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An Eye for Romance: Lover’s Eye Jewelry

Our lover’s eye ring and locket celebrate “secret” keepsakes of affection in The Met collection

Lover’s eyes are a type of portrait miniature that became popular throughout Europe in the 18th century. The miniatures were painted on small sheets of ivory rather than on vellum, the traditional material for such portraits. The ivory’s luminous surface allowed a freer, more expressive painting style and encouraged transparency and lightness of color.

Emily Drayton Taylor (1860–1952). After Edward Greene Malbone (1777–1807). American. Watercolor on ivory, ca. 1930. Gift of Estate of Drayton Cochran, 1993 1993.343.1

Toward the end of the 18th century, scores of European miniaturists came to America, where both they and native-born painters contributed to a thriving market for the small portraits. The fad for delicate eye miniatures remained in vogue for several decades. 

The dainty portraits were mounted in gold lockets, brooches, and bracelets, becoming cherished and intimate mementos. They were likely meant to be admired by the beloved in private, portraying just the eye(s) to protect the giver’s identity. Even today, the names of most of these clandestine subjects remain a mystery. 

Left: “Eye of Maria Miles Heyward.” Edward Greene Malbone (1777–1807). Watercolor on ivory, ca. 1802. Dale T. Johnson Fund, 2009 2009.243 Right: Lover’s Eye Ring, $135

The lover’s eye depicted on our ring is from The Met’s outstanding group of American portrait miniatures, the world’s most comprehensive collection. The American watercolor on ivory (above, left), painted about 1802, depicts the right eye of Maria Miles Heyward, which appears to gaze directly at the viewer. This evocative image now glances from our charming ring, which we have reproduced in 18K gold plate with a glass dome (above right).

Lover’s Eye Locket, $125

The coordinating locket with a domed, hinged cover, above, was designed to accept your own token of love—whether a photo or a tiny keepsake. Find both designs at The Met Store.

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