A 17th century silver pomander watch. The dial with a polychrome enamel landscape scene, one gold hand. The inside with four compartments in light blue enamel. The back with traces of silver floral appliques and translucent blue enamel. Around the dial 14 facetted paste stones in purple, one pink and one blue. Europe, circa 1700. Morpurgo Collection
Pomanders are small containers with perfume and herbs that spread from the orient towards Europe throughout the middle ages. The reason was a lack of hygiene in the cities. They were containers with one or several compartments which contained musk and other materials. Ambergris and other herbs and infusions were thought to ward off infections, so they were often carried in times of plague. There is one of these pomander watches in the collections of the Museum of London, now collecting artefacts related to Covid-19.
Diameter: 28 mm
Depth: 11 mm
Weight: 11.7 grams
Pandemics have been around forever, what’s changed is how we defend ourselves against them. For centuries (1300-1700), inhaling the aroma of specific spices and herbs was thought to cure or prevent serious illness (and mask the smell of sickness, lice and the general lack of hygiene). Ambergris, a rare and expensive waxy matter expelled by sperm whales, was considered to give protection against infectious ilness, especially the Plague. Also civet, musk, dried flowers, spices and scented oils, were made into a ball or carried seperately, in compartmented vessels called ‘pomanders’. This silver watch is such a pomander, with four compartments in a beautiful blue enamel. The watch dial is enameled with a landscape scene, and has one gold hand. The back shows traces of blue transparent enamel and decorative flowers in silver. A truly unique late 17th century relic!
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