The other day I went to the launchof the latest book by my colleague Vivienne Becker. The Impossible Collection of Jewelry is a greatest hits of jewellery from the 20th century, and even if it were only half as good as it isI would urge you to read it. Vivienne is as keen about the subject as I am about watches and cigars, and I think you need an enthusiasmbordering on monomania to pull off a book like this, as it amounts to analternative telling of the history of a pretty turbulent hundred years. Using gold, gems and the magic wrought by thehands of exceptional artists and craftsmen, she weaves the skein of modernhistory through the pages.
The cover carries the image of anecklace comprising two very naturalistic crocodiles. They were made by Cartier for thevampish María Félix, a Mexican movie star who enjoyed a second career inFrance as a socialite par excellence from the 1950s to the 1970s. Her tastes – not just in jewels, but ineverything from hats to Napoleon III furniture – were several sizes larger thanher already over-dimensioned life. Accordingly, while I might not have placed her crocsup there at the front, I have to admit that they make a cover by which one can judge the book.
The book also makes me realise how, as arelatively conventional man, I am denied the pleasures of wearing too muchjewellery. Periodically, my wife has totame my taste for gewgaws. For a while Iused to wear as many necklaces as Mr T in The A-Team. When she persuaded me to scale down thisaspect of personal adornment, I sprouted a forearm of jewellery that would have given Daphne Guinness’s armour a run for its money. Now that I have been talked down to a slim Cartier bracelet from the 1960s and an elephant-hair bangle, I have started to wearrings on half my fingers. Next, I daresay, will be an ankle bracelet, which reminds me of an anecdote about the celebrated socialite Etienne de Beaumont and writer/film-maker Jean Cocteau during the first world war.
In 1915, the epicene and dandified Beaumontformed an ambulance corps from his artistic and literary friends, including a young Cocteau, who was kitted out for his frontline dutiesby designer Paul Poiret. Thus appropriatelyequipped for the horrors of war, they drove off to join the fray, but got lost on theway and fetched up at a remote inn. Whilethe young Parisians took rooms and went upstairs to change for supper, commander in chief Douglas Haig and his staff walked into the tavern and, sittingdown to dinner, were just in time to see Beaumont descending the stairs clad inblack silk pyjamas, followed by Cocteau, who had opted for pink ones. Theirentrance was accompanied by the castanet-like clicking of the bangles theywore around their ankles.
If only the careers office at my schoolhad made me aware of the sartorial possibilities offered by the medicalprofession.