Thursday, October 25, 2012


Estate Jewelry: The Horror

This 18k yellow gold “Scorpion” necklace, ca. 1978, was created by Italian designer Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co. The necklace, which is formed of interlocking segments, has a detachable tail, so that just the scorpion claws can be worn as a collar. It’s an iconic piece, and typical of the stripped-down, organic style of the designer. Peretti actually drew her inspiration for this piece from the scorpions living near her home in Catalonia, Spain, and the British Museum, which owns one of these necklaces in sterling silver, quotes her as saying “While working in Sant Martí Vell, I came across a lot of scorpions. The animals are incredibly attractive, with fascinating mechanics. Strangely they are never around when I need to review something in my design. I have to confess that I had to sacrifice a few. I feel sorry.”

Last month, Carine Roitfeld, former editor of French Vogue, paid homage to both Peretti and this necklace in a feature in the debut issue of her new magazine, CR Fashion Book. The New York Times relates the story of the designer’s slightly less-than-thrilled reaction to the photos here.

We may have seen the end of Peretti’s 38-year relationship with Tiffany & Co., however, as the two entities are currently battling over intellectual property rights. What will come of this remains to be seen, but in the meantime a variation of the scorpion necklace is still available through Tiffany — although it’s a watered-down version of the original.

This necklace is one of the most striking pieces of jewelry I’ve ever seen, and it’s not something that I, with a personal style best described as “disheveled,” would ever be able to pull off. But at an estimate of $2,000-4,000, the Scorpion is one of the more accessible pieces of design history, and will be included in the Fine Jewelry & Watches auction held on November 5 at Freeman’s in Philadelphia.

Don’t stop there, though, because there are a number of other interesting pieces in the sale, including a beautiful 3.4-carat cushion cut Kashmir sapphire ring (lot 6), a Salvador Dali-signed 18k “wing” bypass ring (lot 11), and a collection of wristwatches and pocket watches from the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (lots 120-142). 

RELEASE THE KRAKEN! A platinum kraken with sapphire eyes, wreaking havoc amid coral branches! Or maybe he’s just a little octopus combination pin/pendant. YOU DECIDE.

Bats flutter against a backdrop of the moon and stars in this eerily pretty French Art Nouveau necklace. Set in 18k gold with enamel, the moon and stars are comprised of diamonds, while the bats are hinged to add movement to the piece. Another smaller bat decorates the clasp. Circa 1900.

What’s Halloween without a giant spider? This 14kt yellow gold spider pin is approximately 2 5/8" wide by 2 5/8" tall. Each leg is lined with diamonds, while the body pairs over 2 carats of sapphires with diamond accents. The head is also diamond-set, with gold pinchers and cabochon ruby eyes.

This ring, a rare survivor from first- or second-century Rome, depicts the head of Cupid in high-carat gold. The dealer describes Cupid here as a “chubby mischievous infant,” but, honestly, the little guy scares the hell outta me.

These earrings date to the 1870-80s, and feature finely carved ivory images of Medusa set on tortoiseshell. They’re very large — 3.25” in length — and were created in Italy.


Circa 1870, this Victorian stickpin depicts a hand brandishing a knife/sword in 18k gold and coral. The knife is pointing the wrong way, but I still hear the Psycho music whenever I look at it.

If this post goes live and this ring is still available, I’ll be shocked. As a memorial ring, it’s an exceptional piece: 18k gold with a carved agate skull surrounded by rose- and old-cut diamonds and black enameling, with hallmarks for London 1852. But as if that weren’t good enough, there’s an interior inscription on the ring that adds another fascinating layer of history: Inscribed “James Dixon Obit 1852,” it memorializes James Dixon, a well-known English silversmith and founder of the family firm of James Dixon & Sons.

This fantastic Victorian “poison ring” is 18k gold, with a central casket flanked by two ram’s heads (an occult symbol all their own). The casket, which is enameled in green and set with a large emerald, opens to reveal a sizeable inner chamber that would easily meet all your poison-storage needs.

Owls are another Halloween standby (and they also had a pretty bad rep in the Middle Ages, apparently), but I particularly like them when they’re made of carved moonstone with ruby eyes, and perched amid 14k gold leaves. The pendant is unmarked but may have originated in England.

