Accessorizing the Renaissance Dress

By Sarah

This article was originally published in the Nagle Forge & Foundry newsletter between 2002 & 2003. Due to space constraints (& printing costs) the original article had to be heavily edited. As many people commented at the time that they found this article useful we have decided to revise and expand it prior to adding it to Notes. As this is an expanded edition of the original article the decision was made to include it in Topics rather than Archives

A Faire dress without accessories is like a fancy cake without icing –adequate, but not appetizing or satisfying. (It is also not ‘period‘.) Throughout most of the past two thousand years most humans (regardless of economic status) have used accessories to express themselves. Sometimes these accessories are purely decorative –a string of beads, a pendant, a necklace, or a ring– and their purpose is to bring joy to the wearer and inspire appreciation. Sometimes accessories are both decorative and symbolic –a religous token, a wedding ring, an engagement ring, a military decoration, or a family badge– these are objects that mean something to the person who wears them and also communicate a message about the wearer to observers. Many accessories are inherently functional –buttons, bags, clasps, buckles, pins, etc.– as well as being decorative &/or, symbolic.

During the Renaissance, accessories were an incredibly important part of the daily dress &/or wardrobes of people throughout Europe. An individual’s choice of accesories varied depending on her, or his, native region, religous background, specific role in society, access to resources, and personal taste. Successful Renaissance dressing requires an understanding of accessories: An understanding of what kind of accessories you need, what kind of accessories you want, and what kind of accessories you –or your faire persona— ought to have.

This article is for everyone who has ever slaved over a costume, agonized over fabric choices, and hunted down the best possible shoes (you are only as happy as your feet) and yet, still, does not look completely ready. This is also for experienced old faire hands who are always looking for new (old) ideas, and anyone looking to add a bit of polish to his/her period wardrobe.

State-of-mind is a key part of taking your costume to the next level. If you are fully dressed in your costume and something still does not look –or, feel– ‘right’ this is probably because you are still thinking of the outfit you are wearing as a costume, and not clothing. Wearing enough layers and enough fabric to redo your living room –and possibly part of your bedroom– is not enough to achieve the ambience of renaissance dressing. Renaissance people may have had limited access to many of the products we now take for granted –fine woven fabrics, exotic silks and cottons, incredibly cheap cutlery, color-fast dyes, ribbons, beads, and so much more– but they were not minimalists. A Renaissance era townswoman, or the wife of a minor knight, may have owned only one or two complete dresses but she probably had enough accessories to create three, or four, or more, different ‘looks’ for different occaisions. Renaissance dressing –as opposed to Renaissance costuming– involves much more than clothes. A Renaissance dress that strikes the ‘right’ note expresses something about the individual wearer. To express personality you need accessories: You need the shoes, the hat (or the hair), the bag(s), the belt, the spare sleeves, extra lacings, the miscellaneous belt appendages, and you need the jewelry.

My favorite way of accessorizing is with jewelry, but to do it right you have to have a plan and incorporate everything into your design concept. [In the post 20th century building a jewelry wardrobe can also be much easier and economical than expanding your other accessory collections. For the price of a good bag and belt you can generally buy at least 3 or 4 pins or a very nice long strand of beads. Jewelry also requires less storage space and is easier to transport: These are both major considerations for a travelling re-enactor or anyone with limited closet space.]

The real plus with Renaissance dressing is that there is a style or two (or three, or more) for everyone. Your dilemma, and your delight, is to decide what it is and then make it work. This can be the most difficult and the most enjoyable part of Renaissance dressing. Do not allow yourself to be put-off by some of the more extreme Renaissance looks. Modern styles and sensibilities should play no part in accessorizing your renaissance dress. However, there may be some cross over between your every-day jewelry and your Renaissance jewelry (or vice versa). The key in identifying possible cross-over jewelry is to avoid anything that would have been technologically impossible or stylistically unthinkable during the Renaissance. [No titanium jewelry. No elasticized metal bracelets or belts. No tennis bracelets. No channel-set stones of any type. No obvious plastics –and plastic is almost always obvious. No itty-bitty diamonds or other itty-bitty surround stones –prior to the 19th century faceting extremely small stones was incredibly difficult and time consuming. No clown jewlery. Humorous jewelry is fine –and often quite appropriate–but clowns, aliens, U.F.O.s, sunflowers, and other (obviously) modern icons destroy a Renaissance look.] However, once you have found appropriate Renaissance jewelry (or learned to look for good Renaissance style jewelry) you must still find a way to wear it in a Renaissance style in order to finish accessorizing your Renaissance dress.

By modern (western) standards, Renaissance-era people wore a lot of jewelry. During the Renaissance it was not uncommon for someone (if he or she could afford it) to wear two or three rings, two or three pins, and two or three necklaces simultaneously. [This was often in addition to a decorative belt, ornamental buckles, and other clothing fasteners.] When accessorizing a Renaissance dress less is less, and much more might be just about right.

But that doesn’t mean you have to clatter around looking like a cross between a Victorian Christmas tree and a Vegas headliner. You do not have to wear big jewelry in order to make a big impression. It is possible to create a great Renaissance look without abandoning your sweet little pins in favor of something that looks like a Chevy hubcap. During the Renaissance there were actually people who liked little jewelry –by little, I mean small in size, not small in quantity. [The fine detail on tiny ornaments and miniaturized weapons –which were popular as jewelry from the mid to late Renaissance– served as curiosities and were admired for their fine craftsmanship and artistry. The wearers of these mini-jewels were admired for their fine taste and their status as patrons of art and industry.]

To wear small jewelry in a Renaissance style it is important to choose a theme and develop a way to wear multiple pieces of jewelry as a set. [By ‘set’ I mean a set of complimentary jewelry, not a set of matching jewelry: True parures are more common in the Baroque and Roccoco periods.] Find a motif that means something to your Renaissance character, or that you like (castles, ships, thistles, birds, fish, flowers, leaves, faces, dragons, etc.), get three or four different pins featuring similar motifs, cluster them on a sleeve, hat, or bodice, and suddenly your outfit has a theme, and you have a new means of expressing yourself through your arrangement of accessories. (We have one patron who has a tiny rabbit pin, chased by a small fox pin, with both pins pursued by half a dozen small hounds across the front of her bodice.) Your friends may even pitch in and add to your collection as the gift giving events of the year roll around (and perhaps they will be grateful not to have to puzzle over what you would like to receive). Many of our patrons have several themed collections that they arrange artfully upon their persons. These accessory collections can quickly change the look of an outfit. Even a slightly different arrangement of the same jewelry collection can change the overall look of a Renaissance costume.

