New - animal portraits in rock crystal
A reverse intaglio is an image carved out in the bottom of a piece of rock crystal and painted in detail, so that it looks three dimensional when seen from the other side. These crystals originated in the second half of the 19th century and a Belgian artist named Emile Marius Pradier is said to be the inventor of this technique. De miniature crystal artworks were worn in stickpins, tie-pins, brooches, buttons, cufflinks, necklaces and bracelets. Crystals made for men usually had sporty motifs: dogs, horses, foxes and birds. For women: monograms, birds and insects, butterflies and flowers. Eventually many reverse intaglios were made and sold in England and somewhere along the line they were wrongfully attributed to an artist called William Essex. Essex was famous for his miniature portraits in enamel, he had no connection with the crystal pieces and yet until today, this type of crystal jewellery is called Essex crystal.
Around 1860, a British goldsmith (Thomas Cooke) started making reverse intaglios for jeweller Lambeth & Company. They immediately became popular and Cooke trained a student to assist him. This student, Thomas Bean, later taught his son and his grandson the technique of the reverse intaglio. Carving out and painting rock crystal is one of the few art forms that has been developed in secrecy and transferred from generation to generation. This crystal jewellery was most popular around the turn of the twentieth century, until the 1930’s, when cheap imitations flooded the market and the craftmanship started to disappear.
The making of reverse intaglios is a very precise and time-consuming process. Rock crystal from Brasil and Madagascar is cut with a diamond saw and polished into a cabochon: a round top and a flat back. Sometimes twenty grades of polish are needed and the entire process is done by hand. The image is then painted on the flat black with water color. It is then etched into the crystal with a scribe pen after which engraving begins. The crystal is carved with a mix of oil and diamond dust, with the use of soft steel tools, sometimes 250 of which are used. The deeper the carving, the bigger the “trompe l’oeuil” effect shows in the crystal. When the image is perfectly carved out it will be painted, with brushes so fine they sometimes have only one hair. The end result is a very detailed image that looks like it’s floating.
Of course you are very welcome to see the Essex crystal jewellery in person on Spiegelgracht 9 in Amsterdam. We are also happy to send you more photos and information by email.