This French medieval bronze seal dates to the 13th century and features what the dealer describes as a “chimerical creature: a quadruped with a bearded human head.” (The head is more easily seen in the image of the wax impression; click through to view.) Whatever it is, it’s pretty odd. Around the creature are the words: “S. PRIORIS. SCI. GERVASII,” which translates to “seal of the prior of (the church) Saint-Gervais.” St. Gervais, along with his brother Protase, was an early Christian martyr, and the Priory of St. Gervais was built outside Rouen in 1087 and survived until the 15th century.

I have no idea what symbolic meaning the creature has in this piece, because I’m not even sure what it is. It's similar to a Manticore, but the tail's wrong, and the feet are a little weird, too. (Also, this has nothing to do with anything, but Pliny the Elder said that the Manticore has “a voice like the sound of a pan-pipe blended with a trumpet,” and the thought of that is KILLING me.) But anyway, I'm stumped. Any ideas, oh brilliant readers?

Circa 1940, these gold and enamel (with gemstone accents) brooches are American and feature a wealth of tiny details, like enamel patches on the pants of scarecrow, and brightly colored polka dots on the lady’s dress. Do you like clowns? I don’t. *shudder*

A full skeleton circles the band of this gold and enamel memento mori ring, circa 1727. A crown hovers above the skull, which, as the dealer notes, signifies that “death is the master of all.”

A crystal and gold coffin protects yet another skeleton, this one painted in gold on a black background. The inside of the band is engraved with the initials “JB” and the year 1727.

This carved labradorite grotesque face pin features rose-cut diamonds set in 14k gold. He’d be scarier if he didn’t look like Wolverine eating popcorn.

I could have posted an actual taxidermied monkey paw (gross, Etsy!) but instead I found a designer who's making monkey paw charms in sterling silver and gold — so now I have an excuse to post one of my favorite scary stories of all time. Don’t open the door. DON’T OPEN THE DOOR!

This Medusa pendant is easily the most terrifying item of jewelry I’ve ever seen. It’s not for sale (as far as I know), and I’m not even sure if it’s in private hands or a museum collection, but the image is floating around on the internet and it demands a mention. The pendant, circa 1898, was created by the Belgian jeweler and sculptor Philippe Wolfers (1858-1929). Wolfers was the son of a goldsmith, and he enjoyed a long, successful career. His work — which included sculpture, jewelry, glasswork, and ceramics — showed a progression of influences, including the Far East, Art Nouveau, and, later in life, Art Deco. Occasionally, his designs also delved into Symbolism, a movement (mirrored in literature by authors like Baudelaire and Huysmans) that rebelled against Realism to focus instead on dreams or the world of the imagination.

Wolfers is regarded today as one of the masters of the Art Nouveau style, but he’s not as well-known as others designers because he didn’t produce as much work. If you would like to see more of his creations, there's a nice collection of images here (sorry, it’s in another language!).


Previously: Maritime Jewels.

Monica McLaughlin would also like to mention that there’s currently an exhibition of mourning jewelry running through January 2013 at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston. Check it out if you’re in the area, or browse the jewelry on their dedicated website.

103 Comments / Post A Comment


THE OCTOPUS!!!!!!! I legitimately went to check my savings account. It's totally a worthwhile investment, right? Right???


@anachronistique I would agree with you but then I couldn't have it. (who am I kidding, I can't afford it anyway)


@anachronistique Yes. He's adorable.

Daisy Razor

@anachronistique Let's all go in on it and set up a sharing system. (I can't find the cost, what is it?)


@Daisy Razor I am totally down with sharing. ($3500. It's visible if you click "Buy Now.")


It was a dream@k

Mical Klip@twitter

Greatest Estate Jewelry collection or greatestest Estate Jewelry collection?

Judith Slutler

@Mical Klip@twitter YES. I think it's the first one where I legitimately want almost every piece (not that into the clowns). Loving the Medusa earrings and pendant!

Mical Klip@twitter

@Emmanuelle Cunt But...the clowns! Wear one on each lapel, maybe?


Could the "manticore" be a questing beast?


I don't really want to get married. I don't want to enter into that institution. But if I could propose to someone with a first-century Roman Cupid ring, I might be singing a different tune.

all the bacon and eggs

@Emby That person would have to have veeeeery tiny fingers to fit that ring.


@all the bacon and eggs And a high tolerance for being creeped out every time she looks at her hands.


@Emby I wonder if people who can afford it can have their taste and guts unencumbered by their wealth so to buy that ring. I have that tolerance completely. My heart melts.


