Chatelaines takes its name after ‘La Chatelaine,’ the French female head of the household who was in charge of keys and other items. Chatelaines actually were practical accessories to keep items on one’s body before the popularity of pockets or purses. Originally, it was common to hang these chains near the waists with a ribbon, so stylish Chatelaines become a trend. They featured medallions and symbols and came in gold, silver and a variety of other materials. Early chatelaines came about in the 17th century but soon evolved to have significant designs and emblems and engravings. Men were also known to wear chatelaines, hanging them down from their belts.
This unique vintage jewelry was also popular in the United states during the Civil War. Chatelaines indicated the status of a woman to a household, with a higher woman having more keys. When a woman passed away, often the keys to the cabinets and drawers and other storage units would be passed down to the eldest daughter. During the war (pockets were still not widespread), women would have contents ranging from photos of their husband to perfume holders and thimbles for sewing. It still maintained its practical usage.
They remain popular as unique vintage jewelry precisely because few other pieces hold the historical significance of being elegant and also of practical use. Materials mostly consisted of hard metals so many chatelaines remain in relatively clean and good condition. More stylish ones came in oval lockets or had mirrors. While others were made from sterling or cut from steel.
The more intricate chains were made with precious stones, enamels and carvings. They consisted of precious jewels and featured gold, silver and glass stones as well. Many of these could be quite ornate and colorful as well and because of its original use, this unique vintage jewelry is often associated with class and authority. Because they are not used in today’s society and the use of precious materials and stones, chatelaines are a sought after vintage jewelry piece from collectors.
(photo credit) http://kaiajoyasuruguay.blogspot.com/2013/08/joyas-con-historia-el-chatelaine-la.html?m=1