A c. 1760-70 late Rococo microivory ring, the crystal-covered ring face with a miniature-worked scene of a ship sailing near a castled seacoast. The solid 18k gold setting is of a very classic Rococo form: convex ‘rayed’ posterior, fleur-de-lys openwork shoulders, ‘c’ scroll shoulder-to-head junctions, and grooved shoulder-to-shank junctions. The paleness of the ship and castle is off-set with a background and sea waves rendered with finely-ground gum bound cobalt crystals, mixed with a wax-made greenish seacoast. Ship-form jewelry has been popular in Europe since the late Renaissance, reflecting the importance and indelible influence of maritime developments on European destiny throughout the 16th-early 19th centuries. Prior to industrialization, sailing ships and harbors were the lifeblood of national prosperity and survival, non-negotiable essentials for commerce, exploration, and warfare. The great Renaissance and Enlightenment age empires—Spain, the Netherlands, England—were all built on the foundation of naval strength. By extension, fascination and admiration of ships entered the popular imagination via the decorative arts. By the 17th century, carvers were already making nautical models out of ivory. For example, a highly detailed ivory model of the frigate ‘Norwegian Lion’, carved in 1654 by Jacob Jensen Nordmand, is in the Rosenborg Castle collection. By 1760, Rococo taste for the unusual, rare, and tiny led to the popularization of miniature-work compositions carved from materials like ivory or boxwood, which would be set in luxury items like snuff or patch boxes, fobs, curio displays, and jewelry. Rings set with microivory scenes were made from c.1760 to the early 19th century, with post-1780 examples set in increasingly large settings in the Neoclassical style; tiny compositions set in the Rococo style are generally the earliest examples of this type. For other examples of Rococo microivory ship rings, see Metropolitan Museum of Art 44.19, British Museum 1978,1002.621, Museo Arqueológico Nacional 52.470, and State Historical Museum, Moscow inv ОК 13793. The sail rigging of these ship rings are about a hundredth of a millimeter thick. At this microscopic scale, carving via strokes or freehand are impossible; instead, craftsmen worked out details by gently knocking at a single point with specialized tools. The task is made difficult by an extreme demand for stability: the tool of a micro-ivory carver could not slip even by a hundredth of a millimeter. The highly challenging and specialized nature of this trade contributed to its relatively short duration. The discipline would largely disappear by the early 19th century.
Microivory ship ring. Microivory ship ring.