Never realised how much I’d missed the sparkle of diamonds and the smoulder of yellow gold until last week. As you know I’ve darted like a hummingbird in and out of the fine jewellery business for many years. Of late I’ve had less call to keep in touch with the London jewellers. A recent commission to write about Graff’s diamond watches was closely followed by the invitation to shoot a portfolio of men’s dress jewellery for the World Gold Council’s LoveGold website.
The temptation is of course to rely entirely on London’s antique jewellery dealers such as historic houses Wartski and Hancocks and bright young things such as Lucas Rarities. I wanted the balance of antique masterpieces and contemporary design that will in time be future heirlooms. It’s an interesting discipline to find a collection of pieces designed over one hundred years apart that somehow compliment each other.
All eyes seem to be on men’s jewellery design at the moment. The business has seen how much a man will spend on a watch and would like to redirect some of that cash to rings, bracelets and pendants. I’m a great believer in the old Vreeland adage ‘give them what they never knew they wanted’ and concentrated instead on cuff links and lapel pins/brooches to be worn with black tie, smoking jackets and cocktail suits.
Instead of viewing jewellery as an accessory, I wanted to propose that a man’s best dress jewellery should be purchased in a ‘do it once and do it well’ spirit. You’re looking for an item of equal value financially, sentimentally and artistically.
Wartski on Grafton Street is a treasure house for exceptional artist jewels from the major marques not least Fabergé. I won’t spoil it by telling you what I chose but the pieces all had character and wit that I hope speaks to a stylish male. Hancocks in the Burlington Arcade has in its collection pieces from Cartier’s golden Art Deco age that never fail to charm. Sam Loxon at Lucas Rarities always sees beyond the historic value of a piece of jewellery. Would a contemporary man want to wear a David Webb design from the 50s? They would if Mr Loxon has made the choice.
Can’t tell you how much I enjoyed spending an hour with Theo Fennell. Theo is one of the few contemporary fine jewellers who understands the old fashioned relationship between a client and craftsman. There may be wealth in the world today that would make a Romanov Grand Duchess look like the little match girl but it rarely comes with exquisite taste any more.
Solange Azagury-Partridge was in New York when I popped into the shop but what I loved was the way Daniel in the Carlos Place townhouse totally got into the story and recommended ingenious ways of adapting a pendant design into a lapel pin. What can one say about Shaun Leane? He’s now moved uptown from Hatton Garden to off-Bond Street and I think his jewellery is becoming ever more refined without losing the strength of design and purity of vision. We chose two brooches that when placed against a black grosgrain DJ lapel were magic. I can’t say more or LoveGold will indeed do a Shirley Eaton on me.
Who completed our edit of golden London-based jewellers? It is impossible to do a shoot about the hard stuff without Wright & Teague. I adore Sheila and Gary’s jewellery. You know some pieces – especially when gem-set – are rather stand offish? With Wright & Teague you want to touch and preferably never put down again. Biggest privilege hands down when researching for LoveGold was the chance to meet the late Andrew Grima’s wife Jojo and daughter Francesca again.
Grima is without doubt one of the most creative jewellers that ever lived. You cannot mistake his work for anyone else’s unless they were trying to copy him and many did. There’s something utterly fearless about Grima’s use of gemstones but it is the way he literally spins gold into these naturalistic, three-dimensional shapes that has never been replicated. Mrs Grima and Francesca design pieces under the Grima marque made by the craftsmen who realised his masterpieces in the 60s and 70s.
Well once the selection was made all we had to do was arrange for tens of thousands of pounds-worth of yellow gold and gemstones to be delivered and removed from Henry Poole & Co last Monday on the day’s shoot. I was fortunate to be working with the rather brilliant Luke Carby. Luke and I have shot a couple of stories for The Rake and I do appreciate a photographer who is placid, methodical and totally without the usual swagger. We shot over twenty set-ups in less than eight hours and pretty glorious they looked too.
The shots I’m sending you are my amateur happy snaps to record the day and test a couple of ideas. As soon as the shoot is live I will let you know. As if you didn’t know, we shot at Henry Poole because my alma mater cut the first dinner jacket for Edward VII (when Prince of Wales) in 1865. I know many arbiters of style think diamonds and platinum are purer and more suited to evening dress. I hope our shoot will prove the opposite and that yellow gold is the cat’s meow (or perhaps lion’s roar) of men’s dress jewellery.