Reviews Gems & Gemology, Spring 2017, Vol. 53, No. 1

Book Review: Jeweler: Masters, Mavericks, and Visionaries of Modern Design

Jeweler: Masters, Mavericks, and Visionaries of Modern Design Book Cover
By Stellene Volandes with a foreword by Carolina Herrera, hardcover, 255 pp., illus., publ. by Rizzoli International Publications, New York, 2016, $85.00.

Jeweler: Masters, Mavericks, and Visionaries of Modern Design by Stellene Volandes is a large-format visual feast of jewelry design. Jeweler showcases the work of 17 jewelry designers from around the world: Hemmerle (Munich), Elena Votsi (Athens), Mark Davis (Brooklyn), Nicholas Varney (New York), Wallace Chan (New York), James de Givenchy (New York), Giampiero Bodino (Milan), Judy Geib (Williamsburg, Virginia), Suzanne Syz (Geneva), Bhagat (Mumbai), Sevan Biçakçi (Istanbul), Lydia Courteille (Paris), Muriel Grateau (Paris), Luz Camino (Madrid), Antonia Miletto (Venice), Marie-Helene de Taillac (New York), and Lauren Adriana (London). There is also a foreword by Carolina Herrera, an introduction, and an index of photos by designer.

Jeweler is a very personal selection by Volandes, editor-in-chief at Town & Country magazine, who appears to prefer large, bold work. Yet the drama of the pieces and their impeccable craftsmanship are their only commonalities, as techniques and materials range across the board. There is Miletto’s quiet use of exotic woods, Davis’s repurposing of Bakelite, Biçakçi’s astonishing “inverse intaglio” gemstone carving, Syz’s playful use of enamel and titanium, Bodino’s use of traditional techniques in non-traditional presentations, and the breathtaking setting work of Varney and Chan. All the works feature vividly colored gemstones and enamels, except those by Grateau, who favors black and white. Every piece in Jeweler is a work of art best worn alone with the classic black dress (or black shirt, in the case of Syz’s cufflinks).

The text touches lightly on each designer’s history and the manufacturing techniques used. There are some lovely passages, such as Volandes’s description of Chan’s “Wallace Cut”: “Equal doses workmanship and wizardry, it was created through endless hours of imagination that turned into years of experimentation.” However, the author’s personal journey is front and center as she discovers the work of each designer, visits their ateliers, and discusses the work at a jazz club or fine restaurant. She recreates for readers her experience of the lush environments in which these pieces are exhibited, often by appointment only.

It’s impossible to write about Jeweler without mentioning its striking use of typography. Each section opens with one piece, the designer’s name, and a descriptive tagline—such as “The Modern Dynasty” (Hemmerle), “Olympian Talent” (Votsi), or “The Myth Maker” (Courteille)—in a font size so large it bleeds off the page. A quote from the text is spread over the next two pages with another featured piece of jewelry. Finally, opposite the first page text, the initial capital of the designer’s last name is enlarged so much that it is virtually abstract; a third piece of jewelry is wound around, set on, or stacked against the columns and shapes of the letter form. Each of these uses of type reinforces the idea that these designers are giants in their field, larger than life, their work almost too large for the pages. This is further emphasized by the enormous image sizes, often one per 9 × 13-inch page, or one piece spread over two pages.

Although the name of the book design firm (NR2154) and its principals are credited, the photographer, without whom this book could not have been created, is not. There is also a disappointing lack of acknowledgment of the makers of many of these pieces. Though readers may infer that all the designers were hands-on, it appears that many of them—who may have come from other design or jewelry-related fields—do not have bench training; Volandes mentions when a designer (such as Judy Geib) was trained in jewelry manufacturing. Many of the designers produce drawings that are works of art in themselves (the Varney drawing of a hooded falcon is almost indistinguishable from the final piece next to it), and there is no question about the brilliance of the design concepts. However, the production of these often incredibly complex pieces is the work of talented cutters, setters, wax carvers, fabricators, and polishers. It’s a shame that there is so little recognition of these skilled hands from either the designers or Volandes.

Jeweler is not a book to keep on a shelf. It is meant to be displayed, opened, paged through, admired, and shared, which makes the lack of a dust jacket seem a questionable design decision. The rich, deep blue cloth cover of Jeweler is embellished with gold lettering, which seems almost monochromatic in contrast to the blaze of colors inside. However, over time and through handling, the lettering may wear away, and the magnet-like texture of the binding will collect dust, stains, and pet hair, eventually creating a shopworn appearance at sharp odds with the work inside.

Overall, Jeweler: Masters, Mavericks, and Visionaries of Modern Design is a joy to behold. As a beautiful object of design in itself, it is a book for collectors of art, design, and jewelry or, really, anyone who appreciates beautiful things. In Jeweler, jewelry makers and designers will find insight into the often rarified world of ultra-high-end international jewelry design and plenty of inspiration for years to come.

Sharon Elaine Thompson is a Graduate Gemologist (GG) and Fellow of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (FGA). She has been an instructor at the Gemological Institute of America, and has written extensively on jewelry and jewelry manufacturing for more than 25 years.