Brittany

French regional jewellery - Brittany

  BIJOUX REGIONAUX ANCIENS - BIJOU REGIONAL

Brittany is not a rich region for regional jewellery and the hollow and inexpensive Jeannette cross, usually made in Paris, was widely worn.  There are also small “baton” crosses, although these too are not unique to Brittany. Crosses were often worn on large velvet ribbons embellished with sequins, the shine of these having apotropaic virtues (believed to "reflect" away bad luck). Silver reliquary crosses, engraved with symbols of the crucifixion, were often worn in Brittany.

It is worth noting that in areas with elaborate and richly embroidered folk costumes there are usually few jewels.  This is because the regions that are isolated by transport difficulties cannot easily trade with other regions and unless the women are involved in making a high value trade item such as lace, their surplus hours cannot be profitably employed.  These women will thus turn to embellishing their own clothes with intricate embroidery.  Once the possibility of producing trade goods is found, the clothing becomes simpler and women "subcontract", as it were, their desire to embellish themselves by purchasing silver or gold jewellery to wear.


Note that in 1902, however, there was a crisis in the sardine industry, with a catch five times less than in previous years. 15,000 to 20,000 workers in the canneries, and twice as many fishermen were unemployed and famine stalked Brittany. The women of Concarneau, Penmarch and Douarnenez improvised in lace-making to support their families and Breton lace was born.

 

 


Brittany peasant embroidery and jewellery according to Racinet in La Costume Historique, 1888

click on the photos to enlarge them in high resolution

 

 

 


 Traditional folk costumes from Brittany according to Racinet in La Costume Historique, 1888

click on the photos to enlarge them in high resolution

 

 

 

The faith ring

         
 Brittany faith rings, gold

 

The faith rings or fede rings are closely associated with Brittany but are in fact engagement rings of Vendée origin. In Brittany they were mostly adopted by sailors. In the later versions, the two hands holding the central heart have virtually disappeared and are represented by some vestigial lines to delineate the fingers.  In the 19th century the jeweler always gave to the bride along with the wedding band a small ring, called coral ring or carnelian, to avoid friction with the wedding band. Around 1908 this use still existed in some rare areas of the Vendée Maritime and Saint-Gilles but had disappeared at Les Sables d'Olonne. Lionel Bonnemère, in a conference in Paris in 1903, showed how these faith rings were exported and imitated in Congo by the natives of the country.

 

 

 

Saint Anne ring


gold ring with stamped impression "Souvenir de Sainte Anne",
probably sold during the annual assembly at Saint Anne d'Auray in Brittany
(the only place in the world where Saint Anne, mother of Mary, is claimed to have appeared)

 

 

 

The baton cross

 


Brittany cross, gold

 

Brittany baton cross, gold

 

The baton cross is a small hollow cross with a rectangular cross-section and with pointed spheres set at the end of each arm, made to represent tears and the three times Christ was said to have wept.  These baton crosses were popular in Brittany but can also be found in other areas of France.  They are only very rarely found with heart shaped slides.

 

/ckfinder/userfiles/images/grands/croix-baton-or-bijou-regional.jpg
 Brittany cross, gold

 Brittany cross, gold

 

 

 

The Breton flat cross

 

 

/ckfinder/userfiles/images/grands/croix-baton-or-bijou-regional.jpg
flat cross in silver, Finistère
/ckfinder/userfiles/images/grands/croix-baton-or-bijou-regional.jpg
flat cross in silver, close-up, Finistère

 

The Breton flat cross is made of solid silver with beveled edges and tipped with depressions and bulges.

 

 

 

The Jeannette cross   


silver "Jeannette" cross from Brittany with its sequin spangled velvet ribbon

 

The Jeannette crosses were worn throughout France, and particularly in the regions that had not adopted a unique cross of their own. They were inexpensive, being generally of silver or of hollow, stamped gold, even gold-plated. Often produced in Paris, they were resold by local jewellers or by traveling salesmen who set up stands at the local fairs and religious gatherings.

