What, pray tell, is this remarkably versatile piece of utilitarian jewelry? It’s a “chatelaine,” which bore all the accessories most useful to an extremely fancy woman living in the 19th century. They held all sorts of things, from whistles to thimble buckets, and the really well-made chatelaines were minor aesthetic miracles.
Collector’s Weekly has a long feature about the history of the chatelaine, which is described thusly:
Like a customized Swiss Army knife, a chatelaine provided its wearer with exactly the tools she needed closest at hand. For an avid seamstress, that might include a needle case, thimble, and tape measure, while for an active nurse it might mean a thermometer and safety pins. Inspired by the complex key rings carried by “la chatelaine,” the female head of a grand French estate, these beautiful little contraptions were as fashionable as they were practical. In fact, their design was sometimes so trendy that style trumped usefulness.
A Swiss Army knife, only for the very serious seamstress. The article turns a series of pressing chatelaine questions over to Genevieve Cummins, co-author of the book Chatelaines: Utility to Glorious Extravagance, who chronicles the history of such key rings across cultures. Lots of women used them, including nuns, who had to hold onto the chatelaine chain when they approached a band of gamboling children so the dozen or so attachments wouldn’t rattle and ruin the element of terrifying Catholic surprise. Explained Cummins:
Certainly, they clanked; when they moved, the chatelaine would’ve made a lot of noise. Nuns wore an equivalent device, and they got used to holding the chains when they were approaching the children, so the children couldn’t hear they were coming.
Be afraid, children — the religious gaoler approaches.
The Killer Mobile Device for Victorian Women [Collectors Weekly]