Depending on personal preference –either your own or that of your costumed alter ego– big & bold jewelry may be the best choice to accessorize your Renaissance outfit. Large jewelry can symbolize an assertive personality, an important event, or the grand position of the wearer. [Large jewelry can also fulfill a necessary functional role. For instance: A heavy cloak requires a large clasp, a Scottish Great Kilt demands a large pin. A big belt buckle or a shoulder brooch for a Scot will make the whole outfit hang together, literally.]

Whether a piece of jewelry is decorative, functional, or both, placement is paramount for large pieces. You want your dress and jewelry to enhance and compliment each other while they frame and glorify you.

Ladies, if you have a square cut bodice and an open chemise, consider wearing a necklace or medallion close to the throat (& sunscreen, otherwise you will end up with a very strange tan), a pin on your bodice, shoulder, or sleeve, a long string of beads or pearls, something for your hat or hair, a ring (or several rings), and a pair of earings. Do not limit yourselves to accessorizing only one portion of your body or dress.

Gentlemen, a hat is the perfect place to display a pin, brooch, or badge. A well-chosen pin can help individualize a hat. And, if you wear a hat with a brim, a pin can hold an upturned brim in place. Choose a symbol that suits you and a size that is comfortable. A shoulder pin, medallion with chain, belt buckle, decorative clasp, finger ring(s), &/or belt pouch decoration should all also be considered as potential accessories.

Color can also be a good way to accessorize your Renaissance dress –or quickly change the look of an outfit. Your dress may be a blaze of color, or a sedate shade of forest brown, or green, or the cool grey of a winter day. Your jewelry can add dashes of a complementary or contrasting color. Pewter or silver-toned jewelry can be particularly striking against green, black, and grey backgrounds. Gold and gold-plated jewelry are stunning on a red, dark-blue, or purple backround. Faux enameled pieces are another option. Enameling provides saturated color in period style. [White, blue, red, and green, were all common enamel colors of the Renaissance era. Black was a popular accent color for both yellow and white metals.] Gemstone accented jewelry –particularly cabochon jewelry– and glass, stone, amber and pearl beads are appropriate and versatile ways to add color, shape, and movement to an outfit. Matching drop earings to a fancy necklace and a colored ribbon or gemstone ring is a great way to spread the color and catch the eye. Think of your jewelry as easily detachable and changeable trim.

Regional, religous, and ethnic preferences are also important when accessorizing the Renaissance dress. Who are you? What is your Faire/re-enactment persona? There are many different regional dres styles and there are many different jewelry styles. English, Scottish, and German clothing styles all demand different types –and styles– of accessories. The Netherlands, Spain, the different regions of France and the city states of Italy call for different accessories. (For instance: For the Netherlands and the North German states, consider pins with animal motifs. The Protestant reformation made figural representations unpopular, and the growing middle classes wanted hat badges and shoulder pins in a wide variety of metals without the connotations of foreign royalty and/or Catholicism. For Italians, especially coastal Italians, pearls, colored stone and glass beads, and big cut stones are very bella. During the Renaissance, pearls and cut stones poured into Venice from the Ottoman East and the Italians promptly faked the luxury goods so that even women of relatively modest means could drip with pearls and beads. Germans, Poles, and Bohemians, loved big chains, and big fancy necklaces all hooked together like enourmous Renaissance charm bracelets. The Spanish loved gold and emeralds, or anything green, shell-themed ornaments, and crosses, of course. Renaissance France has every style thanks to lots of wars and frequent Royal marriages with trend-setting Spaniards, Germans, and Italians.)

There’s lots more to think about, so find a style, choose a theme, and have fun!


Birth Stones

Historical Birthstones, Modern Birthstones: Your Birth Stone

Over the years we have been asked –by, it sometimes seems, everyone– to show examples of the January birthstone, the April birthstone, Mom’s birthstone, Dad’s birthstone, my birthstone: We always answer people the same way, “Pick a stone, any stone. It has probably been (or will be) the birthsone you are looking for at some point in history.”

This is a frustrating answer to a frustrating question. Over the years, in different places and at different times (and sometimes the same time), there have been (and are) many different birthstone lists & accepted birthstones for the various months.

Style, cost, availability & appearance have all played a roll in the development of the various birthstone charts. Until relatively recently most people identified most stones almost solely on the basis of appearance: If a stone was yellow and sparkled people called it a Topaz, if a stone was green and looked like Jade people called it Jade, if a stone was a rich ruby red people called it a Ruby. As a result there are occasionally several different stones that are accepted for a certain month simply because in appearance certain types of each stone are very similar. [Thus Citrine & Golden Topaz may both be acceptable for a certain month, while blue Zircon & blue Topaz may both be acceptable for another month.]

Cost & availability have also played a significant role in the development of historical and modern birthstone lists. Occasionally certain stones are prohibitively expensive for the average person and a less expensive alternate stone is substituted. Occasionally –due to political situations or mine closures– certain stones become unavailable while other stones –due to new mining developments or changed political situations– become readily available.

And, once in a while, a certain stone becomes wildly popular –or someone wants to make it wildly popular– and it is added to the list, or a new niche chart is created. [For instance: There are country and state specific Birth Stone charts that feature stones that can be found in specific countries or states. There are also Birth Stone charts based on different calendar systems (Zodiac signs are a perennial favorite). And there are charts with specific religious focuses.]

Thus said, we don’t ever believe that anyone should feel limitted to a specific birthstone, or compelled to have an example of that birthstone. We don’t use Birth Stone charts as selling aids (a truly cynical person could claim that Birth Stone charts are just a very persistent marketing technique) but we are fascinated by the history and diversity of Birth Stone charts and the idea of Birth Stones. So, in an effort to provide a few more Birth Stone choices, we have compiled a very diverse, very un-authoritative, list that incorporates some of the traditional (popular late 19th century) birth stones and some of the historical (pre 1850s, often country specific) birthstones as well as some modern alternatives that may be slightly more available.


