• Antique Animal Jewelry

Essex Crystal Jewelry

This week's blog is all about the delicate, meticulous art of Essex crystal jewelry. These spectacular miniature paintings are otherwise known as 'reverse intaglio crystals' and were popular in the Victorian era and into the Edwardian era, being featured on buttons, stickpins, and cuff links for gentlemen, as well as on the brooches and pendants of ladies.

Rare late-19th century American reverse intaglio of a Boston terrier, set in a 14ct gold rope twist frame Antique Animal Jewelry

What is an Essex Crystal?

Essex crystal pieces are made from a piece of rock crystal, polished by hand repeatedly to create a domed cabochon with a flat base or back. A design is drawn on the flat side and is delicately hand-carved into the crystal, and then painted in reverse by a masterful maker. This is quite unlike normal intaglio, which is painted on the front, as everything has to be done in reverse and from the back. Painting directly into the carved inside of the dome gives the paintings an incredible three-dimensional or '‘trompe l’oeil' effect. Finally, the piece would be sealed with a backing, with early examples being backed onto gold foil, and later examples in mother of pearl and gold. These would often then have been framed by mounts made of sterling silver, 18ct or 22ct gold.

This might sound like a relatively straightforward task, but it was actually extremely difficult and required an incredibly high level of skill to achieve. The carving alone was often so small and so fine that a 'scribe pencil' and up to 250 different soft steel tools were needed to create such a piece, in combination with a special paste made out of diamond powder and oil. After the design was carved, the detail would then have to be painted on with extremely fine brushes, some of which may only have consisted of a single hair. As if this wasn't enough, the first colors to be laid on the metal support have to be the ones that need to be fired at the highest temperature. As more colors are added the enamel has to be periodically re-fired, with the colors that need the lowest temperatures going on last. This meant that the colors would not fade when exposed to light.

Given how complicated and skillful the process was, the secrets of making such pieces were often kept within particular families of craftsmen. It wasn't until cheaply produced imitations started to be made, cast in glass or later made from plastic instead of rock crystal, that the popularity of these pieces faded.

how the 'Essex Crystal' got its name

Although Essex crystal is the popular name for this kind of jewelry, it's actually a misattributed one. Essex Crystal does not, as you might've thought, have anything to do with the county of Essex. Stranger yet, it has nothing at all to do with the man who it was named after. To understand the story of the Essex Crystal, the first thing to know is that miniature portrait pieces, particularly miniature enamels, were very popular in the Victorian era. Queen Victoria herself was actually so enamored with the style that she appointed herself a royal enameler in 1839. His name was William Essex.

William Essex (1784 – 1869) was an English enamel painter thought by many to be the best enamelist of his generation, specializing in intricate miniatures. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1818 and wrote a treatise on the art of enameling. When in the mid-19th century reverse intaglio crystals began to appear on the market in Britain, the most famous and most skilled known miniature painter around was William Essex. It was his name that was on everyone's lips and it was assumed that these pieces, requiring such exquisite talent, could only have been created by such a celebrated miniature enamellist as Essex. This rumor was fed by the fact that one of Essex's students, William Bishop Ford, was known for creating enameled pieces set in jewelry with depictions of a fox head, which was a popular motif in Essex crystal jewelry. The name stuck, and the pieces became known as Essex crystal pieces, as they still are today - despite their having nothing at all to do with William Essex.

Miniature fox's headscarf pins, painted in enamel, made by William Bishop Ford. c.1875

Via Bonhams

Reverse intaglio crystal jewelry is a technique that is actually believed to have originated in Belgium, with the first person to sign their name to a piece being the Belgian artist Emile Marius Pradier. Reverse intaglio crystals were then developed and made popular in England by Thomas Cooke, who made crystals for Lambeth & Co, and who trained an apprentice in the art who then passed the secrets of Cooke's techniques down through his family.

The most common themes depicted on Essex crystal pieces are animals, flowers, and occasionally nautical motifs. Some of the most common animals found in Essex crystal jewelry are dogs, cats, racing horses, foxes, insects, and birds. Hunting animals and racing animals were particularly common in Essex crystal, where they would likely have been worn on stickpins and cuff links by men.


These may have included pet dogs, hunting dogs, and racing dogs, and many are commemorative pieces dedicated to animals that won races or were loved and passed away.

