Antique Niello Jewelry
If you have ever seen a piece of antique jewelry with black patterning or detailing that looks a bit like enamel but metallic and shiny rather than matte or vitreous (glass-like), then you are probably looking at 'niello'. Stronger than enamel and coming only in various shades of black, the lustrous material that is niello has a long history of use. From scimitar inscriptions in ancient Syria to Egyptian and Roman tiger and panther statuettes with niello stripes, the popularity of niello decoration has persisted for millennia.
Victorian-era niello and silver snake bracelet with rose-gold accents on the head and garnet eyes, c.1890s, possibly Austrian. The niello forms a checkerboard pattern like intricate scales. From The Eden Collective via 1stdibs
What Is Niello?
The word 'niello' comes from the Latin word, 'nigellus', meaning 'blackened'. Historically, niello is a black compound made from silver, copper, sulfur, charcoal, and lead. The designs are made by engraving the surface of a metal, usually silver because it contrasts excellently with black, and then filling the engraving with niello. Often, the niello was powdered and then spread over the engraved metal which had been moistened with a flux. When the metal was heated, the niello powder would melt and run into the channels of the engraved design. Some of the most common niello work appears as stripes and chequered patterns in jewelry.
Victorian niello bolt and horseshoe in 9-carat gold and silver. - Antique Animal Jewelry.
A 16-inch late Victorian or early 20th-century niello chain with a large spring ring and beautifully intricate twisting details. - From Liz Kantner via Pinterest.
A French-made niello locket necklace with a checkerboard pattern, hanging alongside a matching spherical pendant, all in sterling silver. Inside are two compartments with locks of hair. c.1890.
From Erie Basin.
The Popularity of Niello
Niello's next peak in popularity following its use in ancient cultures from Syria and Byzantine to Egypt and Rome, was during the Renaissance - particularly in Italy, where it was made famous in the workshops of Florentine goldsmith Maso Finiguerra. It had another revival towards the end of the 18th-century and remained popular, to some degree, throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.
During this latter revival, a town called Tula in Russia became particularly well known for its niello work, leading to niello's alternative name of 'Tula silver'. By the turn of the 20th century, most niello work in Europe was coming from Tula. Niello work was also very popular in the Ottoman Empire, where it was often referred to as 'Van work', from the town of Van in Turkey. Additionally, niello was popular in Thailand and is sometimes known as 'Siam sterling'. American soldiers who visited Thailand in the mid-20th century often brought 'Nielloware' like this home for their wives or girlfriends, making it a popular mid-century trend.
Antique Imperial Russian Kubachi silver niello belt buckle, c.1898 - 1903. The Kinjahl dagger joins the two pieces of the buckle, which are inscribed in Russian with what might translate as 'Remind' / 'Remember'. The buckle has a Russian Cyrillic makers initials Mark which translates in English to the initials A D and these initials are for the maker Aleksandr Vasilbev Domnin who was a St Petersburg silversmith who worked between 1896 - 1917. - From AntiquescollectorGB via Etsy.
Antique Russian Tula silver and niello belt buckle made into a brooch pin. Marked as 84 silver, c.1898-c1908. A dagger joins and secures the two pieces. - From @artaurora_antiquesjewelry via Instagram.
Victorian-era silver Russian niello belt, early 20th century. - From jewelscollectingdust.com.
Sterling silver antique niello pendant in a finely engraved lobed teardrop shape with ornate niello designs of vines/leaves/flowers. Possibly Turkish/Ottoman, possibly 19th century. - From vintagedazzle via Etsy.
A silver-gilt and niello belt buckle, Ottoman Provinces, 19th century, comprising two fitted plaques with clasp and hooks for attaching, decorated with panels of arabesque form each containing an engraved niello design of entwining foliage. - Via Sotheby's.
A Turkish parcel-gilt silver and niello belt from the second half of the 19th century, the hinged panels decorated with niello bosses of British Royal Arms, the American eagle, a double-headed eagle, an early locomotive, pair of Irish harps, and landscapes and flowers, marked on backs with Tugra.
This belt is typical of the silverwork produced in the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th century, consisting of 14 rectangular segments hinged together. Each segment has an oval plaque in the center surrounded by a border of granules faceted to look like cut-steel. The designs of the plaques show buildings, flowers, birds, trophies, and other characteristic motifs picked out in niello. It has a large filigree bow on the front, decorated with faceted granules in the same way as the belt, and has three matching pear-shaped pendants, each with smaller pendants of spiral wire, hanging from its lower edge. It was probably 'Van work' made by Armenian silversmiths in the town of Van in Turkey, c.1870-1920. ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
A Turkish/Ottoman niello and gold brooch. - From @acarantik via Instagram.
Victorian niello curb link chain in silver and 9-carat rosy gold with a large bolt. - Antique Animal Jewelry.
English-made 60" guard chain with unusual sphere-shaped niello links and gold links alternating with niello and silver oblong links creating a three-tone effect, c.1870. - From Erica Weiner.
Victorian niello guard chain with a clover drop. The chain alternates between niello sterling silver links and 9ct rose gold gilt connecting links. - From Lillicoco.
