Here's Looking at You: Lover's Eye Jewelry
Updated: Feb 26
Eye miniatures were a fad in Georgian England for a short time around the turn of the 19th century. They were popularized by the Prince of Wales and his infamous love affair with Maria Fitzherbert. He pursued her even though she was a Catholic widow and prohibited from becoming queen, and he sent her a small portrait of only his right eye. It must have been convincing because she agreed to marry him even though their union was immediately void. In return, she had a similar eye miniature made for him.
Lover’s eyes were painted in watercolor on ivory and were only 1 or 2 centimeters. They displayed one the eye and sometimes with an eyebrow and hair. They were set in gems, pearls, or gold. Lover’s eyes could be ornate or simple, and were made into rings, lockets, pendants, and brooches.
These emotionally charged pieces were given as striking tokens of affection.
They were a discreet way to show admiration, love, or lust and were commissioned as gifts; only an intimate acquaintance—a lover, spouse, or family member—would recognize it. Lover’s eyes made it possible to publicly display affection while concealing the identity of the lover.
In this era, looks were more easily exchanged than words because of the social rules that limited the public interactions between men and women.
In Two More Days at Netherfield, Elizabeth overhears early on that Darcy admires her eyes and throughout the book they share several significant glances. Some are one trying to figure out the other, some are looks of friendship, and others hint of something much more. Just like in the book, the gaze and its intimacy are what is important in an eye miniature. In Two More Days at Netherfield, someone receives a lover’s eye, and it is a precious and romantic gesture.
Ginny Redington Daws and Olivia Collings, Georgian Jewellry, ACC Art Books, 2019