In Tudor times, aromatic oranges became popular. This was not just a scented orange but one in which the pulp had been removed and replaced with a small sponge soaked in vinegar and spices. Jewellers began to make little gold or silver boxes in which the sponge could be placed, doing away with the real orange that had to keep being replaced. The boxes were called pouncet-boxes, that is, a small box that had been ‘pounced’ or ‘pieced’. In the Elizabethan period, the sponges in these boxes were replaced with dry perfumed powder and the boxes were worn hanfing from a girdle or pendant.
In the mid 1600s, goa stones were invented by a lay brother in Goa, Portuguese East Indies. Goa stones comprised jewel chips, such as coral emeralds, topaz, pearls and rubies ground to a powder, with ambergris musk and gold leaf. This mixture was mixed together, rose water was added, and then the paste was rolled into balls and dried. The dried balls were then placed into little gold round containers and worn or carried.
Little boxes with compartments containing perfumes and herbs were still being made. Around 1780, a concentrated form of aromatic vinegar was invented. This comprised acetic acid mixed with lavender, camphor, cloves and cinnamon oils. Although a sponge soaked with the vinegar was originally used, Birmingham silversmiths developed a new container which had a finely pieced hinged inner lid through which the perfume could be smelt. Some of these boxes were tiny and, of course, were intended to be worn.
These small decorative boxes became known as vinaigrettes from around 1800, and they remained popular until around 1850. During this time, the work on the inner grill also became more ornate, with delicate piecing designs with flora, fauna and bowls of fruit. Towards the 1840s and after, though, the grill work became less detailed and fine, and were often just patterns of drilled holes.
The vinaigrette above and in the photo at the top of the post is from 1823 and made by Joseph Willmore, a prolific silversmith of the period from Birmingham. The vinaigrette is designed to look like a watch. It has beautiful floral designs on both sides.
The vinaigrette above is French from around 1800. It has gilded interior and has floral, scroll and shell motifs. It is also in the shape of a watch.
Birmingham was the centre of the vinaigrette industry. Vinaigrette in all shapes were produced – books, fish, hearts, chests, purses and so on.
From the 1850s onwards, a different form of perfume container was to become popular and replace the vinaigrette.