front of the necklace. There are three types of barrels – the octagonal barrel with smooth or patterned facets.
– the nut-shaped barrel, most often with inlaid grooves.
– the ornate barrel with flowers and inlaid stones.
The casseroles, of North African origin, are richly crafted medallions, embellished with tassels; they are more particularly worn with the long twisted chain or large syrup, accompanying the grand ‘ceremonial dress.

V. The bracelets
They are most often matched with necklaces except
– the gold grain bracelet: formed of several rows of half-spheres of gold grains linked together by a chain.
– the round bangle: which is a large hollow gold ring, half opening by a mechanism allowing it to be put on: the two halves of the bracelet being linked for safety by a chain.
– the flat rod: has the same characteristics. It is much wider and sometimes has patterns or a caterpillar on its outer face.
– the slave bracelet is the gold replica of the original. Its clasp carries a small piece of chain reminiscent of the links of the slave chain.

The jewels of “the head”
We count the gold pins, the bars and the trembling pin
– gold pins: real hair pins, gold pins are sometimes surmounted by three small circles – or a crescent moon set with small stones. Often worn in pairs, linked together by a chain, they were put on the back of the head under the calendar cap, accompanying the formal attire.
– the gold bars: always worn in pairs on either side of the head on the two mats supporting the calendar head, they were particularly oval and filigree.
– the trembling pin: very rare in jewelry cassettes, it was put on the calendar head at the front of the head. Composed of three twisted gold threads, springing and joining at the base by a gold grain to which was welded a point, the trembling pin carried by the das, included at its end sometimes a strand of hair sometimes a tooth of coaxed child’s milk.

Men are not forgotten either, although they are few in number, men’s jewelry has a few pieces that can, depending on fortune, be more or less extraordinary, in particular the watch chain, the tie pin, whether or not set with a stone. or a pearl, collar and cuff links.
We should also point out for babies, the gold buttons linked together by a red or white thread, which we threaded on the back of the bras.

Lyne-Rose Beuze et George Louis-Régis Psyché

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