Is Amelia Earhart’s Fish Pendant a Symbol of Absolution?

Photograph by E. F. Foley, 1932 Image Credit: Fine Art America
Amelia Earhart, 1932
Photograph by E. F. Foley, 1932
Image Credit: Fine Art America

Amelia Earhart sits atop a desk in a lacy white ensemble which embodies her feminine elegance. Her only ornaments are a jeweled belt and a silver fish pendant suspended from a silver chain. This unique piece of jewelry invites deeper exploration–no easy feat considering the famous pilot rarely wore more than a string of pearls and simple gold earrings.

There is one account of a silver fish pendant, which Amelia presented to her dear friend, Dorothy Binney Putnam, in 1928, after completing her momentous transatlantic flight. Dorothy’s pendant is described by her granddaughter, Sally Chapman, in her book, Whistled Like a Bird: “The fish is etched with tiny scales and a flat fin lies against its small side. There is a ring in its mouth that originally held a thin satin purple ribbon. On the reverse side the inscription reads: A.E.–6-18-28–D.B.P.” {Chapman, 1997}.

Ms. Chapman reports that Amelia chose the fish in honor of a play she saw with the Putnams just prior to her departure on the Friendship. ‘The Good Hope’ is a tragedy about fishermen and their wives. During a poignant scene, one of the wives, Truus, after speaking of what happens when a fisherman dies at sea, tearfully asserts: “The fish are dearly paid for.” Throughout the rest of the play, the other wives pick up this dismal mantra.

Shortly after presenting the gift to Dorothy, Amelia wrote in her book 20 hrs 40 min that the saying became a sort of motto for the crew aboard the Friendship. Throughout the flight, the inherent risks of living an adventurous life must have weighed heavily upon them. The inscription on the pendant suggests that the aviatrix had first made the motto hers before sharing it with her crew. The same words must have also haunted Dorothy, who most certainly worried that Amelia would drown in a watery grave like the fishermen.

One must wonder, though, about the ring in the fish’s mouth and the purple ribbon. There are some indications in Dorothy Putnam’s diaries that she may have shared certain secrets with Amelia just before the pendant was made. For some time, Dorothy had been involved romantically with her son’s live-in tutor, George Weymouth. It is possible that Amelia, drawing upon the legendary story of St. Kentigern, offered the fish as a sign of absolution.

In the legend, an adulteress queen pleads to God for help after her murderess husband seeks to kill her for her indiscretions with a young knight. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the saint saves the woman from death by hooking and gutting a fish who had swallowed a ring.

Perhaps Amelia wished to assure her friend that she would find no judgment from her. Adding the ribbon in purple, a color dear to the Suffragettes’ hearts as a symbol of dignity, would only have driven the point home.

Although Amelia would very soon become an adulteress herself, and with none other than Dorothy’s husband, it would seem that never an angry moment was shared between the two women. In fact, Ms. Chapman intimates that Dorothy may have welcomed the affair between her friend and her husband as a sure way out of a dead-end marriage.

As the portrait above implies, Amelia’s fondness for the symbolic fish carried over into her wardrobe. Since it does not appear to be exactly as the one described in Ms. Chapman’s account, Amelia may have had this one made for herself to remind her of both the perils of adventure and the sanctuary of dear friends who allow for mistakes and offer redemption.

Introducing the Triune Victorian Era of Jewelry

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Victorian Fashion
Photo Source: The Hooded Utilitarian

by Angela Magnotti Andrews 

The Victorian Era spans the duration of Queen Victoria’s reign in Great Britain, from 1837 to 1901. The jewelry and fashion industries of this era are divided into three distinct periods, corresponding directly with the three distinct periods that mark Queen Victoria’s life. Some refer, rather monotonously, to these periods as Early, Mid-, and Late Victorian, though I like their more descriptive names far better: Romantic, Grand, and Aesthetic.

The Romantic Period commenced upon Her Majesty’s coronation as queen and came to an abrupt end the year her husband, Prince Albert, died. The Grand Period spanned the years just following Prince Albert’s death, from 1861 until 1885, and the Aesthetic Period overlapped a bit with the beginning of the Edwardian, Arts & Crafts, and Art Nouveau periods. This final period of the Victorian Era came to a close upon the noble Queen’s death in 1901.

It is no secret that Queen Victoria loved bling. As a true romantic, the Romantic Period is lauded for the celebration of family, the popularization of foreign travel, and the uprise of Great Britain as an empire. During this exciting time, she and her husband inspired an entire century of innovation and creativity in jewelry design around the world. Unfortunately, at the tragic loss of her husband, Victoria took a dive into the darkness of death and mourning, taking the jewelry industry with her.

The Grand Period lasted until the public’s eye turned toward the lovely Princess Alexandra for inspiration in the realm of fashion. The popularity of the Princess coupled with Queen Victoria’s emergence for her Golden Jubilee in 1887 drew a nation out of mourning and brought the jewelry industry with it into the golden age of Aesthetic design. It was this period that ultimately ushered in the most intriguing jewelry movements of all time, Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. “Queen Victoria (1819-1901).” Victorian Station, accessed May 4, 2012. http://www.victorianstation.com/queen.html.
2. Kate Dwyer. “History of Victorian Jewelry.” Victoriana Magazine, accessed May 4, 2012, http://www.victorianamagazine.com/jewelry/victorianjewelry.htm.
3. “Queen Victoria.” Spartacus Educational, accessed May 4, 2012. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/PRvictoria.htm.
4. S. Hand. “Victorian Jewelry: Personal Adornment from the Age of Romance to the Age of Aesthetics.” Old Sacramento Living History Program (2004). Last modified 2011. http://www.oldsacramentolivinghistory.com/research/victorian%20jewelry.pdf.

