Metalsmith ’88 Summer: Book Reviews

This article is for book reviews for the books “Jewelry by Architects”, “The Jewellery of René Lalique”, “Jewelry 7000 Years” and the three-set Titanium books, published in the 1988 Spring issue of the Metalsmith Magazine.

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Jewelry by Architects
By Barbara Radice
Rizzoli, NY, 1987
119 pp., 179 illus, 107 in color, $35

This book documents a collection of jewelry that collector Cleto Munari commissioned since 1982. Well-known international architects, including Americans Michael Graves, Richard Meier and Robert Venturi, were approached to design these gold jewels. The book is arranged alphabetically by architect. In addition to the beautiful photographs of actual pieces, there is a short interview with each architect on the subject of jewelry. Their simple jewelry sketches supplement the work. The book is truly handsome. It is nicely organized, and the quality of the photographs and printing is excellent. Rizzoli has once again produced a first-class publication.

Jewelry by Architects - Book Reviews

In the introduction Barbara Radice writes: “Perhaps the most fascinating thing about these 150-odd pieces of jewelry is that they have nothing to do with any other set of jewelry designed over the last two thousand years.” She further states that this collection of work, “represents the debut of post modernism in the jeweler’s craft, or, if you like, the first true figurative modernization of jewelry design as an applied art since the twenties and thirties . . . the most advanced figurative research of the last 20 years.” Should we accept these statements at face value? What are her credentials? What research has she undertaken in this field?

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We find that here statements could not be further from the truth. The book presumes to offer us original work, a unique and novel point of view and a departure from the accepted design sensibilities of contemporary jewelry into new frontiers. This reviewer, because of the promises of the author, expects these “protean Renaissance figures” to offer new design insights. We wish that they had. We should add, if this volume is any indication, these architects are possessed of an arrogance born of ignorance. In fact, what is clear is that these architects did not do their homework. This book illustrates designs that are eclectic, sometimes plagiarized and, at best, consonant with the work of goldsmiths who much earlier led the way in design innovation. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Claus Bury, John Prip, Wendy Ramshaw, Bruno Martinazzi, Friedrich Becker and many other innovative goldsmiths of the last 30 years can consider themselves flattered.

Examples of this appropriation of style and attitude can be seen in such books as Rings Through the Ages by A. Ward, J. Cherry, C. Gere and B. Cartlidge; Rizzoli, 1981 , pages 20, 22, 184 and 185. Jewellery of the Ancient World by Jack Ogden; Rizzoli, 1982, also illustrates similar concepts on page 21 , as does J. Anderson Black in his the Story of Jewelry, William Morrow, 1974, on page 131. The styles that rely on the figurative should be compared to the figurative pioneer Bruno Martinazzi. Books such as The Art of Jewelry by Graham Hughes; Viking, 1972, illustrates Martinazzi’s work on page 155, as does Contemporary Jewelry by Philip Morton; Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970, on page 82. The architects who use the “abstract” style borrow heavily from the work of Wendy Ramshaw. The catalogue Wendy Ramshaw: A Retrospective Survey 1969-1981 from the exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1982 illustrates the design similarities.

Radice suggests that credit be given to this group of architects for “The spurning of precious stone . . . a reaffirmation of the superior power and value of the design over that of gems, as was the case during the Renaissance.” The “Good as Gold” exhibition and catalog organized by the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in 1981 illustrates the more than 90 American artists making jewelry out of nonprecious materials and demonstrating that design, concept and communicative ability has long been a major concern of artists in our field.

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Barbara Radice notices, however, that in this collection there is a “curious uniformity of materials used: almost exclusively yellow gold and semi-precious stones ” This is not difficult to explain. She states in her foreword that the collector, Munari, “became more and more enthusiastically involved in assembling an increasingly international collection, to the point of setting up a small company to employ goldsmiths with the exclusive task of producing the pieces by hand as they were designed by the architects,” Judging from the looseness of the architects sketches in the book, and assuming that these drawings are similar to those the goldsmiths had to work from, it is easy to understand why the goldsmiths interpreted them with such consistency. These artisans could only produce work using techniques and materials with which they were already acquainted. Technical and material innovation was precluded by this unfortunate collaboration in which the objects came from the same workshop and were produced by the same hands. This has to result in uniformity. The pieces are almost all highly polished and predominantly geometric. Washes of color in the drawings are converted to colored stones.

