We have partnered with Corrine from @collectingsparklythings (on instagram) to provide an exciting blog post all about guard chains! Corinne is an avid collector of antique jewelry, especially Victorian era pieces – but lockets and longuards really have her heart! In addition to collecting, she’s a bit of a nerd and loves educating herself on all things antique jewelry, especially when it comes to distinguishing between authentic and reproduction pieces. Enjoy!
If you’ve ever visited my Instagram feed, you’d learn pretty quickly that I’m obsessed with longuard chains.
But if you’re anything like me when I first started collecting, you’re probably reading this right now like “long…what?”.
Before we get into all the history and nitty gritty details of what exactly a longuard is, let me give you the TLDR version: a longuard, in my opinion, is the most versatile chain you can have in your jewelry arsenal.
That’s a bold statement, I know.
Compared to the likes of stunning rivieres, ornate Victorian book chains, and other incredible handmade antique chains, longuards may seem ordinary at best, and impractically long at worst.
If you haven’t heard of longuards or don’t get the hype behind them, by the time you finish reading this blog, one of these stunning and special chains will surely be on your jewelry wish list!
One thing is for certain: longuards are so much more than the chain that held your great great grandmother’s pocket watch!
What is a longuard?
Also known as long guard chains, guard chains, muff chains, lorgnette chains, slide chains, and sautoirs, longuards are very long chains that held a pocket watch, muff, or other similar item. This style chain was popular from the early 19th century to the early 20th century, and they were made using many different materials, including solid gold, gold filled/gold plated, rolled gold, pinchbeck, silver, gunmetal, base metal, and even iron, so you can find one to suit your budget and taste. Some even have lovely gemstone, pearl, or paste stations, adding to the overall beauty and aesthetic of the piece.
Typically, these chains were continuous loops, meaning they do not have a clasp that opens and closes the chain. The chain would usually end in a dog clip, large bolt clasp, or split ring with which to connect a pocket watch, but some chains did not have any. When hunting for these insanely versatile chains, you may come across some that do, in fact, open and close like a traditional necklace. This doesn’t mean that you haven’t come across a genuine longuard; many have been modified over the years in various ways to make them more wearable.
How do you know if it’s a longuard or just a really long chain?
In my experience as a collector (and fellow longuard lover), I consider a long chain to be a longuard if it’s at least 40”, antique (or dates thereabout), and ends in a dog clip, large bolt clasp, or split ring. However, there are definitely exceptions to this rule: for example, some longuards are just one continuous long chain without a dog clip, bolt clasp, or split ring. Some longuards are also decorated with ornate slides that seem to glide effortlessly up and down the chain, allowing the wearer to create different looks with them. These chains, also known as slide chains, tend to be shorter; usually they are approximately 40-50” or thereabout. These styles look lovely when doubled and offer a unique look that can’t be found elsewhere. Longuards without slides generally tend to be longer, usually at least 50 inches in length and sometimes even over 80 inches!
In your collecting, you may also come across another common modification of the longuard: shortened chains. It has been said that when the matriarch in a family passed, her guard chain would sometimes be split among the daughters or granddaughters in the family. The longuard would then be cut into two or more chains, creating some longuard style chains that were shorter than their full length counterparts. I know I’ve likely come across one of these chains when I find a long chain that resembles a longuard but is less than 50 inches and has been modified to include a clasp. In my experience, I have not commonly come across slide chains that have been shortened.
In my own research, I have not been able to find any concrete evidence that longuards were ever revived in their original form later in history. It does appear that they were reinvented during the Victorian revival in the 1960s and 1970s, however these chains were very different from their authentic Victorian counterparts. The revival style chains typically were shorter in length and were modeled like traditional necklaces with a clasp at the back to open and close the necklace and a dog clip hanging off the front. Many are closed using a spring ring or lobster clasp, indicating they are likely not antique in origin. However, this doesn’t mean that an antique longuard couldn’t have been later modified to add a clasp to make it more wearable; but typically, if I see a shorter chain with a lobster or spring ring style clasp to the back, then that clues me into the fact that it’s likely newer.
I have also on rare occasions come across longuard chains marked with a UK hallmark tag with a date letter in the 1970s or 1990s, for example. In my opinion, I believe this is likely one of two things happening:
a) the chain is an original antique that was voluntarily hallmarked after the Hallmarking Act of 1973 was passed, or
b) the chain is a one-off reproduction of an antique chain, possibly either from an antique that was lost or stolen, and the owner chose to have the insurance proceeds put towards remaking a brand new one – or someone who decided to make a copy of a chain they loved and sell it.
It is entirely possible that longuards could have been revived or reproduced at another time; however, I have not typically seen modern reproductions of solid gold longuards that are full length. Logically, this makes sense as when they were revived in the 1970s, the original function of longuards (to carry pocket watches or hold muffs, for example) was no longer necessary; instead, they were revived in a way that made sense for the times – shorter and with clasps so they could function as a necklace.
