Is jewellery an ornament or an art form? The truth is it can be both; and the art of the jewel is demonstrated unequivocally at Masterpiece London, the leading international fair for art and design, which opens next week in the elegant surroundings of The Royal Hospital Chelsea. Here the small-scale jewelled oeuvre holds its own amongst fine art canvases and sculpture from antiquity to the present day.
You can view extraordinary pieces created for the elite of a bygone era – as well as have the opportunity to see coloured diamonds and natural pearls that are as rare as a Titian or Van Dyck, whilst tracing developments in design relevant to our contemporary life styles, and new technologies which push the idea of what precious can be. Here are the five key trends to look out for as you browse the fair.
A tiara is the highest pitch of the jeweller’s art so don’t miss the opportunity to see the stately Belle Époque pieces at Bentley & Skinner, the kind that inspired Chao, including one magnificent decorative head piece with natural pearls and old-cut diamonds arranged for a floral effect. Something old often carries with it the bonus of an interesting provenance. Empress Eugenie of France wore a Second Empire archeological revival coral and gold Spartan diadem in a Winterhalter’s 1864 portrait, which bears a remarkable similarity to one on show at Bentley & Skinner’s stand.
Feathers are a big fashion motif this season and designer Cindy Chao, born into an artistic family of architects and sculptors, has created an exquisite Royal Feather Brooch in her Black Label Masterpiece series, inspired by drawings of 19th century French women wearing feathered adornments in their hair. “My challenge”, she says, “was to make something truly featherweight.” To create a naturalistic colour spectrum of Blue Bird feathers she used 750 sapphires in nine colour gradients, with large central diamonds, set into lightweight titanium. “Pieces can transcend their function,” believes Chao, “with exquisite gemstones, innovative design and extraordinary craftsmanship, thus transforming into great works of art.” Also visit the Verdura stand to see Sicilian-born designer Fulco di Verdura’s 1940’s glamorous take on feather ear clips.
Historical art movements, which still influence the way we live, are distilled into small-scale jewels. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus movement whose clean lines and geometric forms are visible in the work by Francesca Grima, daughter of the great English modernist jeweller Andrew Grima, in orderly green tourmaline and diamond rows. “My father’s designs with textured gold wire and brickwork were inspired by Brutalism more than any other movement,” Francesca explains, “but I’m motivated more by Bauhaus design which is easier on the eye.” Milan-based Sabbadini’s striking coral and onyx-squared earrings are also abstract perfection. It was the art-deco movement that inspired Elaine Fattal to reimagine a vintage brooch as a contemporary cubist-looking sapphire and diamond Metamorphosis ring, and a vintage high jewellery emerald bracelet by Van Cleef & Arpels exhibits an art-deco frieze of geometric motifs in round, square, baguette and bullet-cut diamonds.
Fabio Salini’s new collection of highly polished pink surfaces is quite simply electric. The earrings created with rubellite, rhodolite, kunzite and pink diamonds reflect even more “pinkness” from the already flushed pink titanium polished mirror surfaces. Van Cleef & Arpel’s new modern Brume Saphir Rose glows with a supple cascade of pink sapphires from the softest pastel shades to a dark blush and Boghossian’s Kissing necklace – with matching earrings – employs intense pink and brilliant white diamonds inlaid in mother of pearl, side by side, to spark pink lights between one another. At Chatila a Cleopatra cuff snakes in diamonds up the arm glimmering with subtle pink from its rose-gold setting.
Natural salt-water pearls are rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth so view them at the Moussaieff stand with her rare natural fancy vivid pink diamonds. And I love the unusual mix of materials used by great 20th century designer Suzanne Belperron such as black jade with pearls, grey agate and carved rock crystal in striking cuffs. Small they may be, but these jewels demonstrate a large artistic contribution to the fair.