Reverse intaglio crystals in a dog collar design. The crystals feature from the top left: a Boxer, a Bull Terrier, a Jack Russell, a Ruff Collie, and in the center, a German Shepherd, English, c.1905

Via Hamshere Gallery

Victorian Essex crystal reverse-painted dog pendant in 14k yellow gold

Via Worthpoint.com

Gold brooch with a reversed crystal intaglio of the head of a red and white Welsh collie with an inscription on the reverse, c.1880. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Antique Essex crystal of a Pekingese dog in a diamond border

Antique Animal Jewelry

Antique Essex Crystal depicting a Dalmation

Antique Animal Jewelry

Late 19th-century reverse intaglio Essex crystal dog brooch depicting a Bull Terrier, with a mother-of-pearl background and a 14k frame with a riding crop bezel

Via 1stdibs

Antique Essex crystal French Bulldog cufflinks

Via Pinterest

Antique Essex crystal of two dogs looking up and to the left, bordered in rubies and diamonds

From Jackson Jewellers via Pinterest

Victorian Essex crystal of a ring Spaniel, (nee stickpin) converted using 18ct wide gold band Antique Animal Jewelry

A polychromed gold brooch set with a reverse intaglio crystal depicting a Yorkshire Terrier, c.1875-90

©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Essex crystal stick pin featuring an English terrier dog, in 14kt gold

From carolmarksantiques via Instagram

Reverse intaglio box of a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, English, c.1880

Via Hamshere Gallery

Essex crystal of a spaniel, bordered in diamonds and rubies

Via Pinterest

Antique Long Haired Dachshund Essex Crystal Brooch

From Market Square Jewelers via Pinterest

Essex crystal Boston Terrier double band, shaped like dog's collars

From One Kings Lane via Pinterest

An Essex crystal reverse intaglio stick pin, featuring Miss Glendyne: winner of the Waterloo Cup 1885-6. The Waterloo Cup was a prestigious coursing event that attracted thousands of spectators

From thomasgloverjewels via Instagram

A reverse Essex crystal portrait of “Quick” the greyhound, with a rose-cut diamond surround mounted in silver and gold, c.1900. From simonteaklejewelry via Instagram

Reverse intaglio crystal 'clover leaf' brooch of three crystals, Malteses, Jack Russell, Yorkshie Terrier, 18ct gold and rose cut diamond set, English, c.1880

Via hamsheregallery.com

Antique Essex Crystal pin depicting a Hunting Dog, with a mother-of-pearI backing and set in a 14k gold

From A Dog's Tale Collectibles via Ruby Lane


Victorian 18k gold brooch set with 6 diamonds and a crystal reverse intaglio of a tabby cat, France, c.1880

From fabiandemontjoye via Instagram

Victorian/Edwardian-era Essex crystal of a Persian Cat brooch crafted in 18ct gold, set with diamonds and sapphires. From Millys Marvels Jewelry via Instagram

Antique Essex cat crystal in a border of diamonds set into a ring

Antique Animal Jewelry

Antique Essex crystal stickpin of a tabby cat

Antique Animal Jewelry

Reverse intaglio of a white cat

Via Pinterest

Essex crystal of a cat with a pearl border, suspended from a gold bow

Via Pinterest

Ginger cat Edwardian Essex crystal with rubies and diamonds

Via rowanandrowan.com


Rare Victorian Essex crystal brooch depicting a European goldfinch, c.1860

From The French Jewel Box via Instagram

Antique Essex crystal ring depicting a goldfinch against a backdrop of leaves

Antique Animal Jewelry


Antique reverse intaglio crystal of three birds on a branch, bordered in diamonds

Antique Animal Jewelry

Antique reverse intaglio crystal finch bracelet, set in gold with a gold beading border

Antique Animal Jewelry

Gold pendant with a reversed crystal intaglio of a robin in a snowy landscape, with a compartment on the reverse containing a tinted photograph of a bearded man in a gold locket-case, c.1860

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Edwardian goose crystal watch

From thevintagefox.com

A very rare stickpin by famed Austrian jeweler Ernst Paltscho. Made of solid 18ct gold, set with an Essex crystal of a male capercaillie or woodcock - a large grouse renowned for its courtship display, and backed in mother of pearl, c.1910. From victoriousantique via Instagram

Essex crystal of a Long Billed Dowitcher with a diamond border

Antique Animal Jewelry

Essex crystal snuff box mounted in hallmarked 18ct yellow gold and set with a single cabochon sapphire. Reverse carved & painted scene of hunting birds in a woodland setting

Via Ebay

Antique reverse intaglio / Essex crystal of a Pheasant

Antique Animal Jewelry

Late 19th-century gold brooch with a reversed crystal intaglio of two pheasants in a landscape backed with mother-of-pearl, in a gold collet setting. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Gold brooch with a reversed crystal intaglio of a cock pheasant amidst ferns and grasses with an applied gold ivy leaf in each corner and an applied gold trade label, made by John Brogden, c.1870

© The Trustees of the British Museum


Bees were a popularly depicted insect in miniature jewelry, symbolizing industriousness. They were particularly sought after for their association with Napoleon Bonaparte, who took the bee as his emblem to represent his status as Emperor.