@Emby - forget the cupid ring, propose with the poison ring! "Say yes OR ELSE."


@Emby I would tend to agree (if I could be on the receiving end, though).


@Emby I LOVE that ring. But I also should note (and for the good of everyone) that it is possible to get Roman stuff that is semi-affordable. For instance I have a bronze hand amulet that I got for about $50.


it's not wise to make assumptions about my poison-storage needs


@allofthewine also the ring is gorgeous and I want it. the storage capacity would probably work in a pinch, I GUESS


@allofthewine I want a poison ring SO BAD- but all the ones that are even near my budget are tacky and would fall apart after a week.


@redheadedtwit My grandmother had one and now my mother has it. My sister and I have been circling it for YEARS. Forget money or the house, when my mom dies that's the thing I bet we'll fight about.


@MilesofMountains Well obviously you have to poison her then, to show that you deserve the poison ring!


@allofthewine nightlock nightlock nightlock


My God. That scorpion necklace is beautiful. It's an actual work of art.

If I had that kind of money to throw around, I'd buy it just to mount on a black background on my wall.

If I had a Pintrest, it would just be one large picture of this necklace.


@wee_ramekin Yeah, it is amazing. I'm actually surprised it's not more expensive.


@wee_ramekin I say this every time the Estate Jewelry posts come up, but I may actually die if I don't have that scorpion necklace.

Judith Slutler

@wee_ramekin It is REALLY amazing.


@wee_ramekin Yeah, I saw it and immediately thought, "Girl, you would look so FIERCE in that."


@wee_ramekin I literally gasped and then screamed when I saw the scorpion necklace. My birthday is next week, and I am a Scorpio, so clearly someone needs to buy this for me, please and thank you!


That cupid looks like Voldemort. Probably the lack of nose but presence of nostrils.


@olivebee ah! Yes. Thank you, couldn't quite figure out why it was so terrifying.

cashmere velvet candy cane

Ugh I want ALL of this (except for that cupid ring. I would like that image out of my brain now, please). I live for creepy jewelry. Especially the ring with the little crystal coffin! But alas there is no way I can afford it so...I will just have to plan an elaborate heist. Yes. That is the most logical solution.


@cashmere velvet candy cane I'm in for driving the getaway car. When are we meeting?

regina dentata

oh! these posts are so beautiful but SO UNFAIR. My whole body wants that bat necklace.


I love the bat necklace and the skull ring, but that scorpion necklace took my breath away. I don't need that $4000 in my savings account, do I?


I will take the diamond-and-skull ring, please and thank you.


@olivebee Me too, I love it so much! But I just bought this, so maybe I'm OK for a while?

Anotomical Human Skeleton Bracelet


@Hellcat Gasp! That bracelet is FANTASTIC! I'd say you're definitely ok for awhile because you'll be inspiring jealousy in everyone that sees you wearing that bracelet.


@olivebee Thank you. Sometimes I am an impulsive buyer but I think this bracelet will be worth it!


*GASP*....of both horror and desire


I wouldn't have thought I would ever want a scorpion necklace, but there it is.
Also that kraken is definitely just an octopus. Krakens are more like giant squid, aren't they?

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@Megano! I think so, but they're sort of mythical so who knows.


@Megano! Since most imagery of krakens is just of the giant tentacles breaking the water's surface, I thought the point was we don't even know what they're attached to?


@Megano! I think it's the aggression + size that makes a kraken. I don't know of a regular octopus or squid attacking ships.

The correct term is babes, sir

Ok, that is a gorgeous necklace, but really, Elsa, come on, scorpions are the worst. They are not attractive, they are super creepy looking and really really painful. In sum, I hate scorpions.


The only thing that makes me feel less bad about coveting all the rings (crystal coffin, I'm looking at you) is that they wouldn't fit on my giant man-sized fingers* and are too old and delicate to re-size.

* at least my piano teacher thought they were beautiful...


@thisisunclear I feel ya. I wear a 10 or 11 in rings (and shoes, amusingly), which means many rings are out of my reach. *sadface*


I want a poison ring now.


@schrodingers_cat You could keep emergency Advil in it!

Jolie Kerr



@Jolie Kerr Jinx, 123, you owe me a Coke.

Jolie Kerr

@Bittersweet Nuh-uh, I beat you by a minute which means I have DIBS. And also you owe me a Coke SO THERE. (I'm stopping short of sticking out my tongue because I am an adult.)(I am not an adult in any way except for age.)


