Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch
Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch

BR251

Mid Victorian 1860s 198.8 CT Hand Carved Coral Swaddled Putto Brooch

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General Information:

  • Total Carat Weight: Professionally estimated at approx. 198.8 ct
  • Precious Metal Material: Base metal locking c-clasp pin stem/closure mechanism (post-dates coral component by at least 55 years: coral is c. ~1840 while pin is c. 1895-1900)
  • Dimensions: 65.0 mm long x 29.5 mm wide x 16.0 mm deep (depth is just of the coral and does not include the metal pin addition)
  • Weight: 15.09 grams
  • Markings: None
  • Era: Coral carving is believed to date to the Early to Mid Victorian period, c. 1840s-1860s. Examples of carved coral putto exist from the mid 1700s through the 1880s. The base metal locking c-clasp closure mechanism to the brooch’s reverse appears to be a later addition to the piece, perhaps replacing a former gold version; this system is patented to c. 1895 in Europe and c. 1900 in the United States.
  • Buyer Notes: While coral Victorian jewels are relatively prevalent on the market, carved putto of this magnificent quality and detail are few and far between. Thus, this coral piece is a rare example of a trend of 19th century jewelry that is much less common on the market today. Fair comparable pieces (with like weight, dimensions, color, age, and technical skill) on the market at the time of listing place the value of this piece at $3,570 USD.

Specifications: 

  • Center Stone Type: Natural Italian coral (corallium elatius)
  • Center Stone Count: One (1)
  • Center Stone Carat Weight: By formula using coral’s specific gravity, estimated to come to between 198.83 and 224.26 ct; we have opted to represent the minimum carat weight for transparent fairness of the approximated quality of the formulation.
  • Center Stone Dimensions: Carved in the figural form of a swaddled “putto” or cherub
  • Center Stone Shape: Hand-carved cabochon
  • Center Stone Color: Deep Salmon (not Angel Skin, Pink, or Oxblood Red)
  • Center Stone Surface Quality: Waxy
  • Center Stone Luster: Vitreous 

The Story:

Skillfully carved by hand of a single fragment of natural coral nearly two centuries ago, this one of a kind sculpture is now a wearable jewel. This brooch is formed of an individual, untreated coral, its wonderfully waxy surface complexion a distinct hallmark compared to its over-veneered and dyed counterparts on the market. As such, this vitreous coral shows characteristic “ribbing” which is visible upon very close inspection by the naked eye, and through 15x magnification or greater. These natural striations are the visual growth and formation indicators of the coral’s organic origins. In suit, faint traces and other inclusions are seen within the carvings’ depths, as well as to the brooch’s reverse. This piece has quite consistent coloration throughout, enabling it to claim the standard of ‘gem quality’ antique coral, the harvesting of which is now prohibited and protected.

Three-quarters of this piece’s surface is intricately carved in high relief, recalling the attention and lifelikeness given to antiquity’s lifesize stone sculptures carved in the round. The figure depicted is known in art history as a “putto”, which is an Italian term that derives from the Latin word describing a male infant. While puttos have long been used in art history as iconography of toddler-angels, they have always been relatively and intentionally synonymous with cupids, cherubs and child angels, allowing all such figures to convey myriad messages as needed per work of art. 

Often, these plump babies were symbolic of divine intervention, guidance or protection of some kind. Many historians credit the Renaissance Italian master sculptor Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi-- better known as Donatello (1386-1466)-- with creating the putto as we know it and as art history studies it today. Putto, within the decorative and wearable arts, are often displayed in dynamic fashion, swaddled in billowing fabrics that simulate the mighty winds of the heavens, and this piece excellently exemplifies this classical element. As well, delicately carved curls individual strands of hair crown the child’s head, while supple rolls of skin add realistic detail to the babe’s neck, arms, stomach and rear. Peeping eyes and serene lips reveal the putto’s disposition, just as much as his articulated fingers, toes and navel animate his realism.

It is likely that this carved putto was created by the hand of a highly skilled Italian artisan, designed to sell to wealthy travelers enjoying their Grand Tour. The Grand Tour of Europe was a months or years-long excursion taken by aristocratic gentlemen (and sometimes newlywed couples), of Britain and colonial and postcolonial America during the 18th and 19th centuries. This intention of this trip was to expose the gentry to culture, and educate them of the most famous historic sites across the continent, though it often ensured opportunities for other, more scandalous activities as well.

While traveling, Grand Tourists would purchase handmade unmounted jewelry components (such as loose cameos) as souvenirs, which would be brought home and mounted as desired by their recipients. It is quite likely that this coral carving was purchased loose, and a pin finding was later affixed so that it could be worn as a brooch. However, the existing clasp and pin mechanism appears to be a historic replacement for a previous original; the current system dates to approximately 1895-1900 and is made of base metal, while its original would have likely been made of fine gold (14k to 18k yellow gold) with an open, non-locking c-clasp.

This piece is in stunning condition for its 180 or so years of age and given the considerably low hardness grading of coral on the Mohs scale (3 to 3.5 of 10, 10 being diamond). It shows no apparent areas of breakage, with only slight commensurate wear to areas such as the child’s nose and fingertips. It has clearly been well cared for, and survives as a very rare, very lovely model of hand-carved Grand Tour era Italian coral jewelry components. It may be easily reinstated with a fine gold pin stem clasp if so desired, or reimagined as a pendant or bracelet with the additions of either a gold bail or chain. As is, it is certainly a wearable relic of the past, a showstopping coral form from the early decades of the Victorian period.

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