Artists capture dogs, cats and other beloved animals in forms ranging from gold charms to crystal intaglios.
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From hotels to fashion brands, businesses increasingly are catering to pets and their humans who foot the bills. And that extends to jewelry brands and designers, too: They’re ready to create custom pieces featuring a treasured family member, furry, feathered or otherwise — which owners often commission as gifts to themselves.
Irene Neuwirth’s affection for her pets started the Los Angeles-based jeweler on the road to adding custom animal portraits to her collection more than a decade ago. “The ethos of my brand focuses on things with whimsy, but that are also really fine,” she said. “I’ve always played around with my dogs with jewelry, or just used my animals as a branding tool.”
During one of her trips to Tucson, Ariz., home of a series of gem shows, Ms. Neuwirth met a gemstone carver based in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, who she declined to identify, but who carved animal portraits in crystal quartz and then hand painted each carving in relief. She commissioned one of her dog, a Labradoodle named Teddy, placed a sliver of black mother-of-pearl behind the piece, and set it in a charm framed in turquoise and diamonds that she had designed.
Requests from her clients followed. She said she now averages about 40 custom pet pieces each year, ranging in price from $6,500 to $17,880. Among those are a charm commissioned by Jennifer Aniston that depicted her beloved dog Dolly, and a carved portrait in painted crystal showcasing Taylor Swift’s cat Meredith, which the singer received as a gift. “There’s something playful about putting animals and jewelry together,” Ms. Neuwirth said.
And the jeweler said that the personal nature of the pieces makes them valuable to the buyer, and unlikely to be resold. “They’re a forever thing,” she said.
The celebrity fitness trainer Isaac Calpito, known as Isaac Boots to followers of his Torch’d workout program, dotes on his mini poodle, Davis. So after seeing a friend wearing a necklace from Loquet London — a company that creates sapphire crystal lockets, each designed to house the wearer’s personal collection of Loquet charms — Mr. Calpito asked the brand to make a charm in his dog’s image.
“People are having kids later in life or not having them at all. Our pets are our children,” he said. “Capturing them in jewelry makes it feel like they’re always with us.”
After Calpito shared photos of Davis and spoke to a Loquet staff member about what he called his dog’s “diva attitude,” the brand fashioned a poodle-shaped charm in 18-karat white gold with black rhodium plating, and black diamonds adorning the dog’s head and tail. “They captured his regal stance,” Mr. Calpito said.
He said he wears the charm daily: “In the rare moments when I’m not with Davis, I still have to have him on me.”
The order was his first custom jewelry commission, but it may not be his last. “I have a new puppy named Romeo,” he said. “Now I need a new charm of him.”
According to Sheherazade Goldsmith, the founder of Loquet London, about half of the brand’s custom charms are of pets, with dogs accounting for 70 percent of that (prices start from $180). Despite, or perhaps because of, their small dimensions — 5 millimeters by 3 millimeters, or about two-tenths of an inch by slightly more than a tenth of an inch — the charms generally entail highly detailed conversations with clients.
“We’ll recommend whether enamel or another color of gold will be best, whether the eyes should be a stone or not, whether the animal should be lying down,” she said. “People love talking about their pets. When we’re doing bespoke charms, people will spend more time talking about their animals than anything else.”
As her dog Tucker got older, Katie Hammond, founder and president of the communications agency the Last Layer, began contemplating how to preserve her memories of him. By the time he died in 2021, at 17, she knew she wanted to remember him with a special jewel. “I tend to buy a piece of jewelry for a milestone,” she said. “I treated this just the same.”
But she had special requirements: to include some of Tucker’s cremated remains inside the piece and to steer clear of kitschy pet memorial jewels.
The project was more complicated than she had anticipated. “I had a hard time finding a nice, bespoke, pretty, higher-end piece,” she said.
When her online search was unsuccessful, she turned to the Stax, a service that assists clients with curating their personal jewelry collections, to help with the hunt. Its founder, Victoria Lampley, and an adviser, Laurel Pantin, enlisted the help of New York-based jewelry designer Renna Brown-Taher.
Ms. Brown-Taher created an 18-karat gold pendant with a hand-engraved image of Tucker, Ms. Hammond’s beloved Chihuahua, on one side and three birthstones on the other — Tucker’s and those of Ms. Hammond’s brother and grandmother — along with the words “how I wonder what you are.” Diamond baguettes placed end-to-end encircled the narrow edge, and a small sachet of Tucker’s ashes was sealed inside.
Ms. Hammond now considers the piece “a security blanket” that she rarely takes off. “Tucker is so much more than a dog,” she said. “Some people will not understand that and think it’s crazy, but I really don’t care.”
Ms. Brown-Taher was so moved by the project that she created a similar pendant in memory of her own dog, Stevie Licks.
Creating personalized jewelry as a tribute to a pet is no less involved than undertaking any other bespoke project, according to Ms. Brown-Taher. She consults with each client in person or via video conference, drawing out intimate memories that might inform a design. “They share memories of places and things that have personal meanings,” she said. “It can take months before we get to the engraving.” The entire process, which includes preliminary meetings and preparatory sketches, begins at $10,000.
The newest offering from Ms. Brown-Taher’s brand Renna is for the pets themselves: sterling silver ID tags from $195, which can be engraved for an additional charge. A portion of the proceeds goes to the animal rescue organization Animal Haven in New York City.
With its ancient origins and aristocratic associations, the signet ring has attained renewed fashionable gloss in the 21st century. It’s not unusual for pet owners — usually bereaved after a loss — to commission a keepsake from Rebus, a London jewelry brand specializing in hand-engraved signet rings (from $1,000 to $6,000).
“We do a lot with heraldry, family crests that have gun dogs, greyhounds, whippets,” Emmet Smith, the company founder, said. “If you trace the genealogy of those elements far enough, they’re present because someone loved those animals.” He said he considers customized signets created in memory of an animal to be a kind of domestic pet memento mori, referring to artworks that are reminders of inevitable mortality and the importance of using one’s time well.
When clients are unsure about what to incorporate into a design, the brand will encourage them to assemble “a memory mood board with the most important elements they want in the ring. Along with a photo, we can also add things like lettering, banners, florals,” Mr. Smith said. However, given the limited room on the ring’s surface, he said, “less is more.”
Eighty percent of the work by the German master gem carver Michael Peuster is dedicated to rendering animals in a host of forms: Cameos, low relief carvings, which project only slightly from the surface on which they are carved, and reverse intaglios — carvings etched into the backs of polished gems, then painted with oils to produce lifelike images with a 3-D effect.
Based in Kirschweiler, in western Germany, and trained as a goldsmith and gem cutter, Mr. Peuster can mount his carvings as pendants or in other settings, but is equally happy to allow clients to take them to someone else — he is interested in the carving, not the jewelry making.
However, he is less flexible concerning production standards. “A big company wanted me to do a collaboration with them, but this work is art. It’s not for mass production,” said Mr. Peuster, whose studio produces a maximum of 10 pieces each month.
Mr. Peuster said his objective extends beyond accurately copying the likeness of his subject from a photo. “I want to capture the soul of the animal,” he said.
Chinese Crystal It’s a long-term responsibility, after all. “A carving will be around longer than any photo. Think about the images we have from antiquity. They are carvings,” Mr. Peuster said. “These gemstones will have the same beauty in a thousand years.”