@Jolie Kerr Humph. *crosses arms, assumes sulky child face*




Ahhhhh, the Cupid ring is terrifying.


Seriously, like, imagine scary child ghost faces pushing out of your wallpaper! NOW PUT A RING ON IT.

polka dots vs stripes

PFFFT you've OBVIOUSLY never seen the chimera CSI episode, where some guy swallowed his twin in utero (I think?) and therefore had two sets of DNA so initially his DNA didn't match the crime scene but dundundun, he WAS the rapist!

I'm not sure if that episode was in any way medically/scientifically accurate, but it was awesome.

ETA: ugh my work blocks the chimera website for "cults and the occult" i want to see the stamp/how much debt I'd have to go into to afford it :/


@polka dots vs stripes Gasp! This is the first time I've heard of a work filter somehow worse than mine.

The good news: it is priced low enough to fall in the "less than 1,000 euros" tags on that page.

regina dentata

@polka dots vs stripes that seems utterly ridiculous. like if i ate a BLT for lunch then went and committed a crime and they're like... "we found this DNA on the scene, and it would appear a delicious PIG robbed this bank."

polka dots vs stripes

@ThatWench oh good that's still under my credit limit

@regina dentata omg it was! i don't even understand how it would work - if he had a cut on his leg and then a cut on his arm, both could have separate DNA strands?? whatever. (it was still awesome. i <3 season 4 CSI)


@regina dentata It's totally real, y'all!


I'm now curled up in the corner, rocking back and forth in a fetal position muttering "Cupid... Cupid." This is how they'll find me. Thanks, Monica. Thanks a lot. ;)


I want that cupid ring and that hand and that owl and that skull ring.

Daisy Razor

Oooh, I want the Medusa earrings. I wouldn't even need a special occasion for them. I'd wear them to Walgreens.


All the Medusa things please. Plus many of the other things, and I hate bats and don't like spiders, but I'd take them. But not the clown pins.


Ohhhhh that crystal coffin ring would even fit me! But I want it less than I want the Medusa earrings (I would wear them EVERY DAY). Seems like I'd have to fight a lot of you guys for them, though.

Lunch Kitty

If someone proposed to me with that Victorian poison ring, my world would implode from happiness.


That skull ring! O. M. G.


Oh. MY! That scorpion necklace for this Scorpio is completely off the charts. DETACHABLE TAIL? If someone surprised me with that I would be theirs forever. Bought and sold.


I would like to give some love to the owl necklace--does no one like it? I have a little bit of an affinity for owl things; I'm not sure why, but they remind me of '70s decor, which makes me happy.

polka dots vs stripes

@Hellcat no i liked it too!!


Did anyone else click through to the Philly estate sale? I read the details of each and every lot and am considering attending the actual auction, just as a sick form of pleasure/pain. I want to get my hands on pretty much all of the rings, but especially the Moi et Toi ring (two diamonds, of equal weight and quality, mounted side by side - or, the ultimate engagement ring). Also the fox head cufflinks/buttons with ruby eyes.


Oh, look! Jewelry!



REALLY want that skull ring. but also this:

which is the coolest/creepiest thing, maybe????


Beautifully frightening pieces, I would love any of them!

Patrick McLaughlin

I did some further research into the Cupid Ring. If you speak nicely to it in Latin he'll give you winning lottery numbers, piss him off and you'll vanish into a greasy yellow cloud and end up in hell for all eternity.


Since I've been trolling antiquities gallery web sites all afternoon for research I have to point out that that cupid ring was probably stolen and smuggled. Caveat emptor!


best Estate Jewelry ever. The Bat Necklace!!! The SKULL RING!! I need it. I have been looking for an agate ring since reading this Hairpin Article This is a link to a website on the World Wide Web.


Agggggh The Monkey's Paw! My dad used to tell me that story when I was a kid (which was wildly inappropriate, really) and I very much enjoyed reliving it just then. I look forward to freaking the hell out of my own kids with it in years to come.


I was wondering why this one has "The Horror" as a subtitle, because the first pieces are pretty awesome. Then I got to that creepyass cupid. It was terrifyingly downhill from there.



Teeeeeny leetle bats!



Fascinating as always :)


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waw Wolfers is regarded today as one of the masters of the Art Nouveau style, but he’s not as well-known as others designers because he didn’t produce as much work ???

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