James Tassie Gem Engraver; Intaglios and Cameos from the Georgian Era

The blue and white cameos found in Wedgwood porcelain are beloved in the world of antiques. The cobalt blue of a Wedgwood piece seems to glow, while the white porcelain images appear carved in astonishingly intricate detail. A quintessential example of Classical Revival, the imagery is often taken from Ancient Greek and Roman mythology, giving antique Wedgwood pieces the air of a long lost civilization.  Many of these beautiful pieces of fine china and jewelry can be attributed to one person, a Scottish artisan named James Tassie. Though Tassie’s contributions to Wedgwood are his most identifiable work—he is also known for creating the imitation gem. 

Born in 1735, Tassie was originally a stonemason. On a trip to Dublin, he met a physician named Henry Quin, who hired Tassie as his assistant. Dr. Quin had a hobby of creating imitation gemstones, and together, Tassie and Quin invented a glassy white paste that was perfect for carving into. The enamel could be used to make glass gems that mimicked carnelian and other precious stones. Tassie gained a reputation as an artist, and began receiving commissions across Europe for his replica gemstones, including one from Catherine the Great of Russia. 

In 1769, Wedgwood commissioned Tassie to create casts for the intaglios used in their porcelain and jewelry. By 1773, most of the Wedgwood catalogue consisted of casts made by Tassie. The artist was prolific, leaving behind a collection of more than 15,800 intricate works of art. Many of Tassie’s intaglios were cast in glass-paste or plaster, which could eventually break. However, some were cast into bronze—which have survived for centuries. These pieces are rare treasures that capture Tassie’s incredible skill. 

Kirsten’s Corner recently stumbled across four bronze medallions at auction, attributed to the James Tassie workshop, circa the late 1700’s. These pieces are rare, so we wanted to do something special with the treasures we were so lucky to find. The pieces have wonderful bas relief imagery, with multi-colored patinas that express the depth of the intaglios. The molds depict Roman and Greek symbolism, and the rich bronze has an ancient feel to it that we knew we needed to preserve. 

We decided to add an 18k gold bezel and bail to each mold so that it could be worn as a medallion pendant. Each is unique and one of a kind, with images of Poseidon, Cupid, Aphrodite, Venus, and Mars. We were thrilled with the results—the 18k gold bezel picks up the golden hues of the patina and creates a stunning contrast with the darker shades of the bronze. 

We also wanted to give these treasures new life, so we created molds from the intaglios and used them to cast 14k gold pendants. We hand-carved depth into the molds so that the details would pop on the contemporary medallions as beautifully as they do on the original antique intaglios. We then lovingly added a gentle patina by hand to the finished pieces. Both the original bronze medallions and the new 14k gold pendants are part of our Signature Collection and are available in our shop. 

Over two centuries ago, James Tassie was drawn to Greek and Roman mythology, and depicted these ancient stories in his work. These myths still carry relevance today as an expression of the victories and shortcomings of human nature. The way these stories are passed down through generations of artwork is one of the reasons we love Classical Revival. We were drawn to James Tassie’s work the way he was drawn to the myths and artwork of a much earlier time—and we hope to preserve and give new life to Tassie’s work the way he gave new life to the ancient imagery of Greece and Rome. 

We’d love for you to be the owner of one of these very special Georgian-era pieces or of a 14k gold signature medallion made just for you. Please reach out with any questions! We’re happy to tell you more about these treasured works of art.