In New York later this month, jewellery gallerist Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos will celebrate the modern jewellery movement that was born and bred in London in the heady, hedonistic days of the 1960s and 1970s. It was a movement – the last one of any cohesive style in jewellery design – instigated by a new generation of designer-jewellers, many art-school trained, and led by the gifted, now much sought-after, Andrew Grima.
The exhibition, opening at Wright on April 11 and then at Ispahani Bartos’s East 57th Street gallery from April 20 until May 11, pays tribute to the milestone 1961 exhibition that so brilliantly heralded the future of contemporary jewellery creativity – held at the Goldsmiths’ Hall, it was curated by Graham Hughes, art director of the Goldsmiths’ Company, who nurtured the originality and individuality that we prize in jewellery today. A hundred and 50 jewels in today’s show include pieces by names such as Grima (a highlight is a gold, tourmaline and diamond sunburst pendant, 1972, from $75,000), John Donald, David Thomas (including a pair of azurmalachite, gold and diamond earrings, 1967, $8,500) and the fabulously flamboyant Charles de Temple, who wrapped pearls in enchanting organic, molten gold (examples of his work include a two-strand grey pearl and gold necklace, 1969, for over $75,000).
A dramatic departure from postwar conventional jewellery, the style of this movement was both futuristic and organic, free-form and expressive, characterised by rugged, textured gold, and by the use of non-traditional minerals such as agates, tiger’s eye, lapis lazuli and massive, craggy, rough crystals – all very much on trend again today. The style captured the seismic social, cultural and artistic changes of the time, deeply rooted as they were in London, a hub of daring, radical creativity, in fashion, music, art and design. The London Originals, as Ispahani Bartos calls these designers, aimed to lift jewellery onto the same level of artistry – to align jewellery with art and design. This exciting, vibrant, revolutionary take on preciousness brought together a new clientele ranging from royalty – Princess Margaret was a fan of Grima’s jewels – to movie stars, media and music celebrities, such as Peter Sellers and Sammy Davis Jnr.
Ispahani Bartos also tells the story of British jewellery in the 1970s through a selection of “craft” or studio jewels by David Watkins (such as a gold ring with amethyst, chalcedony and tourmaline, 1972, $38,000), Wendy Ramshaw and Gerda Flockinger, as well as through brazenly bold jewels by Kutchinsky, the famous London jeweller to an international jet set (such as a pair of gold, diamond and tiger’s eye bracelets, 1974, $25,000 each).