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Pearls of wisdom

Seven jewellery books worth starting a library for

Melanie Grant | November/December 2015

BIOGRAPHY Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life by Justine Picardie Harper Collins, 2011

Chanel was the first to mix fine jewellery and paste, and did it with a flamboyance that high society found irresistible. Justine Picardie’s exhaustively researched and richly visual biography sheds light on Coco’s Nazi past, her complex and often destructive relationships, her single-minded determination to succeed and the source material for much of her work. She found inspiration in the religious decoration – a Maltese cross, a carved lion’s head, stars, moons and flowers symbolising God’s creation – at the orphanage run by Carmelite nuns that she was sent to aged 11, and evoked it in her jewels decades later. Picardie makes a convincing detour, too, into why Chanel wore layer upon layer of her own jewellery. A detailed account of a brave woman who refused to live the way society intended, and in the process created an enduring style.


HAUTE JOAILLERIE 21st-Century Jewellery Designers: An Inspired Style by Juliet Weir de La Rochefoucauld Antique Collectors Club, 2014

Not all jewellery is created equal. At the lowest level is costume jewellery, made of paste and glass; in the middle sits fine jewellery, with its gold and diamonds; but high jewellery wears the crown. It is to jewellery what couture is to fashion: rare and fabulously over-the-top in both materials and design. The investment needed to produce jewels of this quality crushes many independent designers before they even get started, but in this book we meet a handful who have gambled and won. Among them are Wallace Chan, a Hong Kong-based Zen philosopher and designer who brings Chinese proverbs to life using titanium; Viren Bhagat who, the author says, has “electrified” Indian jewellery design with his sumptuous use of pearls and flawless diamonds; and Lydia Courteille, a Parisian whose jewels are little packets of richly coloured, gothic story-telling. Weir de La Rochefoucauld chooses acutely, pinpointing makers who display a creativity sometimes lacking in the bigger houses, while high-jewellery collectors might stumble across some names they don’t know in the small section dedicated to up-and-coming designers such as Rami Abboud and Tomasz Donocik.


Jewels by JAR introduced by Adrian Sassoon Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013

Those who consider jewellery an art – or those who read his profile in the September/October 2015 issue of Intelligent Life – will be aware of the designer Joel Arthur Rosenthal, aka JAR, a New Yorker based in Paris who creates spellbinding, often sculptural jewels using stones of extraordinary colour and rarity. “Jewels by JAR” accompanied the Met’s blockbuster exhibition of his work in the winter of 2013 – the first it had dedicated to a living jeweller. The 69 colour plates here give you a good idea why it felt he deserved one, from a demonic sheep’s-head brooch with a fleece of tangled pearls and milky-blue sapphire eyes, to huge weeping-willow earrings that cascade in articulated strands of chrysoberyls and diamonds. A smaller, bijou alternative to JAR’s full, two-volume catalogue raisonné – which weighs in at around 24lb – so you won’t need to strengthen any book shelves before you buy.


Nature’s Jewels edited by Greta Bellamacina MACK, 2014

The house of Hemmerle began life in 1893, and by the outbreak of the first world war was creating medals and “bejewelled fantasies” for the court of Ludwig III, the last king of Bavaria. It continued in a steadily ornate vein until 1995, when Stefan and Sylveli Hemmerle took full control of the business and turned to a much simpler style, typically using wood, iron, copper and often mismatching stones. Deeply influenced by Bauhaus, the pair dragged high jewellery into the modern world. This is Hemmerle’s fourth book since then, covering its most recent creations – which these days are co-conceived with their son Christian and his Egyptian-born wife, Yasmin. The book blends cultures as the jewellery blends materials, printing poems in eight different languages on silky, transparent paper, underneath which are large-format photographs of Hemmerle jewels inspired by seeds, fruit, leaves and trees. Fakhr Al-Din Asad Gorgani’s 11th-century Persian love story “Vis and Ramin”, paired with a eucalyptus-twig brooch of bronze, brass and gold, is a highlight. Masterful.

 

GEMS The Pink Pearl – A Natural Treasure of the Caribbean by David Federman, adapted by Hubert Bari Skira Editore 2007

Contrary to popular belief, pearls come in all sorts of colours – white, black, gold, silver, red and even orange. The Caribbean sea snail or “Queen Conch” (pronounced konk) produces one of the rarest natural pearls in the world, in a flaming flamingo pink. Anyone who has visited the sandy white beaches of the Caribbean will likely have seen the abandoned, pouty-lipped shells of the Queen, a mollusc that feeds on sea grass, plankton and algae. Unfortunately, over-fishing – initially for meat, then for pearls – means it now faces extinction, and this book looks at the environmental and social implications of its decline. The history and customs of the region combine with much technical detail about the pearls – each one has a unique pattern on its surface, like a moiré-silk fingerprint – market analysis, and photos of stunning conch-pearl pieces from Tiffany, Mikimoto and Cartier. A good case for the conservation effort needed to save the Queen.


TECHNIQUE The Art of Jewelry Design by Maurice P. Galli, Dominique Rivière and Fanfan Li Schiffer, 1994

A few years ago, I took a class in illustration for jewellers at Central St Martin’s in London. We committed our designs to paper, painted them, using the tiniest of brushes, in colours such as VanDyck Brown and Cadmium Primrose, modelled them in Plasticine and then presented the results to the class. This handbook guided me through that terrifying ordeal using the simple language and step-by-step help with illustration needed by someone who last drew for public consumption at the age of six. Sketching and painting a diamond complete with facets, as shown on page 78, is a thrill; as is learning how to texture gold leaf (page 68). Don’t be misled by the date: the authors may have published this book in 1994 but the basics of jewellery design remain the same, and they clearly and successfully strip away the mystique around what can be a secretive and intimidating process, even providing a comprehensive glossary for novices. Invaluable for anyone who wants to design and make their own jewellery.


BRAND HISTORY Graff by Suzy Menkes, Vivienne Becker, Maria Doulton, Joanna Hardy, Nina Hald, Nick Foulkes and Joanne Harris Rizzoli, 2015

“Our business is about emotion,” says Laurence Graff, in this rags-to-riches story of his life and epony­mous jewellery brand. For several decades now, Graff, a self-taught, risk-taking perfectionist from the East End of London, has charmed his way into and dominated much of the market in big diamonds. Yet he’s right: emotion is at the core of this book. Graff’s master cutter, the late Nino Bianco, describes how his legs went weak with terror while polishing a hunk of rough diamond which eventually became the 100-carat “Graff Perfection”. In a chapter called Temptation, the novelist and Graff customer Joanne Harris talks of her childlike delight in buying a necklace. The book describes diamonds as if they were living, breathing entities, whose colour and light needs to be coaxed from beneath a cloak of imperfection before the notoriously particular Mr Graff agrees they are ready to be presented to the world.

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