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The Fox and the Hound & The Myth of the Essex Crystal
10 / 04

 

THE FOX AND THE HOUND

 

Below are two examples of 19th century miniature portraiture jewelry. The names for these pieces are often used interchangeably, but they are in fact very different.

© Copyright Sugar et Cie

 

The fox and the hound are recent additions to the boutique. The Jack Russell Terrier brooch on the right, is a Revere Intaglio Crystal Brooch. It is often erroneously called an Essex Crystal. So much so, that dealers often refer to these pieces as Essex Crystals, even though they know that they are not. The moniker is used so often and is so widespread, that it has sort of stuck. On the left, is a painted enamel miniature portrait of a fox by W.B. Ford, a student of William Essex.

 

WHAT IS A REVERSE INTAGLIO CRYSTAL?

 

The reverse intaglio crystal is an art form that is time consuming, painstaking, and a multiple step process.

 

It begins with a piece of rock crystal. The rough is repeatedly polished by hand, with a progressively fine polishing tool to create a domed cabochon on one side and a flat back on the other. The design is drawn on the flat back/reverse side of the crystal cabochon, it is hand carved, and then painted by a master artisan. This yields a three-dimensional appearance. In this particular example, you can even see the shadow of the dog’s muzzle. Finally, it is sealed with a back, typically mother of pearl or gold.

 

The technique originated in Belgium with Emile Marius Pradier (circa 1860). Reverse intaglio crystals were developed and popularized by Thomas Cooke in England (circa 1880). There are many out there, but the good ones are few and far between. It is relatively easy to see the difference in the quality from piece to piece. Take out your loupe and you can see the fineness in the details.

 

WILLIAM ESSEX, W.B. FORD AND THE ENAMEL MINIATURE PORTRAIT

 

William Essex (c.1784 – 1869) was an English enamel-painter. He is widely regarded as the best enamelist of his generation. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1818. He was appointed enameler to Queen Victoria in 1839 and wrote at treatise on the art of enameling. Most of his work is based on copies of the Old Masters or works by famous contemporaries such as Landseer and Winterhalter.

 

William Bishop Ford (1832-1922), the artist who painted the miniature fox portrait at the center of the brooch above, was a student of William Essex’. Ford also specialized in the painting of miniature enamels and exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1854 – 1895. Like Essex, Ford also painted miniature of famous masters. The fox head portrait above, by Ford, is after “The Fox” (1817) by Abraham Cooper. An engraving print on paper, reflecting the work by Abraham Cooper (1787-1868), is part of Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection. According to V&A, the print is “…FROM THE ORIGINAL PICTURE BY A. COOPER.”

 

 

 

Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum, Abraham Cooper, The Fox

 

 

When I first started researching the topic, I wondered why painting a miniature portrait in enamel was considered its own art form. I was surprised to find out how difficult and challenging it was. According to the V&A museum, “The advantage of enamel over traditional miniature painting (watercolour painted on vellum or on ivory) is that it does not fade when exposed to light.” The cons are that it is a challenging process fraught with risk. “The first colours to be laid on the metal support have to be the ones that need to be fired at the highest temperature. Then more colours are added and the enamel is re-fired. The process ends with the colours that need the lowest temperature. Such labour meant that it was an expensive option.”

 

In an article from 1837 in The London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, “Some Account of the Art of Painting in Enamel,” Alfred Essex, William’s partner and brother, writes of the difficulty of achieving the desired colors and crispness of image required to rival the traditional medium of oil on canvas.

 

ESSEX CRYSTAL: MYTH OR FACT?

 

So why does the erroneous moniker “Essex Crystal” persist? Because it is so widespread, dealers still use it to help those that are looking for what they think are Essex Crystals find what they are looking for, and so it goes. How did the misnomer get started? There are several stories circulating as to the origin. William Essex was the enamel painter for Queen Victoria and created other amazing small portraits using enamels. It is possible that because the artwork is so fine and because both are forms of small portraits that reverse intaglio crystals were attributed to William Essex.

 

HOW TO WEAR THEM


In love with the fox or the hound, but not a brooch wearer? A simple addition of one or two hinged bails would make it possible to wear the Reverse Intaglio Crystal as a pendant. I would pair it with an Albert Watch Chain (on the chunky side). Many enamel portraits are being converted to pendants or rings. The fox would also make a lovely pendant. It is relatively lighter and could be worn with a more delicate chain.

