In anticipation of this Monday night’s Fifi awards (for those of you unfamiliar they are the “Oscars” of the fragrance industry), we are featuring perfume pendants in this post. Any classic film buff will be familiar with scenes in which a woman has fainted and a gentleman swoops into her rescue waving a flask underneath her nose to revive her. As entertaining as this play of events is to watch, this occurrence is not a dramatization. During the Victorian era, the scent was not worn but rather sniffed when one came upon unsavory smells in the local town or village. In more modern eras, these small bottles allowed a lady to refresh her scent if she happened upon a gentleman whom she wished to impress or if she happened to exert herself. In times when sewage and sanitation weren’t yet developed, the carrying and wearing of scent also made the day to day routine more pleasant. That is if you could afford to do so. And for those who were wealthy enough to afford perfume, it was an accessory worn by both men and women.
During those time periods when corsets were in fashion, these small vials could also be used to carry smelling salts, as the tight-lacing sometimes brought on spells of dizziness.
Perfume bottle pendants were primarily worn as necklaces, but it was also fashionable to wear them hanging from a pin on your clothing or as part of a chatelaine (a decorative belt hook or clasp worn at the waist with a series of chains suspended from it.)
Above is an image from the Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Ltd. jewelry catalogue from the Victorian era. Peter Hinks, Victorian Jewellery, (London: Studio Editions, 1991), 75.
There are two variations found for perfume pendants and it has to do with the form of the perfume. For one, the perfume is a liquid, most often a diluted blend of essential oils. The stopper often is used to put little daubs of the oil on the wrists or neck to refresh the scent. The second variation is more like a locket. These were designed to hold solid perfume or a sponge or cloth saturated with scent.
Before the invention of fragrance oils and other elements of modern chemistry, obtaining natural materials and distilling essential oils to make perfumes could be quite costly due to the rarity of certain ingredients and the time and effort involved in the physical process.
Perfumes were only crafted in tiny, hand-made batches and only the rich could afford such an indulgence. So not only did women not have more than a small amount of perfume, but to carry it around and keep it safe made sense.
Catherine de Medici went to great lengths to keep her perfume recipes a secret. When she moved to France to become Queen she took her perfumer, Rene de Florentin, with her where he had his own laboratory and Catherine would visit him via a secret passageway.
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