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

Book Review: New Rings: 500+ Designs

New Rings: 500+ Designs book cover
By Nicolas Estrada, paperback, 272 pp., illus., publ. by Thames & Hudson, London, 2016, $34.95.

Contemporary art meets handcrafted fashion in Nicolas Estrada’s second edition of New Rings. With the feel of an exhibition catalog, every page of this fascinating book features an arrangement of rings—each example shown is a miniature sculpture. Some are ready-to-wear, and—from the finger to the top of the bureau—all are ready to make a statement.

For this new edition, Estrada has added new works by Jina Seo, Elvira Golombosi, Polly Horwich, Nancy Newberg, Drilling Lab, Cinnamon Lee, Helen Britton, Cristina Zani, Jorge Castañon and many more pioneering jewelers and designers. Estrada has removed Joanne Haywood’s “Emblems of Alliance” and reorganized the essay selection. Marjorie Simon’s essay has been replaced by a new introduction by Carles Codina Armengol. Estrada has also updated his own work, added his own bio to the index of artists, and included an acknowledgments page at the end.

While much has changed with this second edition, much also remains the same. The compendium begins with four essays, each illuminating a different point of view about the symbolism of ring wearing. The heart of the book lies in the 233 pages of ring images, divided into five sections: Individuality, Expression, Rebellion, Commitment, and Connection. Each chapter is marked with a hand symbol highlighted by a dot on one finger, as if to indicate the Individuality section relates to the thumb, Expression the pointer finger, and so on. This is where the book could benefit from fuller illumination about each chapter. While the rings speak for themselves in many ways, it would be wonderful to hear more about Estrada’s thought process. For example, how does the pinky finger—and perhaps the pinky ring—relate to the subject of connection? Are the rings in the fifth chapter all pinky rings? While the meaning behind the curation of each section may not be quite so literal, it would be wonderful to hear more about how Estrada selected pieces for each section. Surely he has stories to share about what some or most of these pieces represent.

Born in Medellin, Colombia, Estrada moved to Barcelona, Spain to work in marketing, but instead turned his attention to jewelry making. He cites his transition to making and admiring contemporary, radical, innovative, and conceptual jewelry stems from a need to free himself from the violence he experienced in his native city. He says he regards these works as both therapy and social critique.

In addition to New Rings, Estrada also has equally intriguing compendiums of New Earrings (Thames & Hudson, 2013) and New Necklaces (Promopress, 2016). With the selections he gathers and curates in each of his books, it’s easy to recognize a diverse mix of emotions ranging from anguish and rebellion to elation and excitement. It would be so gratifying to hear more of his thoughts from these pages, to hear his voice, to learn more about how his experiences have led him to love or hate these pieces.

Nevertheless, it’s also easy to see how such transparency may also muffle the mystery that makes Estrada the kind of author-curator he is. And while his experience would be fascinating to read, he doesn’t need to make such a strong appearance here to make a statement. The reader can still be drawn in by the images of the rings rather than the symbolic meanings of the chapters or the author’s point of view. She will pour over the pages, getting lost in her own translation of the dark details of Dauvit Alexander’s Four Cocktail Rings of the Apocalypse, the solid sensuality of Yuyen Chang’s Orifice Rings, the movement of Michael Berger’s Kinetic Rings, the included frog in Mi-Mi Moscow’s rings, and the functional aspects of Tithi Kutchamuch’s Vase Garden. Without a need for explanation, there’s a ring for everyone to admire or abhor within these pages. Herein lies the brilliance of this intersection of art, design, craftsmanship, and fashion.

Sarah Froelich is a freelance writer and a jewelry specialist at Boris Litwin Jewelers in Cincinnati, Ohio.