Jewellery Design History
“Jewellery designers conceptualise, prototype and detail for manufacture items of jewellery such as rings, brooches, bracelets, necklaces, watches, eyewear and ear rings. They have specialised knowledge of the metals, jewels, precious stones and other materials associated with personal adornment. They may develop designs for mass or batch production or they may develop special items to satisfy one-off commissions. They may also design other objects that use precious metals and jewelled decoration such as trophies, goblets, silverware and cutlery. They explore solutions to meet marketing, manufacturing and financial requirements and arrive at the optimum design of a product.” Design Institute of Australia
Jewellery Designer Sydney: The Beginning
IN THE BEGINNING
People have worn jewellery forever, from the start of human history at least seven thousand years ago in the earliest settlements in Mesopotamia and Egypt, and the amazing thing is that the materials have hardly changed over the centuries: shells, stones, beads, bones and branches to begin with, carved, engraved and cut with fragments of emery and flint, and strung on flax or cow hair. Then they started to paint and enamel them. Learning how to work metal was an important stage and the craftsmen became goldsmiths too and even minted coins. Between the 16th and 11th centuries BC gold and silver were worked and inlaid with locally found semiprecious stones such as turquoise and agate.
Jewellery was always personal adornment, and projected status and religious significance, culture and protection. It was often buried in graves and offered to temples, so that most archaeological jewellery comes from tombs and hoards in the Middle East and Asia.
The first gemstone was cut in Europe in the 11th century, probably by a monk called Theophilus Prestbyter, and by the 14th century medieval technology had evolved to produce cameos and cabochons. At that time jewellery was mainly commissioned by the Church and the aristocracy. Enamel came into its own in the Middle Ages, when the Byzantines’ use of cloisonné was copied and used to create pieces, leading up to the Baroque style demonstrating wealth, status and power.
In fact, little has changed as far as references, techniques and materials are concerned, except that traditionally jewels were perceived to be rare, exquisite and holy, whereas today styles and trends have mingled and are no longer clearly divided or describable. They are affected by social and economic issues and by styles around us from artworks to buildings to clothes.
Nowadays, jewellery designers work in metals, woods and stones, and still create wearable art, but they no long have to spend unending hours hand-drawing designs and blueprints. They are professionals who are technically trained to understand the fabrication and composition of jewellery, its precision and complexity as well as its wearability and current trends, and can sketch or use a computer with CAD software and 3D printing technology to turn inspiration into fact. CAD technology makes unique pieces more affordable.
Good jewellery design should save time and money — and build up a brand. A jeweller needs a theme, and to consider the relationship between different pieces, whether they are for a complete collection or for an individual whose whole look counts. The materials used should complement each other — and every piece should tell a story. Quality must be consistent and the look should be professional and cohesive, never untidy, uneven or overpowering. Show clients what they want to see or design it for them, but make each piece tie in and harmonize with the next. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture or focus on too small or too varied a market — and don’t try to please everyone either. For a bespoke design a designer has to think of everything: the purpose of the piece and how often it will be worn, the colours, style shape, period, should it be adaptable for multiple use, must it be childproof, what ring would suit that hand and that finger, will a pendant be worn on a long or short chain or beads…
It’s essential to look at last year’s sales — and costs and profit. How much does each design cost to make? How long do you spend on it? Can you find the materials? Can you deliver to schedule? Are you producing too many or too few of the same item? Is there a problem with breakages? Which pieces bring in the most returns? Should you use new materials and techniques? You need to find a balance.
THE GREAT NAMES
Looking back at some of the greatest, most memorable and inspiring designers of the 19th and 20th centuries, of course Fabergé, Goldsmith by special appointment to the Imperial Crown, and especially famous for his Easter eggs, which the Russian Imperial Tsars gave the Tsarinas between 1885 and the Russian Revolution in 1917, springs to mind. The House of Fabergé also made hardstone, enamel and rock crystal carvings of people, animals and flowers, boxes, jewellery, photograph frames walking sticks and even doorbells. It won awards internationally and became the largest jewellery firm in Russia, employing over 500 craftsmen and designers, with branches in Moscow, Odessa, Kiev and London, but the family had to flee when the business was nationalised by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Two sons opened Fabergé Paris in 1924, and that operated until 2001. Famous collectors of Fabergé pieces range from Armand Hammer, Edmond Safra and Malcolm Forbes to Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Rivers.
