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Form Watch

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Form Watch

Artist: Maker unknown (Switzerland)

Date: 1880-1900
Medium: Gold, enamel, diamonds, emeralds, steel, rubies
Dimensions:
57.2 x 31.8 x 7.9 mm
Credit Line: Proctor Collection, Thomas R. Proctor Watch Collection
Object number: PC. 389
Label Text
The first known use of this type of ornamentation occurred in ancient Egypt, where talismanic scarabs were worn. Their symbolic role lasted until the eighteenth century when a romantic interest in naturalism made insects acceptable as design sources. Once legitimized, jewelry designers adapted them into richly varied formats. When the fashion waned, another hundred years would elapse before bejeweled scarab, wood lice, earwig, and grasshopper forms reemerged as fashionable jewelry.

Text Entries

Jewelry with insect motifs has been popular throughout history. The first known use of such ornament was during the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (ca. 2000-1785 B.C.), when amuletic scarabs were worn for protection. This practice prevailed until the eighteenth century when a romantic interest in naturalism made insects acceptable as design sources. Once so legitimized, jewelry designers readily adapted them into small yet richly varied formats. When this fashion waned, another hundred years elapsed before bejeweled scarabs, wood lice, earwigs, and grass- hoppers reemerged on women’s veils and hats of the 1860s.

With the exception of dried scarabs from Brazil imported into Europe and mounted into brooches, bracelets, and earrings, jewelry designers avoided using actual insects.(1) Instead they rendered them in gold, silver, and horn enhanced with gemstones and enameling. This watch in the form of a scarab shows a jeweler’s fascination with insects. In addition to functioning as a timekeeper, the watch, with its fine gold and enamel work, was an attractive piece of jewelry in its own right. It must have been an amusing watch to operate: when the lever at the back end of the insect is pressed, the scarab’s wings fly open to reveal a dial set into its body. The scarab form remained popular through the late nineteenth century.

The wings and neck of this watch are colored with green translucent enamel, the mottled gold ground producing gradations in the shades. Each wing is set with eight diamonds, each mounted in a star; a cabochon emerald is set into each eye; a diamond decorates the end of each antenna. The gold underside is finished with lifelike fidelity with finely detailed legs and thorax. A hinged pendant ring completes the design.

1. The scarab with its hard outer shell was suitable for mounting. An 1893 article describes the scarab, of the order of coleoptera, as “a brilliant metallic green with longitudinal gilded stripes." See Jewelers’ Circular and Horological Review 27, 7 (Sept. 13, 1893): 33.
For an illustration of this type of jewelry see Michael Poynder, The Price Guide to Jewellery, 3000 B.C.-1950 A.D. (Woodbridge, Suffolk, Eng.: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1988), p. 197.