So I did a little more digging after posting this and decided to share my findings with all of you. First of all, the name: chatelaine. (No, not the magazine!)
So… what’s a chatelaine exactly?
The root word for chatelaine is château, which is French for castle or very large house, and a châtelaine is the lady of the house, so the châtelaine became associated with their little key-chain and the little tools and things that were very useful for the woman to carry around the house with her.
They came to England in the late 17th century and the more decorative forms, usually fashioned from precious metals, were popular pieces until around 1830 and continued to be worn by some wealthy women throughout the 19th century. Before the 1850s pockets were uncommon in women’s garments and chatelaines were a versatile and ornamental alternative.
Basically a chatelaine is decorative belt hook or brooch worn at the waist with a series of (usually three or five, but up to nine) chains suspended from it, each attached to a small object with a daily household use.
Though they are rarely worn nowadays, chatelaines were once prized as useful and decorative items, worn by housekeepers, fashionable ladies and some working men.
While housekeepers’ chatelaines tended to be plain affairs, those made to be worn by the lady of the house would have ornamental work on them, and some chatelaines made for men, - especially those whose trade meant they needed ready access to handy tools,- were longer and were worn suspended at each thigh to conceal the openings on breeches, rather than at the waist.
Early examples of chatelaines from Germany or France tend to be very expensive, and were made of gold, silver or pinchbeck (a gold coloured alloy of copper and zinc). They typically had just three chains, ending in small containers or would carry a seal and a watch (quite common in the 16th century Dutch Republic, where they were typically used as watch chains for the most wealthy); later, more articles were added.
It would normally carry the keys of the house; if the woman was a seamstress then it would carry needles, thimbles, buttonhooks, tiny pincushions, scissors and things that she would use for mending things around the house. There were also nurses’ chatelaines that carried pens and little pads of paper for writing notes about certain patients, whistles for alerting doctors, etc.
By the Victorian era the chatelaine became less of a useful tool to carry around and was more decorative being worn mainly by ladies of higher status. Victorian ones were made in gold, silver, brass and cut or polished steel, among other materials, and tend to have a great many chains and ornaments; they got heavier and more elaborate as time went on. By that point they would carry little mirrors, spectacles, lockets, purses, and vials of perfume or smelling salts.
The Edwardian era was the era of sterling silver and needlework tools of sterling silver were produced in enormous varieties. Chatelaines came back into vogue and remained fashionable until the outbreak of World War 1. After that, changing fashions in clothing made them redundant.
So now you know a little more about this beautiful object. This pretty much confirms my hypothesis about this one being from the Edwardian era.