A Victorian niello chain made from two shorter ones, with a large bolt and a niello dog clip. From @incroyables_et_merveilleux.
Antique early 20th-century niello chan with niello bolt and dog clip. From Etoiles Jewelry Box via Instagram.
A Victorian niello chain made of silver with double bar niello links forming a necklace. Each double bar link is enameled all around in a traditional striped niello motif. Connecting each link together is a section of silver chain, which is gilded with a rose gold finish. A large spring ring clasp and Niello watch swivel clasp meet at the center, making it possible to hang a complimentary locket or pendant, c.1880.
From A. Brandt + Son.
Antique Victorian niello chain with a niello bolt and dog clip, alternating mirrored niello-striped and plain silver twisted links with triple silver links between. - From @epilogue_antiques via Instagram.
19th century rose gold fill and niello chain that can be worn as a bracelet. The niello links form figures of 8 or infinity signs. - From LuxeVieuxLoft via Etsy.
Niello chain with a niello bolt ring and dog clip. England, c.1880. - From Fable & Windsor via Instagram.
Late 19th-century Victorian niello chain, once a watch chain but used now as a necklace.
From MossiBelle via Etsy.
Left: Greek key pattern antique niello chain with silver and 14k gold links. - From A Pocket of Rocks. Right: Antique niello chain with a Greek Key design and niello clip and clasp. - From JewelHoundTreasures via Etsy.
Antique silver and niello chain with an unusual pattern on the niello links. From Le Boudoir de Verre via Instagram.
4 different antique niello chains. #1 has rose gold alternating links and a wide niello pattern, c.1900. #2 has niello fetter links with a striped pattern wrapping around them, the ends of which link to a triple gold link, c.1880. #3 has a classic loop-in-loop design alternating rose gold and niello patterned links, c.1920. #4 is a watch chain that alternates slender striped niello links with 3 gold links and has a niello dog clip, c.1890. - All via 1stdibs.
A selection of antique niello bolt rings, dog clips, and clasps. - From @blondestarjewellery via Instagram.
A stunning antique niello bangle dating from the turn of the 20th Century. The centerpiece is a gorgeous infinity knot (aka lover’s knot), embellished with rose gold star details and simple hand-chased cuff segments. - From Butter Lane Antiques via Instagram.
A Victorian-era bracelet crafted in sterling and 9kt rose gold overlay with a niello surface. The bracelet is twisted into the shape of a nautical style knot in the front with two rose gold plated accent loops. 11 rose-gold stars decorate the bangle, which has a discrete push clasp hinge and safety chain, c.1900s.
From A. Brandt + Sons.
Antique silver niello bracelet, c.1900 -1910. The roundels that compose this bracelet are gently domed with exquisite niello designs outlined in silver. If you look closely you will see that there are four different designs. There are matching pairs on each side and then a different design in the center.
From Suzy Lemay via Ruby Lane.
Silver niello chain-link bracelet with a concealed clasp and safety chain, c. 1880. - From Erica Weiner.
An antique silver niello link bracelet. - From A Pocket of Rocks via Instagram.
A Victorian niello bracelet crafted in silver with a 3-dimensional buckle motif on the front with striped niello accents. A fine basketweave niello pattern is inlaid into the outer surface. The bracelet is hinged and opens at a push clasp at the side, where a safety chain provides extra security. c.1880s.
From A. Brandt + Son.
Sterling silver and niello flower motif bangle/bracelet. The decoration is only on the top of the wrist. It opens at a secure push clasp at the side. c.1880. - From La Bellinieuse via Instagram.
Antique Austro-Hungarian niello bangle. - From @antiquariato_trouve via Instagram.
An Austro-Hungarian niello bracelet/bangle crafted in 900 silver embellished with a fine niello checkerboard pattern. c.1880s. - From A. Brandt + Son.
Niello bracelet, probably originally a watch chain, Late 19th or early 20th century. From jewelscollectingdust.com.
Late 19th-century Parisian Jules Wièse bracelet composed of round articulated links set with garnet cabochons and decorated with niello, French assay mark for 18ct gold and maker's mark. - Via Sotheby's.
Niello Lockets, Pendants & Pocketwatches
An ornate niello locket on a bold chain comprised of several sterling silver and niello links. Each row of 3 Niello links is connected to the next by a row of 2, 9kt rose-gold links, and dangling from the bottom is a beautiful square-shaped locket with a single sparkling diamond bezel-set in its center. The locket is covered in a niello floral print and opens to reveal 2 empty photograph compartments. The entire piece hangs from a Niello swivel watch clasp. - From A. Brandt + Son.
An unusual Victorian silver and niello locket with silver initials on top of the cross and diamond niello patterning and with a silver bow at the top set with a gemstone. - From @midnightveil via Instagram.
Antique finely detailed niello locket on a niello chain with the initial R beneath a crown on the front and 'Robur' on the back, which may be a last name. - From @estatejewelrymama via Instagram.
A Victorian-era French locket with an elaborate niello design. 'Porte Bonheur' translates to 'Lucky Charm.' From @velanyc via Instagram.
