When the Duchess of Devonshire decided to give her 1897 ball in celebration of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, she surely had no idea that it would be amongst the most celebrated social events of the 19th Century, in a league with such affairs this century as the 1951 ball given in Venice by Charles de Bestegui or the famed "Black and White" ball given by Truman Capote in 1966. The fancy dress was amongst the most elaborate ever seen and the disguises ranged from Cleopatra to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, chosen by the Duke of Devonshire. Yet, it was not only the attire that was awe-inspiring. Most had donned their ancestral jewels which were nothing short of magnificent. The Prince and Princess of Wales were present, disguised as Grand Master of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem and Chevalier of Malta and Marguerite of Valois. The Court of Catherine the Great was well-represented with Viscountess Raincliffe disguised as the powerful Empress of All the Russias. Within her entourage was Kathleen, Duchess of Newcastle, wife of the 7th Duke. She had chosen to impersonate the Princess Dashkov, a highly enlightened member of Catherine's court who became the first president of the newly founded Russian Academy in 1783. Her period costume was complimented by the present diamond-set ribbon bow. Though the jewel was more modern, probably made in the 1860s, she wore it as a stomacher in typical 18th Century fashion.
Ribbon bow jewels first came into vogue in the mid-1600s. They, as well as their precursors, cloth ribbons suspending pendants, can be observed in paintings of the time. Mounted in gold and silver, the most popular motif was the Sévigné, a symmetric gem-set ribbon bow with twin loops, which derived its name from the Marquise of Sévigné (1626-96). The design was diffused throughout Europe by the engravings of Gilles Légaré, jeweller to Louis XIV. As the Baroque gave way to the Rococo, the bows became more assymetrical, a feature perpetuated in pictures of Marie-Antoinette and her contemporaries.
That the present brooch did not undergo a metamorphosis with changing fashions is noteworthy. The late 1900s, as well as the first half of this century, brought dramatic changes in woman's fashion which led to the re-setting of most ancestral jewellery. This bow has remained intact and the lovely image of one of its previous owners permits us a brief glimpse into its glamorous history.