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

Books: Michele della Valle: Jewels and Myths

Michele della Valle Book Cover
By Michele della Valle, hardcover, 349 pp., illus., publ. by Antique Collectors’ Club Ltd., Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK, 2014, US$195.00.

Weighing in at more than eight pounds, this high-quality production is a pictorial autobiography of the Italian-born, Geneva-based jewelry designer Michele della Valle. Claiming to be a poor writer, della Valle presents the story of his creative inspiration and talents through his jewels rather than words. Although these wonders sometimes speak their beauty in hushed tones, they mostly emote, nearly leaping off the page in screaming colors, ebullient with life and joy, yet framed by transcendent balance and class.

Unlike books that present an artist’s evolution over periods, this tome is loosely organized around individuals, many deceased, who have inspired della Valle’s creativity, ranging from royals and statesmen to writers and Biblical figures, not to mention a Pope (on skis) and a range of artistic talents with opera, ballet, music and celluloid stars particularly represented.

For example, a sepia-toned full-page photograph of a young Ernest Hemingway alongside a marlin and a fisherman segues to a dramatic blue marlin sapphire, ruby and diamond brooch in carbonium fiber and gold from 2006. An inspirational quote alongside a photograph of President Kennedy in commencement garb introduces a series of red, white, and blue jewelry that stand apart from the tired designs of most patriotic jewelry. The photo gallery closes with opera legend Maria Callas, who trumps other stars with three appearances in the book, in full-color across from the paired carnation brooches she inspired. Even the della Valle pooch ushers in a section of animated animal jewelry that includes a fetching tiger skin bracelet in yellow sapphires and black diamonds.

Whether themed or not, the magnificent images captured by photographer Laura Camia reveal an artist whose keen sensitivity for nature and glamour also delights in a touch of whimsy. The jeweler’s eye for color is especially striking, from the inviting pastels of the chalcedony and diamond jellyfish earclips (2014) to the multicolored stunning Palette gemstone necklace (1989). Unafraid to enliven varied floral and naturalistic themes through the use of titanium and other new-age metals, the book also features diamond designs using kukui nuts and Bakelite.

Befitting the exquisite stones chosen, della Valle infuses his high-luxury designs with elegance. However, the roots of his talents and his journey in jewelry remain somewhat obscure. Although offered as his autobiography, della Valle gives readers only three brief paragraphs of text. As quoted in a preface by his partner Rossano Corsano, della Valle describes how he began crafting costume jewelry in his youth. Yet the artist’s later adventures as a gem merchant and his reputed fascination with international glamour are only mentioned in passing. Detailed instead are the activities and livelihoods of della Valle’s mother’s cosmopolitan friends. The man behind the artist remains knowable here only through his jewelry.

Notwithstanding that, what is on display here, preferably hoisted upon a sturdy coffee table, is a colorful feast bursting with glorious color and infused with graceful energy. Readers interested in jewelry design, high jewelry and connoisseurship will find the book an intriguing, if somewhat ethereal, excursion.

Matilde Parente owns Libertine, a fine jewelry salon at the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa in Indian Wells, California.