Garnet has been associated with the month of January since biblical times and it is still generally considered the traditional birth stone of January. This is one of the few months for which the historical, traditional & modern birth stones are almost always identical. Significantly, Hyacinth, the gemstone most frequently offered as a January alternative, is in appearance similar to a red garnet. [Hyacinth is an antique name for a reddish-yellow variety of Zircon.] However, while red is traditionally the color associated with garnets, garnets actually occur in a wide variety of colors. Some are extremely rare, but an orangey yellow Hessonite or Spessartite garnet might be a good choice for someone who wants something a little bit different.


Historically Amethyst is the stone most frequently associated with this month. However (since at least the 16th century) Hyacinth, Jasper & Pearl have also been associated with this month. Amethyst is still considered the popular ‘traditional’ choice for the month of February. However, as the deep purple of Amethyst can fade when exposed to sunlight it might be wise to consider Amethyst an evening stone and wear an alternative (more color fast) stone in daylight.


Historically Jasper & Bloodstone have been almost equally popular as the birth stone for this month. However, as both of these stones are hard stones typically cut en cabochon, in modern times (19th c. on) both Aquamarine and Pearl were suggested as alternate stones for the month of March. Currently, Aquamarine (the blue variety of Beryl) is generally considered the traditional choice for March.


Historically, Sapphire was the most frequent birth stone choice for this month. However, both Peridot & Topaz have also been associated with this month. And, beginning in the 18th century (or earlier) diamond was also occasionally listed as a birthstone for this month. Today Diamond is considered the ‘traditional’ birth stone choice for this month. However, due to the expense of Diamonds in comparison to other stones, throughout the twentieth century both White Topaz and Pearl were occasionally offered as April alternatives. For people who want a little bit more variety, a return to Sapphire (available in many different colors) may be a good choice.


Historically, the Summer months have some of the most diverse birth stone lists associated with them. May has had at least 4 different historically popular gemstones associated with it: Emerald, Agate, Carnelian & Chalcedony. Agate, Carnelian & Chalcedony are all silicates (and all related). However, they can differ widely in appearance (and none resembles Emerald). Emerald (the green variety of Beryl) has maintained its popularity as a May gemstone for centuries and is today generally considered the ‘traditional’ birth stone for the month of May.


Historically, Emerald has also been a popular birth stone choice for June. However, Agate (of different types and colors), Chalcedony, Turquoise, Ruby, Pearl, and Cat’s Eye have also been associated with June. In recent years (19th c. on) both Pearl and Moonstone have been identified as ‘traditional’ June birth stones. One of the few characteristics that June birth stones share is the number of different mottled, striped, opalescent or cat’s eye affects apparent in some of these stones. [Agate & Chalcedony are often spotted or otherwise patterned. Turquoise can be multi-colored or have a spiderweb pattern. Chalcedony, Moonstone, Pearl and Cat’s Eyes all have opalescent qualities. And Moonstone may also have a semi-cat’s eye effect.]


Historically, Onyx, Sardonyx, Carnelian, Ruby, Lapis, Turquoise & Sapphire have all been associated with the month of July. Until the Renaissance the darker stones –Onyx, Sard, and more rarely Carnelian and Ruby– were the stones most frequently associated with July. However, from the 16th century on blue stones –particularly Turquoise, Lapis and Sapphire– were also associated with the month of July. In recent years Ruby has been identified as the ‘traditional’ July birth stone.


Historically, Carnelian and Sardonyx are the two stones most commonly associated with this month. However, Moonstone and Topaz have also been (less popular) historical choices while Alexandrite is the Russian stone of choice. More recently Sard, Peridot and Alexandrite have been associated with August.


Historically, Chrysolite, Sapphire & Sardonyx were all associated with this month. More recently Sapphire has been identified as the ‘traditional’ birth stone for September.


Historically, watery blue colors are most frequently associated with this month. Colorless Beryl (also known as Goshenite), Aquamarine (the blue variety of Beryl) and Opal are popular historical choices for October. Coral (not technically a stone) has also been associated with this month. More recently (late 19th c.) Tourmaline was introduced as an alternative gemstone for this month. Currently Aquamarine and Opal are considered the ‘traditional’ birth stone choices for this month.


Historically, Topaz has always been the stone most frequently associated with this month. However, beginning in the Renaissance Pearls also became a popular choice for November. Amethyst may occasionally also have been associated with this month. Today Topaz is still generally considered the ‘traditional’ birth stone choice for this month.


There are radical differences between the stones historically associated with the month of December and the stones now identified as the ‘traditional’ choice for December. Historically Ruby is the stone most commonly associated with December. However, beginning in the 16th century Turquoise, Chrysoprase, Bloodstone, Topaz and Beryl were also (less frequently) associated with this month. In the late 19th century blue became a fashionable color for winter months. In the twentieth century Blue Zircon, Blue Topaz and Turquoise were all identified with December. Currently Turquoise is generally considered the ‘traditional’ choice for this month. Natural Turquoise is now one of the rarest and highly sought after of the semi-precious gem. (While there is a significant amount of altered, manufactured or simply fake “Turquoise” on the market we at Nagle Forge & Foundry still take a great deal of pride sourcing the majority of the Turquoise we use from named American mines and fully dsclose all treatments.


Kilt Pins (a.k.a. Plaid Brooches)

What They Are,

How They Work,

Where They Go:

(& why they have two names)!

History, fashion, common usage, & our own stubborn refusal to move with the times and gracefully accept the changes of the modern age (anything post 1840 –actually we have accepted a lot of post 1840 changes, just not when it comes to design…) have conspired to confuse and mystify a number of our Kilt wearing customers, Kilt admiring customers, and other perfectly innocent bystanders. According to the definition of Kilt Pin commonly accepted in modern usage our Kilt Pins are not actually Kilt Pins: They are actually Plaid Brooches, or Shoulder Pins.