Antique circular silver and gold locket decorated with striped banding of niello and inlaid with two yellow gold fleur-de-lis, c.1890. - From Searle.
An Imperial Russian niello and silver shield locket with 3 gold stars down the middle and some kind of foliage on either side, possibly stylized thistles, c.1900. - From Butter Lane Antiques.
An elegant Victorian double-sided niello locket. From @franziska_vintage_jewels via Instagram.
An antique niello locket with a pattern of stars or flowers. The perimeter of the locket is embellished with rose gold plated balls. - From @lisakramervintage via Instagram.
A Victorian convex oval locket crafted in niello and silver. The surface sports rows of alternating black and silver triangles to create a pleasing geometric effect, c.1880. - From Butter Lane Antiques.
A Victorian oval niello locket with a checkerboard pattern on silver, c. 1880. - From Erica Weiner.
French stamped niello sliding pendant/mirror, c.1900. - From @madamebrocante via Instagram.
Victorian sterling silver niello locket fob pendant and watch chain. From Vintageatmums via Etsy.
A Victorian-era silver and niello slide mirror locket with a matching encased button hook, c.1880. The mirror locket is rectangular in shape and is hinged at the top bail where it slides open. Each piece is detailed with a checkerboard niello design. - From A. Brandt + Son.
Victorian niello heart locket pendant with a chequered pattern, c.1860-1870, likely made by French or Russian jewelers. - Via 1stdibs.
A Victorian niello shield locket in sterling silver. - From Lillicoco via Etsy.
A Victorian niello locket with a striped design and rose-gold gilt accents on the front.
A Victorian diamond-shaped niello locket patterned with tiny vertical stripes and rows of classic waves on both sides. The inside retains both interior bezels. - From New Kingdom Jewels via Ruby Lane.
Antique silver niello and rose gold locket and chain. - From Lang Antiques via Pinterest.
Double-sided Victorian niello locket with a bold Wiener Workstatte (Vienna Workshop) style graphic design on both front and back, and a striped pattern along the round edge. The 15k double bale allows this locket pendant to lie perfectly flat. c.1890. - Via 1stdibs.
Victorian silver and niello lockets with various patterns. - From The Deeps via Instagram.
A Victorian silver, gold, and niello fob pendant with a large niello dog clip which attaches to 3 niello links which further attaches to a 2 compartment round locket. c.1890. - Via 1stdibs.
Antique Austro Hungarian silver and niello cross pendant with niello work to the front, back, and bale. Assayed between 1872-1922 in the city of Vienna. - From B&E Antique Vintage Jewellery via Instagram.
Antique niello pencil and chain with striped and diamond patterns. From Antique Gems N Jewels via Instagram.
A French Victorian-era niello and silver whistle charm/pendant with a chequered pattern, c.1890. The open sides have to be closed off by pinching them between your fingers in order for the whistle to make a sound. - From Butter Lane Antiques.
An unusual Victorian-era niello fob made of silver with an open center and 2 intertwined rings on the outside. Each ring is covered in a striped niello pattern. 4 rose-gold rings rest horizontally on each rounded bar and a matching niello ring rests at the top of the fob. A single 9kt rose gold ball lies at the center base of the fob pendant. The thin, flat stamp bottom has an engraved musical staff stamp with the words 'Jch lie be dich' and 'L.v.Beeth'. c.1880. - From A. Brandt + Son.
An Imperial Russian miniature egg pendant crafted in niello and silver, with abstract clover and foliate detailing and clear Russian silver marks to the original bail, c.1890. - From Butter Lane Antiques.
Antique silver niello stem-wind pocket/fob watch with chain, c1890. - Via 1stdibs.
Two huge Victorian silver and niello Chatelaines. Left: Comprised of a jockey hat, a niello-linked chain with a watch key, an oval-shaped center ring with a buckle and riding crop across the front, and a pocket watch, c.1880. Right: Comprised of a niello flower basket at the top of a clip, from which hangs a connecting niello pattern and a heart-shaped pocket watch as well as a niello chain with a watch key. Both from A. Brandt + Son.
Niello Buckles & Cufflinks
Antique niello snake buckle. - From eBay Archives.
Victorian niello and rose gold gilt buckle brooch pin, handcrafted c.1800. Belt buckles symbolized eternity, fidelity/loyalty, strength, and protection. - From MossiBelle via Etsy.
Silver and niello cufflinks with a finely executed geometric line ornament. c.1890. - Via 1stdibs.
A pair of French striped niello cufflinks c.1880, made of sterling silver, each double-sided cufflink comprised of two discs connected by a strand of chain. - From A. Brandt + Son.
Large niello dotted square pattern oval cufflinks c.1890. - Via 1stdibs.
A Scottish silver ring/plaid brooch decorated with a niello pattern of anchors and roundels, c.1769. The ring brooch is traditional to Norway and Scotland, indicating the strong historical and geographical ties between the two countries. Brooches like this one are typical of Scottish Highland brooches in the second half of the 18th century. This one is inscribed on the back with two sets of initials and a date, suggesting it was probably a betrothal gift. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
Antique German late 19th-century niello brooch with a chequered pattern in 800 silver. From HouseOf3Cats via Etsy.