Category: Jewelry History

Jewels by JAR at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I am often moved to tears by pieces of jewelry from the past.  The irrational effort and passion of the designer, the otherworldly amount of skill of the jeweler, the serendipity that wove the fate of gem, precious metal, and wearer together.  But seldom am I moved to tears by the work of a contemporary jewelry designer.  There is only one living designer whose jewelry can makes believers of us all–Joel A. Rosenthal the creator of JAR.

JAR is like an underground cult, a secret society.  Few will have heard of it and even fewer will have the privilege of owning a piece.  However, amongst serious jewelry connoisseurs–people who revere jewelry as an art form, those who float in the heady dream that a spectacular piece conjures, those who believe in the integrity of master artisans–JAR reigns supreme.

From November 20, 2013 until March 9, 2014, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will exhibit over four hundred pieces of jewelry by Joel A. Rosenthal.  It will be the first retrospective of the designer’s work in America and he will be the first contemporary “gem artist” exhibited at the Met.

Jewels by JAR at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

JAR Tulip Brooch 2008 with diamond and ruby*

 

Jewels by JAR at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

JAR Diamond Bracelet 2010*

Jewels by JAR at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

JAR Zebra Brooch 1987 crafted from banded agate, diamonds, silver and gold*

Jewels by JAR at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

JAR Geranium brooch 2007 Diamonds, aluminum, silver, gold Private Collection*

Most of the pieces being exhibited are on loan from their owners.  Imagine the pangs of anxiety they will feel when they reach in their safes for a piece only to remember that it is beyond their reach.

For those who cannot make it to the Met for the exhibit or for those who want to keep a piece of JAR in their homes, one can purchase the coffee table book hereJewels by JAR at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I leave you with a quote from the designer:

“Unlike beauty, art and luxury are possessable, but beyond, the opposite of sleep, indifference, and imitation.  They do not care about perspective, nor does passion.  These three, beauty, art, and luxury, are inseparable from happiness.

Jewels are for the passing possessor and onlooker, both the epitome of now, the breath breathed as they sparkle, and that promise of more, of more time.”

– Joel A. Rosenthal

 

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,

JZP

*Photos courtesy of The Jewellery Editor, B-JEWELED, and Jewels du Jour

Obsession: Midi Rings, Above the Knuckle Rings, Mid Knuckle Rings

Mark my words, the next huge trend in jewelry is going to be midi rings, also known as above the knuckle rings or as mid-knuckle rings.  For those of you who think this way of wearing rings is too trendy for you, let me put your mind at ease–it’s not a new trend.  In fact, people have been wearing rings on their fingers between the first and second knuckle since the Middle Ages (5th to 15th century).  Almost every other fashion source that I’ve seen states that this practice originated during the Renaissance but that’s factually incorrect.  The practice of wearing midi rings began in the Middle Ages, however such rings were widely documented in art during the Renaissance so people assume that the practice originated later than it actually did.  Humphf!  Rookies. . .

Once a practice of the aristocracy and uber-wealthy, it was a statement as to one’s status–the more rings one wears the less manual labor one is able to do.  So what does one do if one runs out of finger real estate?  Build up!  Duh.  I suppose revolutions and the fall of many a monarchy had something to do with stifling such overtly ostentatious behavior for a few centuries.  Well, now it’s back and I’m not ashamed to say that I will be one of the first to get back on the midi ring bandwagon.  Maybe if I wear enough rings on my fingers I can get out of dishwashing duty and make Immigrant Husband take on that chore. . .maybe not.

Obsession: Midi Rings, Above the Knuckle Rings, Mid Knuckle Rings

 

Bernhard Strigel, Portrait of a Woman, ca. 1515

Obsession: Midi Rings, Above the Knuckle Rings, Mid Knuckle Rings

Raphael, Portrait of Maddalena Doni, ca. 1506

Obsession: Midi Rings, Above the Knuckle Rings, Mid Knuckle RingsJan van Eyck, Portrait of a Man with Carnation, ca. 1435

I’m going to design myself one with a rose cut diamond and a pave white diamond band set in rose gold.  If you would like to recreate the mid ring look, either contact me to have me design one for you or you can buy more modern versions here:

Obsession: Midi Rings, Above the Knuckle Rings, Mid Knuckle RingsElise Dray, midi-finger ring with black diamonds; available here.

Obsession: Midi Rings, Above the Knuckle Rings, Mid Knuckle Rings

Jo.Liu, Linear Knuckle Ring; available here.