 

07 / 19

 

ANTIQUE ENAMEL FLOWER JEWELRY

Antique Enamel Flower Ring

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

Just a month or two ago, I came across an old article about jeweled orchid brooches made by Tiffany & Co. for the Exposition Universelle in Paris 1889. They were designed by Paulding Farnham to represent 24 actual orchid species.

 

They looked so realistic that several people thought they were real. According to Sotheyby’s, a Jeweler’s Weekly article from June of 1889 described the phenomenon: “so perfectly copied after nature as to inspire unqualified admiration … to deceive the observer into a belief that real flowers have been placed in the showcases with the jewelry.” Farnham won the gold medal in jewelry for Tiffany, and catapulted his reputation and career.

 

TIFFANY’S ORCHID BROOCHES

 

Just like the orchid themselves, these jeweled, enamel over gold brooches and hair ornaments, were created in a range of colors from the palest of pastels to the most deeply saturated of jewel tones. Since each orchid represented a different orchid species, each had a unique color scheme.

 

Visions of sugar plums, or rather delicate candy-colored flowers, began to dance in my head. Unfortunately, Tiffany’s orchids are hard to find and command steep prices at auction. A lemon yellow, chartreuse, orange, and cream colored example sold last year at Sotheby’s for $173,00, 44% over the high estimate.

 

HAND CANDY

 

I knew I wanted to have an enameled flower ring for Sugar et Cie and modern day versions just didn’t fit with my vision. They were either too shiny (the antique ones I favor have a velvety matte finish). Or they looked like they belonged on a greeting card instead of freshly plucked from a garden.

 

Antique Enamel Flower Ring

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

As it turns out, enameled pansies and violets from the Victorian and Edwardian period were the answer. More plentiful (made by a variety of jewelers from the period), less elaborate, and less expensive than the Tiffany’s gem, they make the perfect flower for the finger. The only downside is that the more unusual the color and the better the condition, the harder they are too find (and the higher the price).

 

This wild violet (circa 1910) in enamel over 14 Kt., flower ring is the first in what I hope is a series for Sugar et Cie.

 

Antique Enamel Flower Ring

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

… more to come in our second installment on Tuesday, so check back!

04 / 18

 

French, Blue Enamel and Gold Star Earrings: Starry Skies

 

Our item of the week, is this delicate vintage pair of 1950’s blue enamel and gold earrings. When we discovered them, they were a pair of cufflinks. We could not resist the small gold stars painted on the blue enamel with a diamond moon at the center. The enamel panel is framed in gold with additional etched stars. Hence the name – Starry Skies. We added 18kt gold lever backs and a few additional diamonds (stars falling from the sky) linked to the ends to give them movement and additional sparkle. For more information on this item, visit the the Spun Sugar Collection at Sugar et Cie.

 

French Blue Enamel,Gold Star, and Diamond Earrings

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2013

 

French Enamel

 

To put it simply, enameling is the process of fusing a mixture of ground glass to metal through the application of high heat. It is a complicated process that requires great skill and training. A wide range of vivid colors can be created. Jewelers love the endless color possibilities and enjoy creating pieces that would not otherwise be possible through the use of colored gemstones alone. The French are well known for the quality of their enamel work. Over many centuries they, and others, developed many different techniques for working with enamel, but are probably the most well known for the painting of enamel that flourished in Limoges, France. Cartier and Lalique, are two excellent 20th century examples of french jewelers who incorporated enamel work into many of their famous pieces of jewelry.

 

Wear it with Blue and White

 

These earrings are great for the upcoming season. They are full of sparkle and shine. Wear them with pink, red, black, anything really, but we think they would look amazing for summer with blue and white. The following are three different looks, featuring white dresses and blue accessories.

Summer Blues

Dresses

As pictured: Soft Multi-Layer Dress, by James Perse at RevolveClothing.com

As pictured: Wide Strapped Ruched Dress, by James Perse at RevolveClothing.com

As pictured: Masada Dress, by Bailey 44 at senecamoss.com

 

Shoes

As pictured: T-Strap Platform Sandal, by Giuseppe Zanotti

As pictured: Strapped Peep Toe Bootie, also by Giuseppe Zanotti

As pictured: Arella Suedette Platform shoes, at Boohoo.com

An alternative: Miss Benin, by Christian Louboutin.