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Pick Your Poison: A Brief History of Deadly Jewelry

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Murder by Poison, sounds like an Agatha Christie thriller but in fact this method of dispatching people has been with us from ancient times right up to today.


A favorite decoration of both assassins and generals, 'poison rings' could conceal perfume, tiny mementos—or something far more deadly.

The practice began in ancient India and the Far East and moved on to Ancient Rome, where poison rings were often used to commit suicide when a painful death was unavoidable. The legendary Cleopatra relied heavily on a variety of different poisons which she tested on condemned prisoners to see which was fastest and most reliable.

The beautiful Lucrezia Borgia whose name is synonymous with all manner of poisons, was said to be particularly adept at using poison rings to dispose of rivals and political enemies. So powerful is the tradition that to this day in Italy pouring someone a drink while holding the bottle with the back of the hand facing downward, so as to let something drop from a ring bezel, is called versare alla traditora (“traitor’s way of pouring”) and still considered offensive


During the Sixteenth Century in Europe poison jewelry became wildly popular, Verdi used a poison ring as the vehicle for Lady Lenora to commit suicide in the opera Il trovatore, all so she could stay faithful to her lover. In fact arsenic was so popular and easy to come by that it was nicknamed “the widow’s divorce."

Under the reign of Louis XIV the scandalous l'affaire des poisons occurred where 367 orders of arrests were issued, of which 218 were carried out. Several prominent members of the aristocracy were implicated of poisoning others in the court resulting in 36 people being executed.

Anybody who was anybody all over Europe had royal tasters who would taste their food and drink to make sure it wasn't tainted. Roman Emperor Claudius was killed by poison in AD 54, even though he hired a food taster. Over history, presidents and royal families hired food tasters as well. Adolf Hitler's food taster Margot Wölk tried the food at 8:00 am every day, and, if she did not fall ill, the food would be sent to Hitler's military headquarters. President Vladimir Putin, no stranger to this deadly practice, has a food taster who is part of his security staff to protect himself. Believe it or not, even in the United States, several recent presidents most prominently Barack Obama (1) have been known to employ food tasters. Aside from sampling good food, the post doesnt seem to have room for advancement. Let’s hope the profession paid well at least. 



With a name like “poison jewelry” it’s easy for people to shy away and only seek the story of dark use of these pieces. But as time passed, these have become more than hidden compartments for poison. They are miniature time capsules filled with raw humanity. They were often used as pillboxes, or vessels to hold relics of saints called reliquaries. During the Victorian era they were used to hold cologne, locks of hair, and portraits of loved ones. England’s Queen Victoria popularized mourning jewelry which was often rings and lockets that held hair and photos of departed loved ones.


Today poison jewelry especially pendants are making a comeback with compartments similar to the original designs. The secret compartment usually covered by a large jewel with an elaborate frame can hold anything – a picture, a love note, a prayer,an aspirin, a valium or anything else you might need.

Our current collection contains a select group of “poison” lockets – some vintage and some modern - all lovely. They are one of a kind so pick your poison while you can.  Every locket except the antiques on top is available in my new Fall/Winter 2021 Collection.



1) https://www.businessinsider.com/plenty-of-evidenc...

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