Now, here is a piece that has caused a lot of distress to many people in the past. If you’re a French jewellery historian, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
The first thing to recognise is the translation of the piece, which in its original French is: “pour vous tout seul” that roughly comes out as “all to yourself” (please forgive this horrid translation). A dealer in Paris attempted to sell this piece to me with the understanding that it was a mourning piece. When the lid is closed, the appreciation is one of a skull, however, since then I’ve known a little better.
The inscription as well as the motif (plus the faith, hope and charity), lends itself to being more familiar to marriage and not death. It was told to be documented in a French jewellery book and belonging to that of a French Marquis.
But let’s look at the facts. The stones used are diamonds (eyes), rubies (shank and interior) and the countenance is more that of a face rather than that of a skull. The bezel has a rosette formation and the translation is dedicated to someone. You have stones which are more used for precious sentimentality, so that doesn’t equate to mourning or otherwise, you have a face that may or may not be a skull (it’s been worn down) and the dedication is leaning towards subject sentimentality. It also has white, black and green enamel.
So what is it? A good question. On the whole, let’s look at that rosette bezel. 1760 was its prime, but you could get it back to 1740 if you were keen. Is it French? Why, yes it is. Are French pieces different to English? Quite a lot. How different? They were different cultures and one preferred to be ahead of the other in that respect. Could this have been for an English person living in France? Not according to its provenance, but perhaps (though unlikely). Why? Well, the piece was seemingly constructed in France, it bears no other hallmarks and has French writing. Ok, so it may be French, but is it mourning? Ah, what do you think of the face of the piece? It looks like a smiling face or Venetian mask. Anything else? Well, the face has dark around the eyes near the diamonds. Look at the head and chin, those areas are worn down. Why is this? Those areas may have been worn down due to age. So, what are those areas wearing down? Metal or enamel? Enamel. Hm, so how do you know what it looked like before the enamel was worn down? I don’t. So why impose your theory? Because the face is white. Ah, so a skull and a mask can both be white? Of course. Then, we’re at an impasse.
The most telling part of this wonderful piece is the inscription. The construction of a hinged face is wonderful, as well as the stones and inscription show a wonderfully made piece. The quality put into this piece is worthy of Continental work. Often, French and German pieces didn’t conform to the British pieces and had quite different symbolism. This piece also uses other flavours of enamel, which were quite uncommon for British pieces. Basically, for a French piece, this is quite sound. Back to the inscription and the “pour vous tout seul” once again hints towards it being dedicated to someone and not for anyone in particular, or at least for not a general audience (like a family). The leaning towards this piece being directly for sentimentality and perhaps marriage is certainly open, but I’ll leave it to your deduction to follow up the clues.