Obsession: Midi Rings, Above the Knuckle Rings, Mid Knuckle RingsMaria Francesca Pepe, gold hammered midi-ring; available here.

Obsession: Midi Rings, Above the Knuckle Rings, Mid Knuckle RingsUrban Outfitters, midi ring; available here.

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,

JZP

Dig Beads

Yesterday after gem shopping at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show I decided to pay a visit to my favorite African bead seller. I wasn’t planning on buying anything because I just bought a boat load of Malawi wedding beads last year but then he showed me these beauties in the photo below: ancient Roman beads. These aqua glass beads were made in Rome in the 16th century and brought to Africa and traded for gold and other valuable goods. Over the centuries they were scattered and lost in the sand. These days locals make a living by digging for such ancient beads–matching them by color and size and restringing them for sale–hence the name ‘dig beads.’

Dig Beads

Dig Beads
Of course Jewelry Tyrant Father was horrified when he found them lying on my desk later that evening. “They are filthy!” he exclaimed. My response was something along the lines of, “Um duh dad, if you were made in the 16th century and spent the last couple hundred years chilling in the sand you’d be filthy too.” As far as I’m concerned, once I restring these I will be wearing Ancient Rome around my neck.

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,
JZP

Downton Abbey Jewelry Lady Mary

Downton Abbey Jewelry

 

Hurrah!  The wait for Season 3 of Downton Abbey, the British-American period drama on PBS that has changed our world and captured our hearts, is over!  Who would have thought that gruff Americans would have embraced the lives of post-Edwardian British aristocracy and their servants so fervently?  But then again, who can resist Dame Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess Violet Grantham–the staunch protector of English dignity with a quick-fire tongue and a stiff upper lip.  The show dazzles us with the drama of “upstairs”: searching for an heir to the Grantham estate only to find that the closest male relative is of the professional class (the horror!); the eldest daughter, Lady Mary’s, scandalous encounter with a foreigner who dies in the house; her disingenuous pursuits of Matthew, the heir to Grantham estate, that turn into true feelings only to be eclipsed by a misunderstanding, World War I and Matthew’s new fiancé; and a slew of other drama that can only be caused by people of leisure.  Below stairs, you have O’Brien, Lady Grantham’s scheming lady’s maid, and Thomas, a villainous footman, who plot their ascent in the world while taking down a few of the other servants along the way; Bates, Lord Grantham’s charming and loyal valet with puppy dog eyes and a dark past who falls in love with Anna, the daughters’ lady’s maid, who stays true to her course and her belief in Bates’ goodness; and Carson the stern butler with a heart of gold who sees it as his sole responsibility to maintain the standards and dignity of the house.  Interwoven in all this drama is the unwavering dignity of old world practices–dressing for dinner, drinks in the morning room, afternoon teas, hunts, proper running of households, and the beauty of a life where everyone has a role and a place whether it be above or below stairs.

Downton Abbey Jewelry

On Downton Abbey jewelry helps set the stage for the show and I have to give kudos to costume designer Susanna Buxton for her accuracy.  When Lady Mary went into mourning for her betrothed who died on the Titanic, she wore a necklace made of jet–a fossilized black wood considered to be a minor gemstone.  Mourning jewelry was often made of jet from Whitby, England; and reached the height of its popularity after the passing of Prince Albert when Queen Victoria required her entire court go into mourning for a period of three years and only wear jewelry made of jet at court for the first year.

Downton Abbey Jewelry

 

Lady Mary in mourning jewelry.

For the most part, Downton Abbey jewelry has been subdued throughout first and second seasons to reflect the austere times of mourning and World War I that the family has endured.  As the show progresses, we see the fashions and jewelry evolve with the characters and with the changing world.  Lady Sybil, the youngest and most rebellious of the Crawley daughters, is the first to lose her corset and don the cutting-edge French fashions of the belle époque–as epitomized by Paul Poiret, whose signature looks were harem pants, turbans and headbands–to the shock of the rest of the family.

Downton Abbey Jewelry

Downton Abbey Jewelry

Lady Sybil in her French fashions.

As we progress into Season 3, I anticipate a bit more glitz and glamour in store for Downton Abbey jewelry and fashions.  We are heading into the 1920’s, a time of post-war prosperity and of course the arrival of Martha Levinson (played by Shirley MacLaine), the very American (and very wealthy) mother of Cora, Countess of Grantham.  With the roaring 20’s underway and the possibility of a wedding between Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley, I am just itching for some serious Art Deco jewelry to make its appearance on the show.

