Learning Info Guide About Vintage Micro Mosaic Jewellery

antique vintage micro mosaic pendant roma jewellery

Micro mosaics

If any type of jewellery could call itself a true work of art it would be the micro mosaic. Tiny glass tiles (called tesserae) are crafted together and placed carefully into cement to produce incredible ‘micro mosaic’ pictures, which are then set into jewellery. Micro mosaic work date back over 2000 years, and usually originates from Europe – Italy being its most famous producer. Micro mosaic work also has an established history in the Middle East too, but for this guide I’ll be concentrating on Italian mosaic work.

Antique Victorian conch pink shell cameo and micro mosaic glass brooch jewelry

ABOVE: An antique hand carved pink and white shell cameo brooch, with an intricate micro mosaic frame border. This Victorian brooch was made in Italy, which was world famous for both it’s cameos and mosaic work. This beautiful piece of jewellery is a perfect partnership between the two techniques.

A Brief History of Mosaics

The height of popularity for the micro mosaic was in the 17th to 19th Century, during a period of time called the Grand Tour era. Men and women of rich European families would travel around Europe, taking in the sights and cultures of different countries. Italy was a very popular tourist spot as it had a long and prestigious history in arts and culture – a favourite subject in aristocratic circles. It was also a famous glass wear producer, and canny Italian craftsmen quickly turned their glass making skills into making stunning miniature pictures out of glass tiles for their rich tourists.

Vintage art deco micro mosaic glass earrings jewelry 1920s 1930s clip on

A pair of vintage clip on micro mosaic earrings.

Micro mosaic work jewellery of this period usually depicted famous Italian landmarks such as Vatican Square or the Collusium, though occasionally Roman mythology was a subject too. The richest tourists would even commission their own mosaics, with flowers, animals or famous works of art being a favourite subject. The small size of the micro mosaic was particularly appealing; they could be worn on the Grand Tourists continuing journey, or sent back home to loved ones as a kind of fore-runner to our modern postcards. By the early 20th Century the micro mosaic heyday was nearing its end, with the higher quality jewellery ceasing to be made. Micro mosaics still continue to be produced, though usually in much cruder forms which normally depict simple flowers.

Vintage 1970s micro mosaic kitsch flower glass jewelry

ABOVE: A standard vintage micro mosaic brooch, dating from the 1970s

Types of Micro Mosaic


Mosaic: Also known as standard mosaic, it dates from the late 19th Century to today. These are the items of mosaic jewellery you normally see. Glass tiles are quite large and chunky, often resembling millefiori glass cabochons rather than actual individual tile pictures. Oval or round brooches are common, as are bold bracelets and simple earrings. Sometimes brooches are in the shape of guitars or crucifixes. Most people start their collection with this type of jewellery, as it is more affordable and durable enough to wear everyday.

Pendant cross micro mosaic crucifix jewelry Italian

A crucifix standard mosaic pendant, made in the year 2000 in celebration of Christ’s birth.

ABOVE: A crucifix standard mosaic pendant, made in the year 2000 in celebration of Christ’s birth.

Micro Mosaic: Also known as Roman or true micro mosaic, these are much finer quality than Standard Mosaics, sometimes having many tiny tiles per inch. The finished micro mosaic was fixed into a setting such as French Jet or Aventurine Goldstone, and would sometimes be of such high quality it could pass as a painted picture. Because of its delicate nature very few true micro mosaics are nowadays in perfect condition – small chips, cracks or odd missing tiles are quite normal. Be prepared to pay a lot of money for a high quality and good condition micro mosaic if you find one!

Pietra Dura: Also known as Florentine (Florence was a major producer of this type of mosaic work). This craft is slightly different than the others. Small and very thin slices of genuine stone (such as marble, agate or lapis lazuli) were inlaid into a larger flat stone to create a simple yet contrasting coloured design. Flowers were the most common subject, with light coloured petals contrasting with a black stone background being a particular favourite. Again, this was highly skilled work, and good quality pietra dura brooches command a high price today.

Antique Victorian 1880s Pietra Dura micro mosaic silver brooch jewelry

An antique Victorian Pietra dura brooch. Note how the slithers of green gemstone and marble have been carefully chosen for there colour gradient, which gives a natural appearance to the leaves.

ABOVE: An antique Victorian pietra dura brooch. Note how the slithers of green gemstone and marble have been carefully chosen for there colour gradient, which gives a natural appearance to the leaves.

