Studio Notes: Sneak a peek at image-making jewelry

Imagine a piece of jewelry with a tiny peephole. Look inside and you’ll find the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, a picture of your wedding, or your favorite pet.

Known as Stanhope lenses, these little gizmos were developed in the 1850s, and were used to convey a Victorian sentiment in a woman’s keepsake pendant or hide the picture of a naked woman inside a man’s watch fob. They also showed up in porcelain dolls, pocket knives, souvenirs, even 1960s bracelet charms.

Then they vanished.

Stanhope lenses, designed for magnifying tiny images have made their way into jewelry making - learn more in Studio Notes with Betsy.

Resurrecting a lost art

These days they are made by only one man in the world. Award-winning violin maker Michael Sheibley first came across a Stanhope lens when he was shown a $150,000 bow by a concert violinist in 1993. In the “frog” or handle he found a tiny cylinder of glass. Holding it up to his eyeball, Mike recognized a black and white portrait of Paganini, the famed virtuoso of the 1800s. The lens magnified the image 160 times.

Thus, a sideline was born. Over the years, Mike spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to come up with a way to create and stick tiny 1 mm microdot photos onto the ends of tiny magnifying cylinders. His first customers were violin makers and repair shops. But eventually, as word spread, this list grew to include jewelers and artists all over the world.

“Having something no one else has is a good thing,” the 53-year-old says.

Today, he sells more than 20,000 of these tiny lenses a year, making them in his basement studio in Mechanicsburg, PA, with the help of one assistant. Mike can only produce them in black & white, because of the technological drawbacks of color film processing.
Mike describes his Stanhopes as “very water resistant,” and they hold up to everyday wear. If set into a ring, though, they can be damaged over time from chores such as doing the dishes. But that hasn’t stopped jewelers.

The status of meaning

Derrick Cruz set two Stanhope lenses into a woman’s custom ring, which featured a rare Zultanite stone. One lens revealed a wedding photo of the woman and her husband; the other an image of their three children. Because his client is a jewelry historian, Cruz knows she will take good care of the ring.

“Jewelry is very useful as a symbol,” the 45-year-old New York artist says. “But with so much out there that lacks personal meaning, I look for something like a Stanhope to emphasize the personal connection.”

Cruz, father of one youngster and another on the way, has taken the Stanhope idea a step further. He is now setting Stanhopes of sonograms into jewelry for customers. You can reach him through his website.

Cost

Stanhopes aren’t cheap. A single, high-quality glass lenses is $159. Upload a black & white photo to Mike’s website; for an extra $10 you can include a short message. Turn around time, not including shipping, is one to five days.


Betsy Lehndorff has been writing for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 2010. Her story on Colorado diamonds appears in the September-October issue and she will be writing about her experience in Kate Wolf’s class in 2018, along with her grant-writing adventures as a silversmith. To see her silversmithing work, go to www.hubbardlakesilversmiths.com and you can reach her at betsylehndorff@gmail.com.