1860s Victorian Essex Crystal Pendant with Goldfinch Bird, 15k Gold

A lovely 1860s Victorian Essex crystal pendant, of solid 15k gold, set in the center with a quartz crystal cabochon reverse carved and painted with an European goldfinch perched on a branch. The carved imagery is well-executed and deep. Together with the gold foil, there’s an impression of a three-dimensional scene enshrouded in sun. The acid-treated bloomed gold surface, along with the Etruscan-revival style setting, are all design and workmanship characteristics representative of the 1860s.

The practice of reverse-carving quartz crystals (sourced at the time from Brazil or Madagascar) was first developed in Belgium, but was popularized in England in the 1860s by Thomas Cook, who made crystals for Lambeth & Co. The quartz crystals had to be polished by hand before up to 250 scribing tools were used, along with diamond dust, to carve out the designs. The very best English Essex crystals are attributed to the 1860s and 1870s, from the initial decades of production. Those made later during the 1910-20s tend to be inferior examples mass produced to meet demand, and were often executed in glass instead of quartz crystal.

In art, the European goldfinch frequently appears in paintings of Madonna and Child; it is associated with Chris’s Passion and his crown of thorns in Christian symbolism. For this reason, the goldfinch is considered a “savior” bird in European lore. It’s also the subject of a 1654 painting, “The Goldfinch”, by Carel Fabritius, which was recently made popular by Donna Tartt’s novel of the same name.
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Date: c. 1860-70, Victorian era

Materials: quartz crystal (tested), solid (bloomed) 15k gold (unmarked; tested with electronic gold tester & nitric-muriatic acid)

Weight: 7.3 grams

Height of pendant: 38 mm (including bail), 27 mm (excluding bail)

Width of pendant: 22.5 mm (at widest point)

Depth of pendant: 8.2 mm (at deepest point)

Dimension of essex crystal: 18 x 14 mm oval cabochon

Condition: pristine antique condition. The crystal is very well preserved, free from eye-visible scratches or chips that might dull its appearance. The original bloomed surface to the gold is entirely still present. All details crisp and in good order. There is very minor and artificial age-related surface wear to the gold, mostly at the back (no dents, dings, or deep scratches).