Micro mosaics are most often made into brooches, though occasionally you’ll find mosaic earrings and bracelets too. Rare micro mosaic work can be found on rings, and micro mosaic necklaces are the most sought after. When choosing a micro mosaic to buy, always check to see if the tiles are all present; missing pieces can affect the price and desirability of an item. Also, study the metal – vintage micro mosaics are notorious for being infected with verdigris, which is a chemical reaction between the atmospheric conditions and copper metals in the jewellery. If you can see even the tiniest of green marks anywhere on the metal of the mosaic then you may have the dreaded verdigris, and it’s best to avoid the item. Verdigris is corrosive, will eventually eat away at and destroy your item, and may even infect any other items of jewellery that come into contact with it.

Antique Edwardian micro mosaic heart pendant drop collar necklace jewellry

Antique Edwardian micro mosaic heart pendant drop collar necklace

Vintage 1950s micro mosaic glass flower filigree pendant jewelry black

Vintage 1950s micro mosaic glass flower filigree pendant

Vintage 1970s heart flowers red micro mosaic charm glass bracelet jewelry

Vintage 1970s heart flowers red micro mosaic charm glass bracelet

Vintage 80s micro mosaic clip on drop flower earrings

Vintage 80s micro mosaic clip on drop flower earrings

Looking After Your Micro Mosaic Jewellery

Never soak your jewellery in water as this can damage the cement holding the tiles in place. If you mosaic is very dirty and needs cleaning, quickly scrub it very gently for a few seconds using diluted washing up liquid and a soft toothbrush. Rinse and dry immediately.

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18 thoughts on “Learning Info Guide About Vintage Micro Mosaic Jewellery

  1. I have a tear shape necklace with 3 tear shapes dangling from main piece. It was my late mother’s who received it from her step grandmother when she was young. I have no idea of the value of this piece but it is beautiful and brings alot of interest when I wear it. Any ideas of value? Thank you

    • Hi Petra, thanks for stopping by πŸ™‚

      Could you send me some of clear photos of it, including close ups of the micro mosaic tiles and tear drops?

  2. I have a Italian micro mosaic and it looks like gold tone from a relation who fought in Italy in ww2 …. the latch has been broken off is there a way to a fix another one? Or is it not possible

    • Hi, and thanks for dropping by! πŸ™‚

      I’m normally all for having a go at jewellery repairs, but when it comes to broken pins/ latches on brooches it’s probably best to take it to a jewellers to get it repaired (I’ve no idea how much this would cost).

      They’ll be able to test what kind of metal it is, and therefore use the correct type of solder/ temperature on the soldering iron to put another latch one on, without damaging the surrounding metal of the brooch itself (which is one of the biggest dangers of this type of repair – those old brooches were often made of soft pot metals, some of which can melt very easily).

  3. I have what I think is a true micro mosaic brooch. It’s 1 3/8 ” wide and 1″ tall with flowers in the center. Wondering if you could look at pictures and let me know what you think?
    Thanks

      • Nikki:
        Unfortunately, I do not have any of those accounts. I have tried to avoid all of those including facebook. Only way to send I think is by email
        Thanks
        Mary

      • Hi Mary, I understand πŸ™‚ though I can’t accept photos via email. You could have a flick through Ebay, and perhaps give a link to a very similar micro mosaic on there as to yours?

    • Hi Mary,

      Thank you so much for the trouble you went to sending the photo links, they are superb quality and that’s a massive help πŸ™‚

      It’s a standard Italian mosaic tourist brooch, looks to possibly be circa 1930s to 1950s (exact dates are difficult as the designs hardly changed throughout the years). I love the scroll work at the back, which is unusual as the back is normally left plain.

      There looks to be couple of tiny tiles missing which is quite normal for that age and style of mosaic – tiles were notorious for falling out!

      Vintage mosaic brooches like these are very common; I used to deal in them every week when I was a vintage jewellery dealer at auctions – one week a brooch like yours would sell for only Β£6, and the next week a near identical one would sell for Β£25. That’s vintage costume jewellery for you – prices often vary wildly in a short space of time!

      The interesting thing for any collectors I think is probably the scroll work at the back, it’s quite unusual. Your brooch is very pretty – I wonder what stories it could tell πŸ™‚

      Kind regards, Nikki

      • Nikki:
        thank-you for your input on the brooch. It is nice to have some historical background on this piece.
        It was my mother-in-laws and not sure where she got it.
        Will save as a keepsake for now.

        Thanks again
        Mary

  4. Nikki~
    Thank you so much for this article! I came about it while researching some vintage micro mosaic brooches I found as well. I hope that it’s okay that I send you a link to my Instagram account that shows the brooches in the hopes you can help me date them as well.

    Nina

    • Hi Nina, great that this article has helped you πŸ™‚ I’ve looked at your photos on Instagram, and the top brooch looks to be around possibly 1930s to 1960s, whilst the bottom one looks later, possibly around 1970s to 2000s.

      • Wonderful. Thank you for your expertise! Now that I know about these brooches, I must be attracting them…I found another one today.

        πŸ˜€
        Nina

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