A 19th-century woman - having just discovered her daughter's involvement in a scandalous event - reclines in her seat and reaches for her vinaigrette, flapping a fan rapidly before her face. A dashing gentleman carries the limp figure of a young lady to a sofa, setting her down gently and fetching a vinaigrette to revive her back to consciousness. Though these stereotypical scenes from Georgian and Victorian era novels might seem exaggerated, the vinaigrette really was a powerful tool to be produced in emotionally charged situations to restore the affected party back to their senses. But what, exactly, is a vinaigrette?...
A stunning Georgian acrostic vinaigrette pendant, designed as a gold book with six gems on the front spelling ‘Regard’ (ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby, diamond). It is covered with floral and foliate motifs on the front and back and opens to reveal a hinged pierced grill. Above it is suspended a small heart pendant with a glazed locket back, c.1820 - From Hancocks, London via Instagram
What is a Vinaigrette?
While antique 'vinaigrettes' don't have much to do with the French dressing, they do have something to do with vinegar. Popular from the late-18th century through to the mid-19th century, vinaigrettes were small and often ornate containers used for holding scents. The aromatic substances used, like perfume, essential oils, and herbs were often dissolved in vinegar or alcohol.
Vinaigrettes were commonly used to prevent fainting or to offer reviving vapors to someone who had fainted. Some 'reviving' sponges were soaked only in vinegar, while others were pleasantly scented. Scented vinaigrettes were also widely used to mask unpleasant odors in the wearer's surroundings, as well as for perfume while travelling. Many believed that pleasant smells offered protection against diseases.
A gold Georgian vinaigrette, c.1820-40, with chased detail, piercing, and engine turned decoration.
An antique French gold and vermeil vinaigrette - From @julia_little_treasures via Instagram
Victorian Enamel Vinaigrette Pendant Necklace - From Lang Antiques
A Brief History of Vinaigrettes
Vinaigrettes are closely related to the much older 'Pomander' - scent bottles valued for their medicinal and protective powers. These were generally large, bejeweled or patterned, and often shaped like fruit.
An Italian 14th-century pomander in the shape of an apple, with four segments that would originally have held spices or perfumes. The inscriptions record the story of the Judgment of Paris in which Paris was required to choose which of the three goddesses, Juno, Venus, and Minerva was the most beautiful. The result of his choice set the Trojan War in motion. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London
A German 16th-century pomander engraved with attributes of Venus: amorini, forget-me-nots, roses, and gillyflowers (an emblem of fidelity). These alternate between three panels engraved with gods: Mars, his mother Juno with the peacock, and Venus with a heart in one hand and her son Cupid in the other. The pomander has six segments, labeled: Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg, Schlag (a composite of ambergris, musk, and civet- thought to be a remedy for stroke-like illnesses), Amber, Rosemary. - From Wartski
Scents were considered so important in warding off disease that people even carried in their hand vinegar-soaked pieces of sponge wrapped in orange peel for protection - Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII's advisor, was said to have been one such aromatic orange carrier. The Pomander and the aromatic orange were both eventually superseded by large 'pouncet boxes' and their variations (the sponge box, the smelling box, the essence box), which were then replaced in the Regency era by smaller 'aromatic vinegar boxes', later called 'Vinaigrettes'. These were often carried in a pocket or suspended from the waist.
During the 1770s, stronger and more intense kinds of aromatic vinegar were developed, meaning that the size of the containers used to carry them could be drastically reduced. By the late 18th-century, men and women had begun wearing vinaigrettes in unusual and exciting designs - suspended from chatelaines, placed in pockets, or worn as pendants, on bracelets, or on finger rings.
