Exquisite Paste | Who Needs Diamonds?By Wendy Ilene Friedman
Photos courtesy of The Three Graces My friend Robin searched for nearly a year to find the earrings she wore at her wedding. She did not turn into an obsessive Bridezilla by any means, but she definitely wanted a specific look. And she will be the first to attest that she “tried on every pair of antique earrings in Manhattan” to achieve it. The problem was that she wanted authentic antique diamonds, but with a limited budget, it was clear that diamonds were not this girl’s best friend. In fact, with the price tags she came across, they were no friend at all. So while her first choice would have been to find real yet affordable gemstones, in the end she selected a pair of antique Georgian paste, which by most untrained eyes looks like the real McCoy. The total bill for the 18th-century danglers was $550; a similar pair made of diamonds could run in the thousands of dollars. “If I had any budget in the world, I would have gone with 10 other options,” she admits. “But paste is the only viable option if you’re not willing to spend the money.” And she is in good company. King George III and IV, along with other royals and high-ranking members of society, wore paste jewelry. And they certainly could afford whatever they wanted. According to the antique jewelry dealer and historian Jacquelyn Babush, “they knew it was paste, but it was the look they were going for.” Paste is essentially hand-cut glass. The glass is placed on a metallic foil base, sometimes colored, that causes an effect similar to the glitter of gemstones. Because glass has a more pliable consistency and is less costly than real stones, craftspeople were able to create very elaborate pieces and go beyond what they could accomplish with diamonds.