Since the development of the modern tailored Kilt there has been a trend to call the small modesty pin a Scot wears on his, or her, Kilt (generally on the front apron somewhere in the vicinity of the knee) a Kilt Pin: It is a pin worn on the Kilt. The large (generally circular) pin used to clasp the end of the Highland Great Kilt to the shoulder is now known as the Plaid Pin or Shoulder Brooch: It is a pin that may, or may not, be worn with the Kilt.

Our persistence in calling a Shoulder Pin, Plaid Pin, or Flash Brooch, a Kilt Pin relates to the methods we use to create these pins and the ways our customers use them. Our Kilt Pins are fundamentally different from any of the other pins that we make. While virtually any pin may be worn on, or with, a Kilt, our Kilt Pins are the only pins that we make that are specifically designed to be worn with a Kilt. We hand fabricate a detachable safety-pin-style nickle pin-back for each of our Kilt Pins. This results in a very strong Brooch that is both decorative and functional. Our Kilt Pins are designed to withstand the stress of being worn as a fastener on a old-style Great Kilt, a modern “piper’s plaid” or evening dress “shoulder plaid,” a heavy shawl, cape, or shoulder drape. These are 9-Yard Pins: We guarantee our Kilt Pins to hold the whole 9 yards: If you break one of our Kilt Pins, or damage it in any way, we will fix it or replace it.

We make a variety of different Kilt Pins. Many of the designs are based on old Scottish, Irish, & Anglo-Saxon designs. We originally produced our Kilt Pins for the Scottish re-enactment community (people interested in historical forms of Scottish dress) and we still make Kilt/Plaid Pins in a variety of different historical styles. But, because of their versatility and attractiveness, many wearers of the modern Kilt have chosen to incorporate one of our Kilt Pins (Shoulder Brooches) into their dress in some traditional and non-traditional ways.

Many ladies (especially ladies with a brightly colored plaid) like to use one of our Kilt Pins as a distinctive centerpiece in the pre-made rosette of their sash. When not using their pin as a shoulder piece, some ladies remove the pin back & wear the piece as a necklace. Our Kilt Pins can also be worn as a Shawl or Cloak fastener.

Gentlemen also find a number of different ways to use our Kilt Pins. They can be worn at one or both shoulders. And, although they tend to be fairly heavy, a few gentlemen have chosen to wear them as hat pins. We have also occaisionally been requested to modify the fastening mechanism on our Kilt Pins so that they can be incorporated as a fitting on a custom sporran. (All of our Kilt/Plaid pins can –by request– be modified for use on a sporran or saddlebag. Many of our Kilt/Plaid Pin designs can also be made with a matching belt buckle!)

A word to the wise: Due to modern innovations in metal working, our hand-fabricated Kilt Pin backs are generally a fine enough gauge that they will not damage the medium-tightly woven wool of a modern plaid. However, it is inadvisable to use these pins on a light weight fabric, fine silk, or poly-wool mixture. For a purely decorative Scottish brooch (suitable for a lighter weight fabric) please see our Scottish Pins. If, for fashion purposes, you would like to wear one of our heavier brooches with a lighter weight plaid we suggest having two loops or a bracer sewn on to the jacket or shirt you plan to wear with the shoulder plaid: This will reduce wear and tear on your fabric and ensure that the plaid does not slide out of place.


Custom Pewter Work

As a courtesy, Nagle Forge & Foundry provides custom design and casting services for Clans, Clubs, Bands, Corporations and Events interested in creating a quality commemorative pin or medallion.

All of our custom pewter work is done to the same high standards when making our own designs. And all of our custom commissions are made in the same California workshops where we make all of our regular line. We are proud to be an American based company and we are proud that all of our items are designed and made in the United States of America.

A custom commission is a complicated and rewarding process that, hopefully, results in just the right object for the right occasion. However, although we would like to help as many people as possible, we are well aware that custom work is not always the best option for everyone. And, as we also have a busy schedule of our own (design work, model making, casting and finishing), and custom work is often quite time consuming, we have had to design a few rules to make custom work feasible for both us and the client.

1) For any Custom Medallion or Pin order we have a 50 piece minimum.

Due to the design and mold making process we use, it is generally not cost effective to even consider a custom job involving less than 50 pieces of any one design. This minimum is for the initial order only, and we are happy to serve re-orders of one or two items at a time.

2) In order to quote a job we require at least some rough artwork, the desired dimensions (within 1/8th of an inch) and the quantity of the initial order.

However, we are always happy to help in the design process, or to fully design a piece (to suit a particular purpose) if necessary. And, if possible, we will offer suggestions that may help to lower the overall cost of the piece or increase the strength of the finished item.

3) For all of our custom pewter work we use the same high quality lead-free-pewter alloy that we use for our own art pieces, we use the same non-toxic antiquing process that we use for our own pewter brooches, and we produce everything in our same work shop here in California.

We do not believe in making a lesser, or disposable, line. We believe that if something is worth making, it is worth making to last. As a result, we offer the same guarantee Oris Replica Watches for our custom pewter medallions, pins and badges as we do for our own pieces: If a piece is broken or damaged in the course of normal use, we will fix it or replace it.

4) Because we guarantee all of our work, and because we intend to be in business a very long time, we keep all of the molds that we have made in our archives until they are no longer useable.

Any molds that we have made remain in our possession. We will never produce a custom client’s design for anyone else. However, any molds that we have made remain in our possession. We do not make molds for other producers.

5) We require a minimum of six weeks lead time (from the time the artwork is agreed on) to produce any custom order.

Completion times vary depending on the size and complexities of a specific job, as well as the other jobs we are working on. Once we have agreed on artwork we will guarantee a specific completion date.


Making One’s Mark

The present day expression ‘making one’s mark,’ implying some special achievment, is based upon traditions that date back at least 700 years. In the Middle Ages, a craftsman producing a product marked that product with a special symbol denoting that he or his shop (or she or her shop –more on women metal workers of the middle ages later) made that product. The mark varied and could denote many things: Royal licensce, guild membership, purity, city of origin, etc. The marks did generally stand for quality and reliability; the maker was not afraid to back his products with his good name.