In Paris at the same time, Cartier, a family business from 1847 until 1964, made jewellery and watches and was best known for its panther watches and brooches, the abstract dot pattern of which later speckled many other pieces, and Tank watches. King Edward VII of England called Cartier “the jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers” and ordered 27 tiaras from them for his coronation. The Duchess of Windsor, Princess Nina Aga Khan and Barbara Hutton collected whole suites of panthers. In 1972 a group of investors bought Cartier and the President, Robert Hocq created “Les Must de Cartier”. It now operates more than 200 shops in 125 countries.
The roots of Chaumet were planted in Paris even earlier, in 1780 by Marie-Etienne Nitot, who made the jewellery for Napoleon’s marriages to both Josephine de Beauharnais and Marie-Louise de Hapsburg-Lorraine. When Napoleon was exiled, Nitot sold the business to his foreman, who opened a shop in London in 1848 where even Queen Victoria became a client. In 1907 the workshops and boutique were established at 12 place Vendôme, where they still are. In 1970 they took over Breguet watches, and in 1999 Chaumet itself, after various ups and downs, was taken over by LVMH. Chaumet is known for making models of commissions in nickel silver to show the client before actually making the piece.
Tiffany started out in 1837 as a ‘stationery and fancy goods emporium’, and only started to concentrate on jewellery in 1853. It was one of the first shops to put prices on its goods to prevent haggling — and it only accepted cash, no credit given. Its flagship store has been at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in New York since 1940, and has starred in films including Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Audrey Hepburn and Sweet Home Alabama with Reese Witherspoon. Although famous for engagement rings, Tiffany has a policy of never buying back diamonds. It was greatly due to a Tiffany gemmologist, George Frederick Kunz, that the metric carat was adopted as the weight standard for gems.
Van Cleef & Arpels was founded in Paris in 1896 by Alfred Van Cleef and his uncle, Salomon Arpels, and 10 years later, after Salomon’s death, Van Cleef and his two Arpels brothers-in-law opened their first boutique, opposite the Ritz Hotel at 22 Place Vendome. In 1933, they patented their “mystery setting”, a technique where each stone is faceted onto rails of less than 2/10mm. Each piece takes about 300 hours to make. In 1966 Van Cleef & Arpels made the crown for Empress Farah Pahlavi of Iran’s coronation. Other clients were the Duchess of Windsor, Grace Kelly, Eva Peron and Elizabeth Taylor. They brought out their signature Alhambra necklace in 1968. The Compagnie Financière Richemont S.A. bought the company in 1999 and opened a shop in Melbourne in 2016 and in Sydney in 2017.
In the 1930s, Duke Fulco di Verdura worked for Chanel and, when he redesigned the jewellery her ex-lovers had given her, his Maltese Cross Cuff became her signature look. In 1939 he opened a salon in New York, on Fifth Avenue, where he was the first designer to create everyday jewellery with coloured stones and coins set in yellow gold, and to use shells. Famous clients ranged from Cole Porter to Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, and his work has inspired designers such as Angela Cummings, Kenneth Jay Lane and Paloma Picasso.
Harry Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian in 1958. His parents had immigrated to New York from the Ukraine and built up a small jewellery business. When Harry was 12 he bought a 2-carat emerald in a pawnshop for 25 cents, and sold it two days later for US$800. He opened his own business in 1920, but his empire only started when he was 30 and bought Arabella Huntington’s jewellery collection for US$1.2 million. It was old-fashioned, and so he redesigned the pieces. In 1974 he bought a large parcel of diamonds worth $24,500,000 through de Beers — at that time the largest individual sale of diamonds in history. When he died in 1978, his sons fought over the company for 10 years.
Andrew Grima, who was born in Rome of Italian-Maltese parents, was the foremost modern jewellery designer in London in the 1960s and ‘70s. He had never trained as a jeweller, so was not constrained by jewellery ‘rules’ when he joined his father-in-law’s business. The British Royal Family were his clients, as were Barbara Hepworth and Jackie Onassis. He liked big and bold, and textured gold, and would cast anything that caught his fancy from leaves to pencil shavings to achieve his realistic designs.
He was very popular in Australia and one of his necklaces was on the cover of Kayser Pantyhose for over 20 years. Original pieces come up frequently at Australian jewellery auctions and the term ‘Grima-inspired’ is well known to Australian jewellery appraisers.
Jewellery Designs Sydney
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In Australia the Jewellery Design Awards celebrate the industry’s most talented manufacturing jewellers, bringing together some of Australia and New Zealand’s best imagination and design aptitude.
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