This intriguing reverse intaglio stickpin is another example of naughty novelty jewelry. The image of a curvaceous diving belle on a rocky outcrop was carved into the flat back of a clear rock crystal cabochon and then painted with fine brushes, giving this marvelous miniature a glowing three-dimensional effect. The carved cabochon is set in a 10 karat gold frame, sealed in the back to protect the delicate painting. The stickpin itself is just 3.35 inches long.
Carving and painting these tiny treasures required great skill. The technique originated in Belgium in the 1860s, but gained great popularity in Victorian England. The crystals can be found in a wide variety of jewelry for both men and women, including cuff links, watch fobs, brooches, and bracelets. The subjects were as varied as the settings, from sports such as hunting and fishing to natural themes such as flowers, butterflies, and birds. Horses and equestrian themes were popular, as were pampered pets such as dogs and cats. However, rather risqué subjects such as this voluptuous bathing beauty are rare. This type of carved crystal jewelry has been christened "Essex crystal" by antique dealers and collectors. The name appears to come from a mistaken attribution to William Essex (1784-1869). Essex was a skilled painter of miniature enamel work and was appointed as enamel-painter to Queen Victoria, but there is no evidence that Essex ever created such crystal gems. These remarkable crystal creations were made through the early 1900s, but were replaced by mass-produced glass and plastic imitations, often in the form of inexpensive charms, which came into the market in the 1920s.