There are two types of cross Jeannette, differentiated by the shape of the ends of the arms. Some have oval-shaped endings while others have diamond-shaped ends. Both types almost always have pointed spheres or egg-shaped tips, although lozenge shaped tips do exist.

Some of the Jeannette crosses are plain on both sides while others, illustrated on this pag have a facetted finish on one side, made to resemble a cross that has been roughly hewn with an adze. It's possible that this more sparkling side was worn outwards on Sundays and for special occasions, or perhaps the less sparkling side was worn to church. There are dozens of different designs for the central square or circle; that of a flower is the most popular and the design is often different on the other side.  It seems that Jeannette crosses were worn from 1783 by all classes, then only by women in the countryside. After 1872 for a few years there was a renewed fashion for city women to wear them too, then this fashion was over and again the country women were the only ones to wear them.

In Brittany the Jeannettes crosses were often worn on velvet ribbons adorned with sequins supposed to ward off bad luck by reflecting it away.  The central motifs of the cross Jeannettes are almost always square but sometimes round and are very variable - we find stars, flowers, letters, the Holy Spirit and geometric designs.


"Jeannette" cross from Brittany with its sequin spangled velvet ribbon 
click on the photos to enlarge them in high resolution

 

 

   
silver "Jeannette" cross from Brittany with its sequin spangled velvet ribbon

 

 

   
silver "Jeannette" cross from Brittany with its velvet ribbon


 

 

 

The Brittany cross

 

 


gold cross from Brittany, front

gold cross from Brittany, back

 

 

         
Silver cross from Brittany, front and back view

 

 

 

The reliquary cross

 

         
reliquary cross in silver, front and back view

 

The traditional Breton reliquary crosses are engraved with the acronyms IHS and MA as well as various objects of the Passion of Christ, the arma christi which can include the three nails, three tears, the sponge, the ladder, the spear, the rooster of Saint Peter, the hammer, the pincers, the dice of the soldiers, the shroud, the columns of the flogging, the lantern of the arrest of Christ, the red coat of the flogging and the crown of thorns. Sometimes hanging from these crosses we observe three spherical pendants threaded on a hooked silver wire.

 

 

 
silver reliquary cross, front

silver reliquary cross, open

silver reliquary cross, back
 

 

 

 


silver reliquary cross, front
 
silver reliquary cross, open
 
silver reliquary cross, back

 

 

 


silver reliquary cross, front
 
silver reliquary cross, open
 
silver reliquary cross, back

 

 

The following two reliquary crosses from Brittany are more recent and were probably made primarily for the tourist market.

 

 
reliquary cross in silver, front view
 
reliquary cross in silver, back view
 

 

 

 

 

 
reliquary cross in silver, frontview
 
 
reliquary cross in silver, back view
 
 

 

 

The cross from Bourg en Batz

 

              
Bourg en Batz reliquary cross in silver gilt

 

 

The Bourg en Batz reliquary cross can be recognised by its design of engraved triangles, the hanging spheres ending with a visible loop in the wire and the representation of Mary with clasped hands under a canopy.  The examples shown here are reliquary crosses which open to reveal compartments to hold relics.  I find these reliquary crosses, while rare, to be encountered too often today to have Bourg en Batz (today called Batz-sur-Mer, population 3,000) as their sole source and I suspect they were in fact used elsewhere in Brittany, which is only a few miles away, or pehaps sold widely to tourists at the end of the 19th century.  Racinet included a Bourg en Batz cross for his illustration of jewels from Brittany in his monumental 'La Costume Historique'; see the extract at the top of this page.