Downton Abbey Jewelry

Downton Abbey Jewelry

What would a period piece be without costume and jewelry?  I truly shudder at the possibility.  Nothing brings a show or movie to life-like accurate jewelry (see my post about Anna Karenina jewelry for an example of inaccurate period pieces) and I cannot wait to see what jewels will be used to set the stage for Downton Abbey, Season 3.  Since I have an obsession with brilliantly crazy old ladies, I shall leave you with a clip of the Dowager Countesses best one-liners thus far and a link to my Pinterest Art Deco Jewelry Board in case you want a little inspiration of your own.

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,

JZP

signet ring

Jewelry, Feminism and the Right Hand Ring

 

 “Body decoration is a ubiquitous phenomenon that transcends time and space.

There is not one civilization, however limited its available materials may be,

that does not practice self-ornamentation. As long as our species has existed, the

human body has been a focal point of adornment and a versatile medium for our

every longing and fantasy.”1

Many can argue that jewelry is the ultimate golden shackle, enslaving women to frivolity, materialism and subservience to men.  Sociologist and philosopher, George Simmel, puts forth the notion that man’s first property was weapons and jewelry was women’s, and everything stems from that early division of property.  Man used their weapons to obtain power and impose their will on others whereas women’s power stemmed from their beauty and their ability to seduce men.  As such, a woman’s power was limited by her beauty and by her father’s resources first, and then by her partner’s.

The first rings to come into existence are from the peoples of Sumer, Assyria, Babylonia and Persia, dating c. 1400-1300 BC.  The first rings were developed as a convenient way of transporting seals at a time when only a few could read or write–thus, the signet ring was created.  These seals served as a man’s signature and would be used to engage in business, authenticate documents, and establish the ownership of property.  Women did not wear signet rings of their own as women neither owned property nor conducted business; it wasn’t until much later that women’s signet rings came into fashion.

Jewelry, Feminism and the Right Hand Ring

Signet ring 16-22th century BC, Ptolemaic signet ring, 4th-1st century BC.

Rings were used as tokens of love or pledges of marriage as early as Ancient Greece and Rome, but it was not until the late 19th century that the modern engagement ring came into fashion.  Rather than the heavily symbolic rings of the Romantic period, the modern engagement ring was devoid of symbolism but it was set with the best stone or pearl the bridegroom could afford and acceptance of the ring was a clear commitment to marriage.  Thus, the engagement came to mean that a woman was already possessed and the size of the engagement ring spoke to her bridegroom’s financial status.

Jewelry, Feminism and the Right Hand Ring

Roman gold ring depicting a hand holding a ruby heart, c. 1870.Jewelry, Feminism and the Right Hand Ring

Platinum ring by Le Picq of Paris, marking the engagement of Virginia Siegman to Rafael Esmerian in 1925.  Engraved emerald above an onyx and diamond base with rubies and sapphires.

All very dire circumstances for female independence until we fast forward to modern-day–women’s move into the work force has brought us economic independence and we see more and more women spending their own disposable income on items of jewelry that we as a gender were once dependent on men for.  Our ability to adorn ourselves represents a shift in gender dynamics.  We no longer rely purely on our beauty and powers of seduction to ensure our safety vis-a-vis the protection of a man; we are venturing out into the worlds, asserting our own will and fending for ourselves.

As a result, I take a secret pleasure in the rising popularity of signet rings in women’s jewelry.  I’m sure not many people are aware of the ancient role of signet rings in the transaction of business and conveyance of property–things that were solely within the purview of the masculine world–and although the literate world no longer has a need for seals, I do relish the fact that as we are seeing the number of economically independent women who support themselves and own their own property increase, signet rings are now also becoming engrained in women’s jewelry fashions.

Jewelry, Feminism and the Right Hand Ring

‘A’ signet ring I designed for a client.  Brown and white diamonds set in 18k rose and white gold.

Another point of significance is the increasingly popular practice of unmarried women to wear large diamonds or precious rings on their right hands.  It speaks to the changing mentality of women–we are no longer defining our self-worth based on our ability to secure a mate.  Gone is the notion that unmarried or unengaged women are somehow undeserving of a big diamond ring–that the sole privilege of wearing such rings is limited to women who have lured a man into marriage.  Where an engagement ring sends the message that the wearer is loved by another, the right hand ring says, “I love myself.”  Well done ladies.

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,

JZP

 1 Borel, Frances, and Colette Ghysels. Splendor of Ethnic Jewelry: From the Colette and Jean Pierre Ghysels Collection. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001: 16