We at NAGLE FORGE & FOUNDRY feel that this practice of making a mark is as important today as it was hundreds of years ago. Our company mark appears wherever we can fit it on the piece! Our smaller NF&F stamp appears when the piece is not large enough for our full stamp, and our smallest pieces often carry only the split N. These are all marks that tell people we made it and we stand behind it.

Sometimes, in addition to the foundry house mark, other marks will appear. These are the individual marks of the person who worked on the piece or component. Several of our master craftspeople (such as our prized miniaturist and model carver, MKJ) have their own marks. (Michelle, aka MKJ actually has several marks of her own –if you design your own, why limit yourself to one?) Occasionally a piece will also bear the signature of the designer. Some of our limitted edition or one-of-kind pieces will also bear the individual signature of the artist/maker and, if it is a limitted edition, the number of the piece and the total number of pieces made in the run. (This is true in the case of Brian Nagle’s limited edition greenpeople.) This tells everyone who made the piece, and who is responsible for it. In any given year we use at least 6 different versions of the company mark as well as several different versions of the personal marks of our craftspeople. We are proud of our work and mark every piece. If something is special enought to make, it is special enough to mark. By making our marks we acknowledge our work, our labor, and our responsibility. To make a mark on one’s work is, as the term implies, special.

Depending on the amount of space available on a piece an entire story can be told and read from the marks of the maker. Entire books have been written about the history of makers’ marks. The marks of metal workers, particularly pewter and silver workers, can be particularly intriguing. Because of the number of marks used over time, and the combination of generic and personal marks, learning to read the marks on a piece of jewelry can be a life’s work. No one ever knows every mark. But, be assured, every mark means something.


Pearl Wisdom

5 Things You Should Never Do With (or to) Your Pearls: And a few reasons why.

1) Never Knot Your Pearls.

There are two ways to knot pearls: One is good, one is very bad. The first (good) type of knotting consists of small knots tied between each bead (i.e., pearl) in a strand. This typically lengthens a string of beads, reduces friction between the individual beads, and helps a strand of beads to ‘fall’ in a smooth curve around the wearer’s neck. (This type of knotting also ensures that if a necklace breaks, only one, or two, beads risk being lost.)

The second (bad) type of knotting consists of a large knot tied at the half-way point of a long necklace in order to (temporarily) shorten it. This is a common method of adapting an opera-length pearl necklace to day-wear.

Unfortunately, making a knot out of your pearl necklace unintentionally scratches the nacre of the pearls (thereby lessening the lustre of the individual pearls and the beauty of the whole strand). This also puts additional stress on the pearls, increasing the likelihood that the strand will break, or an individual pearl will crack.

2) Never wear your pearls to the hairdresser’s.

Pearls are sensitive objects and exposure to air-born chemicals, oils, or paints, can dull the lustre of pearls. Try to avoid spraying any type of hair-product, body lotion, or perfume in the vicinity of your pearls. Because pearls are organic products they can be stained by coloring agents, oils, or makeup. In order to keep your pearls glowing, try to put your pearl earrings on after you do your hair. Never allow your pearls to come in contact with pancake make-up.

3) Never wear your pearls while doing the dishes.

Pearls are sensitive organic objects and can be dulled or damaged by soaps, detergents, grease, and various cleaning fluids.

4) Never use jewelry cleaners to clean your pearls.

Most jewelry cleaners –liquid dips, pastes, and silver cloths– are designed to clean minerals and metals and may damage an organic material such as a pearl.

If you have a pearl necklace with a metal clasp that requires cleaning, use a dry cloth to polish the clasp. If the clasp requires further cleaning, consider removing the clasp from the necklace and cleaning it seperately. If you have a pearl that is set in a piece of jewelry that needs to be cleaned, have it cleaned by someone who has experience cleaning pearls.

5) Never wear your pearls in a smoke filled room.

Any smoky or greasy atmosphere can affect pearls. Tobacco smoke can be particularly insidious. Pearls can absorb nicotine and develop a dull yellowish patina. Layers of nicotine residue can make the surface of a pearl sticky and cause fine dust to adhere to the surface, further dulling the lustre.


Holiday Shopping For Manly Men

By Brian Nagle

Originally printed in the Northern California newsletter in 1998

The close of the Renaissance Faire Season means that Fall is here. And right in back of fall, of course, is the holiday season.

You know that means gift giving, or should I say mall wandering for most men? It’s become a tradition of sorts, seeing all those disgruntled men, protest flags flying, sporting that glazed look in their eyes as they say to themselves: ‘I don’t know what color, size, style… I hate doing things I’m not good at… and shopping for ladies is right up there on top of my list.’ Well, men, you know I only give good advice, so now I have a few suggestions as to how you can avoid this unpleasant annual situation and still be the good guys all your beloved ladies know you are, down deep. And right now I want you to remember that no matter how much they may occasionally drive you crazy, these women are basically living saints. You love ’em, can’t imagine life without them. Realistically speaking, your life would be lonelier, duller, grimmer, grubbier and (probably) poorer without them. Just keep that thought with you as try and get through the day.

First, relax. I’m going to keep you out of the malls and out of embarrassing situations. That is, of course, unless you want to see some poor souls that make Ebeneezer Scrooge look like a fun guy.

Now, don’t even think about using one of the two old copouts that have been overused too many times before. To wit:

Copout #1. Saying ‘She can have anything she wants; let her pick it out herself.’ (What she probably wants is having someone give her a little thought and attention, and a little gift is a symbol of this.) This copout is particularly painful to witness every time I hear some Bozo say, with a stupid grin on his face, ‘What did I give you this year?’ What he gave her was another ton of grief and a half ton of laundry and maybe some stretch marks along the way.

Copout #2. Having another lady do the shopping for you. The recipient generally knows and although she may play along, she is embarrassed. Others now know the dirty little secret, that her man is a shopping clod. This is worse than copout #1.

NO. You can do this yourself –hell, you can do anything, after all– you’re a man, a manly man. Shortly to be a manly man with gifts! (Oh, I love that Renaissance Faire talk.)