Why do I need a longuard?
In my opinion, everyone needs a good longuard in their collection! Whether you enjoy wearing your chains short or long, longuards can do it all! If you’ve ever wanted to have a beautiful “neck mess” without the mess, a longuard is going to be your best friend. They can be doubled and tripled in numerous different ways and be worn long or short – all in one chain. Some really long ones can even be quadrupled! I believe they are the best investment piece for your collection because of their incredible versatility.
Not to mention, if you’ve ever been too lazy to put a whole neck mess together while getting ready in the morning, you can just throw on a longuard and you’re ready to go! Longuards create an instant stacked look on your neck, and the best part? There’s no clasp, so you can just loop it over your head a few times and be ready to go in a flash. And yes, no clasp means no broken nails or chipped polish either! How these incredible chains have managed to fly under the radar for so long is beyond me…but now the secret’s out: longuards are the best must-have piece in your collection!
How can I wear it?
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that my personal favorite way to wear a longuard is with a beautiful antique locket – longuards and lockets really do make the perfect pairing! However, beyond playing with different chain and pendant combinations, here’s some styling inspiration for you on how you can wear your very own longuard chain!
Beyond these styling ideas, there are even more ways to wear these beautiful chains! Feel free to get creative and experiment with how you like to wear yours.
How do I choose the right longuard for me?
Longer or shorter? Doubled or tripled? Heavy or light? Gold or silver? Slide or no slide? What type of link? When it comes to selecting a longuard, there are many options to choose from, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to be!
When I am advising other collectors on the type of longuard to start with, I usually recommend they think about the other chains in their collection. Do you gravitate towards shorter chains, longer chains, or something in between?
If you tend to gravitate towards shorter chains, you may do better with a longer longuard (try saying that five times fast!). While it may seem counterintuitive, a longer chain will allow you to wrap it more times to create a shorter, thicker look. But how do you know how many times you can wrap a piece just by looking at the measurements? For me, I know that a 15” chain hits right at the top of my collarbones and I can put a 24” chain right over my head without having to unhook the clasp, so if I found a 57” longuard, I could figure out how many times I could wrap it like this: the first wrap would need approximately 15”, the second wrap would need another 15” (using up about 30” of the chain so far), which would then leave me with 27” to put it over my head for the third wrap. When gathered up together, 57” wrapped three times would yield a 19” triple wrapped chain, so it would sit closer towards the center of my chest without being too long. If you’re lucky enough to find a longuard that has been modified to be open, you have even more wrapping freedom, as you don’t have to worry about fitting the last wrap over your head without a clasp.
If you like longer chains, you may do better with a double wrapped shorter longuard. For example, if you have a 48” longuard and double it, it’ll sit like a 24” chain. If you like wearing your chains long, a longer longuard may be too long – for example, if you double a 66” chain, it’ll sit at 33”. It all depends on your preferences and what length chains you typically like to wear.
When looking at longuards, it helps me to think about how long it’ll be when it’s worn doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled (if it’s long enough), rather than the total length of the chain. If you’ve ever put a full length longuard on in a single layer, you’ll know it’s too long to practically wear that way!
Regardless of the length you choose, you can also wear your longuards in a layered way and adjust the length of each layer as you prefer.
In terms of choosing a heavier chain or a lighter chain, I would consider two things:
- how heavy do you generally like your chains?
- how much are you willing to invest in a chain?
Since longuards are so long, the weight is distributed over a longer chain – so if you see a 10g longuard in a similar link style to another shorter chain you have, keep in mind that the individual links will be lighter and smaller than your other chain because of the weight distribution. It’s also important to keep in mind how much you’re looking to invest in a chain, as weight will generally impact price. If you’re on a budget but want a weightier chain, you could try a silver longuard.
If you’re hesitant about giving the style a try and aren’t prepared to invest yet, choosing a gold filled or rolled gold longuard is a great place to start. It can give you the opportunity to try the style without the upfront investment.
When it comes to choosing a chain with a slide vs. one without, this just comes down to personal preference. I love and collect both styles and think they can both be gorgeous and unique – so it really is up to you and your preferences. Same thing with choosing a link style; I adore both more basic, everyday links and fancy links!
Finding your perfect longuard
Wherever you choose to start with your first longuard, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be hooked – so don’t be surprised if your other non-longuard chains end up sitting in your jewelry box gathering dust!
If you’re looking for a longuard to start your collection, Lancastrian Jewellers has several beautiful longuards in stock right now, just waiting to find their new forever home!
And if you’re looking for more longuard styling inspiration or to see just how wearable these incredible chains can be, find me on Instagram at @collectingsparklythings.
Tell me…are you convinced that you need one of these beauties in your collection yet?