Niello is a blackened substance, which is comprised of metallic alloys (such as copper, silver, and lead) mixed with sulphur. Like enamel, it serves as a decorative overlay applied to etched metals, but was primarily used in silver, and was characterized by its black color and oxidized appearance. It originated in ancient Egypt and Rome, and later spread throughout Europe during the Medieval and Renaissance periods. During the Victorian era, it experienced a revival, and by the early 20th century, the majority of Niello work was produced in the Russian town of Tula (sometimes referred to as "Tula Silver" or "Tula work"). Although Niello work has now been replaced by more modern techniques, it still is used in Thailand. However, the original antique Niello pieces have now become very collectible!
A fabulous and extravagant silver Niello piece from the Victorian (ca1880) era! Originally, this piece would have likely been worn as an addition on a chatelaine. It is an exceptionally large piece, and is comprised of several Niello elements, including a long clip and a pocket watch. At the top of the clip is a Niello flower basket, a lovely and unusual detail. Hanging from the bottom is a heart shaped pocket watch. Excluding the flower basket, which has its own floral design, each piece is covered with a wonderful matching Niello pattern in a traditional checkerboard motif. Hanging from a chain at the side of the piece is a small watch winding tool, which is known as a "watch key." Two small hallmarks are stamped on the underside of the clip. This magnificent piece is very impressive, and would make a unique addition to any Niello or antique collection!
Measurements: The entire piece measures approximately 4 1/2" long from top to bottom. The flower basket is 7/8" tall and 1 1/8" wide. The twisted clip link below measures 2" long and 5/8" wide. The heart-shaped pocket watch measures 1 1/2" tall, 1 5/8" wide, and 3/4" thick. The chain and watch key hangs 4 5/8" long. The watch key fob itself is 1 3/8" tall and 3/16" thick.
Condition: The piece remains in good antique condition. There is no apparent damage to the silver setting, and the Niello detail has normal minor surface wear, but is very well-preserved. The back of the pocket watch opens easily and closes securely. The glass cover that protects the watch face is intact. The clip on the back does not tightly fasten, making this piece a decorative collectable, rather than a wearable piece of jewelry. Watches of this era do not always keep time in the modern day, and may need to be oiled and cleaned periodically.