You must have thought I’d been white slaved to Latin America. Well sorry to disappoint. How the devil have you been? The reason I went all Imitation Game on friends and family is twofold. I have stopped smoking – to which my nearest and dearest always reply ‘they said that about Mount Etna’ – and have commenced the descent to landing with this year’s book James Sherwood’s Discriminating Guide to London. We’ve experienced some delays and good God Rowley we’ve had plenty of turbulence but at last we’re at the start of the finish.
Usually with one of my Thames & Hudson books the pace of writing is dictated by the starting date for picture layouts and editing. The Discriminating Guide being largely golden prose and illustrations, it’s been more of a long distance run than a sprint. Thus it has been a rare pleasure this year to step away from the smoking laptop and work in three dimensions just for a change of pace. You know I love words but I also adore working with and occasionally creating pictures.
Highlight of 2014 image making was a commission to select and style two collections of yellow gold men’s dress jewellery for LoveGold. I showed you some of the outtakes from the cufflink still life portfolio in my last letter. Here are a few of the devilishly handsome gold lapel pins and brooches my talented snapper Luke Carby shot on beautifully tailored Henry Poole & Co DJ lapels. I fell for so many of these pieces I’ve decided to ask for all invoices paid in 18ct gold next year. Can’t trust the pound, Rowley, and as for the Euro…
Of the contemporary jewellers that make my monocle steam up I always return to Wright & Teague. As I said in the LoveGold feature you could put a piece of Wright & Teague in the British Museum and it would be amongst friends. You could put W&T in a modern art gallery and it would shine. We do have such talented jewellers in London right now.
Of the antique pieces I was drawn to the work of New York and Hollywood society jeweller Paul Flato. Flato opened on Sunset Boulevard in the early 1930s, employed Chanel’s brilliant jeweller Count Fulco di Verdura and was beloved by the great silver screen goddesses Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford. I adore – adore! – his 18ct yellow gold and diamond hands that we borrowed from Hancocks in the Burlington Arcade and the 14ct yellow gold chevron brooch dotted with sapphires and rubies acquired by Lucas Rarities.
Flato was an Icarus of 20th century jewellery design. He was charged with defrauding and pawning $100,000 worth of his clients’ jewels in 1943 and served time in Sing Sing. I couldn’t have been more surprised if you’d told me that Louis Comfort Tiffany did time in the Bastille…especially since it was stormed way before he was born. That said there’s one or two jewellers in London who I am amazed haven’t had their collars felt.
Last week I had a charming invitation from Lucas Rarities founder Sam Loxton to join his table at the Silversmiths & Jewellers charity dinner held annually in the RAC Club on Pall Mall. I’m no stranger to the Bespoke Tailors’ Benevolent Association bi-annual dinners in the City and they tend to be quite sedate – if not stultifying – affairs. Not the jewellers! The RAC dinner was as bawdy and rowdy as a night at the Wheeltappers & Shunters Social Club hosted by Bernard Manning and Ten Ton Tessie O’Shay. To quote Coward, I couldn’t have liked it more.
Whereas the tailors have raffle prizes such as a glove from Anderson & Sheppard’s haberdashery or half a yard of tweed from Harris the jewellers’ auction prizes were of the sort you’d trample over small children and their pets to win a la Black Friday. A private view of the Crown Jewels and tour of the unseen Tower of London? Cases of fine wine from Berry Bros? A bar of solid silver? Envelopes full of notes? It was like a Corleone wedding.
Highlight of the night bar none was Phil Tufnell’s after dinner speech. I tell you Rowley he came out with one liners that would make Bernard Manning sound like Patience Strong. He’s got the stand up polari off to a tee – cleverly opting for a Q&A format – and did a superb impersonation of Bruno Tonioni (all eyes popping and lascivious licking of lips) miming what Tuffers would have to do to get a perfect 10 on Strictly Come Dancing. Tuffers casually mentioned that he never got a ten from Bruno. Matt Dawson got three.
Best joke of the evening was Mr Tuffnell’s riff about the heinous food trials on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here whereby ‘Slebs’ desperate for attention and applause eat unspeakable parts of Antipodean mammals, reptiles and insects. ‘For the next series’, says Tuffers, ‘they’re going to make a kangaroo eat one of Fatima Whitbread’s testicles…’. I tell you goldsmiths and silversmiths are an absolute riot. Perhaps the bosses set the tone at the tailors’ bash whereas here it was all about the craftsmen having a ball and filling their boots. Honoured to be amongst them.
I can’t end this letter without a word about the late, great P. D. James. Phyllis James was fond of quoting Graeme Greene who famously said a writer had to have a sliver of ice in the heart in order to observe humanity. I think Greene is right. But I also think a writer needs an appreciation for the absurdity of life because without that we’d all go loop-the-loop.