The Incas are the first known civilization to have used marcasite in jewellery with notable marcasite jewellery pieces having been found in several Incan burial chambers. The stone can be found in high quantities throughout South America and has been called the stone of the Incas who not only used it for jewellery but for round plate-like objects that may have been mirrors, items to be used in their sun-worship rituals or as a means of seeing into the future.
Native Americans believed they could look into the very soul when peering into a polished piece of Pyrite. Their shamans used it as “a stone of power,” and their medicine men used it in certain healing rituals earning it the name of the “Healer’s Stone”.
Examples of Marcasite Jewellery
Widely available across the world, marcasite continued to be used by many nations and for a variety of uses. In the late 1700’s, the Swiss began to produce Marcasite for the European market to bypass the Sumptuary Laws which forbade the use of diamonds by all but the most aristocratic. These laws were introduced at various times to protect and regulate the social hierarchies and morals of the lower orders, through restrictions on clothing, food and luxury goods. This made it easier to identify rank and privilege, and was primarily to ensure that commoners did not imitate the appearance of aristocrats.
The laws were passed in England and Europe right up to the middle of the 1600’s. In fact Louis 14th of France decreed that no-one but he should wear diamonds opening the market to the Swiss and Italians to develop the manufacture of marcasite, an excellent imitation.
The Venetians, in particular, became famous for making imitation glass gems and even published recipes for false pearls. These were made from white powdered glass, mixed with egg white and snail slime, to produce beads which could be sold to the rich merchants to adorn their wives and daughters in the style of the aristocrats.
When Napoleon eventually emerged as the Emperor of France he began a new era of pomp and ostentation. A wave of jewellery wearing flooded Europe, and even poorest women would wear some adornment in the form of brooches, ribbons, earrings and so on.
Examples of Marcasite Jewellery
The masses could not afford real gems and marcasite became the standard substitute. By the time Queen Victoria took the throne, brooches, particularly mourning brooches, earrings, necklaces and so on were worn by everyone and the wearing of each piece was regulated by a code of conduct which gave clues to the position the wearer had in society.
This is when Marcasite jewellery truly excelled since they were not restricted by cost and, when crafted properly, were as beautiful as diamonds. Craftsman worked the jewellery producing the most remarkable designs such as art deco watch designs, rings, wonderful pins and brooches, and lovely bracelet settings.
Today Marcasite is as poplular as ever. It is no longer the poor relation of the diamond but has come into its own to be highly prized and worn with delight. The Vintage look with romantic Art Nouveau styles or classy Art Deco styles are still the best sellers when it comes to marcasite Jewellery which reflects the influence these periods had on modern design.