Reviews
Gems & Gemology, Fall 2015, Vol. 51, No. 3

Books: Floral Jewels: From the World’s Leading Designers

Timothy Adams
Floral Jewels: From the World’s Leading Designers Book Cover
By Carol Woolton, hardcover, 176 pp., publ. by Prestel Publishing, Munich, 2014, $55.00.

Nature has long been an inspiration to artists in the field of jewelry design. In Floral Jewels: From the World’s Leading Designers, Carol Woolton, jewelry editor of British Vogue and author of two previous books, presents the reader with a wide variety of jewelry and designs from international artists. She divides her book seasonally, assigning between seven and fifteen gemstones by color to spring, summer, autumn and winter. These gemstones are represented in an array of imaginative jewelry, from classic pieces by Fabergé, Tiffany, and Cartier, to contemporary works by JAR, Wendy Yue, and Glenn Spiro. Woolton has selected exquisite examples from the last century and a half of artistic endeavor. Floral Jewels is a delight for anyone who loves flowers and/or jewelry.
 
From Carl Fabergé and René Lalique to Joel Arthur Rosenthal (JAR) and Anna Hu, Woolton explores the history of floral design in goldwork. She combines the fascinating histories of flowers, including their myths and meanings, with illustrations of those flowers in gems and precious metals. For example, our word for “daisy” came from the old English name for the flower “days eyes,” so-called because the flower would be open during the daytime, closing at night. Woolton shows two pages of daisy jewels, one being an impressive 2012 brooch by Graff, set with pink and white diamonds. The lily of the valley was so named because it was said it sprang from the tears of the Virgin Mary as she wept at the cross of Christ. Thus, it is also called “Our Lady of Tears,” and is recognized as a Christian symbol of humility. The flower is represented in a beautiful 1965 brooch by Veruda, with luminous green enamel leaves wrapped around pearl and diamond lily of the valley blossoms.
 
Woolton uses quotes on the subject of flowers between paragraphs to add poetic color to the text. Talking about roses in the summer chapter, she quotes Lalique: “Here the rose appears in a subtle metaphor, evoking the dual nature of love. As the 18th-century saying goes, one cannot have the rose without the thorns.” Illustrating the quote is a ruby and diamond rose necklace, complete with thorns, by Dior (2002). The poppies section includes these lines Alfred, Lord Tennyson: “Here are cool mosses deep, and thro’ the moss the ivies creep, and in the stream the long-leaved flowers weep, and from the craggy ledge the poppy hangs in sleep.” This is accompanied by a ruby, diamond, and black pearl poppy brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels (2008). The combination of historical background on the artists and jewelry alongside the sometimes whimsical and poetic quotes makes for an entertaining read.
 
Woolton also discusses the many gemstones that are used in floral jewelry. At the beginning of the book, in addition to the gemstones she selects for every season, she provides the birthstones and flowers of each month of the year. Her list of birthstones, however, differs from the traditional listing. For instance, she assigns bloodstone for March, which is usually aquamarine; chooses agate for June instead of the expected pearl; and lists turquoise for July, using that month’s traditional ruby for December. It is not clear why she has chosen to put these stones with these months, but there is always artistic license to consider.
 
The text itself is well written, and enlightens the reader to many riveting stories where a passion for flowers inspired artistic vision. For instance, Christian Dior inherited his mother’s passion for flowers while he watched her garden at his childhood home in Normandy. During his career, he would bring fresh flowers into his showroom every Monday morning, placing them on his desk to help inspire his designs. Dior’s full-color sketches of necklaces are featured along photos of the finished pieces. We read of Joel Arthur Rosenthal (JAR), who “visualizes his pieces quickly, but executes them painstakingly slowly.” Woolton writes that JAR’s salon near the Place Vendôme “is a precious garden nursery where the most beautiful jeweled flowers are nurtured into blossoms over years of painstaking design and crafting cultivation.” Rosenthal works when the flowers are in bloom, so it may take years of study before a piece is actually realized. Many JAR pieces are illustrated throughout the book. One particular poppy brooch has the flower entwined with a large pear-shaped diamond. Another brooch, inspired by lily of the valley, has a teardrop pearl suspended from a platinum and diamond stem of blossoms.
 
Flowers such as chrysanthemums, edelweiss, peonies, tulips, and roses are interpreted in the most creative and awe-inspiring ways by master artisans, past and present. Woolton covers the Victorian, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco periods, culminating in contemporary designs of artists like Wendy Yue, whose impressive 2013 multi-gem apple blossom necklace commands a page of its own. Each page is illustrated with beautiful photography of the pieces; Woolton also includes design sketches by the artists that show their drafting skills.
 
There is so much ground to cover with this topic that further volumes, covering floral jewelry from ancient Egypt through the Middle Ages, as well from the Renaissance through the 18th century, would be most welcome. This, however, does not detract from the current work. Woolton weaves together history, flowers, precious gems, and artistic genius to make a tapestry rich with visual texture, a tapestry that illuminates the story of floral jewelry.

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