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By  M a g g i e   S n e l l

The Word on the Street is Discreet


When Good Queen Bess was running England, Shakespeare writing his plays and Columbus was about to or had just discovered America, the message was “if you've got it, flaunt it”.

The first Elizabeth's favourite jewels of choice were pearls. She wore them everywhere, woven into her hair and sewn onto the bodices, big skirts and huge wing-like collars of her dresses. She was a rich powerful bitch with attitude, and wore her wealth on her person to prove it. She also had an army and armed camp followers to protect her so I bet that even the tiniest seed pearl was safe.

This century a string or two of pearls together with the ubiquitous twinset (cashmere jumper and matching cardigan in non-intrusive pink or blue) were for years, at least until the 1970s, a required uniform with English middle-class through aristocracy of all ages.

 When our present Queen Elizabeth isn't opening Parliament or something with a whopping great crown of state on her head, she can often be seen in daytime hours wearing a simple two or three-row pearl necklace. In fact both she and her 100-year-old Queen Mother, another Elizabeth, wore pearls to the opening day of the Chelsea Flower Show in May this year. And former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is again on the campaign trail for our imminent general election, complete with a single strand round her neck and bigger single versions in her ears.

 Not the trendiest of jewels maybe, but they still seem to make a statement: I'm rich and powerful, but I'm not going to flaunt it. Mind you, the three mentioned are all over 70 years of age.

So why my sudden interest in pearls?  I learned on a radio show recently that the mussel beds in Scotland from where many superior natural pearls have been garnered over many years are now on the endangered-species list. The beds are heavily policed and anyone caught could be fined up to $5000 for each and every mussel taken, regardless of whether or not they contain pearls. Environmentalists stated that a generation of non-interference could pass before things return to normal.

So the old saying “a pearl of great price” may again become relevant, and pearls become one of the rare and sought-after gems that influential jewellers use in specially-commissioned—and expensive—designer pieces.

On the other hand the image of gold has been getting a bit tarnished, a bit flash, now more popular among geezer chic, the type of men personified in Madonna’s husband Guy Ritchie’s film Snatch than by royalty as in past centuries and even millennia.

In May there was a reception in London organised by the World Gold Council to re-launch gold which it felt was losing out in prestige and exclusivity to other precious metals such as platinum. Even silver and white gold seemed more popular with paying customers with cheaper 10-carat gold items proliferating in the mass market depreciating the perceived value of the real stuff.

In its attempt to gain market share, gold is having a makeover and rap, sports and film stars are being courted to give it a higher profile as well as designers and people who influence fashion trends. Theory is they want to promote the idea to those that will be creative with gold and come up with new designs concepts and ideas.

 Though, a spokesman said, they weren’t just looking for immediate fashion gratification. Gold has been around for thousands of years and the World Gold Council had a long-term goal in wanting wearers to feel the same emotional value about it as they did before the glitz years of the 1980s.

He actually said it was “how you feel inside about your (treasure) as much as what it looks like to others that matters”—so presumably we can expect it to remain popular for engagement and wedding rings. Put another way, I guess we’re talking yet another marketing ploy to sell items made of gold by way of designer chic and the feel-good factor. You may remember that De Beers hired consultants a couple of years ago to raise the profile of diamonds—a diamond is forever!

Earlier the same day the Goldsmiths’ Company, who philanthropically promotes good design using precious metals, held a Press preview of the 19th annual selling exhibition to be held at Goldsmiths’ Hall this coming October. A select few of the 80 or so of the contemporary jewellery designers and makers who will take part exhibited their designs for the media.

However, I’m still having difficulty pinning down what people who like contemporary jewellery are choosing to buy and wear these days despite the Goldsmiths’ Press release suggestion that “these exciting examples of contemporary design are destined to become the antiques of tomorrow”.

Fashion is a moveable feast—what is popular in London may not be mirrored in America, or there is a possible variation between, say, LA and New York City. So, to get a balance, I asked Marbeth Schon of Modern Silver magazine and my NYC Mod jewellery designer/dealer friend Victoria Tillotson what the movers and shakers are wearing in America.

Marbeth noticed that news-anchor women were wearing lovely large brooches of interesting designs in silver and suggested that maybe there is a trend towards great design instead of intrinsic value. She also sees young people wearing beaded jewellery, much of it handmade; also tribal and ethnic styles with turquoise, amber and amethysts.

Vic reveals that there are a few diverse current jewellery obsessions in the Big Apple and makes the following observations:

Tiffany silver for the Upper East side and UES wannabe set, especially the sterling ID bracelets and thick chain chokers with a "Return to Tiffany" tag.

Delicate, coloured, rhinestone jewellery in floral designs and little chains are favoured by Soho model types and wannabes who buy it on the street; delicate necklaces with (surprise, surprise) pearls strung widely-spaced apart on clear, “invisible” string so it looks like the pearls are floating on the wearer's neck.

Gold a la street/rap style—popular with urban African-American and Latino kids—also has its devotees in the Soho fashionista world, with trendy women wearing deliberately-kitschy diamond-encrusted “name” pendants—Madonna again—or pendants that read “foxy” or whatever, as in the 1970s.

Another trend is thick leather “dog collar” bracelets, plain and unadorned in bright colours, or adorned with rhinestones or beads. Also skinny, elongated, pendants in gold or silver hung from lariat-style delicate snake chains that you can adjust to desired height; again, very disco 1970s, which it seems everyone under the age of 35 is wearing in New York!

In London too, there’s a proliferation of beads on the markets, certainly at the cheaper end, but again they’re on the small side. And one designer I met at Goldsmiths’ said amethyst stones were more expensive to buy at source this year because it is a popular and fashionable stone.

The trend among the designs I saw seems to be petite and discreet, barely noticeable though beautifully-crafted designs, mainly silver or platinum with minimal glitz.

I’m not sure where all this is leading or what styles will survive to be collected in 2050, but the three of us, Marbeth, Vic and I, aren’t impressed.

For the time being I’m playing safe and sticking with 1960’s Scandinavian abstract in silver. Vic prefers glam rock as in the early ‘70s to disco any day but then, again, she’s truly stuck in the 1960s stylewise for the most part. Marbeth says we can’t help our bias towards 60’s Scandinavian silver. She expected that craze to be over by now but it goes on—probably because the stuff is really good design and wearable, not just a fad.

 Not only do we prefer the style—it costs a lot less, even as collectibles, than designer-labelled contemporary modern.

 

 

 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
www.mschon.com

Design Copyright ©Modern Silver Magazine October 2000

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