Pair of earrings with snap–on covers, ca. 1882–85
Gold, diamond, enamel; L. 7/8 in. (22 cm), Diam. cover 1/2 in. (1.3 cm)
Purchase, Susan and Jon Rotenstreich Gift, 2000 (2001.234a–d)
With the discovery in 1869 of diamond deposits in South Africa, jewelry became "ablaze with diamonds." Earlier sources of diamonds for American jewelers had been India and Brazil, but after 1870 African mines supplied most of the demand. While etiquette proscribed against a show of dazzling stones during the daytime, at night they were worn everywhere. Beauty and practicality combine in these diamond-drop earrings with removable "coach" covers. These spherical snap-on covers, made of gold enameled in black, were used to protect the diamonds and to make them less conspicuous during travel. The cover has a hinge for opening and a small slot into which the pendant loop fits neatly. When worn with their covers, the earrings appear to be restrained black drops; with the covers removed, the sparkling diamonds are revealed. This pair, made in New York in the 1880s, is similar to a design by George W. Washburn of West New Brighton, New York, patented in 1882.