It is interesting that Radice spends a quarter of her one page introduction on a discussion of what “very famous architects” are like. She says, “There is no cultural event of significance that can do without their very special presence, support or advice,” She continues, “Big architects are often progressive intellectuals . . . In general, they are better dressed than artists, travel a great deal, and are always calling each other on the phone . . . They know how to have a good time and are open to adventure . . . They can be recognized by a special quality in their gaze, conveying an amused, cynical detachment, and by the sly smile of those who possess secret information.” lf the author is right in her characterization, then perhaps the “sly smile” she refers to suggests deception; we just might be fooled into believing they have something to offer the field of contemporary jewelry. It is clear to me that if in fact they do possess secret information, specifically about the field of jewelry, they are not sharing it with us.

We should not be seduced into purchasing this volume because of its pretty pictures. It so totally misrepresents the recent history of our art as to warrant total improbation.

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– Stanley Lechtzin and Daniella Kerner

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The Jewellery of René Lalique
By Vivienne Becker
Catalog of the exhibition of the same name May-June, 1987, The Goldsmiths’ Company, 1987
Available through Goldsmiths’ Hall, Foster Lane, London EC2V 6BN, England for ₤21, including shipping, pb

The Jewellery of Rene Lalique is a tour-de-force among books on jewelry and as such is a magnificent addition to the library of the imaginative craftsperson or jewelry historian. Fully 195 pieces, the composition of the entire exhibition, are clearly illustrated, 139 in lavish color. In addition, 40 renderings in black and white are included, some of which present instructions for execution in French. A few of the finished jewelers derived from these renderings are included in the exhibition, and anyone with at least a basic background in jewelry construction can deduce their processes of execution with little effort.

Vivienne Becker, whose previous literary efforts include Art Nouveau Jewelry organized this exhibition. This is the first time since the early 1960s, when only a few pieces of Lalique’s work were shown at Goldsmiths’ Hall, that such an exhibition has been mounted. While this exhibition has gathered what is probably the greatest quantity of jewels by Lalique ever displayed together, there is no chronological order, so it is not possible to track Lalique’s career as a goldsmith/jeweler to the point where his interest in glass predominated. In some cases the same types of jewels are displayed together, but there is no continuity in the sequences of design presented, in many cases different types of jewelry are presented across the same spread pages. This, however, is not necessarily a detriment. Rather, this discontinuity promotes “meandering,” for repeated enjoyment to discover inspiration in perusal, especially for jewelers. In every presentation the components of each piece are described as are, in some degree the processes involved in creating it. Lalique, of course, utilized many nonprecious materials in his work, such as semiprecious stones, ivory, horn, enamel and, certainly, the cast and carved glass for which he was later to become famous. It must also be realized that much of Lalique’s jewelry was not made to be worn but simply visually enjoyed and contemplated. Lalique frequently employed positive and negative space in his work and also used devices in which a human leg, for example, also became part of the horn of an animal. As strange as it may seem, the essence of Lalique’s work is not beauty but his almost constant controlled use of beauty, which, on close or longer inspection, becomes horror or ugliness. Yet, much of the work has the serenity and austerity of presentation derivative of Japanese interpretations of nature.

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A beautifully written and well-researched homage to the collector in general and to Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (Lalique’s patron) in particular is presented by Dr. Maria Teresa Gomes Ferreira, Director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, from which a large part of the examples of Lalique’s work were lent. Certainly, the early patronage of Gulbenkian, also known as “Mr. Five Percent” for his dealings in the early oil trade, was essential for Lalique’s initial success. An excellent background/biographical sketch of Lalique and his artistic times by Vivienne Becker is also presented.

In summation, all in all The Jewellery of René Lalique is a link to a difficult time of especial delight and foreboding as the centuries changed, much as we are experiencing now. Through the work Becker has produced, the modern jeweler can share in this time, become inspired, reflect and perhaps come to create anew.