A fantastic Georgian scallop shell pendant, modeled in 3-color high carat gold. The back and front are decorated with turquoise and pearls, and the shell swivels open to reveal a tiny hair locket on one side, and a tiny vinaigrette on the other. - Antique Animal Jewelry
A rare Georgian Rococo 'objet de vertu' vinaigrette, with a body of striated gray agate fitted within a chased cagework of bloomed 15k gold, the interior with a pierced cover, and the bail in the form of a rope-weave handle, London, c.1760 - From @heartofhearts.jewels via Instagram and 1stdibs
French Object of Virtu: a Viniagrette c. 1780. A neoclassical urn carved from mother of pearl with 18-carat gold accents and two enameled ring-necked doves kissing on a branch. On white enamel around the lid reads, 'plutot mourir queue nous separens' - 'rather die than we separate'. The lid opens to a gold grille, which in turn opens to hold a scented cloth. Antique Animal Jewelry
An extremely rare antique vinaigrette snake ring in 18k yellow gold with enamel work and diamond eyes. A small compartment next to the snake's head opens to expose a vinaigrette.
Antique Georgian gold and enamel French vinaigrette pendant - From 1stdibs via Pinterest
Georgian hair mourning necklace with a vinaigrette pendant set with a large polished agate on both sides.
Antique jeweled ormolu (a gold-colored copper, zinc, and tin alloy) vinaigrette, c.1800s, with six round blue jewel stones, a central teardrop amethyst stone, and intricate filigree work.
Antique silver filigree vinaigrette ring, c.1800s - From Intuition Vintage via Etsy
Rare 1800s filigree flower basket vinaigrette - From @buybuybaby2020 via Instagram
A variety of unusually shaped Regency-era vinaigrette pendants, all in gold and set with turquoise: Horns, baskets, books, miniature letter-cases/envelope-shaped document cases symbolizing messages of love, a lyre with a vinaigrette compartment in the foot, a butterfly with two tiny compartments inside hinged wings, a loyal dog, etc., French, c.1810. - © The Trustees of the British Museum
Georgian pocketbook vinaigrette pendant, c.1820s. Modeled in 18k gold depicting roses, leaves, and a forget me not flower set with turquoise. The lid clicks open to reveal a pierced grill in the design of a basket full of flowers, with the scent-soaked sponge-like material lying beneath.
From The Three Graces
Georgian gold and champlevé enamel vinaigrette bracelet set with foil-backed stones (probably topaz or quartz). The bracelet has a central compartment that opens up to reveal pierced grillwork. Probably made in Switzerland, c.1820s. - Via PBS, Antiques Roadshow
An enamel vinaigrette depicting an Edenic scene - a bird of paradise above a serpent coiled around a tree. The reverse has a classic floral motif, the interior a chased grille with pomegranate. French, c.1820s
A Georgian vinaigrette pendant, given as a love token. Modeled in 14 karat gold and set with a large, faceted topaz. Two miniature charms hang from a chain: a key and a garnet heart - meaning 'you have the key to my heart.' The reverse is inscribed with the Arabic word, 'Azizaon', meaning it was given to a person as a sign of great affection, c.1820 - From Third Floor Antiques via Ruby Lane
A late Georgian Scottish citrine and gold vinaigrette, c.1820. The body is set with two faceted yellow citrines edged in gold which is heavily chased with a floral design and hinged at the back, opening to reveal a finely pierced gold grill. - From Hancocks, London via Instagram
A late-Georgian combination fob and vinaigrette, French, c.1820s-1830s. - Via Ruby Lane and Pinterest
A silver novelty acorn vinaigrette pendant, English, c.1820. From August September Antiques via Ruby Lane
A detailed gold vinaigrette with engine-turned covers on front and back, a repouseé-work chased border and bale, and an elaborate hand-pierced grille of giardinetto design, c.1825-30. From @ohmagpie via Instagram
A Georgian gold vinaigrette in the form of a purse bag, the front covered in cannetille decoration with two-color gold foliage and set with ruby and turquoise, the reverse with a bead star design on a stippled background. The interior reveals a simple pierced grille, c.1830. - From 1stdibs
A gold and enamel pendant vinaigrette painted with flowers on a turquoise background, Geneva, c.1835
A vinaigrette pendant in the shape of an egg, in enameled 18k gold. French, c.1840.
An early-Victorian acrostic heart-shaped vinaigrette pendant, the stones spell out 'REGARD' in ruby, emerald, garnet, aquamarine, ruby, and diamond. - Antique Animal Jewelry
A witches heart vinaigrette padlock pendant, French, c.1840. The padlock element works, and the front of the piece is encrusted with cabochon-cut pavé turquoise. It is hanging from two short ornate gold chains with matching turquoise cabochons and a half orb at the top. The back is finely engraved with flowers and leaves, and the heart opens to reveal a pierced vinaigrette grille with a motif of a bird and flowers.
