New books that chronicle the history of adornment

From ancient Egypt to Vogue magazine, these new jewellery books examine the art of adornment through the ages.

Vogue The Jewellery, Carol Woolton

Hidden from sight within the offices of Vogue is an archive containing more than one million images that chart the evolution of fashion and culture since Vogue's inception in 1917. For her latest book, the magazine’s jewellery editor Carol Woolton has dipped into that peerless collection to extract the most arresting jewellery images that she believes “tell the story of jewellery over the last century as no one else could.” 

Vogue The Jewellery (Octopus Books, £48.75) is a hardback history of costume and fine jewellery in its many forms throughout the years, with chapters dedicated to themes including rock chicks, royalty, jazz-era jewels, timeless elegance and sculptural modernism. “The entire gamut of jewellery, as it has changed over the years, has been captured by the world’s most famous photographers and illustrators, and I’m thrilled to have documented this exciting story,” says the author. 

Woolton is not the only one fascinated by jewellery history and how it has shaped the world, and for those who want to go a little bit deeper into the stories behind the gems there are a number of exciting new books released this year, including Aja Raden’s Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession and How Desire Shapes the World (Harper Collins, £18). The book is an entertaining and incisive read that entwines science and pop culture to explore just what makes a jewel precious and why we are all so obsessed with sparkling gems.  

For those with an interest in the Renaissance, there are two new jewellery books that focus on this chapter of history. A Rothschild Renaissance: Treasures from the Waddesdon Bequest by Dora Thornton (The British Museum Press, £30) documents the jewels bequeathed to The British Museum, and Jewels of the Renaissance by Yvonne Hackenbroch (Assouline, £130) tells the tales of the jewels of that era, its designers, and the patrons who commissioned them. 

And for anyone who has been to see the V&A exhibition, the accompanying book Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection by Susan Stronge (V&A Publishing, £25) is a must-read; a visually enchanting and fascinating story of the history of India’s jewels.

Read more about the Bejewelled Treasures exhibition at the V&A here

The Guy Ladrière collection in Paris, which includes artefacts from the Minoan period to 19th century gems, is another important historical jewellery collection and has been celebrated in a new book written by Diana Scarisbrick, Claudia Wagner and John Boardman called The Guy Ladrière Collection of Gems and Rings (Philip Wilson Publishers, £40). 

Egypt has strong historical associations with jewellery, and designer Azza Fahmy has written a lavishly illustrated history of some of the most iconic styles and motifs in The Traditional Jewelry of Egypt (The American University in Cairo Press, £35).  Anne-Barbara Kern, meanwhile, has focused her efforts on documenting the work of German jewellery company Victor Meyer, which from 1989 to 2009 held the licence to create one of jewellery’s most iconic objet d’art, in Fabergé Eggs by Victor Mayer (Arnoldsche, £30).

For an autobiographical take on jewellery history, British goldsmith John Donald, who was one of the late Princess Margaret's favourite designers, has released a book called Precious Statements (McNidder & Grace, £60) that he has co-written with Russell Cassleton Elliott. The book pulls together design insights and images of some of his most innovative jewels.

With such a wide variety of historical periods to focus on, it can be hard to decide what to immerse yourself in first, so for a crash course, pick up a copy of Vintage Jewellery: Collecting and Wearing Twentieth-Century Designs by Caroline Cox (Carlton Books, £15.90) to get you started.

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