Ancient Near East / Holy Land, Byzantine Empire, ca. 6th to 7th century CE. An absolute showstopper, this 20K gold and emerald Byzantine necklace is comprised of 13 cell-work links that present a triangular form with 10 circular cells that are set with beautiful emeralds (130 emeralds + 13 emeralds below = 143 emeralds). Below each of these is a piriform gold element joined to a wire that is threaded through an oblong emerald bead with links hinged via dome-topped gold pins that are threaded through loops and splayed at their termini. At the ends are conical terminals with a hook-and-loop closure. High quality gold and precious stone jewelry from the Byzantine era like this example is exceedingly rare. A stunning and wearable work of art! Size: 14.5" L (36.8 cm); (largest drop emerald): 0.5" L x 0.375" W (1.3 cm x 1 cm); (triangular emerald cell): 0.7" W x 0.625" H (1.8 cm x 1.6 cm); gold quality: 88% (equivalent to 20K+); total weight: 63.9 grams
Interestingly, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian established laws (later called the Justinian Code) that among other things regulated the wearing of jewelry. He stated that sapphires, pearls, and emeralds were reserved for the emperor (suggesting that this piece belonged to a royal). However, every free man was actually entitled to wear a gold ring. This suggests widespread popularity of jewelry. After all, such a law would not have been necessary if jewelry had been a strictly aristocratic luxury. Indeed, wealth abounded in the Byzantine Empire. There were gold mines within its borders, and its geographical location was ideal for trade between the East and the West. HOWEVER, given Justinian's laws, this necklace, comprised of 143 emeralds and so much precious 20k gold, was clearly intended for royalty.
This necklace sold at Christie's New York for $40,000 (5 December 2012, lot 448).
This piece has been searched against the Art Loss Register database and has been cleared. The Art Loss Register maintains the world's largest database of stolen art, collectibles, and antiques.
Provenance: East Coast collection, New York Gallery, New York City, New York, USA, acquired 2012; Christie's, New York (sale 2770, December 5, 2012, lot 448); ex-private Munich collection, 1994
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One gold element on the back of a triangular cell was replaced; when one turns the necklace over, one can see that one gold element is a tad smoother and slightly lighter in color; however, all the others are original. Minute abrasions and trace losses to a few of the original gold cell backings. A few minor indentations to the original gold sheet conical terminals, primarily on the versos. A few minor surface scuffs/nicks to the circular emeralds in the cells, and some stones have been replaced and polished, but it is difficult to distinguish these from the others. Minute scuffs and surface deposits to drop emeralds. Placed in attractive shadow box. The gold has developed a beautiful warm patina over the ages. Trace deposits on gold, especially the conical terminals, and some stones. Overall, this necklace is remarkably well preserved and wearable!