A matched pair of 18th c Portuguese flowerhead hair jewels, set with approx. 11 ctw of imperial topaz in closed-back silver foiled collet settings, and later converted to handsome stud earrings with 18k gold backing. A topaz hair ornament of identical design is illustrated on p. 39 of “The S.J. Phillips Collection of Jewels of Portugal” by Diana Scarisbrick. Yet another near-identical example is illustrated on p. 74 of “Five Centuries of Jewellery: National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon” by Leonor d’Orey.
Though dated broadly as second half of the 18th century by both aforementioned sources, these jewels were likely made c. 1760-80, at a time when coiffed hairstyles reached their zenith in both height and spectacle. Changing fashions led to hair ornaments falling into obsolescence after about 1840; it’s common for these jewels to have been converted to earrings, rings, or brooches during the late 19th – 20th centuries, although survival in matched sets or pairs are more rare.
The present earring’s topazes are quite gorgeous for their unusual cuts (ten triangular, ten trapezoidal, and ten rhomboid) and for their natural body color, which vary from lemon yellow to marigold orange to peachy pink. Brazillian topaz from the Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais region is frequently dubbed “imperial” if in a desirable color variety, and became a beloved and representative material for Portuguese jewelers during the second half of the 18th century, following the discovery of deposits in areas like Vermelhão, Rodrigo Silva, Dom Bosco, and Capão do Lana within the Ouro Preto region during the 1730s. Color and exuberance being core Rococo aesthetic tenets, the Portuguese came to heavily rely on Brazillian color topaz for various jewels in the Rococo taste; by the second half of the 18th century, topaz outpaced all other gems in popularity in Portugal. For example, a 1759 inventory from the Duke of Aveiro references Brazillian topazes most frequently, more than all other gemstones.