The Canning Jewel is a baroque pearl designed to resemble the body of a merman.
Between the 15th and 17th centuries, baroque pearls flooded Europe from the Persian Gulf and other various well-known pearl sources at the time. Italian craftsmen began using these unique shaped pearls, along with other gems, to create pendants resembling mythical creatures. The Canning Jewel is one of these unique pearl pendants.
The Canning Jewel is designed around a 4 inch baroque pearl, decorated with gold, diamonds, rubies and other various gems. The piece is meant to resemble a merman. In addition to the large, baroque centerpiece pearl, there are three smaller pearls hanging from the bottom of the merman, a large pearl in the center and two on each end meant to give the piece balance.
Charles John Canning, Governor General of India from 1856 to 1861, acquired the pearl merman after the Indian Mutiny of 1857. It is believed to have been given to the Mogul Emperor of India as a gift from the Medici Family. The Canning Jewel was created by famous Florentine craftsman, Benvenuto Cellini.
In 1935, the Canning Jewel was sold to the Victoria and Albert Museum where it remains today. Upon the museum's acquisition of the piece, the authenticity of the jewel came into question. Though the pearl merman does resemble other pieces created during the 16th century, the way in which the diamonds are cut is thought to be more characteristic of the Renaissance Revival, mid-19th century. According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the piece is dated between 1800 and 1860 AD.
Despite the Canning Jewel's origin, this pearl pendant is truly a magnificent and creative piece of jewelry.