Vintage 14K Marcus & Co. Reverse Carved Mallard Duck Essex Crystal Pin Brooch. This vintage Art Deco 14 karat yellow gold pin features an intricately rendered reverse intaglio crystal depicting a wild duck. The mallard, in all its colorful glory, was delicately and deeply hand carved into the back of a cabochon rock crystal, then painted in layers from front to back with brushes as fine as a single hair. The crystal was sealed with a background of mother-of-pearl and set in gold. The dome of the crystal serves to add dimension as well as to magnify this finely executed semblance of nature. The crystal measures approximately 9/16 of an inch (15 mm) in diameter and sits upon a sturdy bar pin that resembles a safety pin. The entire pin measures a bit under two inches long.
This vintage pin is marked 14K on the back along with Marcus & Co., a New York firm that rivaled Tiffany & Co. at the turn of and into the 20th century. Circa 1920, it was probably produced as a gentleman’s lapel or tie pin. Condition is very good with a few very minor scuffs on the crystal. Overall, the pin looks seldom worn and the carving is crisp with no paint loss noted. An exquisite example. Weight is 5.1 grams.
Please note that white spot on the wing in the first photos is just a reflection.
Often, though incorrectly, called Essex Crystals, these delightful miniature works of art are also called Cook’s crystals, reverse intaglio crystals, painted reversed crystal intaglios and reverse carved crystals. Their popularity soared after they were introduced at the 1862 International Exhibition in London by engraver Charles Cook. Early themes included realistic depictions of birds, flora, dogs and horses. In the early twentieth century, sporting & hunting themes became more common and reverse crystals were often used in gentlemen’s jewelry. Although stone carving and engraving has been common throughout the ages, it is believed that only a few artists truly mastered this relatively modern reversed crystal technique. Included in that list were the famous father and son, Ernest William Pradier and Ernest Marius Pradier. The crystals continued to enjoy favor through the 1950s although they were challenged by more cheaply made molded glass imitations.