Christie’s Dutch Pomander

A corruption of the French term “pomme d’ambre,” or “apple of amber,” pomanders refer to both a type of fragrance and their containers. These scent holders have been used since at least the 14th century in Europe, frequently worn as decorative pendants suspended around the neck or from the end of a jeweled belt. One Dutch pomander, sold at Christie’s in 2010, is a notable specimen.

Dated to around 1660, this enameled gold jewel is decorated inside and out with images of flowers on top and bust portraits on the bottom. It is pear shaped with six segments and a hinged bottom, allowing the piece to open out like a flower. The pieces fasten with a gold screw top that hold the segments in place, and has a loop that allows it to be secured to a chain. The bottom portion is set with unspecified precious stones, two of which have fallen out of their settings and are unaccounted for.


Science and Society Picture Library Pomander

Before the advent of germ theory, Europeans believed diseases were caused by bad odors. To protect their health, they carried perfume in containers known as pomanders, which were frequently worn as jewelry. Silver, gold, enamel and jeweled pieces were popular, as were a variety of shapes and designs.

The Science and Society Picture Library collection has a silver pomander shaped like a book. There is a chain fastened to it allowing it to hang from a belt, a thick spine, and a rat engraved onto its “cover.” It’s dated to the 17th century, and comes from the United Kingdom, though a specific region isn’t named.


The Shaw Jahan Cameo

This jewel from the Victoria and Albert Museum features a portrait of Shah Jahan, the 5th emperor of India’s Mughal Empire. The oval cameo measures 2.3 centimeters tall by 2 centimeters wide with no mount or other features to indicate how it was worn. It’s carved from brown and white sardonyx, showing the man in profile from the shoulders up. His clothes are dark brown with the thickest layer of onyx, his face a lighter hue and of thinner stone, with white turban and jewels.

The cameo was likely made around 1630, from a European artisan working from a portrait of the man. Though Shah Jahan is of Asian descent, in this cameo he bears European features and clothing. Only three cameos of the man are known to exist. In addition to the Victoria and Albert piece, there is another at the British Museum, and a privately owned cameo in Kuwait.


The Barbor Jewel

This pendant was first mentioned in 1724, when the Barbor family recordeed the jewel’s creation during the reign of Queen Mary I of England. Their ancestor William Barbor was supposed to have been saved from the queen’s wrath with the help of the future Queen Elizabeth I. This story is meant to explain why the pendant holds a portrait of Elizabeth I. However, the style of enamel on the jewel places its creation between 1615 and 1625, during a later reign.

The pendant is made of gold, with its main portion shaped as an oval with a crown motif emerging from its top. At the oval’s bottom hang pearls clustered like grapes. The pendant’s center holds an onyx cameo of Queen Elizabeth I, surrounded with a colorful enamel border set with table cut rubies and diamonds. The jewel’s reverse side is almost completely covered in enamel, depicting and oak tree bordered in blue and white.


3 Archduke Maximilian III Pendant

Created by the Italian sculptor to the Habsburg royal family Alessandro Abondio around 1612, this pendant features the bust profile of Maximilian III, Archduke of Austria. The pendant’s top features an oval bordered in scrollwork, from which three chains hang down, supporting a medallion with the Archduke’s profile. This circle is edged with still more scrollwork, with a pearl hanging from its bottom. On the medallions’ reverse is a walled town.

Around the Archduke’s head are words in relief that translate to “Maximilian, by the grace of God, archduke of Austria, at the age of 54, 1612.” On the back of the pendant there’s the phrase “We should fight.” Decorating portions of the scrollwork and top oval is enamel depicting what is possibly coat of arms. The piece is now part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art European and Decorative Arts collection, donated in 1941 by George Blumenthal.


A J.P. Morgan Pendant

This jewel of German origin is decorated inside and out, forward and aft. The pendant’s base is made of oval shaped gold with clasp at its top, a loop nearby to allow it to hang from a chain, and hinge at its bottom. On the pendant’s front is a man in relief against a flat battlefield background. He wears armor reminiscent of an ancient Roman, with a baroque pearl for a breastplate. The pendant’s back contains a landscape framed by flowers on a white background.

The inside of the pendant isn’t as elaborate as its exterior. It’s painted all over in a light blue, with one side displaying a daisy bouquet and the other showing the profile of a rooster under the inscription “QVAND.CE.QVOC.CHANTERA.MON.AMOVR.FINIRA” framed within a laurel wreath. The pendant came into the hands of financier J.P. Morgan, who donated it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1917.


The Carew Spinel Necklace

Originating in India, this necklace was made to showcase a stone of unusual size, the Carew Spinel. The jewel measures 4 centimeters long, 2.3 centimeters wide and weighs 133.5 carats. Its surface is polished but unfaceted, and bears the titles of the first three Mughal Emperors carved upon its surface. The only other modifications to this stone is a diamond set on either end of the spinel, and a gold pin set into its top, enabling its wear on a necklace. The rest of the necklace seems to be made of strands of brightly colored cord, its ends terminating in tassels.

The necklace gets its name from Julia Mary, Lady Carew, who received the necklace in 1870 as a gift from her great uncle abroad. She donated the piece to the Victoria and Albert Museum at an undisclosed time. The necklace was displayed in 1982 as part of an exhibit on court life and art in the Mughal Empire.