Book Review Gems & Gemology, Fall 2014, Vol. 50, No. 3

Books: Unique by Design: Contemporary Jewelry in the Donna Schneier Collection

Unique by Design
By Suzanne Ramljak, 136 pp., illus., publ. by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2014, $25.00.
This book documents the eponymous 2014 exhibition organized by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. As the museum does not provide an exhibit booklet, this is the only available guide to the collection of art and jewelry dealer Donna Schneier. Now retired, Schneier donated her collection of significant studio jewelry pieces to the Met in 2007.

The core of this volume is a chapter titled “Seductive Tactics.” Rather than a systematically documented catalog, this chapter is actually a general essay on contemporary jewelry. Most of the examples and illustrations in the book are pieces from the collection. Maisie Broadhead’s three conceptual pieces, collectively titled “Which Weigh to Go,” are a notable exception. The first of the three pieces is a photo showing a pastiche of a Vermeer painting, depicting a young woman weighing a pearl.  The two other photos are the necklaces in the background of the previous, a gold link chain titled “Big Fake Little Real Chain” and a freshwater pearl necklace named “Big Fake Little Real Pearl.” The “Plates” chapter features more photos that highlight of the collection, such as “Brass Knuckles, a four-finger ring by Myra Mimiltsch-Gray. No explanation is provided as to the motive for this photo selection. The last chapter of the book is a very succinct bibliography on contemporary jewelry.

One strong point is the book’s use of clinically precise color photos, some showing appreciable texture and surface details. The rendering of those photos is uniform throughout the book, which is rare. The use of those pictures is partially illustrative, as this book is more art essay than a catalog. As is usual in this type of book, jewelry measurements and carat weight are not noted, and magnification is not mentioned. To properly catalog the exhibition, the book should have contained a section presenting the 132 displayed pieces, with thumbnail pictures, detailed descriptions, measurements, artist biographies, and details on how the pieces were acquired. The book gives very little insight on the collection itself and does not answer one legitimate question: If the collection was donated in 2007, why show it now?

Overall, Unique By Design reads like a general introductory art essay to studio jewelry rather than a guide to a specific exhibition. Therefore, it is more suited to jewelry students and art collectors with an interest in studio jewelry.

Delphine Leblanc is a valuation specialist at Tiffany & Co. in New York City.