Book Review
Gems & Gemology, Winter 2014, Vol. 50, No. 4

Books: Untamed Encounters: Contemporary Jewelry from Extraordinary Gemstones

Sharon Elaine Thompson
By Mimi Lipton, 245 pp., hardcover, illus., publ. by Thames & Hudson, New York, 2014. US$95.00.
Untamed Encounters: Contemporary Jewelry from Extraordinary Gemstones is a print gallery of 80 jewels commissioned by collector and author Mimi Lipton, whose interests run not to faceted and finished stones but to unfinished raw materials: mineral crystals, fragments of opal broken from the vein, gems inextricably bound to the matrix in which they have formed, coral worn by the ocean, unusual Baltic amber, and strangely shaped freshwater pearls. In her world travels, Lipton has also discovered carved pieces of amber, bone, ivory, and jade, as well as coral nuggets from old jewelry.

Crystals take millennia to form and rise to the earth’s surface, the accident of their survival a small miracle; corals are burnished by sea and sand into stark, skeletal shapes. Each unique “untamed” piece shows us the beauty and power often inherent in the unfinished and the worn. They are reminiscent of ancient talismanic jewelry in which raw materials of surpassing beauty or strange shape were thought to hold magical powers. Or perhaps they were simply beautiful to look at and to hold.

Suiting the international provenance of these raw materials, Lipton has gathered an international group of seven jewelry artists to create large, bold, unusual works that emphasize the uniqueness of each material. The pieces are often inspired by ethnic jewelry Lipton has encountered in her travels. While most are in 22K gold, some include iron, silver, driftwood, and silk cord. Many of the rough-hewn pieces echo the unfinished quality of the materials set into them. Others contrast the rugged quality of the materials with smoothly finished metal.

Illustrated with 260 large-format color photographs, many of them extreme close-ups, the book allows readers to visually examine these works in detail, from mineral and stone shapes and surfaces to material textures, craftsmanship, and connections. So that nothing interrupts the visual feast, a section at the end provides material and artist information next to thumbnails of each piece. Another section provides biographies of the artists, the photographer, and other contributors.

If anything is missing, it is the stories behind the pieces: where and how Lipton discovered each one, what they mean to her, the story behind each creation—her vision and the artists’ visions and how those met and evolved into finished jewelry. Collaboration is an art in itself, and it would have been enlightening to see how the artists and the collector communicated to create these unique pieces.

Regardless, Untamed Encounters is certain to be a treat for anyone who appreciates or collects jewelry. It inspires us to take a second look at the world and to question our definitions of beauty and preciousness.

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