A late 18th century pair of Portuguese or Portuguese colonial earrings, set with 156 chrysoberyls (approx 10.07 ctw) and 22 green beryls. An impressive 87.5 mm in length, the earrings are of an elongated three-sectioned pendeloque form popular throughout the Iberian peninsula during the late 18th – early 19th centuries, overtaking the girandole as the predominant earrings design likely due to the increased height in women’s hairstyles during the late 18th century, which could be better balanced by the verticality of the pendeloque. The middle element of the present earrings are in the lovely shape of giardinetti-type flower pots. The original forward-catch shepherd’s hooks have been preserved. The gems, all original and largely chrysoberyl, nonetheless contain a small number of green beryls (emeralds being saturated varieties of beryl). This is due to the gems having originated from the mines of Minas Gerais, Brazil (a Portuguese colony during the 18th century), which yielded both chrysoberyls and beryls; without the aid of modern gemological instruments, gems from the same mines were largely sorted by color and visual appearance, resulting in yellow beryls being sometimes found in Portuguese yellow topaz jewels and green beryls mixing with chrysoberyl. The charmingly chunky appearance of 18th century Portuguese color gems can be attributed to their calibre cuts, which were so precisely fitted that many of the gems on the present earrings have idiosyncratic trapezoidal and hexagonal girdle shapes. Contrary to later trends in jewelry making, where settings are made to fit pre-cut gems, 18th century Portuguese gems were faceted to fit the setting design. For a group of chrysoberyl earrings from the same period, see p. 122 of Five Centuries of Jewellery: National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon by Leonor d’Orey, as well as p. 58, The S.J. Phillips Collection of Jewels of Portugal by Diana Scarisbrick.
Chrysoberyl is a rare gem with few natural deposit sources. Prior to the 18th century, it was sourced mainly from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Russia, and too scarce to be fully understood. After 1729, deposits in Minas Gerais, Brazil were discovered, leading to popularized use and appreciation in Portugal and the rest of Europe. During the Georgian and Victorian eras, limited gemological knowledge often led to this gem being grouped with peridot and certain yellow-greenish sapphire/topaz under the umbrella term “chrysolite” (now defunct as a gemological classification). Today, gemologists classify chrysoberyl as an independent gem species (an aluminate of beryllium with the formula BeAl2O4) within the oxide mineral class (which also includes corundums sapphire and ruby). Chrysoberyl has a mohs hardness of 8.5, meaning it is the third hardest gem material available, after diamonds and corundums.
Portuguese chrysoberyl Earrings. Portuguese chrysoberyl Earrings.