Seed pearls, mother–of–pearl, horsehair, silk, yellow gold; Overall L. 20 in. (50.8 cm)
Gift of Janet H. Dehn, 2003 (2003.350.2)
From its introduction in America during the Federal period, seed-pearl jewelry became increasingly popular and was often presented to a bride at the time of her wedding. By the mid-nineteenth century, it was considered de rigueur in the ballroom as well. Made from tiny pearls imported from India or China, it was at once exotic and elegant, and the fashion was said to flatter any woman. President Lincoln purchased a suite of seed-pearl jewelry from Tiffany & Company for his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, to wear at his inauguration.
This is a classic example of the mid-nineteenth-century seed-pearl necklace. It is composed of three floral plaques mounted on thin sheets of mother-of-pearl and joined by two double strands of pearls framing pairs of leaves. A floral cluster hangs from the center plaque. The hundreds of seed pearls, ranging in size from 1.59 mm to 5 mm, are strung on fine white horsehair, and the plaques are backed in silk for comfort. The necklace descended in the family of Howard Potter, an early promoter of the Metropolitan Museum and a member of the first board of trustees. Family tradition indicates that Mary Louisa Brown may have worn the necklace on the occasion of her marriage to Howard Potter in September of 1849.