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An ornamental clasp worn in daytime at a woman's waist, attached to a belt or girdle, with a hook-plate from which are suspended several (usually five, but up to nine) short chains terminating with rings or swivel catches to which are attached various small objects for daily household use.
Early examples had attached a seal and a watch; later, more articles were added, e.g. keys, watch keys, etui, pomander, scissors, thimble case, bodkin case, household notebook in a metal case, small purse, penknife, pin-cushion, and tape measure, as well as sometimes a gridle book, cameo, charm, and pendants.
Some chatelaines made for men were longer and were worn suspended at each thigh to conceal the openings on breeches; early examples held a watch, seals, and charms, but after c. 1800 they were simpler and no longer held a watch. Some chatelaines had two suspensory chains, joined at the belt by a short chain.
Chatelaines were made of gold, silver, pinchbeck, cut steel, and later polished steel, and were ornamented with enamelling, beads, beaded tassels, and sometimes medaillons of wedgwood's jasper; they very rarely had a gemstone.
They came into use in England in the 17th century and were very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, but c. 1830 declined in use as fashionable jewelry and were worn only for utilitarian purposes.
From: An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewelry, autor: Harold Newman, publishers: Thames and Hudson