So, went to the lecture at the NGV, entitled Glamour, Gems and Fashion, last night. It was presented by Cambridge Art History graduate, jewellery historian and international expert on Bulgari (read, employed by them in some sort of capacity – I don’t know any other art historians who could afford to wear large platinum pavé-set diamond earrings or necklaces to a lecture) Amanda Triossi.
She did say in opening that she was going to present a 150 year history (in honour of the NGV’s 150th anniversary, occurring this month ) of “precious and mainstream jewellery, also known as ‘high’ jewellery”, which was exactly what she did.
She presented an erudite and informative talk on her subject, in which she noted that new styles of jewellery were usually precipitated by three things – new styles in fashion; advancements in technology and availability of new precious materials. The one aside to this was the mention of titanium, as a non precious material, that was introduced into the works of JAR in the 1990’s. Used in tandem with scads of pavé set diamonds… Go figure.
I think, and the people I spoke to afterward were in agreement, that the historical information was really excellent. She gave great examples on each decade of jewellery (she broke it in to 10 year lots to make the topic manageable) and summarised the big trends and developments. It was informative – I learned a few new things about what precipitated different styles, and indeed about the styles themselves.
The weaknesses were that it was generally about the mega-rich, which is forgivable given her earlier caveat, but if Consuela Vanderbilt was uncomfortable in 14 strands of pearls as a choker, what was Mrs Smithe, social climber and wife of the famed industrialist (pooh, the stink of new money, can you smell it, duchess?) wearing?
Also, towards the end it descended into what can only be termed as advertorial. Triossi explained that surmising the last decade at this distance (only one year on) is difficult, as trends are too hard to pick with so little time separating the then from the now. That notwithstanding, she said that Bulgari have done some amazing things in the last decade, and here they are… (Nicole Kidman at Cannes in some Bulgari ‘pebbles‘ was one example, and a many more coloured stones featured prominently.)
In the two minutes that another speaker summarised Triossi’s speech and implored us to thank her a couple more times, I listed a few notable occurrences in the last 10 years of our equivelent of ‘tiaras and layers of diamonds’ jewellery. My list included ‘Ice’ bling – rappers wearing huge pave-encrusted creations; the ‘right hand ring‘ De Beers marketing straight to women – so as to not let the trend of later engagements eat into their market segment (BTW – they now have the Modern Talisman “why a diamond should be worn every day”…); Damian Hirst’s skull For The Love Of God from 2007; the cult of ‘branded’ merchandise that saw Tiffany’s (and Gucci) branch out to every high street in the world (I can see why they wouldn’t want to advertise that…) [King St, Perth, I’m looking at YOU!] and the increase in pearl production that saw massive global marketing campaigns for south sea pearlers increase pearl production and distribution.
Then there was a few minor ‘High st’ trends like more use of rubber/neoprene along with an increase in mens jewellery that went hand-in-hand with more stainless steel, titanium and tension setting as a result. And not forgetting to mention Pandora… (There was an early precursor to that outfit too, BTW, in the 1860’s, when diamonds were discovered in South Africa. Women [your average, run of the mill heiress] were sold/given sets of gem encrusted pieces – such as a matched set of star-motif, platinum and diamond pins that made it into the images. Several of the same style were worn at a time, and women were able to be creative in their choice of where to wear them – as hair adornments, brooches or around the neck, for example. So much more versatile than little beads…)
Sill, there was a lot to be learned – such as yellow gold is considered a daytime colour, and was not popularised until platinum was withheld by the need for its use in military applications in the 1940’s, and that makeup was not in wide use until the 1920’s – interestingly when the ‘boy’ look was in fashion. Women then began to carry gold (cheapskates!) and bejewelled vanity cases that held lippy, powder, a mirror and eye shadow. Given that I have a fondness for chopping up powder cases I was interested to note that their heritage ‘aint as long as I expected.
Despite the omissions, and well, we had to expect them given the caveats at the start of the presentation, and the big props given to Bulgari by the gallery representative before the talk, I think it was great. Big thanks to the NGV for caring enough to have a scholar like Triossi flown to Australia again for this talk (even if it was to spriuk a recent Bulgari acquisition – look out for it) and I sincerely hope that there’s more of it.