The Fettercairn Jewel is an exceptionally rare Renaissance gold pendant locket. Set with a large almandine garnet, it features an elaborate scene in enamel on the back. The jewel is oval, with a fastening at the top to hold a gold ring, and, at the bottom, a smaller ring, that was originally a catch to hold the case shut. The case opens and would probably have contained a miniature portrait on vellum or ivory or some other personal memento. It would have been worn as a pendant on a chain or pinned to clothing, and it probably had a pearl or precious stone hanging beneath it.
Its Scottish provenance, and its potential relationship with other known jewels made for Scottish patrons, raise the possibility that the Fettercairn Jewel was made in Scotland or for a 16th-century Scottish patron.
Mercury was one of the most popular gods in Renaissance imagery. He was specifically associated at this time as the god of messengers and became closely associated with the officers of arms (the royal heralds) in 16th-century Scotland. An image from the Seton Armorial of c.1591 casts Lyon King of Arms, the king’s personal representative, as Mercury. This could suggest that the Fettercairn Jewel was crafted around the same time, and may indicate a connection to the Scottish court.
The pendant came into the National Museums Scotland collection through an auction of over 400 works of art and artefacts from the private collection of the Forbes family, whose home was Fettercairn House in Aberdeenshire. The Forbes of Pitsligo descend from Sir William Forbes, brother of Alexander Forbes, first Lord Forbes. Both branches were prominent elite families in the sixteenth century. The first Lord Forbes married the granddaughter of King Robert II of Scotland and daughter of Douglas, Earl of Angus.