There she sits, in all her beauty... scroll in hand, learning of the loss of her beloved Soldier. To us, she's a Maiden or perhaps a young bride. Who is this soldier? A husband? A lover? Maybe a son, or even her father? Or perhaps the soldier mourns his fair lady, lost during his time away.
Images of the possible stories that accompany this Victorian miniature portrait mourning locket-brooch fill my mind as I study the beauty and heartbreak so realistically captured in this wonderful antique piece. Though the size of a stomacher brooch at 3.25 inches, while not categorically 'stomacher' in style, it certainly crosses over into that realm of antique jewelry.
Of course, we know little pertaining to the actual history of this beautiful 140-170 year old piece, and only by studying similar Victorian pieces can we gather knowledge. So rather than our standard write-up, we will write what we know or perceive to be accurate in describing this rare beauty.
TIME TO PUT YOUR READERS ON.....
Out of the gates, it is clear to us, due to variances in style, gold karat content and markings, that this brooch started out as a few pieces (most likely the bottom locket) and came together as it exists now likely during the Etruscan-revival or late-Victorian period. Our summation is that POSSIBLY it was passed on down through family members who added and/or altered pieces for their desired usage as the years went on.
Now, starting with the eye-catcher, the hand painted miniature portrait 'locket':
Stylistically, the miniature portrait appears European, possibly French, maybe Northern Spain or Italy. Absolutely beautiful, the portrait is hand-painted (possibly fired enamel) on porcelain or a similar hardstone. The detail is exquisite, from her red dress with striped green slightly bouffant sleeves, to her red bonnet-cap on her golden hair, and pierced lips. The dress style, with its squared shoulders and looser sleeves, along with the bonnet, point to about 1850-1860. Our maiden wears a large diamond & gold necklace and earrings, perhaps suggesting this was a lady of stature and wealth. Or were they gifts from her beloved? Seven rose-cut diamonds in total, from the few similar pieces we've found online, they too point to European craftsmanship. There is some wear to the porcelain, most prominent on the left side of the portrait near her hair, however, the wear does not extend into the painting itself.
The portrait is encased in a heavy, solid yellow gold 'locket'. Unmarked, we've acid tested it to be no less than 14kt, with it likely being 15kt gold. Black zig-zag enamel finely surrounds the portrait. The outer portion of the locket is decorated by a flower at its top which we presume would be a 'forget-me-knot' flower so symbolic in mourning jewelry. There is a scroll of gold on the left side of the locket that is not on the right side. It doesn't look like a piece has broken off, and if anything, it could be a later addition only on the left side, for what reasons we can't figure out.
While now all connected to create the overall articulated brooch, it looks like the locket possibly swiveled originally. At some point in history, the locket, which is missing its original back, likely contained hair, as commonly found in mourning lockets. When we acquired this piece, there was actually a bit of brown-gray ash-like powder in it. The thought crossed our minds that perhaps the locket held ashes at some point, though not common. More likely, it was simply residue from age.
Now, to the top 3 sections of the brooch:
The design of these 3 connecting sections is unquestionably archaeologically inspired Etruscan-revival, which we date between 1860-1885. Use of granulation & twisted gold wirework are indicative of the period initiated by Italian jeweler Castellani in the mid-19th century. We believe the 1st section with the pin latch was made at a different time than the 2nd & 3rd sections which do appear to be designed together by the same maker. All 3 sections test strongly for 14kt gold (probable 15kt), however, we have reason to believe the first section may be rolled gold, a combination of a base metal rolled with real gold to create thin 'gold' sheets used heavily in Victorian times. Additionally, the pin itself tests strongly for 10kt, likely 12kt, so it too may have been added at a later date. Our reason for thinking this section could be rolled gold is the LACK of patina and light weight of it, along with its brighter yellow hue, whereas the pin latch + middle 2 sections + locket all exhibit patina and/or heavier, stronger construction. That said though, as it strongly tests as 14kt gold, we could be entirely wrong.
When we first acquired this piece, it arrived with the 1st section having a smaller enameled male portrait 'heart & crown' plaque attached, as you see in our pictures. It had been soldered on, but was loose, and fell off with us handling it. We had our jeweler look at it, and rather than attempting to re-solder, due to the small size of the heart, professional jewelers glue was used to reattach it, so to not damage it. Possibly a Roman soldier based on his attire, including a helmet with a star on it, when this section came loose, we were able to acid test it, which strongly tested as 9kt, weakly as 14k, so possibly 12kt gold. It is also the ONLY 'hallmarked' piece, marked 'FOV*(star symbol)P'. This hallmark, as well as a different gold karat content, points to the plaque not being an original design aspect to this top section.
The middle sections show considerable patina which we've not cleaned. The back of the smaller 2 pieces has '1401' hand-etched into it, but no other numbers or markings are present. The larger piece has remnants of what we believe was an older pin attachment, possibly present before the top 1st section was added.
All in all, weighing 15 grams in total, each section acid tests for the stated gold karat content listed above, however, we err on the side of 'suspicion' that the very top section (not including the heart plaque which is indeed gold) COULD be rolled gold and not solid 14/15kt gold. Nonetheless, the age and design components of this wonderfully poignant and sentimental brooch ultimately outweigh the question of whether all pieces are or aren't solid gold. It is so common to find antique Victorian pieces and components made of rolled gold, and we are not going to take it apart after all these years to further analyze it when it's beautiful just the way it is.
Where does your imagination take you? Do you imagine the same story we do or an entirely different one? Have loving family members added sections throughout the years to 'complete' the story of a maiden losing her beloved, or did she perish first, with the family forever immortalizing her on porcelain while her loving soldier marched on, later to be immortalized himself at his passing? Are the components of this brooch maybe even segments of a medal he received? So many possibilites and our imaginations can run for miles thinking up all the stories.
If this antique spectacle speaks to you as it does us, perhaps you are the one to continue the tale... what chapter awaits them next?
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Antique Victorian Diamond Mourning Maiden Articulated Locket Pin
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