There seem to be more jewellery books to choose from than previous years, which is a very good thing in the current back and forth between freedom and long spells on the sofa during lockdowns. Here is a selection of tomes that will appeal to the jewellery lover with plenty of time for some in-depth reading. I have included titles with both a historical or scientific angle as well as those accompanying exhibitions around the world. Each of these books offers both a good read as well as sufficiently satisfying amount of beautiful photographs. And to make it easier to find the perfect jewellery book gift or simply to help treat yourself, I have made suggestions as to who might like these different books.
For fans of Russian Imperial history and tales of dazzling intrigue
‘Once Upon a Diamond’ is the work of Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, grandson of Prince Regent Paul and Princess Olga of Yugoslavia and a relative of the sprawling web of Russian, Greek and Italian royalty. He has dedicated his life to jewellery and was formerly senior vice president of jewellery at Sotheby’s as well as the founder of his own jewellery brand. Prince Dimitri's pedigree makes him one of the best placed people to take us deep into the world of the aristocracy on the cusp of the Russian Revolution. In this wide-ranging tome, with the subtitle, ‘a family tradition of royal jewels’ Prince Dimitri shares previously unseen family photo albums belonging to the Grand Duchess Elena of Russia as well as a catalogue of the legendary collection of jewels of the leading women of the European and Russian courts. Think of it as a ‘who’s who’ and ‘who owned what’ of jewellery during one of the most extravagant periods of jewellery creation tinged with the frisson of peeking behind the scenes. The final section is dedicated to his own jewellery designs. This book is perfect for lovers of history, fans of Russian jewellery and anyone who is curious about what life was like in the royal courts during one of the most opulent periods of history.
A history lover’s delight or just the plain curious
Stellene Volandes' ‘Jewels that Made History, 100 stones, myths and legends’ offers a novel take on history through the lens of jewels. In the introduction to this petit-size tome, Volandes sets out her ambitious intention: ‘This is not the history of jewelry. And it is not a history of the world. Rather, this book is a highly opinionated chronicle of select moments where these forces collide… I hope you will never again look at an Art Nouveau brooch without imagining Commodore Perry sailing into Japan, or see a cameo without considering the coronation of Napoleon or the excavations at Pompeii…This book is, above all, a call to take jewelry out of the safe… and place it on the grand stage of history.’ Starting with a Neolithic bone and stone necklace Volandes takes us on a glittering journey through the one hundred objects she has selected to tell history in her very own way. Expect intriguing insights, fascinating facts you-can’t-believe-you-didn’t-know and bite-size chapters fizzing with Volandes’ lively voice and illustrated with beautiful photography. A must for every well-appointed library and loo.
For the intellectually inclined with a soft-spot for the sparkly stuff
‘Coveted’ by Melanie Grant is the thinking woman’s jewellery book. Described as the: ‘the first in-depth survey of high jewellery as an art form’, Grant invites you to to look at this rarified world with a questioning mind. Grant is the luxury editor of the Economist’s 1843 magazine and is passionate about jewellery and devoted three years talking to the creators of some of the most exclusive jewels of our times. 'Coveted' invites us to mull over themes such as the role of jewellery in the world of art, the importance of cultural cross-pollination, the role of material innovation in adornment and women’s empowerment.
The following three books are catalogues of museum exhibitions, so while visits to view the collections continue to be disrupted, these volumes can be read in the comfort of a lockdown living room.
A must for Egyptomaniacs and scholars of ancient jewels and artefacts
We have Laura and Kingsmill Marrs to thank for one of the most important collections of Ancient Egyptian jewellery now held at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachussetts. And we have Artal-Isbrand, Lacovara and Markowitz to thank for the book Jewels of the Nile which is an erudite and informative tome to accompany the exhibition of the same name. During the early C20th, advised by Howard Carter himself, Mr & Mrs Marrs set out on travels to amass an impressive haul of pharaonic jewels. This exhibition catalogue is enriched with colour illustrations from the museum as well as essays by the exhibition’s curators on the history of ancient Egypt.
Best for animal lovers
Admirers of the natural world will fall in love with ‘Beautiful Creatures, Jewelry Inspired by the Animal Kingdom’ by jewellery curator and historian Marion Fasel. Delightful in its own right, this is the catalogue of the upcoming exhibition in the newly renovated Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Set to open in February 2021, the book offers a first peek at the exhibition featuring jewels created since the museum’s founding in 1869. Fasel showcases the incredible creativity and diversity of animal-themed jewels and takes us through the history of influences and cultural shifts of the last 150 years. For example, why were salamanders popular in the late 19th century and what cultural breakthrough had us going gaga for dragonfly brooches? This menagerie of precious creatures is organised into the different habitats in which they dwell and is peppered with amusing and insightful gems of jewellery knowledge.
For the gem hound and mineral geek
‘Gems’ accompanies the exhibition at the Natural History Museum in Paris, a collaboration between the museum and Parisian jeweller Van Cleef & Arpels. The book offers both the academic insight of the museum as well as the artistic brilliance of Van Cleef & Arpels. You can lose yourself in dozens of chapters on the different minerals and gems and their formation and characteristics written by eminent curators, gemmologists, mineralogists and other highly-specialised scientists. Forming a bridge between theory and art, the book reflects the layout of the exhibition and places side by side raw crystals and finished examples of Van Cleef & Arpels jewels. Rigorous academic yet visually appealing, this book explores both sides of the gemstone world.