A gold brooch with a reversed crystal intaglio of a bee set in gold ropework and beading with a hair compartment in the reverse, photographed alongside bee stick pins, c.1870

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Essex crystal reverse intaglio Bumblebee brooch, set in high-carat gold with granulated decoration, c.1880

Via Rowan and Rowan

Victorian 18kt reverse intaglio Essex crystal Bumblebee pin, c.1880. Backed in mother-of-pearl and set within an 18kt yellow gold frame, etched with vertical lines

Via A. Brandt and Son

Essex crystal reverse intaglio butterfly set in 18ct gold with a natural ruby and rose-cut diamond border converted from a pin to a pendant, c.1880

From elizabethroseantiques via Instagram

Antique 18kt gold and reverse-painted crystal brooch, depicting a butterfly and bellflowers, with an enamel border. Via Skinner

gentlemen's Edwardian crystal spider cufflinks www.1stdibs.com


A wily reverse intaglio fox set inside a golden hunting horn brooch, c.1900

From Lang Antiques

A reverse intaglio crystal tie pin depicting an open-mouthed fox, set in 14k gold, made by Wilkens & Danger in Bremen, Germany, c.1940

From Beck Antiques and Jewellery via Etsy

Antique Essex crystal fox ring

Antique Animal Jewelry



Antique Essex crystal yellow gold stickpin with a racing horse in full gallop, straddled by a jockey

From matthew.weldons via Instagram

Reverse intaglio crystal stickpin depicting a horse within a rose-cut diamond horseshoe, platinum-topped, 18kt gold mount. Via Skinner

Reverse intaglio crystal brooch depicting two horses mounted in a 14kt gold stirrup

Via Skinner

Reverse intaglio crystal of a horse set into a gold money clip

Antique Animal Jewelry

Three reverse crystal horses heads, set into gold hunting horns with stirrups between to create a bracelet

Via showstableartisans.com

Antique horse and carriage Essex crystal stick pin

Antique Animal Jewelry

Antique Essex crystal horse and carriage with gold beading border

From @ishyantiques via Instagram

Reverse painted crystal brooch set in a gold hunting horn

From 1stdibs via Pinterest

Other Animals

Edwardian 14k gold reverse intaglio Essex crystal Antelope pin

From Kirsten's Corner via Ruby Lane

Essex crystal 14kt brooch/pendant

From Ruby Lane via Pinterest

Victorian gold-mounted Essex crystal pendant of a stag on a rocky ledge, backed with mother of pearl and with a border of Etruscan revival wire and bead-work with a glazed locket compartment to the reverse

Via Bonhams

running hare stickpin conversion ring from antique animal jewelry


Possibly used as a watch fob, this die-shaped charm has six Essex crystals including a ladybird, a four-leaf clover, and white heather, which can be seen here. Made in 15k gold and dating to the Victorian era

From Fellows via chatsworthlady.com

A Victorian die-shaped Essex crystal parasol handle made of gold and accented with diamonds, displaying six different flowers. From this angle, we can see a daisy with a bee on it, an iris, and a red carnation

Via chatsworthlady.com

A Victorian Essex crystal parasol handle displaying a single white rose, with a second crystal on the reverse (not photographed) showing a red carnation

Via chatsworthlady.com

An Essex crystal bouquet of lily of the valley on a gold pendant with milgrain edge and bale trim

From Peter Wilson Fine Art Auctioneers via chatsworthlady.com

Nautical pieces

Nautical Essex crystal scene set in a gold ship's wheel

From 1stibs via Pinterest

An Essex crystal sailing ship mounted in 14k gold accented with deep blue and crisp white enameling, hallmarked Enos Richardson & Company, an American jewelry manufacturer (1890s - Art Deco era)

Via Skinner

Reverse crystal intaglio Sailfish cuff links

From Lang Antiques

14k gold mounted Essex crystal reverse intaglio Trout pin, in a fly rod border

From Ruby Lane via Pinterest

Pair of earrings each formed of a double reversed crystal intaglio, mounted back to back, in a gold setting, depicting goldfish in round bowls, made by William James Thomas, c.1870

© The Trustees of the British Museum

A pair of Victorian reverse intaglio crystal ear pendants, c.1870

Via Christie's

18kt gold and reverse intaglio crystal fishbowl ear pendants, each in a cylindrical bowl with a ruby and pearl fringe, suspended by ribbed batons from disc surmount with applied ropework accents, c.1870s

Via Skinner

To wrap up, here are a few more of Antique Animal Jewelry's Essex Crystal and Miniature enamel pieces:

For more rare Georgian and Victorian jewelry, follow Antique Animal Jewelry on Instagram.