Chinese Gold & Opal Ring with Egg-Shaped Case, ca. 1900
It's been in my family for several generations. My grandfather was born in 1863 and he had a brother that was older, born probably 1850. And the brother's name was Fred and he and his wife, Anna, went to San Francisco to form a mission down in the worst part of San Francisco. And the object of their mission was that the captains of ships would shanghai girls in China and bring them to be prostitutes in San Francisco. And, of course, when the girls got pregnant, they were just thrown out into the street. And they lived a pretty rough life. Well, Anna and Fred had this mission that would take the girls in and deliver the babies and then try to find decent work for them afterward. Well, one dark and stormy night, there was a pounding on the mission door and they went and there was this young woman who was in the last stages of labor. She wouldn't say a word, but they brought her in and Anna delivered the baby. But during the night, the mother and the child died. Oh... So they didn't know a thing about her, of course, and they buried her in the little cemetery next to the mission. Well, about a week or ten days later, a very elegant Chinese man came, beautifully dressed, obviously a very wealthy person, and he handed that little egg... now, I don't know whether Fred or Anna took it, but he gave it to them, turned around and left without saying a word. And the only thing they could figure was that it was a thank you for what they had done for this very beautiful Chinese girl that they buried. Anna and Fred didn't have children, so it was given to my grandfather as a brother, and it's been in my family ever since.
Now let's take a look inside this egg and see what's in here. And inside the celluloid egg is a satin ring insert. This was always made as a ring box. I've never seen one like it, ever. And inside there is this ring. Let's take it out and have a look at it. This is Chinese gold. And the Chinese worked in pure gold. They didn't alloy their gold. So our American gold is 14 karat or 18 karat. The Chinese worked in 24-karat gold. Sometimes maybe a little alloy would bring it down to 22. And the stone in the center of the ring is a lovely opal. Usually we think of Chinese jewelry with jade. The Chinese thought jade was a magical stone, but they also used opal for good luck.
I examined the inside of the ring, and there are markings. They're hard to see, but they are Chinese markings. When you talk about the Mission District in San Francisco, remember that San Francisco Chinatown is one of the oldest established Chinese communities in the United States. They did import their own gold jewelry from China, and it was sold in the shops in Chinatown. The marks in the ring are Shanghai Chinese marks. There are no American marks. It was made for domestic consumption, for Chinese families. It was not really consumed or given to outsiders.
Wow, isn't that neat?
I would say that the value of the ring, in its perfect condition, along with the presentation box, which I've never seen before, would be about $3,000 to $4,000.
Wow. Well, it's worth more than that to my family.
Of course it is.
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