Ottoman gem-set box


This is an Ottoman 16th century gem-set box, created by Persian jewelers. The dimensions are 17.3cm length, 8.8cm width, 3.2cm height. It is thought that it was to hold scales, probably for jewelry making.

The outside of the lid is made of broad bands of rectangular-cut turquoise stones set in gold channels with incised decoration, in a geometric pattern enclosed within a border, forming a six-pointed star at the centre, the interstices filled with alternating niello and gold scrolling flowers, each end with a panel enclosing two cartouches with inscriptions separated by a roundel. The meaning of the cartouches-
There is no touchstone like these scales in the world,
To measure stones light and yet precious.
One tray is like the moon, the other the sun,
The conjunction of the sun and moon has fallen in its balance.


This is the inside of the box lid. It is made with four corner spandrels and a central oval cartouche decorated with interlacing gold flowers amid elegantly flowing palmettes and split-palmettes in niello, a single ruby set in the centre of the cartouche.

Estimated to sell for £500,000-700,000, it eventually was sold by Sotheby’s for £2,393,250.

Taken from Les cahiers d’Alain Truong.

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