What are Antique Lorgnettes?

  • A lorgnette is a pair of spectacles which are held to the eyes with a long handle, rather than being fitted over the ears.
  • The word is derived from the French word ‘lorgner’ to peer at.
  • Lorgnettes were invented in England during the 1700s by a man called George Adams.
  • Lorgnettes were very popular throughout the Victorian era and were the preferred way for ladies to wear spectacles.
  • They continued to be worn through the 1920s and beyond, although they eventually came to be seen as something older ladies wore.
  • Lorgnettes were often worn around the neck with a chain.
  • Often, lorgnettes were highly ornate and jeweled and were considered more of a piece of jewelry than just a practical item.
  • Holding lorgnettes up to the eyes in a way that was just so was considered a perfect opportunity to convey comportment, style, and finesse. They were a more feminine and streamlined look for stylish ladies than the spectacles that gentlemen wore.

File:Silver Lorgnette, circa 1909.jpg


French gold enamel and gem set lorgnette c. 1890
Christie’s Sale 2560


Belle Epoque Sapphire and Diamond Lorgnette
Christie’s Sale 2306

A pair of French Art Nouveau gold and diamond lorgnettes

A pair of French Art Nouveau gold and diamond lorgnettes
Christie’s Sale 5891

A pair of early 20th century diamond lorgnettes

A pair of early 20th-century diamond lorgnettes
Christie’s Sale 5888

A pair of late 19th century gold and gem lorgnettes

A pair of late 19th-century gold and gem lorgnettes
Christie’s Sale 5383

How to Buy Antique Alexandrite Jewelry

Alexandrite is an amazing color-changing gem that is found in some truly gorgeous pieces of antique and vintage jewelry.

In daylight, Alexandrite is green or bluish-green. It changes to red or purple or lavender in the evening light.

A mystical and fascinating stone, it appeals to those with a literary or artistic sensibility.  Looking at genuine, mined Alexandrite is said to evoke strong emotion in a sensitive person.

Beautiful, and rich with meaning and history…  It’s no wonder antique Alexandrite jewelry is favored by the discerning.

The History of Alexandrite.

Of all the gemstones, Alexandrite probably has the most fascinating history.

It was discovered in Russia around the time that Tsar Alexander II was celebrating his 16th birthday in 1834 and it was named after him.

This gem came to be intrinsically tied in with Russia’s dramatic history and fascinated the Russian aristocracy and future generations.

It was also said to be the favorite gem of  Tsarina Alexandra. Her wistful beauty and the story of her tragic life cannot fail to move anyone.


Tsarina Alexandra

In 1891, The Ladies’ Home Journal wrote: “… Alexandrite appears to be in the ascendancy jewel comes from Siberia, and is of a beautiful dark green transparent color, which under any artificial light changes to that of pigeon blood ruby.  The Alexandrite is cut like a diamond and is being used by the leading jewelers for lace pins, bracelets, and other ornaments.”

The Meaning of Alexandrite

To this day, Alexandrite is associated with duality. Hope and sadness, pain and pleasure, loss and life, tears, and laughter.

It is said, the green or blueish-green color seen in brighter light symbolizes ‘hope’. The red or purple or lavender colors seem in dimmer light symbolize ‘blood’.

” Look, here it is, the prophetic Russian stone! O crafty Siberian. It was always green as hope and only toward evening was it suffused with blood.”    Leskov, Nikolai Semyonovich (1884), “Alexandrite”


Christie’s sale number 1350, 15 November 2007
Set with a square-shaped alexandrite to the lavender enamel tapered gold band, circa 1890, ring size 8, with St Petersburg assay mark for 22-carat gold (1908-1917)


Here is a natural Alexandrite specimen from the Ural mountains. This one is a spectacular true green and lavender.

Things to Consider When Buying Antique or Vintage Alexandrite Jewelry

  • Natural Alexandrite does not come in any other colors than green or greenish-blue and red or purple or lavender.
  • If it is yellow or brown it is probably color change chrysoberyl which is often sold as Alexandrite.
  • The closer the green is to emerald and the closer the red is to ruby, the more valuable the stone.
  • It is extremely rare to find a stone that changes to red. Normally the color is purple or lavender.
  • Naturally mined Alexandrite is rare and valuable and very seldom comes in large carats.
  • Nearly all of the Alexandrite you see today in contemporary jewelry is lab-created.
  • Something in a vintage or antique setting with small stones is more likely to be naturally minded Alexandrite than a big stone, especially if it is in a modern setting.
  • A big stone is almost certainly lab-created. If it is natural it should command a very high price!
  •  Only a trained and trusted gemologist can tell you for certain if it is mined or lab-created Alexandrite.
  • It is always sensible to buy antique and vintage jewelry from a reputed dealer.