So, you come to the Faire with her and maybe some friends. The 49er’s are not going to call you out of the stands to suit up; stop waiting for it to happen. The president probably isn’t going to call either. You say to the ladies, in a loud clear voice, that you have some special ‘major shopping’ to do and that you’ll meet them at a definite time and place (you tell them where and when and give them the map that is available at all information booths and the main entrance –or laying in the dirt where many of the patrons lose theirs.) Now, if there is one thing most women know it’s shopping, no further explanation is necessary or required. You are talking their language. By saying this you will either be judged off your rocker (but they won’t say so), a teller of tall tales who is really heading to an ale stand and the belly dancing show in that order (but they will only tease you amid your protestations), or will score some major points with all the women in attendance. A basic rule is never, ever, ever, miss an opportunity to score points with the ladies. They come in useful later. Think of every chance to be useful, helpful, thoughtful or sensitive (like emptying the dishwasher without being asked, buying your own birthday present for your own mother, offering to take the kids out for some “dad time” when mom is feeling under the weather, offering to vacuum the weekend before Thanksgiving instead of on the morning of, taking the garbage out when its raining (and not making a big production out of it –come on, its a little water! you’re not being asked to slay dragons!), picking up your own towels, trying not to get shaving cream on the bathroom mirror…. you get the idea…). Anyway, welcome all these opportunities to pick up some points to help you slide through those less than great moments with ease and grace. With a little fore-thought you could even end up being the kind of guy the ladies would be happy to accompany on the kind of shopping trip that makes you happy: Think boat yard, car show, etc. And before you think you could do that on your own…. just remember, she’s the one who usually has the check-book and veto power over major purchases. And you are glad she does! Now, with that settled, lets re-think that whole Holiday Shopping thing.

Most of the craft people at the Renaissance Faire are more than honest and dependable (indeed, most of us depend upon repeat patronage, faire year, after faire year). We at NF&F stand behind our products. We wrap, ship and can do Layaways; we take credit cards, make suggestions and offer help in any way we can. We even endeavor to fill emergency telephone requests.

We make many unique, limited, and low production pieces that won’t be seen in every department store in the state during the holiday season. (Have you ever noticed the way all the stores seem to have the same choices during the biggest shopping season of the year? Do they all have the same buyer? Or, do all their buyers have the same taste? Or, do they think all the shoppers have the same taste? It’s a question of philosophy, or mayhaps marketing, for another time.)

We guarantee all our pewter castings for life (my life, not yours, but I’m in pretty good health, thanks to good holiday shopping habits). When was the last time you heard of any lifetime guarantee?

We’ll hold and ship your selections with an enclosed card that we’ll help you write (until you get the hang of it –and you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll get in the spirit of all this gift giving business once the veil of mystery is dissolved). Your presents will arrive when they are supposed to, or we will wrap them and put them in a plain brown bag for you to take along with you.

If you want to send several presents to different addresses, simply bring their complete addresses with you. We’ll take care of the rest. Just come up and tell us you’re on a quest for a present for a lady or ladies (that’s sisters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers, godchildren, daughters, and yes, your ‘sweetie-pie’) and you’ll be in good hands. You can even bring some friends along and dazzle them with your worldliness, sophistication, savoir faire and overall shopping grace. That’s if you care to show off a little. Shopping in this manner is comparable to sliding in to home plate with your spikes high. In addition to solving most of your gift giving problems we’ll most likely end up entertaining you. Now, that’s what I call a pleasure faire, turning a task into an enjoyable experience. But wait! Do I mean shopping can be fun? Yup, but don’t let it get around…

P.s. If you are reading this on-line you’ve probably been clued into the fact that we dragged ourselves into the twenty-first century and designed a website. Not the fanciest website –we avoid the dancing graphics– but definitely serviceable. No one-click ordering (not with us), with jewelry one-click decisions can lead to massive misunderstandings and multiple returns. However, we do encourage you to drop us a line, or call, and we will endeavor to help you.


Not For Men Only

By Brian Nagle (1997)

This year’s column is about old clothes, dining out, and romance –witten from one man’s point of view (mine, of course). This all started when I was standing on the supermarket checkout line and was forced to look at those magazines, the ones with the pictures of women on the covers that in polite company could only be described as looking like they were severely morally challenged. Yes, that’s right, you know the ones. Month after month they have articles that deal with sex, romance, killer something or other, and always, always, always, an article about men. Most of the writers of that stuff probably couldn’t even identify a man if they collectively fell over one, much less write about one.

First, let’s define our terms. The men I write about have to be old enough to have voted in at least three presidential elections, and have seen some of life’s ups and downs, experienced some rough weather on their decks and put a lot of water under their collective keels. Anyone younger or more blessed is a completely different breed of cat.

The topics of clothes and dining out and romance are areas where I have noticed that many women feel that the men in their lives are lacking. Ladies, they may not be lacking at all; it may be that you don’t understand the situation!

Let’s tackle this clothes thing first. Men hear complaints about the way they dress from cradle to grave. Mothers, teachers, aunts, etc. feel a duty to tug, pull, and push boys’ clothes around, complaining about pants being worn too low, being too short, shirts out of pants, innapropriate ensembles, etc. As men grow older the complaints continue but then it’s a different group of ladies that get the opportunity to criticize. Being an old guy, I’ve had time to give this a lot of thought, and I’ve come up with some conclusions.

1. If you want to make a man feel like he’s eight or ten years old, make some disparaging remark about his clothes.

2. If you want to fire a shell across your man’s bow (a well-known signal of intended hostile action), complain about his clothes.

3. God doesn’t make mistakes, and if God wanted men to wear pants higher, God would have put men’s hips four inches higher than he (or she, depending on your point of view) did.

Theme dressing: Many men dress in a way that could only be described as theme style (not to be confused with cream style, corny as this all may be). We’ve all known men who dress like they are ready to drive a herd of long horns up out of Texas, take an American sailing ship around Cape Horn, paddle across Canada’s Great Slave Lake, or like they are twelve year old boys again and are going out to play ball with the boys or help grandfather on the farm. Well, those are exactly the looks most of them are trying to achieve. A man’s interest in clothes, or apparent disinterest, is not always so easy for a woman to understand. Most men lead pretty routine lives. Theme dressing can signify a number of things to them:

1. It can make them feel that they did not sell out some of the ideas, hobbies, interests and dreams that they had when they were younger.

