Looking up a photograph of a piece of jewellery or a quick fact check on Google is ideal for having instant information, but nothing beats the pleasure of a beautiful book. And what could be more visually appealing and enduringly pleasing than a book on jewellery? So just in time for lockdown, here is my selection of five books that every jewellery lover will want to have on their bookshelf. I know each of the authors personally and their knowledge and love of their subject ensures that not one of these books will disappoint.
The weightiest tome of the five I have chosen is 'Ruby: The King of Gems' (above), second in Joanna Hardy’s series of gemstone monographs, following on the success of 'Emerald: 21 Centuries of Jewelled Opulence and Power'. In suitably flame-red silk-clad hard cover, the book explores the science, history and allure of rubies through the ages. As late as the of the end 18th century gemmologists were unable to distinguish the rubies from spinels – known as the ancient ruby – one of the many fascinating ruby stories that Hardy illuminates with her lively narrative drawn from her deep wells of knowledge. The most famous spinel and ruby jewels are displayed in all their jaw-dropping glory, as well as a close look at India’s long love affair with the vermillion gem and those daring pioneers who first brought us these treasures from the mysterious mines of the Orient.
A stunning selection of the most awe-inspiring ruby jewels (above) and their equally fascinating owners from Maria Callas to Jacqueline Kennedy is followed by an array of contemporary ruby jewels. A final chapter looks at ruby mining today and the science and techniques behind one of the most valuable gemstone on the planet. The book will leave you with a warm ruby glow that is worth having sore arms for and is ideal for those who want a deeper knowledge of this captivating gemstone or to see history through the spectrum of the King of Gems.
'The Power of Love' by Beatriz Chadour-Sampson (above) is a charming look at jewellery through the rose tinted spectacles. Chadour-Sampson, the learned jewellery historian and curator, shares her vast knowledge on the history of those jewels that symbolise love and eternal commitment. From ancient Rome to Tracey Emin’s work with jeweller Stephen Webster (below), the book is a fascinating look at how precious materials have been crafted over the centuries to make lasting declarations of devotion.
Pearl-bedecked 16th century chubby cupid brooches with a ruby arrow at the ready (above), gimel rings, miniature portraits, lockets, Lover’s Eye rings, Victorian sentimental jewels and the rise of the diamond engagement ring are beautifully illustrated and explained in this book. A must for lovers of jewellery history, the hopelessly sentimental or those looking for inspiration from the past to find ways to express the deepest emotions.
Gemmologist historian and lecturer, Sarah Hue-Williams and Peter Edwards bring to life the story behind the Kashmira Bulsara Collection of Art Deco vanity cases currently on show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in the book 'A Kind of Magic'. Promised as a gift to the London museum, for the first time this collection of 48 vanity cases is on view to the public. The book launch coincided with the re-modelling of the V&A's Bollinger jewellery gallery in 2019.
Read more about the Victoria & Albert Bollinger jewellery gallery re-opening here.
The book takes a close look at each of these portable beauty kits from the age of extreme elegance and unparalleled opulence where no ingenious detail or precious material was ever too much. Collected by Kashmira Bulsara, sister of the late artist Freddie Mercury, these extravagant accessories are a tribute to the singer’s love of beautiful things. The title of the book: 'A Kind of Magic' is a reference to one of Mercury's many chart-busting songs. Capturing the optimism of the gilded era of progress in the most magnificent materials and outstanding craftsmanship, these objects are ambassadors of an age whose strangely modern beauty talks straight to the heart. With enticing photography and a entertaining narrative, this book is perfect for fans of Freddie Mercury to lovers of Art Deco or glamour queens.
A true visual feast doesn’t start to describe the eye-candy revealed in jewellery historian Vivienne Becker’s book about Michelle Ong’s Carnet jewels. Hong Kong jeweller Michelle Ong’s hypnotically exquisite jewels are captured in this coffee table book. Outsize images of the sublime colour combinations on light as smoke whisp jewels are almost as good as seeing the real thing.
What’s more, did you know that Joel Rosenthal aka JAR is also a poet? Long time friend of Michelle Ong, his foreward to the book is a two stanza sonnet ending in the mysterious phrase: ‘she and they evoke my myth of the Orient.’ These jewels are indeed evocative and I would encourage lovers of sublime beauty, the East and gemstone hounds to put this book on their Christmas wish list.
Less a coffee table but and more of a great read is Francesca Cartier Brickell’s 'The Cartiers, The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewellery Empire'. Francesca is the granddaughter of Jean-Jacques Cartier the last of the Cartier family to run a branch of the business who took over Cartier London from his father Jacques Cartier. Based on conversations with her grandfather in his villa overlooking the sea in the South of France and the discovery of an old suitcase full of family letters, photographs and business memos, Francesca has pieced together the story of a family that from humble origins, over five generations forged the greatest name in jewellery. Meticulously researched and documented, the Cartier family story is a fascinating social history of as well as one of clan driven by tenacity and determination. A great read and one for those who want to know more about the legendary Cartier name and the stories behind some of the greatest jewels made in the last two centuries.