Lover’s Eye Jewelry
Feb 10, 2014 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Keeping in the spirit of the Valentine’s season, we offer some insight into a very romantic tradition from the 18th century. Lover’s eye jewelry was a special way of keeping in touch with your loved ones before the advent of the text message or Skype session. Join us as we learn more about its history and how to tell if you’ve got an authentic piece.
Lover’s Eye Jewelry | History
This particular kind of jewelry can be traced back to the epic romance of George IV and his commoner love interest, Maria Anne Fitcherbert. She gave him a locket with a depiction of her eye as a way to always gaze at each other, no matter the geographical distance between them. Others soon embraced this gesture of romance or token of remembrance. The trend lasted about 30 years, roughly from the 1790s to 1820s. These pieces were made in England, Russia, France, and America (although they are predominantly European in their provenance).
Lover’s eye jewelry can be found in bracelets, brooches, pendants, and rings. The subject matter, painted by miniaturists, always depicted the eye or eyes of a loved one. This small portrait would also show the eyebrow, lashes, a few locks of hair, and sometimes a bit of the nose. Essentially, the artist hinted at the identity without revealing it.
The painting was a watercolor done on ivory. Sometimes the material was vellum, which provided a more economical alternative to ivory. The painting was surrounded by a decorative frame and a piece of crystal protected the work. This piece of crystal is very important as it prevents moisture from damaging the depiction. Sometimes the jewelry would be used for mourning. On these occasions, the decorative frame would be surrounded by pearls, which symbolized tears.
Lover’s Eye Jewelry | Authenticity
Unfortunately, the market has been flooded with imitations – so as always the best defense is to work with a trusted vintage or antique shop owner. If you are assessing a piece on your own the biggest things to consider are color, context, and detail.
Beware of extreme colors such as dark sepia tones or exceptionally colorful works. As we’ve mentioned earlier, an authentic example of lover’s eye jewelry will show the proper context: eye(s) with hair, brow, and even a bit of the nose. Lastly, imitations are made with digital prints so you’ll want to look for brushstrokes rather than pixels.
For our readers: do you find this style of jewelry endearing or creepy? Would you want your loved one’s eyes peering at you? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!