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Mesh: The art of the chain

by Julie MIALET 28 Aug 2023

Marine chain, forçat chain, tubogaz chain, polonaise chain, do any of these names ring a bell? If you're passionate about jewelry, especially antique jewelry from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, or art nouveau, art deco, retro or vintage jewelry, these names will surely ring a bell. In this article, Les Pierres de Julie takes a look at an age-old jewelry tradition, its main technical characteristics and its savoir faire.

 

The history of mesh:

Jewelry-making is an art that appeared with the first societies 130,000 years ago. At that time, it consisted solely in shaping bones, shells and pearls. It wasn't until the Metal Age, around 6000 BC, that men began to master metallurgy. It was during this period that the first simple jewels were produced in copper, gold or silver, from native metals that men could find in their natural state. It was during Antiquity, a few centuries later, that the first traces of mesh appeared, some of which have been found in Greek and Egyptian treasures from this period. These artifacts indicate that mesh quickly became a high quality product, and that its production was limited only by the imagination of goldsmiths.

Although the process originally developed around the Mediterranean basin, over time it spread inland. Celtic people were masters at the beginning of our era, using it in warfare to create the famous chainmail. This new protection became a symbol of someone’s status (it was very expensive) and was exported throughout Europe, notably to the Roman legion. This method has been used since then, with variations in the use of new alloys and new types of mesh.

 

Mesh types:

Jewelry meshing is a process derived directly from weaving. Similar to knitting, mesh consists of an interweaving of either metal wires or rings. Les Pierres de Julie offers a brief overview of the main types of mesh, most of them in 18-carat yellow, pink or white gold, but also in platinum or silver.

 

Ring mesh:

Forçat mesh is made up of interlocking oval rings. It’s the most common chain, and its name refers to a column of convicts, an immediate reminder of the need for a strong, simple mesh to prevent escaping. Variations of this mesh exist, with rings more or less filed or beveled to make it flatter.

 

Horse mesh takes its name from the shape of its long, flattened, oval links, reminiscent of equestrian shoulder collars. It is also one of the most common chains.

Figaro mesh is very similar to the horse chain, but will include three round rings between each elongated ring. Its name could be a reference to Beaumarchais' Marriage of Figaro, the rings representing the games played by the various characters.

Marine mesh is directly inspired by the chains that hold ships' anchors. Designed to be functionnal, this mesh is made up of rings with a bar through them, the shape of which has been streamlined to make it easier for the sprocket to raise the anchor. This seafaring spirit is deeply rooted in the Hermès collections.

 

Venetian mesh, recognizable by its almost square-shaped links, is typical of Italian craftsmanship, and more particularly Venetian, as its name suggests. Brought back from Constantinople by Venetian merchants during the 6th century, this mesh became popular among the old families of the ducal state. A tradition grew out of it: mothers divided their chain into several parts to ensure the dowries of their daughters. Another name for this motif was the "Chaîne Manin", named after a family whose wealth and importance marked the city's history. Indeed, the last Duke of Venice, Ludovico Manin IV, was forced to abdicate by the future Emperor Napoleon I, at the time still general of the Italian army.

 

Royal, Byzantine or Peruvian mesh is made up of simple round rings, but they are doubled, precisely interlocked to form a thick, complex pattern. Despite the name "Byzantine mesh", it's difficult to be categorical about this affiliation.

 

Rope mesh is constructed to give the illusion of a two-strand rope braided by interweaving several rings one after the other.

 

Filigree mesh links are enriched with sometimes complex motifs, such as arabesque embroidery in fine gold thread. The filigree technique is a Portuguese specialty that can be traced back to the conquest of the New World in the 15th century. At that time, Portugal colonized Brazil and brought back an extraordinary quantity of gold, which led to a huge boom in the art of jewelry in the country.

 

Coffee bean mesh simply takes its name from the shape of its links. Cartier is undoubtedly the most famous user of this mesh, with a whole collection available.

 

American mesh is thick and harmonious, with rounded, chiseled links.

 

Other meshes:

The Tubogaz, or Snake, mesh is a product of the industrial revolution. Initially, Tubogaz was a new hose system used to transport pressurized gas at a time when electricity was still predominant. It wasn't until the interwar period, and particularly after the 1937 World's Fair, that this practical object became a symbol of jewelry. Brought to the fore by Van Cleef and Arpels and Bulgari, this mesh took the name of "Snake" in reference to its coiled motif, which is easily recognized as being related to this reptile.

 

Polish mesh is certainly one of the widest and thickest, as it is constructed like a tapestry from a succession of winding woven threads.

 

Bowl mesh consists of a succession of metal beads linked together to form a chain. This mesh has also been known as GI mesh since the Second World War, when American soldiers began using it to wear their dog tags.

 

During the 20th century, the great master of mesh in France was Georges Lenfant, who we mentioned in another article.

 

And what about you? Which mesh has piqued your curiosity the most? Do you prefer ring or braided chains? If you're interested in jewelry links, don't hesitate to discover what Les Pierres de Julie has to offer in store...

We are also available for free appraisals of your jewelry, so please send an email with your photos to contact@lespierresdejulie.com.

Whether you're interested in buying a piece of jewellery or a stone, a free jewelry appraisal or jewelry resale, Pierres de Julie welcomes you to its Parisian boutique in the Village Suisse, a stone's throw from the Ecole Militaire and the Esplanade des Invalides.

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