Three Zarfs

gilded and painted opaline glass, gold with translucent, opaque and painted enamel, seed pearls

height 5.9 cm ; overall 6.7 cm

In the Islamic lands coffee was usually served in a small cup (fincan), made of ceramic or glass, that was held in a metal holder (zarf). Frequently produced in small sets, the cup-holders could be made of base or precious metals, the latter often further decorated with enamel and jewels.

During the 19th century, the ever-enterprising Genevois goldsmiths realized the potential of this market and proceeded to manufacture substantial quantities of zarfs for export.

Constructed from a basic skeletal frame into which enameled panels, filigree-work or gems could be incorporated, most of the zarfs, although eye-catching, did not represent the pinnacle of Swiss craftsmanship. The palette of enamel colours used – in many instances strident combinations of lime green, cerulean and pink – and the decorative motifs favoured – musical instruments or military trophies and clusters of polychrome flowers – were the same as had been adopted for the snuff boxes they produced for this market.

Haydn Williams, Enamels of the World: 1700-2000 The Khalili Collections, London 2009, cat. 57, p. 105.