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Chains of Love

The objects below are separated by nearly 300 years, but they have one thing in common-- they are both symbols of love and devotion. Intricately handmade, one of strong silver, the other of the more fragile thread and beads, each was meant to encircle its owner--one draped around the neck, the other around the waist. They are rare survivors...testaments to the enduring power of love.

Renaissance Mannerist Silver Gilt Belt, 15th-16th Century

Mannerism is a term that refers to the later Renaissance period of art, architecture and decorative arts--the final highly developed phase of the Renaissance movement. This is a marriage belt or "girdle" of silver with a fire gold gilt finish. It weighs 230 grams (8.1 ounces), a weighty artifact from another time. The belt's origins are most likely in the German region. It was made specifically for someone's marriage-- a piece commissioned once a young woman was betrothed to her intended.

The jeweler used finely carved wood molds to cast each link. This is the main part of the belt. There would have also been a separate buckle, and some dangling chains, now lost. The belt consists of seven cartouches with central ovals surrounded by beaded goldwork within a square. Surrounding each cartouche is a quadrefoil of highly textured and detailed scrolled elements. There are also seven casts of ancient coins--most certainly taken from the actual coins, including what appear to be republican denarii, the denarius of L Cornelius Sulla (82/81 BC), a Macedonian teradrachm and a coin with the head of Emperor Hadrian. The highly skilled metalsmiths made each hinge in three parts with individual intricate hinge covers which swivel and hide each hinge. The entire belt terminates with two hooks decorated with roses, acanthus leaves, and that Renaissance icon, the dolphin head, curved to form part of the closure for the belt. Each hook has an open eye. The maker, surely proud of his work, left his indelible mark on the reverse side of the belt-- he initials "S.I." within a heart-shaped cartouche.

Although this belt is a rare surviving artifact, it is also imminently wearable. One could simply thread silken cords or leather thongs through the eyepiece at either end and tie these artistically to lengthen and make the piece practical to wear. It also could simply remain as a showpiece of a collection- a piece to gaze upon, study, and imagine the past love it inspired. SOLD

Rare Dated and Documented American Bead Watch Chain: Flora Smith, 1836

Flora may not have realized that the charming and delicate beaded watch chain she skillfully crafted for her uncle Malcolm D. Fraser would be a rare survivor over 175 years later. This is the only complete example I have seen outside of a museum. According to Lynne Bassett in her article Woven Bead Chains in Early 19th-Century American Dress, bead chains were woven on a bead loom (like the one on display at Winterthur) by schoolgirls and presented as gifts to friends and relatives. This example is is 53 inches long and 3/8 inches wide and contains more than 11,400 beads. The sentiment reads: "Malcolm D. Fraser. from his niece Flora I. Smith. November 29th 1836." Note: this bead chain was documented in the September-October issue of Piecework magazine. Price: $950. SALE PRICE: $695.

The portrait at right shows Mrs. Pearce wearing the most fashionable jewelry of 1835, when the portrait was painted by Erastus Salisbury Field. She is wearing a similar watch chain to the one above. Her watch was held in place by the long woven bead chain to which were attached gilt fasteners and her watch key.

Painting: Abby Aldrich Folk Art Collection: Colonial Williamsburg

Silvermine Antiques - New Canaan, CT

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