The Wonderful Things

Plastic agate cameo as brooch in gold, France circa 1870

Egypt, the mysterious land of the pyramids, inspires and fascinates to this day. Every era, every century rediscovered the Nile and the empire of the pharaohs for themselves. In ancient times, Rome adorned itself with obelisks and statues from Alexandria. Through Napoleon's campaign in 1798, art objects in unprecedented detail once again reached France and Europe. New research deciphered the hieroglyphs and the first scientific excavations began to uncover the secrets of the tombs of the pharaohs. In the middle of the 19th century, the enthusiasm for Egypt reached a new peak. The reason for the media interest was the construction of the Suez Canal by an Egyptian-French joint stock company. The new transport route - before it had even been opened in 1869 - quickly developed into a real political issue. The British Empire and the Empire of France were hostile to each other. Influence and power in Africa and Arabia were at stake. Egypt was on everyone's lips and was praised as a source of wealth, a place of exotic culture and seductive secrets. This first-class cameo is a child of this enthusiasm for Egypt around 1870. We see a sphinx, half lion, half human, in frontal view. As a symbol of eternity, immortality and the mysterious, this motif was more suitable than any other to bring the foreign and at the same time attractive culture of Egypt to an easily recognizable denominator. Along with the scarab, the sphinx therefore became by far the most popular motif in Egyptian fashion around 1870. Here now the face stands out clearly against the white of the background with beautiful details in dark brown. The stonecutter has perfectly separated image and background from the stone, which has grown in layers. A golden cobra adorns the headscarf of the sphinx, turning the cameo into a so-called "camée habillé", a "dressed cameo". The wonderful stone cut is set in a broad gold setting and can thus be worn as a brooch. The hallmark on the setting reveals that the piece was made in France. Would you also like to be enchanted by the famous, mysterious smile of the Sphinx? Perhaps you're like us. Because when we discovered the brooch, we spontaneously thought of Howard Carter's exclamation when he entered Tutankhamun's burial chamber in 1922: "Can you see anything, Mr. Carter?" - "Yes, I see wonderful things!"

In jewellery design, some motifs, styles and themes have such a lasting influence that jewellers and goldsmiths continue to revisit them centuries or even millennia later. This is particularly true of the revival of ancient Egyptian motifs in the so-called Egyptian Revival. After Napoleon's failed campaign of 1798, the forms of the art of the Pharaonic Empire spread throughout Europe and beyond. A next wave of revival was shown especially at the World's Fairs of London and Paris in the 2nd half of the 19th century. The last significant surge of influence came in the Art Deco era, when in 1922 the spectacular treasures from the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen thrilled the astonished world public. Jewels of every price range from those years tell of the enthusiasm for ancient Egypt, ranging from simple glass necklaces with scarabs and depictions of mummies to diamond-cut hieroglyphs from the house of Cartier.

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You can rely on our years of experience in the trade and our expertise as a professional art historians for reviews of the antique jewellery. As a member of various trader organisations and the British Society of Jewellery Historians, we remain committed to the highest possible degree of accuracy. In our descriptions, we always also indicate any signs of age and defects and never hide them in our photos – this saves you from any unpleasant surprises when your package arrives.

Should you for some reason not be satisfied, please don’t hesitate to contact us so that we can begin to find a solution together. In any case, you can return any article within 30 days and we will refund the full purchase price.


We want you to be 100% satisfied! That’s why we examine, describe and photograph all our jewellery with the utmost care.

If for any reason you are still not satisfied, contact us and we will find a mutual solution immediately. Regardless, you can return any item within 30 days and we will refund you the full purchase price.