Essex Crystal Project

The Essex Crystal Project presents a sort of personal mythology. It combines fragments of family snaps, strange creatures and classical references into strange little jewelled mini worlds. They are both sweet and affectionate with a hint of underlying psychological suspence that slightly shifts the viewer’s frame of reference.

Reverse intaglio cast glass, carved and enamel painted crystal showing a large budieg alongside a small girl
Companions, or Self Portrait with a Budgie.
I had a budgie as a child. It lived in my room and would nestle against my neck and nibble my ear. I loved that budgie

Victoria casts and engraves the pieces in glass and engraves additional details by hand before painting the crystals with several layers of enamel and firing them in a kiln. They are shaped into gems by cutting, grinding and polishing before finishing up by backing with mother of pearl or precious metal leaf.

Reverse intaglio cast glass, carved and enamel painted crystal showing a large goldfinch alongside a small girl, both in a tree
A Birdseye View, or The Girl and the Goldfinch
My nieces and nephew love to climb trees. I guess it’s an adventure, or it could just be because they’re there. I imagine that they also get a different view from up there

The work shown above is the first iteration, presented as massive brooches set in goldwork embroidery to give a sumptious, blingy feel. This work in development was displayed in the conversational space Discuss at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair in October 2019.

In 2020, Victoria secured an Arts Council England ‘Developing Your Creative Practice Grant’ to really get to grips with the complex processes involved, and to push the work towards the truly miniature. This is very much a project in progress, as well as a major change in direction. The next steps for the project is to partner with some jewellers to turn these into wearable gems.

This project revives and adapts a historic art form – the painted reverse intaglio crystal, sometimes known as ‘Essex Crystals’ after William Essex (1784-1889), into these cast and engraved gems, handpainted and fired with glass enamels and then gilded. As as aside – the ‘Essex’ bit is a misnomer, William Essex produced hugely popular miniature paintings after the grand masters of his day onto the back of rock crystal gems, but he didn’t carve into the back of them. However, the name has stuck. Plus, with its ‘Only Way Is Essex’ connotations, it reflects the cultural mash up that the crystals are.

The Essex Crystal Project started a few years ago when Victoria stumbled upon a tiny antique crystal jewel with an equally tiny lap dog engraved and painted on the reverse. Here it is….

From Annina Vogel Jwellery

Entirely captivated by this peculiar object, a bit of research revealed that these were very much the thing two hundred years ago. They often depicted pets and animals, plants and flowers that were hand-carved and painted onto the back of highly polished rock crystal gems, creating a startling animated and three-dimensional effect. Full of symbolism and extremely weird, they use visual language that can say something to today’s world. Join Victoria on a journey of discover to find out what that is!

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