 

 

              
Bourg en Batz reliquary cross in silver gilt

 

 

 

               
Bourg en Batz cross in silver

 

 

              
Bourg en Batz cross in silver

 

 

 

              
Cross from Brittany or perhaps Bourg en Batz in silver

 

 

 

The Finistère cross

 


croix rayonnante en argent, recto


croix rayonnante en argent, verso
 
croix rayonnante en argent

croix rayonnante en argent

two Finistère crosses in silver and silver gilt

 

One can observe that the extremities of the Finistère cross, varies between a simple tri-lobed clover motif, a fleur-de-lys motif and the double spirals that are characteristic of the abbesse crosses from the Champagne region. The branches of the cross are flat and smooth with three or four pointed rays radiating from the centre. Fitted to the obverse is an image of Christ, on the reverse the Virgin and Child on a pedestal.   

 

         
Finistère cross in silver

BIJOUX REGIONAU


 

 

The "heart of Saint Anne" cross

      

      
peasant woman from Vannes wearing the heart of Saint Anne cross, by O. Pobéguin, 1857

 

 

 

 

The pardon fibulae

 
pardon fibule in brass and glass
 
pardon fibule in brass and glass
 

 

 


Pardon fibula in silvered brass and glass beads
The beads spell out the letters V.H.V (Vive Henri V) or Long live Henry V, and was worn by a supporter of Henry the Fifth, pretender to the French throne around 1879.

 

 


Pardon fibula in silvered brass and glass beads

 

 

 

The pardon brooch or pin

 

 

 

 


pardon pin in gilt brass and glass pearls

 

 

 


pardon pin in silvered brass and glass pearls on a corsage bigouden in the museum of Quimper. 

click on the photos to enlarge them in high resolution

 

 

 


pardon pin in brass and glass


pardon pin in brass and glass


pardon pin in brass

 

 

 

Many other pins and fibulae not visible on this website can be found in the book Traditional French Jewellery, in English - You can order it  here direct from the author


 

 

Shirt or smock clasp

 

 

    
clasp in silver for a men's working smock

 

The smock or shirt buckles of this shape, in silver and with five fixing perforations, are typically Breton and always hallmarked in Brest.

 

 

Shit buttons

 

         
antique silver shirt buttons, hand engraved

 

 

 

         
antique silver shirt buttons, hand engraved

 

 

 

       
antique silver shirt buttons, hand engraved

 


 

 

The wedding cup

 

In Brittany, the bride was offered a wedding cup in silver or engraved glass for drinking during the ceremony; for the less fortunate families the cup was made of pewter. The Brittany wedding cup was usually engraved with the wife's name or her initials. This wedding cup was later used for everyday use as well as during baptisms and communions and eventually placed in front of the coffin of the deceased and filled with holy water ...

The family usually offered a beaker or wedding cup to the woman and a wine cup (tastevin) to the man. In the past, one had to bring one’s own cutlery and tableware if one wanted to eat out and the flat shape of the tastevin was designed to be easily transportable in a pocket. For more modest people, the cups and tastevins were made of pewter or even wood.

 

 


wedding cup from Brittany in silver, 1716-1717

 

 


homme avec boten-bragou fermant son bragou

 

 

The boten-bragou is a double button formerly used by men to close their bouffant trousers (bragou) and is carved from a single piece of boxwood.

 

 

 

 

         
a chatelaine to hold a pocket watch in gold plated silver and "ocean jade" from Brittany made by Auguste Hippolyte Désury, Vannes.
a non traditional jewel made for the tourist market


 

 

 

 

 

 

Breton jewellery today

 

Regional jewels are still popular today in Brittany but their shapes and their goals have changed. Popular with the younger generation and tourists, usually in silver, they consist of various Celtic patterns mixed together in many forms so as to sell well. They have no ancestor and have no other purpose than to mark the affection that the wearer has for Brittany. The motif of the triskelion is very popular and while its origin goes back to the Celts, its meaning is widely disputed and has innumerable interpretations, generally based on three elements such as earth, wind and fire, etc. The Celts did not have a written language, so the true meaning they attributed to the triskelion will never be known. However I like to imagine that it could have been what is still given today on the Isle of Man where the triskelion is the symbol of the island. It is less stylized, with three human legs radiating from a central point and the motto is "I always fall on my feet".

