Small seed pearls imported from China and India to be strung on horsehair or silk into earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and hair ornaments achieved great popularity in federal America. During the presidency, Martha Washington purchased readily available seed pearl jewelry that was imported or made by Philadelphia and New York jewelers. The interest in seed pearls lasted throughout the nineteenth century, and, like their grandmother, Mrs. Washington's granddaughters also purchased seed pearl jewelry in the fashion of their day. This necklace is believed to have been owned by Eliza Parke Custis Law (1776-1832).
Seed pearl necklace composed of ten medallions of graduated sizes hung on multiple strands of pearls with a drop composed of two medallions of graduated sizes suspended from the largest central medallion; each medallion is backed with white kid leather and is composed of a central dome covered in seed pearls surrounded by a series of smaller rosettes which each consist of large pearls encircled by seed pearls and an outer scalloped border formed from a single strand of seed pearls; except the four largest medallions on the necklace and drop, each of the domed medallions is surmounted with a single rosette which consists of a large pearl encircled by seed pearls; the largest medallions are crowned with several such rosettes arranged to resemble a petaled flower; two strands of pearls connect each of the medallions on the necklace, an additional third strand connects the three largest medallions, and a loop of pearls joins the two-part drop to the central medallion; each of these strands is formed with a repeating pattern of a large pearl, a knot of seed pearls, and a large pearl, evenly spaced between a line of smaller seed pearls; a short strand composed of a small pearl, a large pearl, and another small pearl joins the smaller medallion of the drop to the larger; a silver clasp joins the necklace, half of it is mounted below a medallion.
Pearls, mother of pearl, silver, leather
Overall: 10 1/2 in. x 7 1/4 in. x 9/16 in. (26.67 cm x 18.42 cm x 1.42 cm)
Gift of Virginia Hill Alexander, 1966
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