When Good Queen Bess was running England, Shakespeare writing his
plays and Columbus was about to or had just discovered America, the
message was “if you've got it, flaunt it”.
The first Elizabeth's
favourite jewels of choice were pearls. She wore them everywhere,
woven into her hair and sewn onto the bodices, big skirts and huge
wing-like collars of her dresses. She was a rich powerful bitch with
attitude, and wore her wealth on her person to prove it. She also had
an army and armed camp followers to protect her so I bet that even the
tiniest seed pearl was safe.
This century a string or
two of pearls together with the ubiquitous twinset (cashmere jumper
and matching cardigan in non-intrusive pink or blue) were for years,
at least until the 1970s, a required uniform with English middle-class
through aristocracy of all ages.
When our present
Queen Elizabeth isn't opening Parliament or something with a whopping
great crown of state on her head, she can often be seen in daytime
hours wearing a simple two or three-row pearl necklace. In fact both
she and her 100-year-old Queen Mother, another Elizabeth, wore pearls
to the opening day of the Chelsea Flower Show in May this year. And
former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is again on the
campaign trail for our imminent general election, complete with a
single strand round her neck and bigger single versions in her ears.
Not the trendiest of
jewels maybe, but they still seem to make a statement: I'm rich and
powerful, but I'm not going to flaunt it. Mind you, the three
mentioned are all over 70 years of age.
So why my sudden interest
in pearls? I learned on a
radio show recently that the mussel beds in Scotland from where many
superior natural pearls have been garnered over many years are now on
the endangered-species list. The beds are heavily policed and anyone
caught could be fined up to $5000 for each and every mussel taken,
regardless of whether or not they contain pearls. Environmentalists
stated that a generation of non-interference could pass before things
return to normal.
So the old saying “a
pearl of great price” may again become relevant, and pearls become
one of the rare and sought-after gems that influential jewellers use
in specially-commissioned—and expensive—designer pieces.
On the other hand the image
of gold has been getting a bit tarnished, a bit flash, now more
popular among geezer chic, the type of men personified in Madonna’s
husband Guy Ritchie’s film Snatch than by royalty as in past
centuries and even millennia.
In May there was a
reception in London organised by the World Gold Council to re-launch
gold which it felt was losing out in prestige and exclusivity to other
precious metals such as platinum. Even silver and white gold seemed
more popular with paying customers with cheaper 10-carat gold items
proliferating in the mass market depreciating the perceived value of
the real stuff.
In its attempt to gain
market share, gold is having a makeover and rap, sports and film stars
are being courted to give it a higher profile as well as designers and
people who influence fashion trends. Theory is they want to promote
the idea to those that will be creative with gold and come up with new
designs concepts and ideas.
Though, a spokesman
said, they weren’t just looking for immediate fashion gratification.
Gold has been around for thousands of years and the World Gold Council
had a long-term goal in wanting wearers to feel the same emotional
value about it as they did before the glitz years of the 1980s.
He actually said it was
“how you feel inside about your (treasure) as much as what it looks
like to others that matters”—so presumably we can expect it to
remain popular for engagement and wedding rings. Put another way, I
guess we’re talking yet another marketing ploy to sell items made of
gold by way of designer chic and the feel-good factor. You may
remember that De Beers hired consultants a couple of years ago to
raise the profile of diamonds—a diamond is forever!
Earlier the same day the
Goldsmiths’ Company, who philanthropically promotes good design
using precious metals, held a Press preview of the 19th
annual selling exhibition to be held at Goldsmiths’ Hall this coming
October. A select few of the 80 or so of the contemporary jewellery
designers and makers who will take part exhibited their designs for
However, I’m still having
difficulty pinning down what people who like contemporary jewellery
are choosing to buy and wear these days despite the Goldsmiths’
Press release suggestion that “these exciting examples of
contemporary design are destined to become the antiques of
Fashion is a moveable
feast—what is popular in London may not be mirrored in America, or
there is a possible variation between, say, LA and New York City. So,
to get a balance, I asked Marbeth Schon of Modern Silver magazine and
my NYC Mod jewellery designer/dealer friend Victoria Tillotson what
the movers and shakers are wearing in America.
Marbeth noticed that
news-anchor women were wearing lovely large brooches of interesting
designs in silver and suggested that maybe there is a trend towards
great design instead of intrinsic value. She also sees young people
wearing beaded jewellery, much of it handmade; also tribal and ethnic
styles with turquoise, amber and amethysts.
Vic reveals that there are
a few diverse current jewellery obsessions in the Big Apple and makes
the following observations:
Tiffany silver for the
Upper East side and UES wannabe set, especially the sterling ID
bracelets and thick chain chokers with a "Return to Tiffany"
rhinestone jewellery in floral designs and little chains are favoured
by Soho model types and wannabes who buy it on the street; delicate
necklaces with (surprise, surprise) pearls strung widely-spaced apart
on clear, “invisible” string so it looks like the pearls are
floating on the wearer's neck.
Gold a la street/rap
style—popular with urban African-American and Latino kids—also has
its devotees in the Soho fashionista world, with trendy women wearing
deliberately-kitschy diamond-encrusted “name” pendants—Madonna
again—or pendants that read “foxy” or whatever, as in the 1970s.
Another trend is thick
leather “dog collar” bracelets, plain and unadorned in bright
colours, or adorned with rhinestones or beads. Also skinny, elongated,
pendants in gold or silver hung from lariat-style delicate snake
chains that you can adjust to desired height; again, very disco 1970s,
which it seems everyone under the age of 35 is wearing in New York!
In London too, there’s a
proliferation of beads on the markets, certainly at the cheaper end,
but again they’re on the small side. And one designer I met at
Goldsmiths’ said amethyst stones were more expensive to buy at
source this year because it is a popular and fashionable stone.
The trend among the designs
I saw seems to be petite and discreet, barely noticeable though
beautifully-crafted designs, mainly silver or platinum with minimal
I’m not sure where all
this is leading or what styles will survive to be collected in 2050,
but the three of us, Marbeth, Vic and I, aren’t impressed.
For the time being I’m
playing safe and sticking with 1960’s Scandinavian abstract in
silver. Vic prefers glam rock as in the early ‘70s to disco any day
but then, again, she’s truly stuck in the 1960s stylewise for the
most part. Marbeth says we can’t help our bias towards 60’s
Scandinavian silver. She expected that craze to be over by now but it
goes on—probably because the stuff is really good design and
wearable, not just a fad.
Not only do we prefer
the style—it costs a lot less, even as collectibles, than designer-labelled
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