– Mike Rosenthal

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Jewelry 7000 Years
An International History and Illustrated Survey from the Collections of the British Museum
Edited by Hugh Tait Abrams, NY, 1987
225 pp., illustrated, $37.50 hc

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When the British Museum opened in 1753, it already had on hand some extraordinary jewels such as the famed Phoenix Jewel, the gold pendant bust of Elizabeth I made in 1570-80 as well as designs by Hans Holbein the Younger. Thus, it is not a matter of surprise that this museum has preserved, and houses, a glorious collection of jewelry, commencing with the earliest pieces that represent man’s fascination with metals and minerals as a means of personal adornment. From 5000 B.C. to the present, from Europe to the Far East, Asia to Africa, the British Museum has assembled the glittering trophies of status and superstition, among them the most splendid in which men reveled.

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Jewelry 7000 Years is a mind-boggling panorama, yet a highly successful attempt to put between covers, in a succinct and pictorially enticing manner, the treasures and the knowledge thereof, housed in that behemoth on an institution. In fact, this volume is based on an earlier catalog that accompanied the exhibition “7000 Years of Jewellery” mounted in 1976 by Hugh Tait, Deputy Keeper of the Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities, and a world-renowned scholar. In its present, more beguiling format, with Mr. Tait as editor (as well as contributor of the sections on European Jewelry 1500-1700, Functional Finger Rings and Cameos in Jewelry, and European Jewelry 1700-1950), the work is a collaborative effort of 20 curators of 20 different departments. It includes 400 superb photographs and contains new material on the Hull Grundy collection, and the results of recent research. The text is a tour de force, which, although densely packed with information, is remarkable for clarity and concision. Every item discussed in the text is numbered, with easily matched and numbered illustrations (including the often-neglected dimensions of the pieces), and can be further studied in a detailed table of references for the illustrations. The annotation is so thorough that the sometimes distressing hunt is unnecessary here, and the reader’s attention can be firmly anchored to the jewelry being discussed.

The technical material offered is quite unusual. Tait, as he demonstrates in his new work The Waddesdon Bequest, a revolutionary scientific study of the Jewels in the famed Renaissance collection in the British Museum, is an expert in being able to blend the historian’s knowledge of the stylistic fingerprints of historic periods with precise technical analyses. In so doing, he and his colleagues perform an unusual service for craftspeople, opening doors into history that were heretofore sealed.

SNAG members will find themselves, happily, predated as far as 500 A.D. by organized fraternities of metalworkers in Central and South America, and even earlier by guilds of gold- and silversmiths, in Rome and other Mediterranean centers, as well, of course, by the medieval guilds.

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The artisanry of the jewelers’ ancestors, to point out just a few instances, forms an astonishing bond to cultures physically as well as historically remote. Niello, for instance, makes its first appearance around 27 B.C. In remote Peru, around 300 A.D., the Mochica knew embossing, hammering around molds, stretching and shaping with repeated annealing, sheathing and inlaying, plating, casting both solid and hollow objects. The hollow casting was done by cire perdue. The Celts, as early as 500 A.D., astonish with their virtuosity, as well marvel over the trappings of the Sutton Hoo Treasure. Their skill in cloisonné inlay has never been surpassed. Among their bag of tricks was the use of hatched gold foil beneath garnets, to reflect light through the stone. (The garnets themselves were cut into sheets, then wheel-cut into geometric shapes and adorned with gold inlay.)

In Dumbarton Oaks one can view a sister object in the study of opus interrasite, a method for highlighting the quality of gold with patterns cut out of the gold with a chisel, as in Roman times, and then pierced with a round awl, chased and carved, or cut through with tiny chisels, as in Byzantine jewelry.

Metallurgists will learn about “Tumbago,” the warm golden color, which, to metallurgists of another time, exemplified in the making of “sacred” gold from a base metal, a concern with the relationship of deities to natural phenomena. Thus, when acid ate away the copper with an alloy, the resulting pure color was confirmation of the belief that the external must reflect the fundamental nature of the material world.

