Book Review Gems & Gemology, Winter 2013, Vol. 49, No. 4

21st-Century Jewellery Designers

WN13 BR Jewellery Designers 636x358
By Juliet Weir-de La Rochefoucauld, 359 pp., illus., Antique Collectors Club, Woodbridge, UK, 2013. US$95.00
In this volume, Juliet Weir-de La Rochefoucauld presents highlights from a selection of international contemporary jewelry designers. This hefty opus represents a sort of sequel to the publisher’s Celebrating Jewellery (Bennett and Mascetti, 2012), this time with an eye toward the future of jewelry.

This remarkably illustrated coffee table book prominently displays more than 540 jewelry pieces from 25 of today’s important designers. After a short chapter featuring some of the finest works of the French artist JAR, the author takes the reader on an inspired journey. Twenty sections display the iconic pieces of Kaoru Kay Akihara, Walid Akkad, Lorenz Baumer, Bhagat, Sevan Bicakci, Luz Camino, Wallace Chan, Edmond Chin, Lydia Courteille, Michele Della Valle, Patrice Fabre, James de Givenchy, Vicente Gracia, Hemmerle, Anna Hu, Michelle Ong, Susanne Syz, Nicholas Varney, Stephen Webster, Dickson Yewn, as well as the work of “newcomers” Rami Abboud, Tomasz Donocik, LaMouche, and 10 Royale. The cultural diversity of this ensemble is truly remarkable.

Each section contains a brief background for each designer, along with their diverse creative sources of inspiration, including a list of their favorite themes and motifs. Numerous detailed photos illustrate beautifully how these themes translate into jewelry. Pieces of exceptional craftsmanship are displayed using front-and-back photos. Weir-de La Rochefoucauld gives significant insights into their creative processes and details technical aspects of their jewelry making. Some of the most valuable comments pertain to the innovative materials and techniques used by the designers, including titanium, ceramic, cement, laser welding, and CAD/CAM. The artists also discuss their favorite gemstones and cuts. The book sheds a stimulating light on the use of alternative materials such as wood, leather, ivory mammoth, animal teeth, or old cameos; the choice of bold color and material contrasts to create striking pieces.

In spite of their different sources, the photo renderings are consistent throughout the book. Some of the photos are so sharp that the reader gains a sense of the heft and smoothness of the piece. Gemstone inclusions, special carvings, and jewelry techniques such as micro mosaic, enameling, and special settings, are artfully depicted.

One of this book’s strongest assets is to place the designers and their creations in their artistic and cultural context. Two sections, those on Sevan Bicakci and Wallace Chan, are particularly captivating from both a technical and aesthetic standpoint. The former highlights a rare level of craftsmanship in enameling and stone cutting and the creation of unique rings that celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Bicakci’s native Istanbul. In the latter section, Chan, nicknamed the “Zen Philosopher,” has mastered the use of titanium; he has also invented a way to carve jadeite into a four-prong setting in order to set a precious stone into this matrix. Many of his jewelry pieces refer to some aspects and practices of Buddhism, creating an effect reminiscent of classic Chinese art.

From an aesthetic standpoint, Lydia Courteille and Nicholas Varney stand out for their use of gemstone materials to create unique combinations. Courteille has embraced classic cameos and figurative gem carvings in creating whimsical multicolor cocktail rings, while Varney has mastered the art of incorporating irregular pearls of all shapes into asymmetrical oversized pieces.

One might regret that the selection criteria of these designers are never explained. Were they chosen by generation, prominence, awards won, technical innovation, or auction appeal? One could also fault the unimaginative alphabetical order of presenting them. A thematic arrangement could have provided some interesting comparisons and meaningful conclusions. The alphabetical arrangement also gives way to the repetition of clichés, such as the search for perfection, the need for control over jewelry making, and how each artist is unmistakably guided by their love of the material.

Also, gemologists will note the mention of the species versubianite, presumably a typo for vesuvianite. New Yorkers will quickly catch that LaGuardia Airport is, according to this book, located in New Jersey.

A more basic criticism is that almost no reference is made to actual jewelry size. Since the jewelry designers themselves provided the documentation for this book, these details were probably available. Similarly, no mention is made of photo magnifications, which differ from one page to the next.

With that noted, this luxurious book provides a great source of inspiration for all jewelry scholars, collectors, and professionals at large for envisioning the future trends of the industry. The quality of the photos is an exceptional asset to that end.

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