A fabulous find! The trim on this elegant 18th century French billet dour is tested and hallmarked with the tiny French punch prior to 1809, and is solid 18k gold, yellow in color. The body of the case is fine old Vernis Martin and is inset with some tiny diamonds of mother of pearl. The interior liner is shell, dating c.1750-1809, very well preserved for age and type, indeed. Some would misidentify this as a cigar case, and I suppose one could use it that way, but it's not what the item is. These are truly fascinating old treasures of the era of Marie-Antoinette and shortly before/afterward, and while some misidentify them as being cigar cases, they have a much more fascinating history. This is a French 'billet doux', roughly translated, it means 'sweet note'. In those times, it was white usual for the elite and titled, (and Royals) to have affairs, clandestine meetings with amour as theme, and of course other correspondences with friends and love interests. The typical passing of messages, hand carried by the courier or trusted servant of one person to the intended recipient, these 'billet doux' would hold within them a rolled up and sometimes wax-sealed note. Once received and read, the recipient would often be expected to respond and send the servant back with his or her reply again rolled and housed within the billet doux. These are all roughly the same size, but they were quite broad in decoration. This one is a bit unusual and very beautiful.
Very good to excellent condition throughout. I have acid-tested the bands and they are 18k gold, yellow in color. Looks like my photographer missed looking for the very tiny tiny French gold mark, so we'll have another look to see if we can locate one and if so, will have him use microscope camera to capture it if possible. The old French gold mark can be so tiny, most will miss it. But as noted, I also tested to be certain and it is 18k solid gold. The shell body of this one is also in beautiful condition, rich deep dark chocolate color Vernis Martin with inlays of diamond-shaped mother of pearl. I can't make out any painting, which sometimes darkens a great deal over the centuries as the varnishes used go dark. But the surface is good, no damage. The inner insert lip is also in shell, and you see a bit more coloration there, perhaps. Also, that thinner piece shows a bit of chipping around the rim which is quite usual with these and results from normal use in its time. I wish we could make out the paintings on this one. We have several very fine ones right now, all sold separately.
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