The Year of The Dog: Jewelry Symbolizing Devotion, Loyalty and Faithfulness
The Chinese Zodiac (sheng xiao, which means ‘born resembling’) is based on a repeating 12-year cycle with each year related to an animal sign. The animal changes at the beginning of the Chinese New Year, which is based on the lunar calendar. I am thrilled that this is the year of man’s (and woman’s) best friend)-the year of the dog. It began on February 16, 2018, and runs through Feb 4, 2019.
As a jewelry editor and enthusiast, I have not been this happy since 2013, when it was the year of the snake. I collect antique serpent jewelry and the symbolism throughout history provides interesting material for articles. But there is a joyfulness that comes with celebrating the year of the dog (particularly if you are like me, they are your favorite animal and you’ve grown up living with them since you were a child ). A sweet, adorable and cuddly 8.5 Shih Tzu is sleeping on my lap as I write…but I digress. Back to jewelry, dogs are a popular motif in antique, vintage and modern pieces.
Let’s take a look at some of those dating back for centuries.
HARD STONE INTAGLIOS
These date back to antiquity and are carved with images and inscriptions that relate to different cultures and symbolism. There is also the term Glyptic or glyptic art which describe small carved stones that originally functioned as seals and were often used as a signature when impressed in wax. Fast-forward to the Victorian era and the dog motif was often a hunting dog in bloodstone, agate or carnelian among other stones when hunting was a popular sport. Dogs were also shown with Latin or French mottos that spoke to loyalty, friendship, and faithfulness, all the attributes associated with this most lovable and devoted animal. Many of these intaglios can be seen in watch fobs and rings.
Speaking of watch fobs, these were also carved in three-dimensional small wearable sculptures of our reliable friends. These traditionally sat on top of a hard stone, which depicted the same meanings or could be carved with dates, or initials, names or sayings of one’s choice.
A painstakingly detailed art, the reverse intaglio is carved deeply in the flat back of a rock crystal cabochon and then painted with watercolors. The deeper the carving, the more detailed and realistic the painting in which the artist uses several tools and the finest of brushes. The first reverse intaglios were gold foil backed but to preserve the paintings, later examples were backed with mother of pearl. Portraits of different breeds of dogs were popular along with sporting and nature themes and were detailed with surrounds of diamonds or intricate gold work for lockets, brooches, cuff links and stickpins. One misnomer to be aware of if you are in the market for these lovely reverse intaglios: William Essex, who created enamel miniatures for royalty and aristocracy including Queen Victoria, became mistakenly associated with reverse intaglios and many of these pieces are still widely and incorrectly called Essex crystals today.
Around the early part of the 20th century during the Edwardian/Belle Époque era and moving into the Art Deco period, brooches and small pins created from gemstones and encrusted with diamonds were the popular choice in jewelry, which depicted different breeds of dogs. These were three dimensional, elegant and refined in their interpretations.
During the retro into mid-century years, charm bracelets became the fashionable jewel to own and dogs in every conceivable breed turned up in gold, silver and platinum with gemstone accents in the eyes and on the collars.
MODERN TAKES ON A PAST THEME
The special relationship with have with our four-legged loved ones continues to add new spins to dog-themed jewelry.
Irene Neuwirth’s colorful gemstone jewelry has been evolving since the launch of her collection 15 years ago. Her one-of-a-kind pieces can be seen on A-list celebrities on the red carpet and she continues to revitalize gems we haven’t seen in a while or find the newest stones out on the market and mix, juxtapose, all with her irreverent flair and laid-back approach to fine jewelry. But as a dog lover and owner of Teddy, a Labradoodle, Irene has also taken a page out of history and creates personalized miniature portraits, starting with a photo of the pet and turning into a sentimental handpainted charm. These can be commissioned through her store in Los Angeles.
Pyrrha, was the first design company I came across which created modern pendants from sealing wax and mixed them up with sayings and mottos that worked with the motifs, but were not strictly taken from the seals, adding a creative flair. In this example the feature a greyhound that is accompanied by a card that explains the symbolism as “fidelity, loyalty, and companionship.
Among the antiques and other modern designs at Fox & Bond’s online store are lockets with custom painted portraits of pets. They are made-to-order in the likeness of your faithful companion. Fox & Bond’s pet portrait lockets are all handmade in Los Angeles, each portrait takes 4-8 weeks to complete by the company’s painter Whitney Arrington and can be set in 14K yellow, rose or white gold on a 22” chain. A portion of the proceeds of each of the painted pet portrait is donated to TAPS, The Animal Protectorates, a Los Angeles based no-kill animal shelter.
As Calla, my sweet and extremely smart pup wakes as she notices that I have stretched my fingers which means “Ah, she is about to stop typing and play with me!” I am smiling at the idea of celebrating the Year of The Dog with her –my loyal, devoted and faithful “girl’s best friend”-and a true gem.
But truth be told I’m also hankering for this ring from The Eden Collective