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Antique Tortoise Shell Earrings, Pique

19th century antique tortoise shell earrings carved in two large oblique hoops.

The setting is in traditional piqué, where the gold inlay is set in the carved tortoise shell. Tortoise shell is not exactly the hardest material so the the art of piqué remains very much a thing of the past, with roots as early as the 17th century. Piqué aside, the carving of the tortoise shell in this pair is difficult as it is not flat and some parts so thin. Indeed, the bevel of the two hoops is sublime.

The naturalistic flower and leaf designs of the first half of the 19th century developed into more geometric designs by the later half, of balls, stars, dots, stripes and lattices. If you look closely at the photos, you can see from contrasting colors both gold and silver inlay, a very traditional and early piqué work.

This is one of the largest pair around, at 4cm tall and 3cm wide. The 9k ear wires add a further 2cm. The size, shape and movement would qualify this as a set of pendant earrings.

The perfection of this pair is both in its excellent piqué and tortoise shell condition. For the modern wearer, the beauty is also in its one-piece design, without the more ornate settings of larger pieces. Collector’s quality.

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