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Such concerns aside, it is humbling and comforting, as well as sometimes amusing, to have demonstrated the symbols and forms that have been in man’s inventory from the beginning of humanly determined time. The reel knot, a prominent motif in Hellenistic and Roman times, actually comes from Egypt, as an amulet, around 2000 B.C. (see #16, also #187). Add the snake, the sunburst, the torc and, indeed, not only the heart shape, but the bean shape. The Holy Thorn Reliquary (#509), closed, is a prototype of Elsa Perreti’s popular item. Open, it is a work that astonishes. See also the Calderesque ensemble on page 51, #108; note the dates and be amazed.

There are other entertainments as well; a cautionary quote from “The Lapidary of Sir John Mondeville”: “a good diamond often loses its virtues by the sins of him who bears it.” It is tempting to imagine a society where morality could be signaled by its jewels!

And for those whose pleasure it is to search for professional roots, there is the wonderful Flemish painting by Petrus Christus, painted in 1544, portraying a wealthy couple with St. Eligius, the goldsmith’s patron, in the shop of a jewel goldsmith, replete with the evidence of the trade.

These are but a few of the offerings of this almost inexhaustible compendium. For the layman or the scholar, Jewelry 7000 Years is an essential companion. It is a treasury to feed the eye and fuel the imagination. There are two bibliographies, one for the general reader, and another for those wishing to pursue more scholarly information.

“Would you want your son to be a jewelry historian?” This is not a facetious question, but rather a disturbing one, since thus far the bulk of the scholarship in the field comes from across the ocean. One can only hope that as jewelry studies expand in this country we can look to more serious studies emanating from this side of the Atlantic, doing the honors for the jewelry housed in our museums.

– Jean Appleton
Director, Jewelry Design Resource at The Fashion Institute of Technology
Founder of the Society of Jewelry Historians, U.S.A.

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Disegni su titanio/Designs on Titanium
Colori su titanio/Colors on Titanium
Movimenti su titanio/Movements on Titanium
by Pietro Pedelerri
Published by Clup, Milano, Italy, 1981-84
Text in English and Italian

I first heard of this set of books during the 1984, New York Society of North American Goldsmiths’ conference. I had long looked forward to the opportunity to read them. Ah, but as in so many things, a little bit of hipe goes a long way. I found myself gravely disappointed in what was touted to be the definitive work on the reactive metals.

The disappointments begin with the photography. I should say first that the pictures are interesting to look at, in fact, many are quite beautiful. But, those that are in color are reproduced in dull flat inks that have no relation to the brilliance and depth that this media is capable of generating. They are also, in many cases, black and white! We are given no indication of the size of the work and, worse, none of it is jewelry or even vaguely identified. Are we looking at full size works of art or micrographs? There is a hint in the introduction to the third book that they all may be only centimeters and less in size.

The author stales in the introduction to the first book that he intends to share with us both the theory and practice of coloring titanium. The language is romantic, flowery and filled with paragraph-long sentences that leave the mind in a whirl. Much of the information on the anodizing process and the equipment would require a chemical engineer or an electrical engineer (or better yet, one of each) to interpret. What we apparently do have is an excellent monograph on the anodizing process as a tool for the study of fluid dynamics. The engineering information and the actual titanium work deal with recording the motion of fluids on the surface of titanium. Pulsating electrical currents are used to record the wave front of a fluid as it moves. It produces some exceptional visual effects but little in the way of expanding the artistic potentials of this medium.

In conclusion, I found these books interesting to wade through. And I do mean wade! For the artist already working in this media this work is a curious deviation. But I would not recommend the books to an artist wishing to learn about anodizing the reactive metals. The information is elsewhere, in easier to understand form. True, there is little written on this subject to date, but these books could be more of a hindrance to an aspiring artist than a help.

– Bill Seeley

By Metalsmith Magazine
Metalsmith Magazine - 1988 Summer
In association with SNAG's
Metalsmith magazine, founded in 1980, is an award winning publication and the only magazine in America devoted to the metal arts.
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