by Marylouise Lugosch
One of the oldest forms of art, prior to the late 1800's jewelry was worn primarily by the wealthy and powerful. Gemstones were currency, treasured for their beauty and their worth, passed down by the aristocracy and ruling families to the next generation and worn for state occasions.
Vintage Jewelry Design: Classics to Collect & Wear is an historical guide to vintage collectable jewelry, a valuable book for the collector and fascinating for anyone who loves jewelry. Each decade of the last hundred years is examined and its jewelry is placed within a cultural context.
With the dawn of the industrial age, a huge middle class was born, and with it began the age of the consumer. More people had disposable income, and so they began to copy the styles of the rich. Brand name jewelry designers like Cartier, Fabergé, Tiffany, etc. became popular. Where previously these jewelry houses created pieces only for their patrons, by the 1890's they had expanded their following to the new industrialists. Women around the world began to clamor for the jewelry worn by the women of the British and European royal families and by the actresses and courtesans who were showered with jewels by their royal lovers. Edith Wharton's Buccaneers, the story of young American heiresses who went to Europe seeking a marriage with a title was playing out for real in the life of Consuelo Vanderbilt.
From that auspicious beginning, Ms. Cox guides us through the evolutionary twists and turns of jewelry as art as well as industry, accompanied by gorgeous images of jewelry from each period.
The difference between the jewelry of the first two decades of the Twentieth Century (through the First World War) and the 1920's was remarkable. The rise of modernism tossed aside the intricacies of Art Nouveau and the heavy Edwardian style. In the 1920's Coco Chanel almost single-handedly invented Costume Jewelry. Replacing real gemstones with colored glass, and using gold-toned metal and faux pearls, Chanel changed the rules about jewelry and how to wear it. She popularized the little black dress to be worn at any time, not just for mourning; black was the perfect background for jewelry.
The Great Depression forced even Chanel to cut her prices in half, and the American consumer stopped buying the luxury goods of the European designers. Diamond merchants could no longer count on their traditional customers because even the wealthy had trouble with funds in the 1930's. DeBeers, and other diamond merchants, realized that the image of the diamond as a bauble for the rich had to be changed, and so began a rebranding of the diamond that is still with us today.
In the last historical chapter of the book, the 1990's to today, much of what is called 'future collectables' are pieces that were designed for Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, and other European designers to accompany their fashion shows. Some attention is paid to Robert Lee Morris, Paloma Picasso, George Jensen, Frank Gehry and the British designers Shaun Leane and Theo Fannell.
Vintage Jewelry Design has a shopping and collecting guide that is vital reading for anyone who is collecting vintage jewelry, particularly the advice on how to spot a fake. There are listings for stores and websites that specialize in vintage jewelry, and there is a complete glossary of jewelry terms that would be helpful for anyone who buys jewelry. The descriptions and accompanying photographs for each decade are valuable references. The photographs feature many close ups and images that are more than full sized, giving the reader a real glimpse into the fine detail of the jewelry.
This is truly a fun book to read. Loaded with mouth-watering images of splendid jewelry, famous women who wore it and the designers who made it, "Vintage Jewelry Design, Classics to Collect and Wear" is a fabulous cocktail table book and a must-have for the true jewelry afficionado.
Images used are reprinted with permission of Vintage Jewelry Design, by Caroline Cox, copyright 2011, Lark Crafts.
Marylouise Lugosch is Executive Director of the Contemporary Jewelry Design Group.