I have always been fascinated with antique jewelry. One finds some unusual traditions when exploring the jewelry of the past. We see mourning jewelry which contains miniature portraits and often hair of the deceased, jewelry with hidden compartments and other mechanical parts, commemorative miniature portrait jewelry --the list goes on. I think my favorite category has to be the Lover's Eye jewelry that became popular in the late 18th century.
A "lover's eye" miniature is a painted miniature of the giver's eye, presented to a loved one. These miniatures were painted in watercolor on ivory or gouache on vellum and they were set in rings, pendants and brooches for women and cufflinks, and small containers for men. The idea behind this trend was that the eye was only recognizable to the wearer and could therefore be worn in public, while safeguarding the identity of the lover! Portraits from the time rarely show subjects wearing these which suggests that these miniatures were often concealed out of site to further protect the identity of the lover.
These portraits often include a lock of hair or a small portion of the subject's face. They are typically decoratively set with enamel or jewels and range from a few millimeters to a few centimeters in size.
The most common story of the origin of miniature eye portraits occurred in the late 18th Century when the Prince of Wales was refused permission by his father, King George III (and by British law) to marry the twice widowed and Catholic Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert. Mrs. Fitzherbert avoided the Prince by escaping to Europe. The Prince had a popular court miniaturist design and paint an eye miniature and sent it to her with his proposal. Apparently, his gift swayed Mrs. Fitzherbert and they were secretly (and illegally) married. The artist, in turn painted the bride's eye as a gift to the Prince. Soon the Prince's idea caught on and became popular throughout Europe. There are other reports of eye miniatures created up to 20 years earlier in France so there is some dispute as to the actual date that this trend began.
Eye miniatures remained popular in the 19th century however they evolved into mourning or remembrance jewelry, often portrayed with a tear or with hair from a deceased loved one. Later Queen Victoria revived the eye miniature to use as presentation pieces.
To me, these are true eye candy! Here are some gorgeous period examples--Brooches:
I fell in love with these the first time I saw them so it was only natural that I would decide that I needed to add some to my 18th century accessory box! I would love to have had the time to pull out my metalworking / enameling supplies and go at this project hardcore, but I decided to do it quickly and on the cheap!
Here is a little tutorial on how you can make your own eye jewelry.
- eye pictures (instructions below)
- flat back decorative cabochon settings
- thick permanent craft/metal glue
- glass cabochons
- dimensional adhesive such as Aleene's Paper Glaze or Judikins Diamond Glaze
- Alternative--stick on resin cabochons in lieu of the glass / glaze
- various beads/ crystals/ pearls for trimming
- jewelry findings
First you will need to come up with a picture of an eye that looks painted. You have several options here. You can take a digital pic of your loved one's face and do some cropping or you can find a stock photo online. I tried taking a picture but couldn't get the look I wanted so I put a search for male brown eye into google images and found all kinds of goodies:
Save your picture to your hard drive and open it in a graphics editing program like Photoshop.
Open your filters palette and experiment with different looks. I played with different brush strokes filters to give my picture a hand painted look. I also played with the contrast and brightness to bring out the colors. Pictures often wash out when printed and you want to avoid that. When you are satisfied with your picture save it. You will need to resize it to fit your cabochon settings. My large setting was 30 X 40 mm so I sized my picture to about 32 X 42 mm. I did this for the different sized cabochons that I was using. I put the different sized pics into a Word doc and printed it out on photo paper. If you are using regular paper, you will need to seal your pictures before proceeding with your project.
Gather up the settings and trim. I used different types of rhinestone chain from the fabric department at Joann's and Hobby Lobby and some from my stash. Wrap the trims around the cabochon opening to see how it looks:
One thing to note--The individual crystal/pearls are connected by little metal bars. When wrapping the trim around the cabochon, you will want to push the crystal/pearls together so these bars do not show. This will make your trim shorter so you need to make sure you have enough! When you are pleased with the look, use a jewelry glue like E6000 to glue the trim in place. Allow sufficient time to dry.
Gather up your cabochons and glaze. You can either cut out your pictures beforehand or after the cabs are glued on. If you are using resin stick on cabs, you will just place them on the picture and cut away the excess. If you are using glass, you will need to put a generous blob of glaze on the center of the pic and press the cabochon on it. You want the entire surface of the picture coated with the glaze. Clean the excess glaze off with a damp paper towel and put a book on top to weight them down until dry. Once dry, cut away the excess paper. If you find that glaze got on your glass, you can easily clean it off with rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab!
Put a dab of permanent craft glue in the center of your setting and place the cabochon in. Viola! Your miniatures are finished!
The fun really begins when you fashion your miniatures into wearable pieces of jewelry. Here's what I came up with:
Brooches which can be worn as large pendants on ribbon
Bracelet with baroque pearls
Pendant with freshwater pearls
I love the way these turned out and I will probably experiment with a few more! Can't wait to wear them! I wonder if anyone will figure out who my lover is!