 

           
modern breton brooches with symbols of triskelion and ermines, silver plated a

 

 

 

 


 


 


 

 

two modern Breton heart pendants and a brooch in silver

 

 
Breton ermine brooch, modern,
silver plated
 


modern breton cross in silver

 


 


the Triskelion is the symbol of the l'Isle de Man - "I always fall on my feet"

 

 

 


  Traditional folk costumes from Finistère in Brittany according to Racinet in La Costume Historique

click on the photos to enlarge them in high resolution

 

 


coiffe and folk dress from Brittany - Lannion

 

 


coiffe and French folk dress from Brittany - antique photo

 

 


  coiffe and folk dress from Brittany - Lannion

  coiffe and folk dress from Brittany - Lannion

 

 


French regional costume and jewellery
Pont Aven, Brittany


Sunday dress from Pont Aven, Brittany

 

 

 


coiffe, costume and jewellery, Pont l'Abbé in Brittany

  French regional costume - Concarneau,  Brittany

 

 


  French regional costume and jewellery
Quimper & Pluvigner, Brittany

richly embroidered French regional costume
and jewellery from Lanriec, Brittany

  

 


  finely embroidered French regional costume
and jewellery, Fouesnant, Brittany

French regional costume and jewellery -  Brittany

 

 

 


  coiffes and French folk-dress from Brittany 
Sein island


  French regional folk costume and jewellery
Brittany

 

 


  French regional costume and jewellery
Saint Thégonnec, Brittany

French regional costume and jewellery 
Plougastel-Daoulas, Brittany

 

 


French regional costume and jewellery
Pont Aven, Brittany


  French regional costumes and jewellery
Quiberon, Brittany

 

 

 
regional costume Lorient, Brittany

 

 

 


regional costume from Plougastel-Daoulas, Brittany


closed wooden beds used in Brittany to protect from cold winter nights

 

 

 

 


cross from Brittany with triskelion
at centre, silver, modern


 


silver brooch with triskelion motif, modern

 

 

 

 


silver brooch with triskelion motif, modern

 

Regional jewellery is still popular today in Brittany but its form and purpose have changed.  Generally of silver and popular with the younger generation and with tourists, it consists of various celtique motifs mixed together in whatever form is found to sell well.  It has no ancestor and no purpose other than to mark the wearer's attachement to Brittany.  The triskelion motif is very popular, and while the origin of this motif can be traced back to the Celts, its meaning is widely disputed and has countless interpretations, generally based on three objects such as "earth, wind & fire" etc.  The Celts had no written language so the true meaning they attributed to the triskelion will never be known, however I like to imagine it is that which is still given today in the Isle of Man.  The triskelion is the symbol of the island and is less stylised, with three human legs radiating from a central point.  The devise of the Isle of Man is "I always fall on my feet".

 


triskelion motif from the Isle of Man

 

 

Contact me with your suggestions, corrections, photos, questions and comments!

 

 

contents:
 

croix bretonne - croix d'Alsace - broche alsacienne - croix de Lorraine - bijoux des régions de France - les bijoux des Français - les  bijoux de France - bijoux régionaux - bijou régional - croix écotée - pendentif Saint Esprit - Saint Esprit d'Aurillac - rose de Velay - collier d'esclavage - croix de Puy en Velay  - croix d'Auvergne - bijoux d'Auvergne - bijoux auvergnat - collier Saint Esprit de Puy en Velay - croix de Velay - bijoux d'Auvergne et du Velay - costume regional - bijoux régionaux - coiffe  - coiffe auvergnat - bijoux des régions de France - bijoux régionaux - les bijoux traditionnels Français - croix régionales - Léon Giron - Antoine Raspal - Thomas Desgeorge - Estella Canziani - esclavage auvergnat - Coiffes et costumes de Bretagne par François de Beaulieu - antieke zeeuwse streeksieraden in zeeland friesland - Brabantse klederdrachten en streeksieraden

 

French regional jewellery - Brittany