Saturday, February 17, 2018

Chatelaine - a keychain or a mistress of the house

Antique figure with chatelaine
chatelaine jewelry

Named after the French word for "a lady who controls a great house," a chatelaine was the precursor to the keychain, the swiss army knife, the multitool, the tool belt etc. Attached to the waist of the dress, a chatelaine consisted of a series of chains from which hung keys, scissors, pen and paper, eyeglasses, whatever tools a lady thought necessary. They tended to be amazing pieces of jewelry.  Most major jewelers made or sold chatelaines, including Tiffany, Liberty,  Boucheron, Faberge and Lalique.

Chatelaines were quickly adopted by nurses and professional seamstresses who needed their tools handy. Purses were tiny and most dresses didn't have pockets. When pocket watches became all the rage, many chatelaines started out as watch chains with added accessories.




Each chain is mounted with useful household appendages such as scissors, thimbles, watches, keys, vinaigrette and household seals.The chatelaine was also used as a woman's keychain in the 19th century to show the status of women in a household. Similar jewelry was worn by Anglo-Saxon women, as seen from the
medieval chatelaine
burial record, but their function is uncertain. Chatelaines were worn by many housekeepers in the 19th century and in the 16th century Dutch Republic where they were typically used as watch chains for the most wealthy.  Ancient Roman women wore chatelaines with ear scoops, nail cleaners, and tweezers. Women in Roman Britain wore 'chatelaine brooches' from which toilet sets were suspended.




chatelaine Victorian.
The woman with the keys to everything important in the house was "the woman of the household". She was the one who would direct the servants, housemaids, cooks and delivery servicemen and would open or lock the access to the valuables of the house, having total authority over who had access to what. When a woman married a son and moved into his father's house, the son's mother would usually hold on to the keys.  But if the mother became a widow, the keys and their responsibilities and status were often passed to the oldest son's wife. In the case of the absence of a woman of the house, the controller of the keys was often a hired housekeeper.


No comments: