Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Estate Jewelry: Egyptomania and the Tiniest Gold Coils of Rope

Dating to the early 1800s, this 18k yellow gold-and-enamel Freemason’s ring is loaded with symbolism. The dealer consulted with London’s Museum of Freemasonry to decipher the motifs it features, thinking it may have been a mourning piece for a high-ranking member of the order. Central to the design is a garnet cross (possibly referencing the Knights Templar), which divides the face into four sections, each featuring three rose-cut diamond teardrops. Those twelve teardrops may represent the twelve apostles and their tears of mourning for Christ. A diamond-set crescent and sun are also featured, and these traditionally signify the heavenly lights and the universe, as well as the universal nature of freemasonry. 

Other symbols, such as the compass within the square, the gavel, the crossed swords, and the axe are also described on the dealer’s site, if you want to click through for more info. Creepily interesting is the “G” (for geometry) within a six-pointed star, which, per the dealer's site, “usually refers to the Holy Royal Arch, which is the fourth of the Masonic ceremonies related ‘to finding the vault in the ruins of the Temple of Solomon.’”

These French rowboat earrings are so wonderful I can’t stand it. Circa 1890, they’re perfectly modeled tiny rowboats, with realistic oars, ropes, and anchors, all in 18k gold.

I know I’m always going on about why I love antique jewelry, but pieces like this make me fall in love with it all over again. I can’t help but imagine the woman who would wear such earrings, and the sense of humor she undoubtedly possessed.

Yes, I know it looks like a gumball, but this necklace is actually by Tiffany & Co., and that gobstopper is an exceptionally rare and desirable melo melo pearl. These pearls (which, like conch pearls, don’t actually contain nacre like the pearls we’re used to) are formed by the Melo Melo, or Indian volute snail. The pearls are entirely natural, and they’ve been popular in Asia for many years but are only now being snapped up here in the US. They range in color from tan to dark brown, but this orange color is the most desirable, and they’re always very large and very round. Tiffany has suspended this one from a platinum chain studded with complementary yellow and white round-cut diamonds (6.50-carat total weight).

Circa 1880, this ring features a large moonstone carved into the shape of an owl head and set within an ornate diamond frame.

Circa 1470, this gold iconographic ring features depictions of Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Catherine of Siena, both of whom were thought to have the power to protect from sudden death. Apparently, it was only necessary to view their images each day to receive this protection — a huge benefit to a people who lived in fear of dying suddenly without priestly absolution.

The saints are identified by the items they’re pictured with — an image code very familiar to anyone who's studied art history. Catherine of Alexandria is shown wearing a crown and with a wheel beside her, because, as the story goes, she was a 4th-century virgin princess who refused to marry the Emperor Maxentius and was sentenced to death via spiked wheel. The wheel was miraculously destroyed in answer to her prayers, however ... so she was beheaded instead. (The spiked wheel later became known as the Catherine Wheel, which was also a band that I listened to quite a bit in the early ’90s.)

The dealer identifies the other saint as Catherine of Siena, although I don’t think she’s usually pictured with a book. It works, however, as she was a Catholic philosopher and theologian renowned for her letters to Pope Gregory XI as well as her book The Dialogue of Divine Providence (c. 1377-78). True story: I studied in Siena while in college, and witnessed first-hand a procession through the streets following a priest who was holding St Catherine’s thumb aloft. Get rid of your relics, seriously, they are revolting.

Getting back to the ring, the words “en bon an” (which is generally translated as “a good or happy new year”) are engraved inside. This is common to a number of medieval rings, and indicates that it was probably given as a New Year’s gift.

This vintage award pin is handmade with wire ribbon and roping and decorated with a bow, a small cameo, and a leaf plaque. It’s also signed on the back by the maker. SO cute.

“Egyptomania” has arisen at various points in history and strongly influenced decorative styles; the 19th century saw Egyptian themes come into vogue both in the first half of the century and then again in the second half, as archaeological discoveries and a quest for all things exotic fed demand. The style continued to simmer — particularly in Western American architecture — and exploded yet again in 1922, when the British Egyptologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen.

This sterling silver ring, circa 1920, combines Egyptian Revival with Art Deco. It depicts a sarcophagus, with detailing in black, red, yellow, and blue enamel, set upon a cartouche of black enamel. A finely detailed owl head highlights each side.

Even better: the sarcophagus opens, and there’s a tiny little skeleton inside.

I’ve recently had to spend a lot of money unexpectedly (and not for fun), so all of my reserves are gone, otherwise I would never even THINK of showing this to you because it would already be mine. It’s an Art Deco buckle bracelet from the Century of Progress International Exposition, a.k.a. the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933.

In finely detailed brass (with a somewhat worn silver wash), it features an unbroken view of the fair's skyline from the lake, depicting boats in the water and zeppelins flying overhead. Gorgeous.

I really don’t set out to feature any particular theme in these columns, but occasionally it happens that, when I search for items to include, a theme forms on its own. So, yeah, more owls. But I ask you, how could I not include these?

Circa 1860, these ridiculously cute owl earrings are gold, pave-set with Persian turquoise and pearls, with cabochon ruby eyes. They’re also tiny — including the wire, they’re only an inch long, and one-third of an inch wide. GAH.

This ring dates to the mid 19th century, and is an example of another Queen Victoria-driven jewelry trend: that central stone is actual a child’s tooth! Victoria had multiple pieces of jewelry designed to incorporate the teeth of her own children, and the style became popular among her followers. Often the tooth was surrounded with coral, which was believed to provide protection from the evil eye. This ring has already been sold, but do click through check out the dealer’s other items; it’s a good collection.

If you’re in New York, there’s still time to stop by Macklowe Gallery to see their terrific “Nature Transformed – Art Nouveau Horn Jewelry” exhibit. It's open until June 28, and showcases over 50 rare pieces of French horn jewelry.

Horn was a very popular material during the Art Nouveau period, as it could be twisted and manipulated into the sinuous forms that were so central to the style. Many of the pieces in the exhibit take the form of pendants, and natural and floral motifs abound. Insects are particularly shown to great effect, with the translucency of horn lending the perfect delicacy to a dragonfly wing or cicada body. Brooches, hair ornaments, and other decorative accessories also are featured. If you go, be sure to visit the rest of the gallery, which is a treasure trove of glorious jewels and stunning Art Nouveau furniture and sculpture.


Previously: Ruby Roses and the Memento Mori.

Monica McLaughlin's favorite saint is Lucy, because she carries eyes around on a plate.

104 Comments / Post A Comment


I was all set to say I required the moonstone owl-head ring (my daemon!) but then there was the second picture of the sarcophagus ring and AAAAAAAAAAH TINY SKELETON I NEEEEEEED IT!


@anachronistique Yeah, we might have to fight over that.

Porn Peddler

@TheBelleWitch Fight using the four thousand dollars you would need in order to even make this a conflict.


@anachronistique I had the same thoughts! Moonstone owl all the way--OMG tiny skeleton!

Spooky Behaviour

@anachronistique My jaw dropped when I saw the skeleton! Maybe we can all share it?


@Spooky Behaviour Sisterhood of the Traveling Sarcophagus Skeleton Ring



I'll cut anyone who tries to get to that ring before I do. In my fantasies. Where I have money.

But the tiny skeleton is also really rad.


@anachronistique My eyes lit up when I saw the tiny skeleton!


@anachronistique I am willing to bet that Necromance has one of those rings. If they don't, they could point you in the right direction for sure.

Faintly Macabre

@Spooky Behaviour Yeah, my thoughts went, "Meh, that sarcophagus ring is kind of boring...OH MY GOD A TINY SKELETON!!!!!" I will wear it with my memento mori ring, once I buy that.




@permanentbitchface Those boat earrings satisfy a need I didn't even know that I had. And now I feel my lack of tiny boat earrings very deeply.


@permanentbitchface I want themmmmm!!!!


If only I had a tiny house with a tiny moat for some tiny people to row them around in..


@permanentbitchface MY HEART! My heart. Those little boat earrings are so tiny and perfect. Like @roadtrips, they satisfy a need I didn't know I had--or rather, that I didn't know I STILL had, which used to be satisfied by tiny expensive perfect ceramic vegetables for my dollhouse. I still remember the tiny asparagus. (I wonder if my mom still has them, they would make great earrings...)


@roadtrips These boat earrings, combined with Google's homage to Fabergé, have opened my eyes. I need tiny gilded precious things. NEED THEM.


@frigwiggin If they had been teeny tiny canoes, I'd have gone to the mat for them. But since they are boats with adorable ropes, I'll admire them on your (someone else's) ears.

And the Faberge doodle is really cute. Love! My little brother always said he was sad the Soviets didn't do eggs. "Look, here is a tiny enameled Russian egg! And inside is a skating scene. Look! Under the ice? You can see a frozen dissident!"

My baby brother has a warped sense of humor.

Sunny Schomaker@twitter

@permanentbitchface Yes, the Google Fabrege doodle!


@permanentbitchface The Marriage Was Built To Last But The Tiny Boat Earrings Were Built Too Small.

Porn Peddler

So owls have always been trendy?

As I was reading about that egypt-themed ring, I kept thinking, hoping, "Please please please let the little sarcophagus open please please OMG YES!!!! *gasp*"


Tiffany has suspended this one from a platinum chain studded with complimentary yellow and white round-cut diamonds (6.50k total weight).

I think you meant "complementary," but I would take some complimentary diamonds, no questions asked. And I don't even like diamonds.

Spelling jokes aside: those rowboat earrings! Someone make a replica right now, please, please.


@wallsdonotfall And UGH, that Chicago cuff is already gone! I don't even know how much it sold for but I would have cut someone for it and used their blood-money.


@wallsdonotfall Yes I do, durrrrr! Sorry, my brain's a little fried this month.


@wallsdonotfall It was only $110, I think. I really hope it went to a 'Pinner!

Edith Zimmerman

@wallsdonotfall Oh my god, you know what, Monica sent it to me the right way and I changed it to the wrong way, because I'm smart and good at my job. So: my mistake/shame!


@Edith Zimmerman OH SWEET VINDICATION! Haaaaaa I didn't even go back to look, I just automatically assumed I was wrong.


@Edith Zimmerman You ARE smart and good at your job! Just too kind, offering us diamonds when they are not yours to give.


The tooth ring! Remember in the Elizabeth Enright book Return to Gone-Away? They find the safe in the bathroom, and there's a piece of hair jewelry, and the old lady who lives in the swamp tells them that was a thing. And Foster asks if they ever used teeth, because he's just lost his, and Mrs. Cheever says she doesn't think so. But the tooth ring!


@noReally I loved those books!


@noReally I thought "30 Rock" made up the tooth-ring thing because COME ON, but there it is.

Also, "Get rid of your relics, seriously, they are revolting" made me laugh and laugh.

<3 you, Hairpin!


@Gone Away Lass
I love love love Elizabeth Enright. The Melendy books most of all, but everything. Her picture books, the long out of print essays, which are great, and stories, which are hit and miss. I don't care. Love EE. Rush Melendy, swoon.


@noReally This ring makes me feel better about keeping my kid's baby teeth, which is A Gross Parent Thing I'd Never Thought I'd Do.


@Bittersweet No, but if you keep them long enough, you can offer them to your child to make into a necklace when they're old enough to think about it! I kind of wish I had some teeth to make a necklace with, but alas, they will have to be someone else's...


@Bittersweet do human teeth count as ivory?

I feel like they should. Quoth Wikipedia:
The chemical structure of the teeth and tusks of mammals is the same regardless of the species of origin.[citation needed] The trade in certain teeth and tusks other than elephant is well established and widespread, therefore "ivory" can correctly be used to describe any mammalian teeth or tusks of commercial interest which is large enough to be carved or scrimshawed (crocodile teeth are also used).


@noReally ELIZABETH ENRIGHT that is all.




My favorite column! THE CHICAGO BRACELET!!!!!!!!!! I cannot form coherent sentences at this moment.


@olivebee OOh! Chicagoans, hark:

There is a tiny but amazing art store in Lincoln Square called Sacred Art, and last time I was in there, they had these copper cuff bracelets with engravings of Chicago maps (road, CTA, etc.) by some local artist. I know they aren't that buckle bracelet, but they are kind of like the modern version. Go get 'em!


@olivebee Found them! Love them! Want to buy them!


@SuperGogo Yes! I love them (and all the other jewelry at that store). If I didn't work at a job where my wrists are constantly slamming the desk, I would totally get one.


Ooh, I love this ring from the etsy shop that the Chicago bracelet is from. It opens!


@phlox That ring. And it's my size, too. If my boyfriend and I were in an imminent engagement-type situation I'd be sending him that link every hour on the hour.


@phlox Sweet Lord Jesus, that is the coolest, chicest, most obsession-worthy ring I have ever seen.


@phlox Oh man, that's been in my favorites for awhile! Fede/gimmel jams 4LYF. (I may have a thing for creepy hand jewelry.)


@phlox I was just going to say that, that ring is AMAZING.


I would attach that vintage ribbon pin to a blazer and just feel fucking awesome. (And maybe add the badass sarcophagus ring to the outfit and just be the coolest person alive).


Jesus Louisus, that Mason ring! Those boat earrings! That award pin!

Also, St. Lucy sometimes gets to carry her eyeballs on a stem, baller-style.

A Lucy

Judith Slutler

sarcophagus skeleton ring = SO AMAZING!


I would murder for that Chicago bracelet. Not proud of this fact, but it's a fact.

sarah girl

@diesel_vontrapp Yeah, my exact thought process earlier in the article was "I would kill a baby for those boat earrings."

sudden but inevitable betrayal

This column is entirely responsible for my new obsession with buckle jewelry. (Please don't stop!)

Daisy Razor

Siena has St. Catherine's head too! Catholics love their preserved body parts.


@Daisy Razor Yes! Gross! And I think it was the Basilica in Padua that had St Anthony's tongue in a jar? EWWWWWW


@Daisy Razor The royal palace chapel in Madrid has THE ENTIRE PRESERVED BODY of St. Someone-or-Other at the altar. You can imagine how fun it was to see that at age 11.


@Bittersweet Oh yes, I saw a couple preserved bodies at a chapel in Bavaria. Just lounging around in their glass cases, staring at the devout people in the pews. I high-tailed it out of there but quick.


@monicamcl Wow. Pickled?

My favorite is the index finger of Doubting Thomas in Rome -- you know, the one he used to poke Christ's wound after the resurrection (wow and ew on so many levels).


Apropos of there being an Egypt-o-mania item and a Chicago item here, let me plug my institution: The Museum Store of the Oriental Institute in Chicago (in Hyde Park) is having a great sale and they have tons of cool jewelry, both repro. egyptian style stuff and legit "ethnic" jewelry like bedouin silver. The prices there are already inexplicably reasonably priced and everything is a further 20% off right now. I just got a Carnelian and old silver necklace from Turkmenistan for under 40 dollars.

Part of my desire of airing this news is so that people come and buy up the stock and I am not tempted to buy something new every time I pass through.

Edited to add: Chicago people! also, check out the museum! It's free and awesome and a block away from the Robie house. Take your summer visitors to Hyde Park, Chicagoans!


@zeytin Whoa whoa whoa. Is there a website?


@Megano! Unfortunately, not really. I think they show a couple of items for sale on the Oriental Institute website, but it's mostly books and maybe a couple of jewelry items which are not the nice stuff. The store is small and mostly volunteer-staffed so they don't really do the online thing. Sorry!!


@zeytin This is the website. The stuff in the shop is much better than what you see on here, most of it is one-of-a-kind items. They just list a couple of the crappy mass-produced items on the web.



@zeytin Ahhhh, I'm not going to be in Chicago until maybe-November and my friend who lives there is too broke to buy something for me and have me pay her back. I don't even need any more jewelry really but ahhhhhh.


@frigwiggin Honestly, it would be worth it to visit even without the sale. Good place to do a little holiday shopping and get a little museum time in to boot. They have a great collection if you are interested in that kind of thing. Mummies! The birth of writing! Ancient board games! What's not to love?

I really sound like some kind of paid promoter here but I'm not, I swear.


@zeytin You're preachin' to the choir! I studied Hieroglyphs in college (got a concentration in it) so it's all near and dear to my heart. Especially since I've sort of done the closest thing around here (the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose) to death and half their artifacts are fake anyway.


@zeytin Yo, will the sale still be running this Sunday?


@zeytin Yes it is ongoing till June 10 excepting mondays when it is closed.


@frigwiggin Haha I think I have been there. What is up with that place? It is very cult-y. I do not do ancient stuff, I am part of the modern half of near Eastern studies here (modern in this case meaning post 600 AD) but I love the magic and mystery of the ancient side of things.


@zeytin Yeah, the Rosicrucian Order is kinda whackdy. I hope if you did happen to visit, you saw the weird/goofy "planetarium" show. Esoteric truths!


@frigwiggin No I think I happened upon it when I was in the area for another reason, perhaps seeking out a random restaurant spied on yelp. ( I am a Chicago transplant from the bay area) When I was there it was kind of deserted except for the elderly volunteer staff which made the fake Egyptian tomb thing actually quite effective in its creepiness factor.

But they invited me to come to some kind of meditation hour of some sort... Maybe that was the planetarium thing...




@zeytin Yeah, that was probably it. Oh, Rosicrucian Museum, so weird and fun.

@Megano! Yes! I took Hiero I as a Pre-and-Early-Modern course for my Modern Lit degree, and loved it so much that I took Hiero II, thus (somehow) completing the concentration for it to be on my diploma. We translated and read The Shipwrecked Sailor and some other small stuff, and talked about ancient dildos and ejaculating gods. I miss it.


@frigwiggin Jaloussssssseeeeee


The Egyptian ring! And it opens!! Whyyyyy are you almost $4000!?


@Megano! so you're saying you don't have $4000 just chillin around to spend on ridiculously amazing statement pieces of jewellery?

sometimes I wonder why I even slum it around here.


please note: visions of beautiful and unaffordable jewellery may be causing redheaded&crazy to experience a personality break wherein heiress self from a former life briefly gains control.

further note: if only she would bring her wads of cash with her, she would be welcome to stay for longer.


ah... if only the golden French dagger earrings at the site of the tooth-ring dealer weren't several thousand dollars (and so heavy-looking)... they would be amazing!


I want all of the rings! Especially the wondrous sarcophagus one.

Oh wallet, why are you so empty?

Disco Sheets

OMG OMG OMG I am pretty sure I owned those rowboat earrings in a former life and therefore they should return to me free of charge, thank you and good day. Gaaaaaaaaaah I LOVE THEM.


@Disco Sheets oh shit is that how it works?! I'm ... I'm prettty sure I was loaded and fabulous in a former life so yes, universe, please deliver it all back to me. *raises arms expectantly*


This brings me back to when I was a freshman at college and did an art history report about Egyptian jewelry. I got to go into a special section of the art museum to do research and I felt incredibly grown up and like a little kid at the same time. I fell into day dreams staring at all the jewelry, imagining the people who wore them so long ago. So here I am registering just to share this and say, "little skeleton! Tooth ring! Oh!" I LOVE hairpin.


MOONSTONE OWL RING PLEASE. Maybe that will finally convince Hogwarts I'm deserving of admission.

Jen Alien-Spouse@twitter


It made me think of a mash-up of Alan Garner's "The Owl Service" and "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen"; so now I want to re-read all of his books whilst wearing the owl ring just in case a wizard needs me to step up and fight some evil.


@Jen Alien-Spouse@twitter Everything Alan Garner wrote has featured heavily in my nightmares since I first read them. Brrrrr. (Plates from The Owl Service. The buried-in-collapsing-sand-tunnel from Brisingamen. The hand-in-the-quartz from Elidor.) But I do want that owl.


Teeth rings....?!?! It's just...uhg. Hair rings bug me a bit but teeth rings? It's pretty, and I love Victorian jewelry, but this made me shudder.


Why must the owl earrings cost so much (£1750)? I wants them.


If I could own a ring from 1470 I'd probably die happy


@charlesbois I have one from about 1250, and it is absolutely my most precious thing. But I just logged in purely to comment on how much I want that gold one.


@missupright wow that is seriously excellent, 1250! I don't know why I covet old things, but I do.


I'll take All of the Rings.

ms. alex

Now THIS is my kind of jewelry.

Hazel Deeps@twitter

I am reeling from so many brilliant things in one place at one time. Thank you for including my World's fair bracelet in this. If it's any consolation, the fede gimmel ring is still here.


@Hazel Deeps@twitter No, thank YOU for having such a fun, eclectic collection! I was seriously tempted to keep your shops all to myself.


I want that gold ring. Oh, I want that gold 1470 ring. I want it I want it I want it with pure shiny shimmery lust.

Laura Kingsbury@facebook

I love the Victorian coral ring but then I saw it was made of tooth - yuk but still so beautiful. I'm so conflicted!


Oh, teardrops! For a minute I thought they were ... something else. And I was deeply confused.


(Then I went back and looked at the rest of the post and was completely delighted by the owl ring, and the sarcophagus ring, and the rowboat earrings, and, and, and...)

Kate Kittenheart

I have a Chicago World's Fair bracelet very much like that one! Mine is a cuff, and has almost all of the silver finish. I feel so fancy now!

Karen Frye@facebook

I totally OWN that Chicago World's Fair bracelet, but mine is engraved with the name "Irene" (not my name, obviously). I wear it nearly constantly.

Hazel Deeps@twitter


For you: http://www.etsy.com/listing/90555127/art-deco-buckle-bracelet-chicago-worlds

Thanks again,


Celeste Maddalena@twitter

I just went and looked at the sarcophagus ring in person. It is absolutely stunning! I have been debating on whether or not to purchase it for some time now. I will be the proud new owner of it this weekend! So excited!!!


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