Truly a rare find, this 18k gold antique Victorian Penca de Balangadans is from Brazil. It holds a trio of figas, the hands with a crossed finger considered a good luck talisman. Sure to be three times as lucky, these figas are carved in Carnelian, and blue and green Chalcedony, all mounted in 18k yellow gold. The charm holder is mechanical and has a small key that unwinds to release the lower arm so that the charms may be changed. The face of the brooch is beautifully etched and the three hand carved figa charms or pendants have ornate, floral tops. There is an 18k mark on the back of the brooch, as well as on the top of each figa hand. Traditionally these were made of silver, so to find one in 18k gold indicates that the original owner likely had some financial status.
The entire piece measures 2 7/16" tall from top to bottom and 1 9/16" wide at the widest point. The figas measure 1 1/16" tall, without the bail, and 7/16" wide at the fist. Total weight is 15 grams. In very good antique condition, this piece shows some age commensurate wear from use and has an antique patina, which has not been polished. Unique and rare, this Penca de Balangadans is versatile in that it can hold other charms and the figas can be easily removed and worn individually as pendants.
The creation of the Pencas came about with the arrival of Portugese colonizers and their West African slaves in Bahia. Tribal traditions and Catholicism merged the symbolism of mystic saints with supernatural Yoruban deities. Worn by Creole black and mixed race women, they were a sign of conspicuous financial status. After their emancipation, they were worn during religious ceremonies and a rare gold one, such as this, would have also been considered a nest egg for the owner.