A Brief History of Tiger’s Eye in Art and Design

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Photography by Polly Brown

In the fourth part of our series exploring the precious stones used in the latest Tiffany T designs, Ana Kinsella looks at the superstitions and symbolism attached to the demi-fine gemstone

There’s something uncanny about tiger’s eye. Named for its similarity to the shifting shades of the majestic animal’s iris, the stone’s colours mean it almost mimics a piece of burnished teak or rosewood rather than a mineral found deep within the earth. A kind of quartz, it possesses a depth and warmth rarely seen in demi-fine gemstones. And streaked with those distinctive bands of honeyed light, it lends a certain mid-century modern aesthetic when used in jewellery or ornamentation. You might notice it on the dials of classic men’s wristwatches, cufflinks or pens, particularly those typical of the 1970s.

Superstitions and symbolism attached to tiger’s eye are newer and less pervasive than those of some similar gemstones. But many believe it to be a bearer of good luck or to have protective attributes, and wear it on that basis as a kind of amulet. Found in iron formations and generally mined in South Africa and Australia, today tiger’s eye is often used in elegant earrings, bracelets and pendants, as well as in any kind of decorative ornament where its glass-like lustre can dazzle in the right light.

Because it’s that band of reflected light, commonly known as cat’s eye, streaking through the stone that makes it most captivating. ‘Chatoyancy’ is the name given to the optical phenomenon that occurs naturally in tiger’s eye as well as other similar gemstones. The bands of light are enchanting, and because of that, it’s something that is often imitated in man-made, mass-produced objects made from acrylic materials – think of those tortoiseshell handbags or barrettes made from postmodern perspex in the 1980s. But to see chatoyancy in reality, say, on the dial of a refined gold watch or the pendant of an elegant necklace, demonstrates what it is about tiger’s eye that is so appealing, and so fascinating. It’s the real thing, occurring in nature, that will always have the power to astonish.

Discover new tiger’s eye designs from the Tiffany T collection here.