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Gypsy Jewelry - Scarce American Cuff Bracelet

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It is believed that the Roma, often referred to as Gypsies** were settled into the shore of America long before the English came. Typically living a nomadic lifestyle, most of their wealth was in the form of gold jewelry, gold coins and gems which could easily be transported and readily converted to cash when needed.

Examples of American Gypsy jewelry are quite scarce and rarely come into the retail market because when a Roma passes all personal possessions (including jewelry) are buried with that individual. The exception is that one and only one ring of a deceased mother is given to the eldest daughter. Moreover, it is a violation of Gypsy principles to sell the possessions of the deceased. Recent finding indicate that when faced with financial hardship it is permitted to sell jewelry but only to non-Roma.

The rare piece, a large open cuff of 14k rose gold is embellished with several traditional symbols. The front features a large horseshoe appliqué pointed in downward with a centered flowerhead displaying a synthetic ruby (in authentic Roma jewelry gems were never natural). This particular example is rather unusual with the employment of a side appliqué of horseshoe with the head of a horse as well as the typical two side flowers.

Most of the Roma lexicon of imagery included the horseshoe, flowerheads and the image of the Gypsy queen. Substantial in size and weight, the cuff is decorated with hand worked engraved designs and patterns.

** The word ‘Gypsy’ is simply a shortened form of the word “Egyptian” as non-Roma believed that is where they had migrated from India. Research now shows this is the case.

Date: First or early second quarter of the 20th century.

+ Measurements, Condition & More

Measurements: Just shy of 1-3/4 inches (4.5 cm) at the widest. The inner circumference is 6-3/4 inches (17.1 cm) and will fit almost any wrist as it may be adjusted. Weight of 54.5 grams. (35.0 dwt).

Hallmarks: 14k.

Condition: Excellent; several minor restorations where the gold had been flexed hardly evident with magnification; a prior restoration to front bottom by the flower; slightly out of round.

Origin: American.

Historical notes: Ancestors of Romani originated in India over 1,000 years ago, migrating west to Europe around the Middle Ages. Beginning in the 1880s as part of the larger wave of immigration from southern and Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Rom arrived in the United States from Serbia, Russia and Austria-Hungary.

One area in which Roma have traditionally excelled is that of metalwork. They have been known as metalworkers from the beginning of their history. The art of the forge is an ancient one and the Roma seem to have originally learned this art while in India and have been skilled at plating objects with tin or embossing and engraving jewelry.

In Hungary and Romania, they have been gold washers, collecting gold deposits from river bottoms. The Roma have been experts in all forms of metalwork, whether as tinsmiths, coppersmiths or silversmiths. Today, the traditional art of metalworking has been transferred to jewelry design, metal container repair, automobile body repair, and welding.

Note: For an informative article on American Gypsy jewelry consult the Antiques Roadshow website and search for "Gypsy".

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