These Micromosaic Pendants and Tea Sets Are Incredible

Elizabeth Locke gives us the inside scoop on her micromosaic exhibition, “A Return to the Grand Tour,” now on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

image
Parker Bowie Larson

Micromosaics are making a comeback, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. For the uninitiated, the miniature versions of the antique mosaic craft of the Greeks and Roman became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries among pilgrims to the Eternal City who wanted a memento of their journey. Former editor and jeweler has been collecting micromosaics for years, at first updating them in her own settings to sell, then adding them to her personal collection of more than 100 pieces. Tales were heard far and wide about her incredible assemblage, and after a compelling visit from Michael Taylor, chief curator of the , she decided to donate them to the institution. An exhibition of her collection, “A Return to the Grand Tour: Micromosaic Jewels from the Collection of Elizabeth Locke,” recently opened, and on the occasion Locke gives ED the inside track.

image
Jeweler Elizabeth Locke wearing a 19th-century micromosaic landscape scene pendant set in 19-karat hammered gold.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Locke

Tell us a little bit about what first drew you to micromosaics.
I first found them when I lived in Florence in the 1970s. There was a room at the Museo degli Argenti at the Pitti Palace that had dusty cases with these tiny mosaics displayed inside. I didn’t know what they were or how they were made, but I was very attracted to them. I then found them many years later at the Portobello Market in London when I was searching for antique items to use in my jewelry designs.

How long have you been collecting them, and how many pieces do you have in total?
I have been actively collecting micromosaics for around 30 years. There are 92 pieces in the exhibit, and I probably have an additional 30 or so squirreled away here and there.

image
Locke’s “A Return to the Grand Tour” exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
David Stover - Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Do you have a favorite?
I am very partial to micromosaics depicting animals, so I would say that “Mr. Parrot” is my favorite.

image
Locke’s favorite micromosaic, “Mr. Parrot.”
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA)

Do you think that we have anything similar to micromosaics in our travels today?
Sadly, I do not. The vast majority of souvenirs today are mass-produced. A fine micromosaic could take over a year to produce in the 19th century. They were not made of precious materials, but the skill involved in creating them made them precious.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
More From Life + Culture