The History of Italian Micro Mosaic Jewelry
Micro-mosaics are created from tiny pieces of glass or enamel, called tesserae, which are arranged to form an image. Each micro mosaic is created by a steady and patient hand –a skill set that can be appreciated as these micro-mosaics are usually measured no more than a few inches and each piece of tesserae can be as small as a pencil lead, about 1 mm. It is truly an art form that is a labor of love.
Italian mosaics are an art form dating back to the late 18th century, first found in architecture, that flourished into a thriving industry in Italy. Italy’s majestic buildings of the late 18th century were filled with beautiful mosaic scenes. The most notable of them, St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, features over 10,000 square meters of mosaic. However, after all the construction, the artisans responsible for creating and maintaining them found themselves short of work so they started “side hustles” creating miniature versions to sell to private customers, thus the micro-mosaic jewelry industry was born.
Giacomo Raffaelli is the artists considered to be the founding father of micro mosaic jewelry. He hosted his first selling exhibition of micro mosaics at his studio in Rome in 1775. Many artists followed suit and created beautiful micro mosaics as souvenirs for the wealthy who visited Italy. This trend was popular from the 17th-19th centuries. Sadly, by the turn of the 20th century, micro-mosaics lost their appeal as the Art Deco movement became the trend of the time. Micro-mosaic jewelry can still be found to this day in Italy, sold popularly as a souvenir.
Most commonly, you will find Italian micro-mosaics as brooches, however, you can also find bracelets and earrings. Rings and necklaces are rarer and are highly desirable. Since this style of jewelry has been around for centuries, it can often be difficult to date regarding age.The easiest way to date micro-mosaic jewelry is to look at the metal and the findings. Older c-claps on brooches are generally older than 1900. The safety pin style clasp dates to the 1920s. Trombone clasps didn’t come about until the 1940s and only stayed in fashion for a few decades. The spring and barrel clasps are found on more modern jewelry.
To care for your micro-mosaic jewelry, make sure to never soak it in water or cleaning solutions. This can damage the cement holding the tesserae in place. If your piece is very dirty, gently scrub it with a soft toothbrush using diluted dish soap. Rinse and dry immediately. We go so far as to blow-dry our jewelry after a cleaning to make sure it is completely dry.
Enjoy your piece of history and wear it knowing that each piece is truly one of a kind and unique! We just received a huge estate of Italian Micro-Mosaic jewelry in the shop. You can now own one of these beautiful pieces for yourself.