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By  M a g g i e   S n e l l

____________________________________________________________

Now we've got this Millennium thing out of the way, and we realise that 2001 is not much different than 1999 (apart from the lousy weather) how does this effect the way we look at the jewellery we collect.

Well, every piece we own was made in the last century and, suddenly, they stop being mere collectibles and become antique, and those made in the 19th century are, wow, 200 years old and positively ancient.

Yes, I know the figures don't add up but "made in the last century" certainly adds a cache that will improve even more with the years. We're talking perception here, and fashion, and the collective consciousness that somehow decides that an individual piece or designer had now stood the test of time and is, therefore, rare, desirable and hopefully valuable.

I've thought long and hard for some years how out of, say, the classes of '62 to '70 at some Scandinavian art colleges for example, just a bare handful of names come through. Who decides who they are and what happened to all those hundreds who history doesn't record? And who, among contemporary designers working today in commercial and studio settings, will our children's children be collecting in 50 year's time?

Towards the end of last year I visited a couple of exhibitions at Goldsmiths' Hall, the barometer of contemporary modern silver style in the City of London.

The first was a selling exhibition and showcase for practising jewellers. To say I was singularly underwhelmed is an understatement. There was quality, enthusiasm and commercialism in abundance but little cutting-edge design that gave a hint of styles to come. And selling prices were considerably higher than the vintage recognisable designs that you can buy from even knowledgeable dealers at quality antiques fairs.

Maybe the next exhibition, the best of the final year shows of jewellery design from Britain's Art Colleges and Universities, would be more arty and original. Again there was some lovely stuff, beautifully crafted and made, but hardly pushing the boundaries.

Predominantly silver, as I forecast in my last article-but maybe gold was beyond the finances of the British education system-a little Perspex and hardly any bronze or copper. I wasn't looking for something I personally liked and would buy to wear. Just something that stood out from the crowd.

It was there but I didn't spot it myself. A couple of men in suits who were on the same search as me were discussing the offerings. They seemed as bored as I was. Then one pointed to a pair of anonymous-looking earrings in a glass case. "Those are interesting", he said, and explained how the designer had borrowed a technique used in computer technology that had only been developed a year or two before, but had distorted it somewhat to make an original design of her own. The result wasn't outrageous, over the top, shocking or even noticeable. Just pair of pretty, long, airy earrings in an open honeycomb design in a warm gilded tone and, being light, very wearable. I hope the men in suits were talent spotters who had found a Wendy Ramshaw in the making.

It isn't necessarily any one individual who decides what the new craze or future collectable will be, but collectors, dealers, students of design. And I mean this in its widest sense: all who enquire and study are students. Also educators, writers, the media promote ideas some of which gain prominence. If someone isn't known about or gets left out, for whatever reason, he or she is ignored until some future date when someone whose opinion is respected resurrects the artist and says: "Look, there's something important going on here, let's look at it again." And suddenly a new name becomes fashionable.

Whose explanation is right and whose is wrong just doesn't come into it. It is an open-ended, ever-evolving question with multi-faceted explanations from which one can make a choice or choices. And there appears to be a time delay between the origin of what is, for want of a better word, a new "design" and its acceptance, sometimes a couple of generations or more after its initial appearance.

All this is a lot of speculation with nothing to back it up. So when we're looking for something to collect do we look to more educated opinion to back up our own gut feelings or check out what is already out there and compare and contrast the two? Or do we just go and look what's out there? Or do we just buy what we like and consequences be dammed?

Going out on a limb and finding a designer or artist before the rest of the world catches on is more fun, easier to find and a lot cheaper than competing in a crowded field. You may hit a brick wall, don't know where to look, where to start, and who to believe. Either there is no information or you are overwhelmed with papers, books, notes and price guides.

So where do you start?

You start with what you like, what you believe in, what you enjoy. You walk to no-one's drummer but your own and the beating of your own heart.

You may kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. But find him you will. And before you know it you will have a collection all of  your own making that you can be justifiably proud of at a fraction of the cost of those who need an "expert" to hold their hand and tell them what's currently a good investment.

 Maggie Snell
is a London- based antiques dealer who has specialised in Victorian technology for more than 20 years. She has a world-class collection of antique and toy sewing machines, and edits an international journal on the subject with subscribers in 16 countries, the largest group being American. She has collected '60s and '70s jewellery for 10 years and has a special fondness for Scandinavian abstract, particularly Bjorn Weckstrom's Space Series Jewellery.

E-mail: maggie@ismacs.u-net.com

Web site: http://www.sew-sales.com

Text Copyright © Maggie Snell
Photograph courtesy  Maggie Snell
Web design by Marbeth Schon

Design Copyright ©Modern Silver Magazine October 2000

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