Schlumberger Paillonne Bangle Bracelet Sold at Sotheby’s

18k Gold and Red Enamel 'Paillonne' Bangle Bracelet Image Copyright 2013 Sotheby's
18k Gold and Red Enamel ‘Paillonne’ Bangle Bracelet
Image Copyright 2013 Sotheby’s

On February 7, 2013, Sotheby’s sold this exquisite 18k gold and red enamel paillonne bangle bracelet for $50,000. Signed Tiffany Schlumberger, Made in France, this is one of the more delectable jewels of the late Jean Schlumberger (1907-1987), one of Tiffany & Co.’s most lauded jewelry designers.

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Mr. Schlumberger and his business partner, Nicolas Bongard, were invited to join the ranks of the prestigious jewelry firm in 1956. They were honored as Vice Presidents and set up with a second-floor studio which was described in the New York Times as “an atmosphere combining boudoir satin and the hush of a boardroom” {2001}. With an endless supply of diamonds and gold at his disposal, Mr. Schlumberger’s brilliance was unleashed, his whimsy and excellence a true fit with Tiffany’s Art Nouveau heritage.

Reviving the 19th century enameling technique called paillonne, Mr. Schlumberger created this stunning line of vibrant bangles. Paillonne is best suited for eliciting striking, textured color infused within sophisticated gold work. Frenchman Claudius Popelin wrote in 1886 that the use of gold foil in enameling affords “vivacity and a brilliance of the most splendid effect,’ which is most evident in this beautiful bracelet. The complicated enameling process involves painstakingly cutting intricate shapes out of gold foil, placing them just so, and then dipping the whole into translucent colored enamel. This process is repeated up to 60 times for each bracelet.

Excellence most certainly comes at a high price, which is why these alluring beauties are associated with only the wealthiest and most glamorous of American iconic women. The lucky few included Audrey Hepburn, Diana Vreeland, and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. In fact, Jackie O wore her favorite white enamel Schlumberger bracelet (and others) so frequently that the press began referring to them as ‘Jackie bracelets’.

Tiffany & Co. experienced a revived interest in these designer bangles in 2011, after modern-day glamour queens, Sarah Jessica Parker and Anne Hathaway were seen wearing them. After one glimpse of these breathtaking showstoppers, it is no wonder that Mr. Schlumberger is one of only four designers who earned the privilege of signing his own name on his Tiffany & Co. pieces. He shares this honor with Elsa Peretti, Paloma Picasso, and Frank Gehry.

‘Seal of Nero’ Carnelian in HMNS’s ‘Gems of the Medici’ Exhibition

'Apollos, Maryas and Olympus,' Carnelian Intaglio Image copyright Naples, National Archaeological Museum.
‘Apollos, Marsyas and Olympus,’ Carnelian Intaglio
Image copyright Naples, National Archaeological Museum.

The ‘Seal of Nero’ is an intricately carved intaglio made from a dark piece of reddish-orange carnelian. More formally known as Apollos, Marsyas and Olympus, this ancient gem will remain on display in the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s ‘Gems of the Medici’ exhibit until the end of March.

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This detailed gemstone carving is described as one of Lorenzo de’ Medici’s six most highly valued gems, and has served as inspiration for more works of art during the Renaissance than any other treasure of antiquity.

Made in Rome by a gem cutter called Dioskourides at some point during Augustus’ reign (27BC – 14AD), the seal features a dramatic scene in the mythological tale of the musical challenge between the god Apollos and the satyr Marsyas. Apollos stands over the bound figure of Marsyas, as Olympus kneels in supplication on behalf of his defeated teacher. As described in the digital archive of the Palazzo Medici Ricardo, “the supple and emphatic figure of Apollo is contrasted with the tense, still body of Marsyas. The dynamism of the tension is further fueled [sic] by the [vain] imploration of Olympus.”

Having passed through many powerful hands since its creation, the carnelian wonder was last purchased by Lorenzo the Magnificent from a merchant in Venice at some point in September of 1487.  Prior to Lorenzo’s acquisition, the seal had been mounted in an ornate gold setting featuring a handle in the form of a dragon among ivy leaves. The goldsmith, one Lorenzo Ghiberti, had also engraved the name and titles of Nero into the setting. Paid for in advance, ‘il sigillo neroniano’ was delivered along with two other cameos which Nero would have paid 300 ducats for if he retained them.

As was his custom, Lorenzo inscribed his mark of ownership into the upper left corner of the red gem: LAUMED. The gold setting crafted by Ghiberti was lost by the 18th century, and it appears that the intaglio was at one time broken. However, as is true for many pieces of antiquity with such a lauded history, the value of the engraving is in no way diminished by these alterations.

Set among a “visually stunning” display of paintings, sculptures, and countless more engravings from the grand collection of the ‘Lords of Florence’, the ‘Seal of Nero’ can be seen until March 31, 2013, at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences. Admission is $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and children. For more information, click over to the museum’s website: http://www.hmns.org/.