Miniature Worlds

Essex crystal cufflinks. Jewels. Leonard Joel Auctions
20ct gold and Essex crystal pendant, circa 1870 | Sold for $4,000

I’m not sure whether it started for me with rockpools by the beach, aquariums, and terrariums that my father encouraged me to keep, or little winter puddles with things in them that continue to catch my eye, but however it started, I continue to find Essex crystal beguiling. 

Google explains Essex crystal as “formed from a rock crystal cabochon (polished domes of rock crystal with a flat base), an image or motif is then reverse carved into the flat base, and then painted, to give the impression of a three-dimensional object or image encapsulated in the cabochon when viewed from above.”

Often, this type of jewellery presents little natural worlds, animals, or scenes that appear almost alive amidst their rock crystal hemispheres. Perhaps this is because the rock crystal reminds me of a perfect droplet of water, a droplet nurturing its contents. I’d known of this type of jewellery since the 1980s, but it wasn’t until a flea market in New York in the 1990s that I chanced upon a very affordable pair of silver cufflinks with little black dogs within the crystal. They were a gift from my now wife, to remind me forever of our dog of that time, and I

wear them to this day. Much more recently, I stumbled across the most extraordinary gold bracelet, comprising a motif of gold horse-bits interspersed with Essex crystal equestrian scenes. It seemed fitting that it lay in the vintage display case of a Ralph Lauren store in the US.

On 1stDibs as I write, there are currently 108 pieces available, and they range in price from $577 to $34,667 (AUD) so the price spectrum is welcoming for both the new and seasoned collector alike. From the collector’s point of view, the beauty with Essex crystal lies in the fact that while the technique is consistent, it finds itself in so many forms of jewellery and so it is one of those few jewellery specialities that both men and women can collect – from brooches, to cufflinks, to stick pins and everything in between – with equal abandon!

Chairman / Head of Important Collections

Banner Image: John’s Essex crystal cufflinks

August 2023