We are thrilled to release the Spectacle Family Edition of necklaces featuring images from antique micro mosaic buttons printed onto lenses from an antique optometry kit.
Our favorite pastime is to travel far and wide, searching for rare and collectible antique buttons. We cherish the time we spend searching for the pieces and parts that make our jewelry designs storied, historically interesting, and uncommon. So, this spring, we were thrilled to hit the road again after two years of staying home.
Sometimes we have incredible buttons that are only available in minimal quantities. If we find fewer than five, we use them in our limited-edition releases. When we discover bigger stashes of 75 or more, we employ them in the jewelry we stock online and in our store.
However, sometimes we discover quantities of more than five and less than 75, which is why, this year, we created a third category we call family edition releases. The Spectacle jewelry release falls into this grouping.
READ MORE > Ins & Outs of Family Editions, Buttonology Blog
The inspiration for our Spectacle family edition release came when we found an antique optometrist lens kit at the Round Top antique fair in Texas. Round Top is one of the best antique fairs in the USA, and for us, it's a sacred annual pilgrimage.
The optometry kit contained dozens of antique handcrafted spectacle lenses in varying thicknesses and degrees of curvature in a velvet-lined handmade wooden box. Optometrists placed the lenses into an odd-looking empty spectacle until they arrived at a combination that sufficiently improved their patient's vision. We couldn't resist taking the optometry kit home with us, although at the time, we had no plans for what to do with it.
We did research on the history of the kit! Lenses and microscopes were first used in Europe to study the human eye in the middle ages. The lenscrafters usually held day jobs as jewelers, chemists, or craftsmen, as these were the artisans who manufactured what was then known as philosophical instruments. Philosophical instruments were tools people used to examine natural phenomena, such microscopes and magnifying glasses.
When it was manufactured, this optometrist kit was a medical breakthrough. Ophthalmology was recognized as a medical field in the early 19th-century, spurring interest among doctors about how lenses could be used to enhance vision. Prior to this doctors treated poor eyesight with medical interventions like applying leeches or administering laxatives while frowning upon the use of corrective lenses!
The optometry kit remained an antique novelty in our studio until it dawned on us that we could use its lenses in pendants. We figured out how to transfer images onto the lenses with a process similar to the one we use to apply pictures to our collectible antique and vintage china plates. So we went on the hunt for beautiful tiny images, and immediately thought of mid-19th-century micromosaic buttons.
Like many button collectors, we are smitten with antique micromosaic buttons and brooches. These special collectible buttons feature diminutive scenes constructed with tiny pieces of glass or enamel called tesserae. Individual tessera are about the size of the end tip of a sharpened pencil. Creating a detailed and colorful picture mosaic with these tiny shreds of glass was exceedingly painstaking.
The button artisan began by melting the glass, pulling it into thin threads, letting it cool, and then cutting the glass threads into tiny pieces. They then arranged the tesserae on a tray and mapped out a design. They then adhered the glass to a metal button with cement. Once the cement hardened, the artist filled the tiny gaps between the glass pieces with colored wax, and polished it smooth. Common micromosaics contain about 1,400 tessera per square inch, while the best have 3,000 to 5,000.
A Grand Tour inlaid black marble button stud. Made in Italy circa 1850.
Micromosaic buttons were most popular during the age of the Grand Tour when Victorian aristocrats enjoyed taking extended tours of Europe's cultural and historical sites, particularly in Italy and France. Micromosaic buttons were popular souvenirs among well heeled British tourists with an appetite for tiny buttons featuring the Roman Colosseum, the ruins of Pompeii, or natural curiosities like bugs and birds. FYI the bugs and birds are our favorites! These tiny keepsakes were worn during the remainder of the tour or mailed home in a kind of precursor to postcards.
Deluxe micromosaic buttons and brooches sell for thousands of dollars so we were thrilled to satisfy our yen for them by using their pretty images to transform our antique lenses. We hope you love them as much as we do.
Shop the collection: Family Editions
Read more: Buttonology Blog