'Parure', consisting of tiara, necklace, pendant, earrings and bracelet

Naples, southern Italy
Around 1860

Complete set of jewellery made of carved conch shell

This parure (a complete set of jewellery) consists of five pieces: a tiara, necklace, pendant, earrings and bracelet. The pendant converts to a brooch, so the whole set could be worn for a ball or a grand dinner. The earrings and bracelet made a demi-parure for more modest occasions. The entire set is contained in its original leather case.

The parure is carved with sea-horses, dolphins, mermaids and shells and each piece is made up of several elements, cut from thin sections to achieve an almost translucent  effect and then riveted to a gold framework, invisible from the front. Much of the work is undercut or hollowed out with remarkable delicacy. The giant,  or Queen, conch shell (Strombus gigas) was imported from the West Indies  and occurs as distinct pink and white layers. Because the layers are relatively  thin, and the strong colour occurs mainly on the lip of the shell, multiple  pieces were often built up to create a high relief cameo effect.

The parure is not marked, but it was very likely carved and  mounted in Naples, the centre of the shell and coral carving industry. Shell  work was widely exported to England. If not acquired on a visit to Italy, the  parure may have been purchased from one of the importers of Neapolitan  jewellery in London such as the Bond Street firm of Robert Phillips, who  exhibited work from Naples at the London International Exhibition of 1862.

This parure has been in the De Beaumont family since the nineteenth century. Its excellent condition suggests that it was scarcely worn. It may instead have been displayed, as a gift at a wedding or as a souvenir of a visit to Italy.

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More information

Bibliography

S. Bury, Jewellery 1789-1914. The Inter, 2 vols. (Woodbridge, 1991)

A. Putaturo Murano and A. Perriccioli Saggese, Larte del corallo. Le manifatt (Naples, 1989)

Dimensions

Length: 34.800 cm ((case))
Width: 26.000 cm ((case))

Museum number

P&E 2003,12-1,1 a-f

MCT21664

Acquired with the aid of contributions from Robert C. Kwok and the British Museum Friends

Location

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