One of the greatest pleasures for an author is the moment when advance copies of work that has taken the best part of a year to write and photograph finally lands in Thames & Hudson’s office in London. You can see the layouts on screen for months and even get the proof print-out but nothing quite prepares for the images printed on high quality glossy paper with all the layouts as pristine as you would have hoped.
Jewelry for Gentlemen – so titled because it is one of Thames & Hudson’s conventions to take the American spelling for jewelry – landed at Bloomsbury Towers a couple of days ago. I am absolutely thrilled with the result because I think we’ve really gone in deep into uncharted territory: the black tie brooch, the stickpin as lapel decoration, gem-set cufflinks and contemporary jewellery collections by the greats Shaun Leane, Theo Fennell, Stephen Webster, Solange Azagury-Partridge and David Yurman.
We’ve got antique and modern pieces by the masters – Cartier, Tiffany & Co, Van Cleef & Arpels and Boucheron – and pieces of jewellery made for the last Tsar of Russia, the Maharaja of Patiala, Cole Porter, Winston Churchill and Marlon Brando. Thanks to antique jewellers Bentley & Skinner, Hancocks, Wartski, Lucas Rarities and Harry Fane I was loaned pieces by Fabergé, Paul Flato, Fulco di Verdura and Pierre Sterlé to style on the best of British bespoke tailoring courtesy of Henry Poole, Turnbull & Asser and Sir Tom Baker.
Getting an early copy when publication isn’t until the end of August is rather like delivering a baby or getting a new pup and not being able to let it out of the house for two months. Needless to say, this doesn’t stop me showing the advance copy to all of the jewellers or from signing review copies for friendly magazine and newspaper journalists.
Jewelry for Gentlemen is a return to a subject I covered in newsprint and the glossies for many years that took second place when I was fully immersed in Savile Row. The purpose for the book was not only to show off the incredible contemporary jewellers dedicating their talents to men but also to reimagine antique jewels that might have been set for women in a world where there is much more fluidity in taste and less judgement about what constitutes a man’s jewel or a woman’s.
This doesn’t mean that I have been photographing tiaras on male models even though a precedent for that has been set. What I chose to concentrate on was the naturalistic style of brooch popular in the late Victorian era – the bees, spiders, starbursts and floral motifs – that have legitimacy of scale and design to be worn with pride on a man’s lapel. I was also interested in how a jewel such as a stickpin – originally created to hold the folds of a cravat – can migrate to decorate the cape of a cocktail suit or black tie.
Jewelry for Gentlemen is a risk as was Savile Row when I wrote it. There is a similar buzz in the media about jewellery for men and I was able to find exquisite photographs of contemporary idols such as Lewis Hamilton, Alexander Skarsgard, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pine, Jared Leto and John Hamm who are all early adopters of seriously good men’s jewellery. I was also seeing a boom in high street costume jewellery for the young that falls into a similar category as a tattoo … only body adornment that you can take off at the end of an evening.
The book made some bold choices and doesn’t shy away from expensive pieces by great historic jewel houses that already have great value on the secondary market. The mission was to inspire men as well as reflecting what is happening in the broader cultures around the world. What I was keen to establish was that whatever culture you consider be that imperial Chinese, Romanov Russian or Victorian England there could always be found a strong tradition of male adornment in precious metals and gemstones.
What I don’t see is men being furnished with a jewellery wardrobe like the Duchess of Windsor or Elizabeth Taylor. Men tend to wear pieces of huge sentimental value be that old family jewellery or pieces bought by spouses of both sexes. This hit home to me when, at the beginning of the year, I had a sizeable amount of family jewellery stolen from my apartment. To borrow a Harry Potterism, it was like destroying my horcruxes: losing items of jewellery that were so important to me that they had become a part of daily life and external indications of who I am.
I suppose the onus now is on re-building a collection of precious jewellery and re-making an exceptional diamond and ruby ring that had belonged to my grandmother. I rarely took that ring off my finger and it was fated that the night I chose to wear silver instead was the evening of the first burglary. I’m still trying to get over the loss and won’t fully until I commission one of the jewellers in the book to bring the piece back to life.
What I’d like is for the book to be embraced by the fashion industry and fashion and jewellery colleges as well as dedicated collectors of men’s jewellery. The tone is a ‘yes you can’ rather than a ‘so you should’ and I think that’s appropriate in a day and age when there are so few limits on self-expression. What I’d really love is for the book to inspire men (and women) to commission jewels special to them. If this is the case then my work has been worthwhile.