Monday, August 9, 2010

Intaglios - Reverse Carved Crystals

Intaglios are my favorite - they are miniature works of art! The art of carving gemstones in the intaglio technique originated in Europe is over a thousand years old. Belgian Artist Emile Marius Pradier is attributed for using this technique with crystals. His designs were hand etched and filled with different materials or hand painted. Some of Pradier's early pieces were signed, which makes them particularly appealing. Such was the beginning of a treasured art form, which evolved into incredible works of art in miniature. The designs varied and included miniature portraits of people, animals, flowers landscapes and many other images too numerous to mention.
In the 1960's, Thomas Cooke who resided in England began making crystals for Lambeth and Company. The crystals gained immediate favor and as their popularity increased Cooke trained a student to assist him. This student - Thomas Bean - later trained his own son, Edmund and subsequently his grandson, Edgar (d. 1954) in the crystal making process.

NOTE: At one time, crystals were wrongfully attributed to William Essex, an artist well known for his miniature enamel work. Although he had no connection to the reverse intaglio process, many people commonly refer to "Essex Crystals" even today. His rock crystal miniatures were popular during the Victorian and Edwardian Era. The most popular backgrounds for the crystals included Mother of Pearl and foil.

The reverse intaglio technique requires patience and time. Whether you are carving Lucite or rock crystal the "stone" will need to be cut, polished or prepared/prepped to accept the carving. For example, carving rock crystal which is a natural quartz mineral will need to be cut with a diamond saw and ground into the perfect cabochon and that requires polishing and more polishing which is all done by hand. The design is then painted on usually with watercolors. Next, a scribe etches the design into the stone. Finally, when the engraved design is finished it is painted. The design is so tiny that often brushes with a single hair are used to apply the paint. In some case, silver was employed to further enhance the design. The clear cabochon dome magnified the miniature a bit. These pieces are generally unsigned. These "paintings under glass" are remarkably life-like with the produced three-dimensional effect and its exceptional depth. Their value depends on age, condition, subject matter, setting, and size. An intaglio that gives the illusion the subject rises above the base is termed cavo rilievo.
As time went on types of materials used changed, rock crystal was replaced with glass, and clear Bakelite and transparent Lucite were very popular. When designers used plastic, they stopped framing the carvings because unlike glass Lucite has very smooth edges. Advanced paints became available. Designs changed along with the size and material of etched or molded matter. After World War II, there was an abundance of Lucite, which was used for manufacture of windows for our planes, and artists and crafters scooped the rest. Reverse carved Lucite Jewelry was very popular in the late 1940s - 1950s. All of these changes help us to date a piece.

Crystal carving and painting has always been a family enterprise and is one of the few art forms of modern times to develop in secrecy, and passed on from one generation to the next. Yet, today, with very few artists possessing either the knowledge or ability to produce crystals, the process of reverse intaglio is considered one of the most respected art forms. The popularity of these crystals lasted until the 1960's.

Show Stable Artisans have some exquisite pieces:
Grey Horse Reverse Crystal In 14k Gold Pendant Setting $1,800


allhorsestuff said...

I loved the fabulous history you wrote into this post!
If not for thr size diff/technique... the bridle rosettes of yore may have taken off from this art form?

I am looking into ordering some handmade "Washashe mare" rosettes for her new bridle.

Pray your Mazzie mare is well...+ better this week.

Five O'Clock Somewhere said...

I will do some resaerch on bridle rosetts next, I agree they do have a similar look with the domed glass. Can't wait to see Wa's new "jewelry"!

Mazzie is doing well. Enjoying some R&R. Thanks for your kind words.

Anonymous said...

hi, i was very interested in reading about the process of reverse intaglio, your photos are excellent and have helped me greatly to know that a piece i have is " reverse intaglio ", it is a domed figure of a greyhound? with very small writing " waterloo 1873 - muriel " , signed with 2 entwinned initials, it is set in what i believe to be rose gold although not marked , it is a stick pin , i may even put it up for sale on ebay as i am not a collector and would rather it went to someone who would treasure it,, great site, well done and regards from belfast .

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