Often when appraising jewels, it’s easy to lose sight of their fashionable purpose, of promoting an aesthetic that is beautiful and enhances the nature of the wearer. This particular piece is easy to stand back from and simply admire.

Spanish sentimental pendant 1700

This particular piece is said to have its origins in Spain or northern Italy (possibly Milan), however, its composition is consistent with pieces on the Continent and in the UK for its time.

The regal nature of this piece, extenuated by the green and white enamel transcend the latter basis of symbolism and are used for the purpose of being opulent adornments to the hair memento underneath crystal.

Spanish 1700 Pendant Enamel

The fleur-de-lis pattern surrounding gives credence to the Continental flavour of the piece, but certainly the most extraordinary is the size, the use of the green enamel and the pearls which all indicate its source.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama

Further Reading:
> Revisiting a Pearl and Blue Glass/Enamel Brooch: How Trade Opened Up New Possibilities in the 18th Century
> Louis XVI Royalist Supporter French Ring
> The Further the Distance the Tighter the Knot; Eternity and Romantic Symbolism on a French Sepia Miniature

I’ve written quite a bit about memento mori, it seems to be one of those subjects that is as fascinating as it is polarising. Why is that so? Well, there are so many different connotations involved with the symbolism and that seems to be the crossroads (pardon the veiled pun) of what defines these magical pieces.

If you look to my post from Saturday about the 18th Century Skull on Pendant, then you will see the other end of the scale, which is clearly not a representation of death, but rather the statement of living. However, today we look at the other end of the spectrum with this very rare and very high quality ring from the collection of Marielle Soni is most certainly constructed with the intent of death and mourning. To discern this, firstly let’s look at the time and place of when it was created and why this was so popular.

c.1680-1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring

This piece was constructed c.1680-1700 and we have many ways to check the validity of this. Firstly, we have the shank itself and note the embellishments. Often, pieces like this have lost their enamel inlay and are quite worn down, but this one is a perfect representation of how it was from when it was constructed. Note the Baroque influence in the design and how this would influence pieces of contemporary and later times. Particularly, the society in which this ring was created was dealing with the new found stability in the government due to the Restoration and from this, industry was finding new ways to create a niche in producing items for a society that was becoming upwardly mobile in ways that had not been seen since the Roman era. Appropriating popular art styles, such as that of the all-pervasive Baroque, and using its influence in products was (and still is) only a logical step in simply selling an item.

c.1680-1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring

And to follow on from this, we have the skull and crossbones underneath the faceted crystal, an obvious choice for popular symbolism that was now quite heavily associated with death and grief. Gone was the clear establishment of a class that could afford to flaunt its wealth, standard of living and changed were the classes below that could not afford to live in such an almost narcissistic paradigm. Wearing a jewel to show that you will be judged and to live life for all its benefits is quite a grand statement during times with high mortality rates and a more feudal-based system of government, but during the 1670s-80s, there’s a strong shift to higher industry, specialised work and education. Politically, England was recovering from a civil war and the reinstatement of the kingship in Charles II in 1660, the Great Plague of London in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666. There was a high mortality rate and Charles II was only beginning the process of the Restoration. Hence, pieces like this could allow themselves to become more commonplace, the symbols of death could be appropriated for an industry that was reacting to the execution of a king and a subsequent civil war, it could pick up on the nuanced tokens of affection that became popular from this and it could produce a product that was relatively easier to produce and almost the same to sell.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hon Alice Nugent in a 1730 Mourning Locket

When presented with a beautiful piece like this, one can’t help but emote. There are so many reasons why this pendant enters into the higher echelon of beauty that requires one to stop and consider it from every angle. Not only is it a beautiful time capsule for Alice herself, but it is also a perfect example of its culture and heritage. To take this into account, we have to look at its shape, its hairwork and its design motifs.

Hon Alice Nugent in a 1730 Mourning Locket

For starters, this piece was created in 1730, a period of relative stability in comparison to the previous century of British civil war and restoration, indeed, this period shows the culmination of the results of the restoration, with greater focus on the parliament and a society experiencing the early stages of cultural mobility. How is this relevant to the piece? This particular style carries over much of what came before, an interpretation of styles from the mid-17th century and is forging its links to the styles of pre-Neoclassicism of the mid-18th century, so it truly bares the height of its fashion for this time.

Hon Alice Nugent in a 1730 Mourning Locket

Let’s look at the ribbon motif. This was a popular design in mourning and sentimental jewels, with this period of the Baroque/Rococo transition influencing jewellery designs with style carried over from Europe. The ribbon and bow served its function for many purposes; it was a functional design motif, as can be seen with the inscription of the name/dedication on the ribbon, such as that of a banner, it is an elegant style that carries through the mainstream fashion into the jewel, it frames the piece nicely and the symbolism involved of eternity and proximity are closely related to it. Immediately, the sentiment towards the person it is dedicated to shines through.

Hon Alice Nugent in a 1730 Mourning Locket

The black enamel is another motif that was popularised and cemented into the mainstream of mourning jewellery, we can draw our conclusions that Alice was not young/unmarried from this (aged 80, as you can see). Stylistically, it’s appropriate and conveys the messaging on the ribbon.

Hon Alice Nugent in a 1730 Mourning Locket

Its shape, close to that of a heart, is another important factor. The heart is an eternal symbol of love and one commonly used in jewellery and art. Most typically, the “Georgian Heart” is referred to as its peak in sentimental jewellery design, but the motif obviously is one of the most famous and used symbols today. However, this style is a precursor to that of the Georgian Heart, with this symbol being used commonly very close to this piece’s construction:

And to show the ribbon in as a dedicated motif:

Also, the ribbon as a bow:

Internally, we have the hairwork, which I think is even more remarkable. The eternity twist of the hair is very common for this time, as it was a popular motif and worked well (symbolically) with the ribbon motif. It was an easy weave and when placed between the transparent halves of the glass or crystal, we have that transparency of affection towards the wearer shining through the hairwork. Truly, there is no closer the loved one could be placed towards the heart.

Below is a ring with very similar style and construction – note the transparency for the hair and the ribbon:

Chas Fraser / OB: 16 April 1746 / Born: May 23/ 1725 Mourning Ring

1725

And another with the ribbon motif:

1770

Many more examples of these can be found at Art of Mourning in the Pendants section or the Rings section!

Dedication: The Hon Alice Nugent Died / Aged 80 20 Decr 1730
Courtesy: Sarah Nehama (Alice piece) and Barbara Robbins

That magnificent collector Barbara Robbins is back with a lovely look at a new acquisition;

William 1702 Crystal Ring

“This is a wonderful, circa 1702 ring that I just bought and will stay in my collection. It was the hardest thing to photograph I have ever attempted. I guess that due to the heavily faceted crystal. I seriously took about 50 or 60 photos of this ring, and this is the best I could do. I’m including two of the front of the ring. One shows the scribe better, but it has a glare from the crystal.”

William 1702 Crystal Ring
“This wonderful ring commemorates the death of William III, who reigned from 1689 to 1702. He ruled with his wife, Mary, until her death, and their years together are often referred to those of “William and Mary.”

William 1702 Crystal Ring

The ring contains hair, and would that it would be William’s, but of course it could be that of a faithful supporter. The ring was most likely commissioned to commemorate William’s death in 1702, and on top of the hair, is a crown and William’s scribe.  The ring has the closed back, enameling on the shoulders and on the sides of the bezel. I had to have this one, because I have the slide with Mary’s hair.  Of course  I needed William to complete the picture.””

William 1702 Crystal Ring

Chas Fraser / OB: 16 April 1746 / Born: May 23/ 1725 Mourning RingAh, another delight torn from the clutches of London! This one came from a collection of an antiques dealer in Portobello Road and when I saw the eternity twist in the domed crystal with its completely free-floating transparency, I had to have it. Excuse the pictures, photography isn’t my forte.

Dedication: Chas Fraser / OB: 16 April 1746 / Born: May 23/ 1725

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One of the joys and perils of knowing a little bit about old jewellery is that people want to know what they have. Though Antiques Roadshow makes it look very easy to spot a piece and be able to wax lyrical about it for hours on end, the truth of the matter is that a lot of research goes into a single viewing. Personally, I like to be certain about a piece and I can often be wrong, so in the interest of opening the door for all us amateur historians, let’s take a quick look at this pendant and try to reach some conclusions.

