Wealth from the underworld

Spectacular shell cameo of Pluton in gold, circa 1880

What a masterful cut! The large shell cameo here is of exceptional quality. Like a marble image the energetic head of the ancient god Pluton stands before our eyes. Even the smallest detail is sharply rendered, the portrait is clearly delineated from the background. The curls, the look, the magnificent nose - rarely have we been able to offer such a first-class gem. Pluton, lat. Pluto, was the god of the underworld in Greek mythology. He ruled in the realm of the dead, but also administered the subterranean treasures such as gold, silver and precious stones. Thus Pluton was not, as one might easily think, regarded as a sinister punishing god. On the contrary, people worshipped him as a giver of treasures and guardian of the dead. But he was not well-disposed towards those who selfishly grabbed riches or squandered them indiscriminately and thus caused mischief. The image of Pluton as the guardian of treasures is therefore more than appropriate for a piece of jewellery. The large shell is set in a gold frame. Delicate soldered cords and spheres divide the curved framing. A pin on the back allows the piece to be worn as a brooch. The brooch is in first class condition and was made around 1880. This is evidenced by the framing, which incorporates elements of the so-called archaeological style (cf. "Learn more"), as well as the cut of the gem with the accompanying Latin lettering. At the same time, a general, new interest in the representation of Pluton in the arts can be observed in this period, fuelled by the theorists of Symbolism: the connection between the underworld and glittering treasures seems to have exerted a special fascination on the people of these years. But doesn't it still fascinate us today?

Until the beginning of the 19th century, the forms of truly ancient jewellery were still unknown. Neither in the Renaissance nor in Classicism had excavations produced genuine jewellery of the ancients. The designs of these epochs had merely been approximations to an ideal that had to be derived from other contexts such as architecture. This changed abruptly with the discovery of genuine Etruscan jewelry beginning in the 1820s in Italy. Princess Alexandrine of Canino, for example, was known to enjoy wearing some original Etruscan jewelry found at her country estate near Rome, to the envy of her friends. But the number of pieces, which were all chance finds, remained small and only a fraction of the ladies could still own original, millennia-old Etruscan jewellery. Therefore, the goldsmiths of those years soon began to produce pieces of jewellery according to ancient forms that were now finally known. Especially Pio Castellani from Rome and his sons excelled in this field and designed jewellery which became a well-known trademark and a true fashion all over Europe from the middle of the century on. In Germany and Austria, corresponding pieces were created from the mid-1860s onwards.

We want you to be 100% satisfied! For that reason, we examine, describe and photograph all of our jewellery with the utmost care.

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.