From Laelius Antiques
A rare giardinetti vinaigrette ring in silver and 15k rose gold. Lapis lazuli lies beneath the giardinetti, which is set with rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and rose-cut diamonds. On each side of the bezel, the gold engraved elements can be clicked outward. Hinged, the top lifts up to reveal a pierced decorative screen. Beneath it, a shallow compartment can hold the scent, c.1840 - From The Three Graces
A French bloomed and chased three-colour gold pendant vinaigrette on an engine-turned ground. The inside compartment has a pierced gold hinged cover in the form of a trophy of flaming hearts, arrows, and a quiver, c.1840 - © The Trustees of the British Museum
Antique gold and turquoise vinaigrette pendant in the shape of a book, English, c.1840
Via ALVR (A La Vieille Russie)
An early Victorian gold vinaigrette shaped as a satchel, the illusory flapped top lifts to reveal a protective hinged panel. This lifts yet again to reveal the final pierced grille, under which a perfumed sponge or cotton wad was placed. - From @karendeakin.antiques via Instagram
Believe it or not, this gold and silver brooch in the form of a hand holding a spray of forget-me-nots, set with turquoises and a small ruby with bell-shaped flowers in silver, is also a vinaigrette. The cuff at the base of the hand contains the subtle vinaigrette compartment, c.1850.
Castle top vinaigrette by Cronon & Wheeler in purse form, c.1852
A Victorian 18ct gold eagle vinaigrette locket, mounted with a shield-shaped bloodstone, c.1860
A rare novelty silver combined scent bottle and vinaigrette, made in the form of a telescope with attached chain and suspension ring. The middle of the outer body is covered in leather and the inner sleeve is made from bone. The vinaigrette is at the eyepiece end with a plain cover over a silver-gilt lift-out pierced grille. The scent bottle has a hinged cover engraved, 'Kittie'. By Thomas Johnson, London, 1868.
An early Victorian-era gold vinaigrette locket, crafted in 14K gold. Both the front and back have an engine-turned design with a repouseé-work chased border and bale, the front with a pearl halo and a compartment for gems or mementos, the back opening to reveal a floral motif grille.
A Victorian vinaigrette pendant, featuring a meaningful hand-enameled floral bouquet of pansy, buttercup flower, and lilies set on a drop shape of natural lapis lazuli.
A gold Victorian vinaigrette pendant in the form of a turtle with blue enamel shell, diamond legs, natural pearl head, and pink gemstone eyes, English, c.1870 - From @alavieillerussie via Instagram
A gold Victorian fob/vinaigrette with intricate granular details, set with amethysts, England, c.1880.
An extremely rare French silver-gilt and cranberry glass perfume bottle and vinaigrette in the shape of a pistol, suspended from a silver-gilt finger ring. The top unscrews for the scent while the handle features a pull-off cap to reveal the vinaigrette, c.1880 - From @antiqueenamelcompany via Instagram
Victorian novelty silver mussel shell vinaigrette with an elaborately pierced internal grille, made by Sampson Mordan & Co, London, 1883. - From Steppes Hill Farm Antiques Ltd
A late-Victorian French black enamel and openwork multipurpose reliquary/vinaigrette locket pendant.
An adorable mouse on a wicker basket charm, c.1890, with ruby eyes. The basket clips and hinges open so you can store a keepsake inside, or a scented cloth as a vinaigrette. - Antique Animal Jewelry
A Victorian sterling silver combined scent bottle and Vinaigrette in the form of a horn, with attached suspension chains. The horn's surface is finely embossed with birds and scrolling leaf motifs. The vinaigrette is in the larger end, which opens up to reveal a pierced grille. At the narrow end, there is a screw-off cover to a scent bottle. England, c.1890-1899 - Via 1stdibs
Antique Dog Fob whose perforated snout suggests he was once a vinaigrette. The base was sealed sometime in the past. Partial English hallmarks look to be for 1903-1904, and he is on a large bolt ring.