Stylistically, it lends itself to the first half 18th century, the lack of facets and the curve to the crystal is more common with that era, as opposed to the sharper edges of the earlier times. Then there is the conflict of the cipher inside, which is more common with earlier pieces, but for the period of 1680-1740, that was quite common, so it’s not really a conflict at all.

You’ve got the fleur-de-lis forming together the crown, which is rather nice, though they are a little ill-defined for a piece of high quality, though that could simply be the pictures.

Also, the wire-work to the surrounding gold is rather simply done in that it is uneven and forms heavier at the bottom in the dollop of gold.

With the arrow and quiver, you’ve got the motifs for mortality, so that combined with the initials up front makes it quite likely a mourning piece. The crown may denote either a literal or figurative connection with royalty (to be considered royalty or actual aristocracy) and all in all, I rather like it.

It’s obviously had a bit of a life as well, I think the imperfections make it special, but as far as a ‘Georgian Heart’ goes, I think it fits the category well.

But, is any of that correct? This piece was submitted by Rob Jackson and this is the first time I’ve seen it. I’ve made some rather grand statements and I’d prefer to back a lot of it up with proper evidence. What are your thoughts?

Ellen Savage ob 16 Oct 1745 Memento Mori Ring

For today’s look at a series of skeletal rings, I’m going to focus on the period of c.1700-c.1740 and take a look at a time when the skeleton was appropriated by an emerging industry…

The exceptional quality and design of this piece is relevant for its place in time. The decorations of the skeleton, hourglass, scythe and shovel were still used in the 1740s, but not to the extent as it had been. This ring is a beautiful example of evolution in its art and the style it emulates from the late 17th Century. Artwork surrounding this piece is much more detailed and not as naive as it had previously been, note the skeleton and the level of the skull’s quality. Its style, having large depictions of the evolved memento mori motifs, is quite unusual, as pieces that would have the motifs tended to be small and set under crystal.

Ellen Savage ob 16 Oct 1745 Memento Mori RingDuring the period of around 1700-1760, there was a distinct change in the style of rings, but a clear evolution from what had come before. Shanks and bands became more delicate, some imitating scroll work in gold around the edge with enamelling over the top and an inscription over that.

To indicate pieces from this time, the shank or band are often a good points of reference due to their variation. The popularity of the Rococo style has a lot to do with this, the greater the delicacy and intricate form, the later into its period it becomes.

Country: England
Year: c. 1745
Dedication: Ellen Savage ob 16 Oct 1745 at 83

Evolution of the (Skeleton) Symbol

Skeletal Memento Mori Band / 18th Century

“A rare early 18th century Memento Mori band gold known as a skeletal, as the whole length of the skeleton is employed on the outside of the hoop, with other emblems. The earliest known example is dated 1659. This ring is enamelled in black with a full skeleton, twin hearts for love and an hourglass, symbolic of the passage of time and the brevity of life. It is size J [US 4 and 5/8] and the band is 1/8 of an inch wide. A rare ring which has survived in amazingly good condition with enamel intact.”

Skeletal Memento Mori Band / 18th Century

Balancing our look at the Savage ring above is this equally magnificent memento mori ring with very closely related symbolism. Memento mori symbols are quite highly coveted by collectors as the symbolism of the skeleton still resonates today for mortality, as it always has, hence these pieces are very obvious in their intent.

Skeletal Memento Mori Band / 18th Century

Let’s look at the differences in the style. What we can gather about each is that there was a clear evolution in the standard of the painting of the symbolism from this particular piece, which is earlier and the Savage ring, which is later. Note the skull first. We have dimension added to the Savage ring, with the head turned to an angle, showing the full perspective of the skull and the jaw. Also, the jaw is stylistically drawn. The elongated rib cage on the Savage ring cascades across the roll of the band, which this particular ring doesn’t have, with the Savage ring adding another three ribs to the anatomy in order to stretch it out. Note also how the average band bows in at the legs and simply works well with its form factor. There’s much to appreciate about the artistry, as well as the basic premise of the stunning symbolism itself. The tempus fugit symbol is generally similar, though just altered around the shading.

Skeletal Memento Mori Band / 18th Century

Coffin Ring

1715 w/ curved band

Essentially, the main change comes down to the band of the piece. the full rounded style of the Savage ring is quite unusual for its time, where many flat bands were the norm, simply using the Rococo ribbon/twist flourishes and often the interior of the band was slightly rounded. Earlier straight bands of the c.1700 period, such as the example from 1715, show a leaner roll to the band itself, without such a high domed edge.

1740 / Rococo

1740 / Rococo

So, we have a ring that is highly stylised and defies convention for its time and another which exemplifies it. Both convey the same sentiment of mortality, but both show how the artistic style evolved from more primitive and simplistic styles, more typical with the 17th century, into the more typical miniaturisation of art into jewellery by the 18th century.

Skeleton in Degrees of Quality

Ellen Savage ob 16 Oct 1745 Memento Mori RingThen there is this piece dating from 1714, which shows the clear continuity between c.1710 and c.1740. The Savage ring actually refines much of the stylisation that this ring. Note firstly the same as above, the shape/angle of the skull, the balance of the rib cage, the curve to the band and the comparable symbolism. Indeed, the style is so similar, they could be considered contemporary, and practically are, however, compare all three skeletons and note the advancing detail to the skull and memento mori symbols through the ages of such a short period of time.

The savage ring, while still retaining better condition of enamel work, has the higher rounded edge to the band and much finer attention to detail in art, sharing more similarities with its period and also showing just how a small amount of time advanced a rather unique style.

This doesn’t discredit the amount of production and fluctuating level of quality, both of which affect the outcomes of a piece of jewellery. The early 18th century was a time of increasing social mobility and higher industry/manufacture, hence the more prolific items were in demand and the industry was there to satisfy those demands, so there was a much greater degree of varied quality. To that end, the first half of the 18th century still used the memento mori motifs in popular format for mainstream jewellery and the industry had appropriated those motifs for death to a higher degree than the previous century. For example, look at the rise of the industry and how that affected and incorporated hairwork. Pieces made to order became more and more popular in the first half of the 18th century, with lockets (especially in the popular heart motif) containing hair becoming increasingly common. As larger jewellery with glass replaced faceted crystal, simple weaves of hair could be placed underneath, without it being a speciality craft or as expensive. By the 1760s, hair was reintroduced in mass produced memorial medallions and lockets (in England and on the Continent), as it was mixed in with sepia and painted on to ivory.

1694 Ribbon Slide

1694

So, we’ve established that the industry had grow and there were varying degrees of quality, but what was more typical? This consideration is what makes these skeletal bands so special. Ribbon slides, and crystal-set pieces of jewellery with the memento mori motifs placed underneath (either painted metal placed on top of woven hair or material) was far more typical. Simple bands with skulls engraved into the top and set with black enamel were also quite prolific and grew more from the legacy of a posy ring, rather than the higher quality crystal pieces, but rings with the full symbolism were not as popular as these. Much of the evolution dating from c.1700 came from the revolving cut and shape of the crystal settings of the jewellery, from the rounded shapes to the more angular settings and higher facets in the cuts.

1740

From what we’re left with today are a series of pieces from the 1650s to the 1740s (and quite possibly more varied examples exist) that convey a bold statement on mortality, are beautiful to behold and are as intrinsically important and vital today as they were when created. There is a microcosm of detail in the evolution of such small piece of art that one has to consider when looking at any piece and even the smallest amount of time can enact the greatest amount of change.

Memento Mori Posts for the Ghouls

How Society Entered Mourning: c.1680-1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring

Defining Memento Mori Though Presentation: 18th Century Skull on Pendant

17th Century Crystal Memento Mori Ring: A Study

Memento Mori Rosary

Spotlight On: Memento Mori Watch

Courtesy: British Museum

I’ve written quite a bit about memento mori, it seems to be one of those subjects that is as fascinating as it is polarising. Why is that so? Well, there are so many different connotations involved with the symbolism and that seems to be the crossroads (pardon the veiled pun) of what defines these magical pieces.