2. It can help maintain the illusion that age (like the grey hair) is not sneaking up on them.

3. It reminds them of happy events or times in their lives.

4. It can also be an act of defiance –‘This is who I am; take it or leave it.’

There’s a lot going on here with the male psyche and clothes. Sigmund Freud would probably have had a field day with the subject. Memories, dreams, ambitions, keeping the faith –wow, some pretty deep stuff. There’s more going on here than a crusty (possibly crazy) guy wearing strange clothing.

Advertisers, marketing to men, know all too well about the fantasy-adventure need. Marlboro cigarettes always has a cowboy in its ads. (How many unbreakable “habits” were formed because of the deeper need to ride north with the herd?) Old Spice has us on ‘ship that sails the ocean.’ (Yo Ho, Yo Ho…)

The next time you see a man driving one of those ‘classic’ motor cars, take a good look at the driver. I know, usually you try not to notice if one of those people pull up next to you, but it’s o.k., look. You’ll probably see someone that’s old enough to know better, someone that is definitely marching to his own drummer (or trying to), usually dressed in a non-mainstream way. You are looking at someone that you think may have different values and standards than most of us, someone who perhaps sees things a little differently than most of us. What you have seen is a true modern edition of Don Quixote with his version of Rocinante. Cervantes is generally credited with having created one of the most romantic figures in literature, but in truth the Don Quixote character has always been with us, and is with us still. The fellow in the antique car or the man dressed in theme style is every bit as misunderstood as Don Quixote. Whether or not he is currently tilting at windmills is not important. (He’s probably thinking about it.) Granted, it may not be everyone’s idea of romance, but it is his, and that makes it truly romantic. Romance is more than just sonnets, flowers, and haiku; romance is also the dream, even the impossible dream.

Ladies, if you want the men in your life to look different for a special event, say so. But work on it together. Try using magazine pictures. But remember, not everyone is comfortable with that slicked down G.Q. look. Believe it or not, some men would be mortified if they had to appear like that in public. After all, they have their self-image to maintain and, besides, it’s difficult to feel manly and mortified at the same time. We all know that although we men may be slaves to our images, most of us don’t have a problem with not being slaves to fashion. There is, however, a lot of room between the Peanuts character Pig Pen and the full-blown Rudolph Valnetino look.

Dining Out: In American society and culture, men and women have vastly different experiences. Most men have consumed more meals that could only be described as ‘inedible’ than anyone should have to eat. We endured yucky meals at camp, at school, s.o.s. et al in the military, at work, and on the road. Many of these meals were also eaten in terrible surroundings, terrible conditions (file the memories under ‘negative ambience’). Often there was no choice, and complaints would have led to even worse situations. So we developed survival skills –our own special set of rules. These rules will vary from individual to individual, but if you ask the men in your life about the bad meals they have eaten their way through and lived to tell the tale, they’ll likely tell some funny stories. Some of the general rules go like this: (1) Eat out of cans –less chance of anything going bad between can and mouth. (2) Eat only what has been wrapped at a factory. (3) Drink directly out of a can or bottle; the glass or cup is probably dirty. (4) Stay with brands you know have not made you sick in the past (here’s where the Skippy peanut butter, Dinty Moore stew, and Ritz crackers come in). For some men these are ‘feel good foods,’ reminding them of fun they may have had in their youth (any time up to yesterday). (5) Drink coffee instead of tea; there’s probably no place to put the teabag if you are drinking from a styrofoam cup.

There are also more advanced theories like the one that says that sauces and gravies are designed to mask the unaceptable food that is being foisted upon you. Then, there is the two second rule. If you can’t readily identify food by shape, color and smell in two seconds, you don’t eat it. I like to call these rules ‘Dietary rules for Manly People.’

Most women do not know what a blessing it is that they lack intimate knowledge of these rules. It is a sure sign that they did not have to develop these necessary survival skills.

I have noticed that women want to dine out to experience a change, possibly for adventure and even excitement (and, of course, to avoid cooking yet another meal for the men in their lives). Most men, because of their early experiences are full up in the adventurous dining out department; and, most men don�t have to crank out dinner after dinner at the ‘Cafe Cook-It-For-Him.’

Ladies, if you do want to go out to eat without a major battle, here are some ‘guy’ standards to guide you in your cause: (1) The company is most important –family, friends, etc. (and you thought we were unromantic). (2) The surroundings are secondary; familiar places with staff that is neither inept or pompous are always winners. (3) The food comes in a distant third, in most cases. Wolfgang Puck and food critics will never tell you that, and Cosmo will never write about it. (Most men’s basic food desires can probably be summed up as: Don’t want to get sick.)

Remember, our life experiences have shaped us, changed us. Most of us do things for definite reasons; we may be aware of the reasons, we may not. We may choose to share the reasons; then again, we may not. Yes ladies, we men are, after all, just misunderstood romantics.


For Men Only

by Brian Nagle (1994-1995)

Women must have a genetic advantage that allows them to shop with ease and grace. Or maybe it’s cultural. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a product of nature or nurture, but one thing is certain: Women keep most of the shopping secrets to themselves.

Women long to receive that special gift, that special token of affection. Men simply don’t know the game rules of shopping. Nobody likes frustration or failure, so, pay attention guys and we’ll have a little caulk talk. Our goal is to turn some ladies’ heads, score a lot of points (with the ladies) and not come out of it bruised, battered, or intolerably poor. The ladies in our lives might even realize that we’re sensitive, caring, nineties kinds of guys. But before we suit up for this great adventure, let’s talk about feelings —now stay with me on this.

Our objective is to give a present to a lady that will give her the same rush you would get if someone had given you a ’57 Chevrolet convertable (fully restored, 200 point trophy winner), a pre WWII bluewater sailboat (perfectly maintained and never sailed hard), a late forties Harley Davidson (new old stock), or a fine weapon. But, you can give her that same rush for less than the cost of a decent set of socket wrenches. Now, how’s that for a deal?

