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Keeping An Eye On Birmingham

Lover's Eye Jewelry

Antique miniature eye portrait brooch

We were excited to be invited to an appraisal day at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama this past February because it meant we got to see the exhibit “Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection.” If you’re in the area, you still have time to stop by before the exhibit closes on June 10, 2012.

Eye miniatures, commonly known as “lover’s eyes” are miniature hand-painted human eyes set into jewelry. The tradition started with royalty, when the Prince of Wales and his mistress Maria Fitzherbert exchanged miniature paintings of their own eyes in 1785. The fad spread through Europe over the next few decades; people gave eyes to lovers, family, or even friends. I think these tokens of sentiment are fantastic, and I hope the trend sees a resurgence.

Pins, pendants, and rings are common forms for the eyes, but they may also be set into boxes, frames, or watch winding keys. We see examples of lover’s eyes on occasion in Skinner Jewelry auctions, such as the example pictured here of a bright blue eye attributed to Richard Cosway, a late 18th century miniaturist.

The wonderful and varied collection of over 100 lover’s eyes put together by Dr. and Mrs. David Skier is the largest in the world. Dr. Skier is an eye surgeon, and his profession piqued his interest in these unique objects. Until this exhibit, they had kept the collection private.

Not only was the exhibit riveting, but the items people brought in to our jewelry appraisal day were of high quality. My colleague John Colasacco and I saw etruscan revival jewelry, signed Castellani, hardstone cameos, and family pocket watches.  John also saw some wonderful Tiffany silver from the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Click the photo below to see a gallery of images from the jewelry appraisal event.

For the most part, people wanted to know more about the history of these pieces that had been in the family for decades. Of course, finding out “what’s it worth?” was popular as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about antiques from your home, Skinner is hosting several themed fine art and antiques appraisal days in the New England area over the next few months. The first will take place on June 7, 2012 in Boston for Asian art and antiques. If you have Chinese, Japanese, or Korean pieces in your home, bring them down for an expert opinion from my colleague Judith Dowling.

We also hope to see you on June 12, 2012 at the Fine Jewelry auction in Boston. View the catalogue here.

Jewelry appraisers | Gloria Lieberman and John Colasacco

Gloria Lieberman and John Colasacco at the Birmingham Museum of Art for an appraisal day. (The Birmingham News, Tamika Moore)

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