The Story of Tesserae

“When I visited Sicily for the first time in my early twenties, I was struck by the beauty and intensity of the colours on the columns of the cloister of Monreale.”

Renilde Vervoort


This splendid cloister, completed about 1200, is well preserved, one of the finest of Italian cloisters both for size and beauty of detail. It is about 2,200 m², with decorated pointed arches supported on pairs of columns in white marble, over 200 in all, alternately plain and decorated by bands of patterns in gold and colours.

coloured glass tesserae

Credit: Photo: Per-Erik Skramstad / Wonders of Sicily

These patterns are made of glass cubes, called tesserae, arranged either spirally or vertically from end to end of each shaft. The marble capitals are each carved with foliage, biblical scenes and allegories, no two being alike.

The use of tesserae was known since antiquity, used in floor or wall mosaics. Marbles or limestones were cut into small cubes and arranged into representational designs and geometric patterns. Later, tesserae were made from coloured glass, or clear glass backed with metal foils. The Byzantines used tesserae with gold leaf, in which case the glass pieces were flatter, with two glass pieces sandwiching the gold. This technical innovation created a much more intense, colourful and luminous effect, the reflection of the gold emanating from in between the tesserae as well as their front, causing a far richer and more luminous effect than even plain gold leaf would create.

We were inspired by the splendour and beauty of this magical place and somehow wanted to capture this spirit in a jewel. We selected colourful gems and had them cut into sugar loaf forms to imitate the tesserae. The sugarloaf cut is distinguished by its conical shape coming together in a rounded point at the top, and displays best the colours of natural stones. Set in 18k rose gold, we decided to make the gems move in the ring, adding a playful undertone to these beauties.

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