Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mastery of Design: A Swiss Garnet Necklace, 1800-1870

Choker of Garnet Beads
Swiss, 1800-1870
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Choker or collar necklaces like the one pictured above were originally worn both in Austria and Switzerland for the practical purpose of hiding a goiter--a disfiguring disease caused by lack of iodine, a condition which was endemic in the high Alps.

Though the designs vary from valley to valley, usually, these chokers were constructed of loose chains of silver links, or beads of garnet or coral, sometimes, even, punctuated with plaques of delicate silver filigree. Traditionally, and for comfort, these necklaces were worn over a thin scarf of black silk. Such chokers were generally termed “Halsbätti” which literally means a rosary worn on the neck. This was because the beads resembled rosary beads, but I want to emphasize that these pieces never were assigned any religious meaning.

This example consists of six rows (originally seven) of faceted garnet beads (actually, they may be garnet-colored glass) with four rectangular plaques, each covered with filigree tracery. The two-part clasp is made of matching filigree, with rosette over the central hook. It was made in Schwyz, Switzerland between 1800 and 1870.

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