The Secrets of a Rare 17th Century Jewel

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In striking contrast, the two sides of this circa 1660 reliquary-pendant illustrate the wealth and power that its original owner would have enjoyed in public and in private. Centred by six Dutch rose-cut diamonds and accented by smaller rose- and table-cut diamonds, the front suggests immense riches through the unusually large gems and bold design. With polychrome enamel motifs of tulips and foliage and a concealed compartment devised to hold a relic, the reverse embodies a life in which botany and Dutch still-lifes may have loomed large. Set in silver and gold, graced with high artistry and intrinsic value as well as inherent rarity, this work possesses undeniable historical significance. Click ahead to discover the hidden touches of this extraordinary pendant.

Important Jewels
22 September | New York

The Secrets of a Rare 17th Century Jewel

  • Silver, gold, diamond and enamel cruciform reliquary-pendant. Estimate $30,000–50,000. To be offered in Sotheby’s Important Jewels sale in New York on 22 September.
  • Cross-Cultural Influences
    The six diamonds in the centre illustrate the Silk Road’s crucial role in the cross-fertilisation of cultures. Thanks to his six voyages to Persia and India, legendary French traveler and gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605–1689) introduced Europe to the great mines of Golconda, as well as to Mughal gem-cutting techniques. In this piece, the Indian-inspired Dutch rose cut of the major stones holds particular charm, its double tier of triangular facets calling overlapping rose petals to mind.

  • A Worthy Chain
    Laden with a large amount of precious stones, layers of intricate enamel work, a secret compartment and much gold and silver, this pendant needed to be secured  to its wearer in an equally resplendent manner. Although it might have originally been sewn to the costume of its owner, if not completed by an opulent chain, it is currently suspended from a chain by Italian design house Bulgari, with a heft and finish making it a perfect match for the jewelled pendant.

  • When Rose-cut Was All the Rage
    Early diamond cuts involved minor changes and light polishing, still visible in the pendant’s table-cut diamond accents. In the 16th century, the introduction and development of the rose-cut diamond produced more interesting, fully fashioned and glitzier gems. Flat-bottomed, with domes topped by varying numbers of triangular facets to increase scintillation and sparkle, rose-cut diamonds developed a large following. Nothing glimmered better by candlelight.

  • A Concealed Compartment
    A centuries-old Christian tradition originally devised to preserve the actual remains of saints or objects that belonged to them, reliquaries slowly left the exclusive province of the Church to enter the private domain. Pious 17th-century noblemen or women with concealed reliquaries in their jewellery would use them to hold religious items as well as memories or traces of a departed relation. In this pendant, the compartment’s lid is counter-enamelled in pale blue, the colour of the sky and of heaven.

  • A Sign of Its Times
    Along with luxurious satins and furs, opulent jewellery was a hallmark of 17th-century court attire, a symbol that announced the importance of the wearer as soon as light bounced off its gems and precious metals. Well documented and exquisitely rendered in the portraiture of Rembrandt and Van Dyck, these glittering sartorial markers also denoted the era’s interdependence of church and state. One look at A Polish Nobleman , a 1637 painting by Rembrandt, suffices to understand that this man has authority, wealth and religion firmly on his side.

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