If you look to my post from Saturday about the 18th Century Skull on Pendant, then you will see the other end of the scale, which is clearly not a representation of death, but rather the statement of living. However, today we look at the other end of the spectrum with this very rare and very high quality ring from the collection of Marielle Soni is most certainly constructed with the intent of death and mourning. To discern this, firstly let’s look at the time and place of when it was created and why this was so popular.

c.1680-1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring

This piece was constructed c.1680-1700 and we have many ways to check the validity of this. Firstly, we have the shank itself and note the embellishments. Often, pieces like this have lost their enamel inlay and are quite worn down, but this one is a perfect representation of how it was from when it was constructed. Note the Baroque influence in the design and how this would influence pieces of contemporary and later times. Particularly, the society in which this ring was created was dealing with the new found stability in the government due to the Restoration and from this, industry was finding new ways to create a niche in producing items for a society that was becoming upwardly mobile in ways that had not been seen since the Roman era. Appropriating popular art styles, such as that of the all-pervasive Baroque, and using its influence in products was (and still is) only a logical step in simply selling an item.

c.1680-1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring

And to follow on from this, we have the skull and crossbones underneath the faceted crystal, an obvious choice for popular symbolism that was now quite heavily associated with death and grief. Gone was the clear establishment of a class that could afford to flaunt its wealth, standard of living and changed were the classes below that could not afford to live in such an almost narcissistic paradigm. Wearing a jewel to show that you will be judged and to live life for all its benefits is quite a grand statement during times with high mortality rates and a more feudal-based system of government, but during the 1670s-80s, there’s a strong shift to higher industry, specialised work and education. Politically, England was recovering from a civil war and the reinstatement of the kingship in Charles II in 1660, the Great Plague of London in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666. There was a high mortality rate and Charles II was only beginning the process of the Restoration. Hence, pieces like this could allow themselves to become more commonplace, the symbols of death could be appropriated for an industry that was reacting to the execution of a king and a subsequent civil war, it could pick up on the nuanced tokens of affection that became popular from this and it could produce a product that was relatively easier to produce and almost the same to sell.

Read the rest of this entry »

As mentioned last week, I spent an all-too-brief weekend in Sydney, where I got to meet a lot of lovely people who all opened their ears to my unstoppable rambling about old jewellery. I’d like to thank the wonderful people at the Victoria & Albert Antiques store at the Strand Arcade for their hospitality and the lovely conversation! If you’re ever in the city, do pop in and have a look, they have some magnificent things. I’d also like to thank all the lovely people who wrote in and gave me some superb advice on where to go treasure hunting in New South Wales, your help was not only brilliant, but invaluable.

But enough of the preamble, you’re wondering what did a lucky lad like myself find? Was there any form of treasure that I couldn’t pass by? Well, I’m an impulsive chap by nature, so I can’t restrain myself sometimes and couldn’t resist the allure of the following brooch and ring:

Garnet Ring, c.1830

(excuse the impromptu phone-photography)

1830s Embellished 3rd Stage Mourning Ring

Similar Style

The ring is 9ct and the beautiful garnet (which is a rather pale/ruby colour, I’ll see if I can get better pictures soon) is a later replacement for the original hair memento. Surrounding the ring and following over the bezel is the magnificent 1830s floral embellishments, which show the evolution of the style from the previous cleaner lines of the Regency period.

Note the similarities to the following piece and see how the design became ubiquitous. Another lovely feature of the ring that is now sitting proudly in the collection is that it shows very little wear at all, for a ring that has design built into the band, there’s very little wear.

Early 19th century brooch with hair and pearlsAs for this brooch, I can’t say enough superlatives to describe how wonderful it is. It has the rectangular shape that was quite common from around 1800-1820 and would date to the earlier side of this. Surrounding, the pearls are in remarkable condition, but it’s also inside where this brooch is the business. Here, we have a border in gold, with triangular patterns etched in (which when magnified look almost Masonic, but one would assume it’s simply the design) and then the dual over-crossed hairwork underneath. What makes the hair so lovely is that the contrast of the brown/blonde hair is so striking, that you can’t ignore it. Furthermore, what is rather unconventional is that rather than using slim glass, there is a heavy, domed piece of crystal covering the hair and magnifying it as well. With so much at play here, the piece is actually physically weighty to hold.

