Platinum and Diamond Lorgnette

Where fashion meets function

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by Kathryn Siefker, Associate Curator of Exhibition Content

Ida Caldwell McFaddin of Beaumont was a woman of means in the early 20th century. Born to a prominent family in West Virginia, she married W. P. H. McFaddin in 1894. McFaddin was part owner of the land on which the 1901 Spindletop oil field was located. Already wealthy from ranching and other ventures, the McFaddin family prospered even more after the discovery of oil.

Ida McFaddin was at the center of the social scene in Beaumont in the 1910s and 1920s. She loved to entertain, to travel, and to attend cultural events. In Beaumont, she attended vaudeville stage shows and performances at the Kyle Opera House. She was known to have a fine voice, and she sometimes sang as part of local performances put on by charitable groups and her church. In nearby Houston she attended concerts and symphonies, and in her frequent travels east to see her family, she would visit New York City to enjoy the theater.

Always impeccably dressed, one accessory that Ida would wear to performances was this beautiful and practical diamond lorgnette. The pendant cleverly conceals a pair of glasses. When worn closed, the lorgnette is a stunning example of Art Deco jewelry with its simple lines, geometric shapes, and symmetrical patterns. When opened, the lenses worked as magnifiers, providing a clearer look at the action on stage.  

Lorgnettes (from the French word lorgner, to take a sidelong look at) have been in existence since the 1500s as lenses attached to a long handle. In 1825, Robert Betell Bate, an English optician, patented a version with a much smaller handle that allowed the folded lenses to be easily strung on a necklace. He would eventually add a spring to the handle that allowed the lenses to pop open. The model for today's opera glasses, lorgnettes were a symbol of wealth and class.

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Platinum and Diamond Lorgnette Artifact from Beaumont, Texas
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