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Chinese Sterling Carved Bezoar Bracelet

I have always felt that this bracelet was special… when I first wrote about it in my October, 2008 post, I commented: “This is the most expressive piece of jewelry in the collection”.

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[ click on images to enlarge …. photos by: RP (Bob) Birt ]

Custom made silver setting stamped with the Sycee mark… a carved face and surrounded by dragons… unlike any other Chinese bracelet that I had ever seen …and I have seen thousands of Chinese bracelets. I also talked about the ‘stone head’ but at the time I was so engrossed in the mystery of the Sycee mark and the story behind it, that I never looked into what type of ‘stone’ it was.

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After the blog was published, my husband Bob was speaking with James Callahan the well-known Asian expert from Skinner Inc. (some of you will recognize him from the Antiques Roadshow) …he was looking at several photographs  of our pieces and he stopped at the bracelet  and said “that looks like a Bezoar.”

We asked ourselves: “What is a bezoar?” That question lead to volumes of information… often arcane. A Bezoar is in fact a gall stone… used over many centuries in many different cultures as a medicine or a potent … it even appears in the Harry Potter series as an ingredient in one of  his magical elixirs. But one of its more unusual ‘uses’ was:

"Many persons of status accepted potential poisoning as a chronic threat and armed themselves for battle against it. Because wine and other drinks were often laced with arsenic, the most popular poison of the period, many magical devices were employed to negate its deleterious effects before it was consumed. The most common and effective of these amulets was the bezoar stone…” (reference)

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So, here we have a 19th century Chinese sterling silver bracelet with dragons… exquisite workmanship… set with a bezoar… with a carved human face…custom made for whom and why? …certainly someone wealthy and powerful… did they believe in its powers?

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