Now we've got this Millennium thing out of the way, and we realise that
2001 is not much different than 1999 (apart from the lousy weather) how does
this effect the way we look at the jewellery we collect.
Well, every piece we own was made in the last century and, suddenly, they
stop being mere collectibles and become antique, and those made in the 19th
century are, wow, 200 years old and positively ancient.
Yes, I know the figures don't add up but "made in the last century" certainly
adds a cache that will improve even more with the years. We're talking perception
here, and fashion, and the collective consciousness that somehow decides
that an individual piece or designer had now stood the test of time and is,
therefore, rare, desirable and hopefully valuable.
I've thought long and hard for some years how out of, say, the classes
of '62 to '70 at some Scandinavian art colleges for example, just a bare
handful of names come through. Who decides who they are and what happened
to all those hundreds who history doesn't record? And who, among contemporary
designers working today in commercial and studio settings, will our children's
children be collecting in 50 year's time?
Towards the end of last year I visited a couple of exhibitions at Goldsmiths'
Hall, the barometer of contemporary modern silver style in the City of
The first was a selling exhibition and showcase for practising jewellers.
To say I was singularly underwhelmed is an understatement. There was quality,
enthusiasm and commercialism in abundance but little cutting-edge design
that gave a hint of styles to come. And selling prices were considerably
higher than the vintage recognisable designs that you can buy from even
knowledgeable dealers at quality antiques fairs.
Maybe the next exhibition, the best of the final year shows of jewellery
design from Britain's Art Colleges and Universities, would be more arty and
original. Again there was some lovely stuff, beautifully crafted and made,
but hardly pushing the boundaries.
Predominantly silver, as I forecast in my last article-but maybe gold
was beyond the finances of the British education system-a little Perspex
and hardly any bronze or copper. I wasn't looking for something I personally
liked and would buy to wear. Just something that stood out from the crowd.
It was there but I didn't spot it myself. A couple of men in suits who
were on the same search as me were discussing the offerings. They seemed
as bored as I was. Then one pointed to a pair of anonymous-looking earrings
in a glass case. "Those are interesting", he said, and explained how the
designer had borrowed a technique used in computer technology that had only
been developed a year or two before, but had distorted it somewhat to make
an original design of her own. The result wasn't outrageous, over the top,
shocking or even noticeable. Just pair of pretty, long, airy earrings in
an open honeycomb design in a warm gilded tone and, being light, very wearable.
I hope the men in suits were talent spotters who had found a Wendy Ramshaw
in the making.
It isn't necessarily any one individual who decides what the new craze
or future collectable will be, but collectors, dealers, students of design.
And I mean this in its widest sense: all who enquire and study are students.
Also educators, writers, the media promote ideas some of which gain prominence.
If someone isn't known about or gets left out, for whatever reason, he or
she is ignored until some future date when someone whose opinion is respected
resurrects the artist and says: "Look, there's something important going
on here, let's look at it again." And suddenly a new name becomes
Whose explanation is right and whose is wrong just doesn't come into it.
It is an open-ended, ever-evolving question with multi-faceted explanations
from which one can make a choice or choices. And there appears to be a time
delay between the origin of what is, for want of a better word, a new "design"
and its acceptance, sometimes a couple of generations or more after its initial
All this is a lot of speculation with nothing to back it up. So when we're
looking for something to collect do we look to more educated opinion to back
up our own gut feelings or check out what is already out there and compare
and contrast the two? Or do we just go and look what's out there? Or do we
just buy what we like and consequences be dammed?
Going out on a limb and finding a designer or artist before the rest of
the world catches on is more fun, easier to find and a lot cheaper than competing
in a crowded field. You may hit a brick wall, don't know where to look, where
to start, and who to believe. Either there is no information or you are
overwhelmed with papers, books, notes and price guides.
So where do you start?
You start with what you like, what you believe in, what you enjoy. You
walk to no-one's drummer but your own and the beating of your own heart.
You may kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. But find him
you will. And before you know it you will have a collection all of your
own making that you can be justifiably proud of at a fraction of the cost
of those who need an "expert" to hold their hand and tell them what's currently
a good investment.
is a London- based antiques dealer who has specialised in Victorian
technology for more than 20 years. She has a world-class collection of antique
and toy sewing machines, and edits an international journal on the subject
with subscribers in 16 countries, the largest group being American. She has
collected '60s and '70s jewellery for 10 years and has a special fondness
for Scandinavian abstract, particularly Bjorn Weckstrom's Space Series