Book Review: Taffin: The Jewelry of James de Givenchy

Larry S. Larson
September 22, 2017
Taffin: The Jewelry of James de Givenchy
By James Taffin de Givenchy, Tobias Meyere, and Hamilton South, hardcover, 400 pp. illus., publ. by Rizzoli, New York, 2016, $150.00.

Every time I gently eased the large volume about jewelry artisan James de Givenchy’s work with Taffin from the protective sleeve case and turned the pages, I acted as though I was removing a treasured object from a safe deposit box. I read, I stopped. I read, I stopped again. I forced myself to look a bit at a time so as not to gorge on the art represented, the craftsmanship on display for fear of spoiling myself for the next time.

As the pages turn, one can appreciate de Givenchy’s love of scale, the imaginative use of metals and their finishes, the exotic woods, and the leather used to create beautiful, singular pieces. The subtle homages to Duke Fulco di Verdura, Suzanne Belperron, and Jean Schlumberger are apparent to those familiar with their artisanship.

De Givenchy the artist comes to life through the thoughts of his friends, as written in their forewords to various sections of the book. In conjunction with the beautifully detailed photographs, one can understand why de Givenchy chose certain materials for specific pieces, and the reader takes joy in looking at the gems and the craftsmanship. A heart-shaped carved Colombian emerald, flush-mounted in a chartreuse green square ceramic base and adorned with pearls, pays homage to spring with the differing tones of green and the juxtaposition of organic elements. The inclusion of de Givenchy’s sketches of proposed pieces, along with the photo of his New York salon, elegantly bookend the jewelry depicted.

The publisher honored the artist in how the book is presented and shaped; however, spelling errors from page to page, indeed page after page, take away from the magnificent impression the book should leave.

James de Givenchy delights in upending our conventional expectations. He uses unique woods and relatively common materials such as agate and leather through uncommon shapes and purpose. A broad violet wood bracelet, with its powerfully ridged grain juxtaposed with polished white chalcedony domed button shapes, makes the viewer pause in order to interact with the piece. Two pins executed in cloud-shaped faience and decorated with sweeps of diamonds results in a charming, light appearance. Some of the most intriguing works shown are those that have the gems set culet up. This causes the eye to stop and it disrupts the brain, leading to a greater appreciation of the cleverness of the method. Gemstones set in this manner cause us to approach a red spinel and ruby domed ring with a modicum of caution due to perceived prickliness. Such pieces create a visual and textural treat.

Taffin is a treasure, pure and simple.

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