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  1. Luxury
July 5, 2012updated 29 Jan 2016 5:55pm

Why Jewellery is the Eighth Art

By Nicholas Foulkes

Diamond Geezer Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, Elizabeth Taylor their love of bling has nothing on Nick Foulkes’. It’s all the fault of those darn artists we call jewellers!

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Diamond Geezer

Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, Elizabeth Taylor — their love of bling has nothing on Nick Foulkes’. It’s all the fault of those darn artists we call jewellers!

FOR THE PAST couple of months I have been spending more time than usual in Venice, as I have been researching a book about the Venetian jeweller Nardi. Over this time I have come to the conclusion that jewellers are like football teams — at least, they are what I have in lieu of an affiliation to one or other of the équipes de foot.

It seems that in Venice you are either a devotee of Codognato or Nardi, much as Glaswegians tend to define themselves as Rangers or Celtic fans. Had I not bought some Nardi pieces at auction, and had I not strayed across their threshold in 2009 and bought a pair of bold gold and turquoise cufflinks, I might well have become a Codognato fanatic. But as it was I was seduced by Nardi and will probably be a Nardi man to my death.

For some inexplicable reason I feel a sense of absurd loyalty to those jewellers that I like and by whose work I am moved. It is all about the memory — just as a football fan will, on his deathbed, think fondly of the day his team kicked a ball about a little more dextrously that another bunch of overpaid athletes, so I will be able to look at certain items and use them as keys to unlock the vaults of my memories.

I believe there is already not so much a neural pathway as a superhighway of associative thought that will for ever bind my memories of Venice not to the Doge’s Palace, nor to the Grand Canal, but to the nugget-like objects that link the cuffs of my Charvet and Emma Willis shirts. I suppose it is just as well that I am hampered by the bourgeois constraints of gender stereotyping that stop me covering my body in brooches and bracelets, pendants and pins, as I would probably have bankrupted myself in my magpie-like pursuit of bright, shining gewgaws.

Jewellery is of course a big subject and I am only just beginning to learn about it. Happily, I am in the position of knowing some of the world’s best teachers — for instance, I have Caroline Scheufele to thank for vouchsafing me the opportunity to hold an emerald from the Muso mine that was the the size of a baked potato. Muso, I discovered, is the Clos de Vougeot or Clos du Mesnil of this verdant gemstone, and as I held the hunk of crystalline mineral aloft and watched the sunlight catching its roughly faceted surfaces I was transfixed.

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Caroline has more or less singlehandedly built a high jewellery business for her family firm of Chopard, which, when her family bought it, was a rather dusty Swiss watchmaker. She has more than blown the dust off things and operates what I fondly refer to as a freewheeling international circus, of which she is the glamorous ringmistress. So it is rather appropriate that I encountered this monster gem on the Chopard Terrace on the top floor of the Martinez hotel during the Cannes Film Festival — and, if I am honest, I must admit that I associate Cannes more with jewellery than with the ‘seventh art’ of cinema.

As well as an emerald almost as big as the Martinez, Cannes will for ever be evoked by a pair of Van Cleef & Arpels cufflinks that my wife bought me for my 40th birthday in the charming antiques boutique in the Carlton hotel. This link has been further strengthened by the juxtaposition of Cannes, Van Cleef & Arpels (and, if I recall, a Rolls-Royce Corniche) in the opening pages of the Meisterwerk of the jet-set Dickens, The Pirate by Harold Robbins. It is also through my wife that I came to know and love Cartier, as she worked there and I cannot look at a vintage Cartier watch without thinking of her.

YOU SEE, I believe jewellery evokes an emotional response and, like any other art, it is founded on the mastery of various technical skills which in the expression of human genius achieve transcendence.

But I find it somehow comforting to know, when I look at a piece of vintage mystery set jewellery by Van Cleef & Arpels, that some mid-century craftsman working in an atelier above the Place Vendôme brought the raw materials of metals and gem stones to glittering life. I challenge anyone with a vestige of aesthetic sensibility to look at such pieces and deny that precious metals and rare stones are a medium every bit as subtle and evocative as the oils and canvas of a painter or the stone used by a sculptor.

Already the sales of jewellery are treated by the major auction houses with the same gravitas as the disposal of major collections of paintings. And at this year’s Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris I expect the most impressive stands will be those erected by the major jewellery houses.

I wonder, then, how long it will be before jewellery is anointed as the eighth art… and I hope that when it is duly dignified with the halo of cultural significance, perhaps I can get away with wearing more of it.

Read more by Nick Foulkes

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