First step: Conduct a sort of Recon. Operation. Observe the lady in question. What colors does she wear –earth tones, light pastels, bold reds, etc.? Next, notice her ears. Are they pierced or not? Does she wear silver or gold? Does she seem to prefer dangle earrings or studs? What color gemstones does she seem to favor? Don’t worry about the names of the stones.

Some comments about women and jewelry –each outfit requires different components. Notice how many pairs of shoes that a woman owns compared to a guy. The same can be said of the other components. So, let’s think components: Earrings, Pendants, Rings, etc. In the next few paragraphs I’ll tell you the rudiments of what you need to know about most jewelry: Cuts, Carats, Karats, Sizes, that whole Birthstone thing. What follows is useful everyday gift giving gospel.

* Carats. Abbreviated cts. The carat is a measurement of weight used for gemstones; It is equal to 200 milligrams. Not all gem material is sold by the carat, however. Amber, for instance, is commonly sold by the gram.

* Karat. Abbreviated K or Kt. Usually refers to the fineness or level of purity of gold. One karat equals 1/24 gold (approximately 4.167% gold). 14k, therefore refers to 14/24 gold, or 58.33% pure gold.

* Carrot. Not really a jeweler’s term, although we tend to much on them in the booth; it probably won’t concern you.

In jewelry gift giving I recommend that you stay with 14k gold, sterling silver, or fine pewter. Avoid gold filled and plated jewelry unless you are planning a short term relationship and don’t mind if the lady knows it. Most people equate gold with quality and permanence and I must admit that gold has a certain everlasting quality to it, probably because gold which is several millenia in age is still bright and beautiful, even after being exposed to centuries of highly corrosive seawater. Sterling Silver is 925 thousandths pure silver; the reamining 75 thousandths are usually copper. Fine pewter is an alloy not of lead, but of the element the Romans called Stannum and we call tin. The finest pewters have a very high tin content and a very high degree of purity. There is no lead in the pewter of Nagle Forge & Foundry. Gold, silver, and pewter are all ‘the real thing.’ Giving the real thing says something about you that has nothing to do with the cost of the item, and indeed choosing among these metals gives you a tremendous flexibility in the amount of money you need to spend to aquire a nice gift.

* Small is perfectly alright. Buying jewelry is not like buying a boat anchor; Bigger is not always better.

* Size to Fit. If you stay with pendants, earrings, and pins, we don’t have to worry about sizes to fit. In the case of a ring, it’s hard to shop for a ring for someone else’s finger, unless you happen to have at least one finger that is the same size as the finger of the gift recipient. However, we should mention that a size 7 ring will fit at least one finger of one hand of most women… If that sounds iffy, you understand perfectly.

* Stones. If a stone is smooth and has no discernable angles, it’s called a cabochon. Cabochons are the most ancient of gem cuts. Faceted stones have cut angles all over their surfaces, and reflect light brilliantly. Faceted stones gained popularity during the Renaissance, but were not nearly as well known or obtainable as were cabochons at that time. (Technically speaking, faceting gemstones required a serious technical, theoretical, mathematical, mechanical and artistic leap for mid-millenium stone-cutters. However, one cut is not necessarily inherently better than another: Just try and pick something pretty.) There are numerous faceted cuts available today. Don’t worry about their names.

The weight of a stone (# of carats), or it’s size (usually in millimeters), while bearing on it’s price, is not nearly as important as the beauty of the gem. Let your eye be your guide. You are buying something beautiful, after all. And remember, the setting should look good with the stone.

* Birthstones. We receive hundreds of inquires about birthstones, and our answer is usually the same, to wit: Over the last 500 years there have been many dozens of different birthstone charts. (Many of them put together by people deeply confused by the differences between Biblical dates and the Julian calendar.) During that period of time, almost every stone has found it’s way into nearly every month. We say, if you like the stone wear it; it was probably your birthstone at one time in the past even it is not in your birth month in the current chart.

You now know more than a great many folks about jewelry, but a few additional secrets are in order.

The first major secret is when buying a present it’s perfectly correct to ask for help and advice. I know a lot of us have problems with this, but here are some ground rules: You’re allowed to bring someone along, or you can ask sales help for their advice. There are no yardage penalties assessed for asking for help. (Asking for help is, however, not the same as foisting the whole decision making process off on a female relative or work-friend.)

Now that you know a little about jewelry and a little about the ground rules, we’re up to the next step. In your best voice and with the confidence of a healthy wide receiver, you approach the sales help and say something like –“I’m looking for a present for a 30 year old woman that has pierced ears. She wears a lot of light colors, especially pink. I was thinking about a small gold pendant or earrings, but I’m open to suggestions. I’d like to find something for under ninety dollars.” Now, you’ve just said a lot. You also announced that you are a man on a mission. This is good. Ask for advice, but be sure that you make the final decision. Make sure that the present has the visual impact, brilliance, and thought that you want to express.

God is in the details, so ask if the sales help can help you with wrapping. Ask if they have a gift enclosure. These are details that can be troublesome for the inexperienced shopper. Also, if you happen to be living with the giftee, how are you going to do wrapping in secret? The lady in question has probably hidden all the wrapping stuff so you couldn’t find it without asking her anyway.

The card message. Don’t just sign your name or write ‘Happy Birthday.’ At a bare minimum write a one line statement. Get Personal!

The Presentation. It’s called a present for a reason. When you give the lady her present, don’t do anything else like tune the car or read the T.V. guide. The magic of the moment could be lost if you say something like: “I bought you a present, it’s over on the table,” as you flip the T.V. remote. Don’t grab defeat from the jaws of victory. I want you to put a big smile on your face, dig down deep and say something nice as you pay attention to her. Make her see that it really matters to you! Maybe that you even enjoyed having the opportunity to do something nice for her.

So, at this point, you’ve proved to your lady that you are not a clod and that you are the sensitive, spiritual soul she always knew you were, deep down. If things go really well, you might even drop some major hints for that ’57 Chevy, sailboat, Harley, or anything else that you desperately need. You, being the sensitive soul that you are, may be reminded of the biblical allusion to bread cast upon the waters coming back a thousand fold. But, then again, maybe we shouldn’t push our luck.