Is that all, you’re wondering? Well, I did see a lovely blue enamel mid-19th century ring with pearls in the daisy configuration and hair compartment underneath that was in stunning condition, but my wallet can only take so much. Yet, there may be a couple more pieces that I’ve seen which may take the flight down to Melbourne in the next few days, but that remains to be seen.

Right now, I’m very happy with the new additions to the family and to everyone who I met and who helped me along the way, my undying thanks!

Stuart Crystal 17th Century Ring Memento Mori

Rings of the late 17th century are the predecessors to many of the ring styles that followed through to the 19th century. They are also becoming harder and harder to find, as many were worn for their intent (as opposed to being hidden away as keepsakes) and they’ve survived many modern recessions that saw some beautiful pieces get broken down and melted for their gold.

So, when a piece like this appears, it’s worthwhile to take note. This particular piece is a testament popular art and sentimental symbolism of the late 18th century and shows many of the conventions that bred the mourning industry.

Firstly, we have the memento mori symbolism, which is often what many collectors gravitate towards. This particular piece is unusual, as the two cherubs are flanking/carrying the skull and crossbones that forms the central part of the motif under the crystal. Underneath this is the hairwork memento, of course. I should point out that the common title for crystal of this period is ‘Stuart Crystal’, due to the reign of the Stuarts, however, I often tend to refer to the material as simply ‘crystal’, due to latter pieces not under the reign with crystal being produced. The crystal is often faceted, with later examples often being domed or curved and the shape is essential to dating pieces. Look for more rounded bezels to be earlier (c.1680) examples and octagonal/harder edged examples to be closer to c.1700.

Stuart Crystal 17th Century Ring Memento Mori

Next to the cherubs is the gold wire cipher initials on top of the hair, which is also common of the time, often for sentimental or fashion, rather than just for mourning. The hairwork underneath was quite often material, rather than hair, but examples vary.

Stuart Crystal 17th Century Ring Memento Mori

The setting of the ring is pronounced on the finger, showing enamel under the bezel, another common feature, that in this piece shows much of the wear. As for the shank, there is loss to the enamel acanthus motif/design that runs down the sides of the band, but this is often the first area where much of the loss can occur with these pieces.

Certainly, what little of these rings exist in the world should be coveted and protected. They hold a style which existed and remained adapted though c.1660-c.1740 and were used across much of the mainstream jewellery design of the period.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins

One of the joys and perils of knowing a little bit about old jewellery is that people want to know what they have. Though Antiques Roadshow makes it look very easy to spot a piece and be able to wax lyrical about it for hours on end, the truth of the matter is that a lot of research goes into a single viewing. Personally, I like to be certain about a piece and I can often be wrong, so in the interest of opening the door for all us amateur historians, let’s take a quick look at this pendant and try to reach some conclusions.

Stylistically, it lends itself to the first half 18th century, the lack of facets and the curve to the crystal is more common with that era, as opposed to the sharper edges of the earlier times. Then there is the conflict of the cipher inside, which is more common with earlier pieces, but for the period of 1680-1740, that was quite common, so it’s not really a conflict at all.

You’ve got the fleur-de-lis forming together the crown, which is rather nice, though they are a little ill-defined for a piece of high quality, though that could simply be the pictures.

Also, the wire-work to the surrounding gold is rather simply done in that it is uneven and forms heavier at the bottom in the dollop of gold.

With the arrow and quiver, you’ve got the motifs for mortality, so that combined with the initials up front makes it quite likely a mourning piece. The crown may denote either a literal or figurative connection with royalty (to be considered royalty or actual aristocracy) and all in all, I rather like it.

It’s obviously had a bit of a life as well, I think the imperfections make it special, but as far as a ‘Georgian Heart’ goes, I think it fits the category well.

But, is any of that correct? This piece was submitted by Rob Jackson and this is the first time I’ve seen it. I’ve made some rather grand statements and I’d prefer to back a lot of it up with proper evidence. What are your thoughts?

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