João Magalhães, a Sotheby’s furniture specialist, has a penchant for all things Portuguese. So, when he happened across the collection of 18th-century Portuguese jewellery at SJ Phillips, he came up with a plan. The antique jewellery specialist, he said, should consider exhibiting it in Lisbon’s Casa-Museu Medeiros e Almeida. The show opens today – Magalhães considers the featured 70 pieces to be among the best he’s seen.
‘Portugal was creating jewellery with a strong identity because of the stones coming from Brazil and the newly found wealth here at the beginning of the 18th century,’ he says. ‘Gold was also flowing in really huge quantities.’
The collection includes this set of six semi-precious (topaz, amethyst) gemstone and diamond brooches
‘They used a lot of topaz and coloured stones that you don’t very often find in non-Portuguese jewellery of this period,’ adds Francis Norton, partner and director at SJ Phillips. The bow-shaped devant de corsage with tawny topaz, edged with table-cut diamonds is a prime example.
‘The bow became so typical of Portuguese jewellery and you see it everywhere – though of course its origin is French,’ says Magalhães. The craftsmanship too is particular. ‘All the stones are cut to fit into each other and you don’t really see that kind of work until 1920 when Van Cleef & Arpels established Mystery setting; these stones are almost invisibly set,’ emphasises Norton.
The large pendant with crowned monogram is another standout piece for its size, emeralds, and exquisitely enamelled back. And the floral spray for the hair, like so many of the pieces in the collection, features non-precious chrysoberyls. Though distinct for their faint greeny-yellow tint, they are often mistaken as diamonds and were an accepted early form of glitz in courtly Portuguese circles court (the royal family, of course, would have worn only precious gemstones).
‘By and large the stones of these pieces are not special – but the way I see it, if you see a great oil painting how much is the oil worth?’ says Norton.