A c. 1800 Swiss enamel Souvenir d’Amitie locket pendant, of solid 18k yellow gold, featuring a central composition of a boy and girl cradling a nest of doves, surrounded by openwork filigree and enamel inlay, the back with a hinged glass compartment. ‘Souvenir d’Amitie’ — French for ‘Memento of Friendship’ — was a trendy motto throughout the late 18th – early 19th centuries, at a time when the ‘cult of friendship’ popularized the gifting of sentimental jewelry among friends, family, and loved ones.
On the present locket, the motto is gold-inlaid in a ground of opaque periwinkle enamel, a color symbolizing sincerity and frequently featured on sentimental jewelry from this period. The pairing of gold-inlaid lettering and ornaments with a flat ground of opaque enamel was popular c.1800-10, and profusely adopted for Neoclassical jewelry throughout Europe (but especially so in England, forming a standard look for mourning and sentimental bands); the inclusion of a white enameled border is quite representative of this design type. The wonderful quality of the central plaque can be attributed to the enamel workshops of Geneva, where, since the 16th century, a strong watch-making industry had led to the parallel development of enameling workshops to supply beautifully decorated watch cases. Swiss enameling of c. 1790-1800 tend to include painterly compositions in opaque polychrome enamel (continuing 17th and 18th c practice), but in a break from earlier designs, would feature a translucent royal blue ground made resplendent with under-enamel guilloche patterning. For examples of this style, see Museum of Applied Arts Budapest 68.183.1-2., V&A M.190-1919, and State Historical Museum, Moscow inv ОК 14303.
The present imagery of a girl and boy with doves is similar to a Swiss enameled watch case in the Walters Art Museum (58.288). This theme symbolized innocent affection and likely took inspiration from earlier prints of infant Cupid and Psyche cradling doves (see the late 17th c print after Van Dyck; British Museum 1872,0713.277); the same is echoed in 18th c portraiture: for example, the 1768 portrait of Lord Newbattle & Lady Elisabeth Kar and the 1782 portrait of the children of Walter Synnot Esqr. The sentimental tone is furthered by an enameled forget-me-not blossom below the bail, as well as gold-inlaid medallions of snowflakes and stars. The snowflake shape as is commonly known today was first sketched by Robert Hook in 1665, with the aid of a compound microscope; throughout the 18th century, microscopic observations of snowflakes were popularized in prints showing ‘snow crystals’.
The present pendant’s rather unusual outline can be attributed to the shape of a lyre, which, being an ancient Greek instrument and the symbol of Apollo, was a much-beloved Neoclassical motif, found on various c.1780-1820 decorative arts like furniture, lighting, and clocks. This lyre shape can be seen on a Swiss enamel pocket watch from the same period in the V&A museum (235-1876). The curling gold filigree is another period feature, and can be considered a precursor to c. 1820 cannetille. Earlier Neoclassical filigree tend to be thicker and less ornate, often featuring curls bridging gaps between elements or frames. The wires are also often double-strand twists rather than spidery volutes of thin single-strand wire. For other examples of c. 1800 gold filigree, see Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna BJ 1252, Royal Collection Trust, UK (RCIN 4185), State Historical Museum, Moscow (ОК 2106), and Musée des Arts Décoratifs (24314). A sentimental pendant, dating to the 1790s and featuring very similar double-twist filigree, is in the Viscount Hampden collection and illustrated p. 71, Jewellery 1789-1910 by Shirley Bury. Souvenir d’Amitie.