An impressive gem-set and enamel snake necklace with vinaigrette

Designed as a highly articulated yellow gold serpent, applied with a black and white enamel motif to the exterior and with pale green enamel scale motif to the under belly, the head accented with a pearl, embellished with a ruby eye, opening to reveal a gold vinaigrette compartment, circa 1840, Swiss made. Length 65.5cm, apertures 1/3 and 2/3rds down the length of the body to enable to necklace to be worn in two different ways, also an aperture to be worn around the wrist with the head in the hand when using the vinaigrette. Provenance: Christie’s London 29 November 2011 Lot 274 Literature: Cf. Nineteenth Century Jewellery, Peter Hinks, Faber and Faber London 1975, P.45 Chapter: The Mid-Century 1840 to 1860 for the following quote: “ Very rarely the snake idea was taken more literally in large collars that are as close to nature as the goldsmith’s and enameller’s very considerable skill could take them. Every scale was decorated with champlevé enamels and so perfectly fitted and jointed that realism comes a little too close for comfort. These jewels are of Swiss origin and very uncommon.” Vinaigrettes were widely used in Europe from the late 18th to the late 19th Century. In a time where the odours of everyday life were omnipresent, if a lady or gentleman wanted to spare themselves the reality, they carried a vinaigrette. These are gold or silver boxes with a cavity covered by a perforated lid, inside which a sponge soaked with aromatic vinegars, salts or perfume was placed. The demands of fashion and discretion lead to many elaborations and this snake is a particularly decadent example.

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