On my recent return flight from Italy, where we had vacationed after visiting my son in France, I was reading the international edition of the New York Times (May 15). An entire section of the issue was devoted to jewelry, which completely captured my attention for a chunk of that long trip.
One writer asked a good question: “Is jewelry art or accessory?”
“Throughout history, jewelry has been called personal adornment, a fancy way of saying it’s wearable,” was one answer. Yet the question remained: “is it art?”
When — or whether — fine jewelry will ever qualify as fine art remains hotly debated. Apparently some in the art world are reluctant to call jewelry art; maybe jewelry is too much of a commercial commodity for them.
Another theme in the Times section focused on the 21st-century trend of more and more successful women buying high-end jewelry for themselves. Women are not waiting for a man to buy them jewelry. Duh, I could have told them that. Or maybe, El Paso just has more successful women who are ahead of the curve.
With these thoughts fresh in mind, last weekend I attended a huge jewelry trade industry show in Las Vegas. The entire world of jewelry was in Vegas, with over 2,500 exhibitors from more than 22 countries, ranging from high-end to flea market.
The smaller, upper-end “Couture” show is always at the Wynn hotel. The giant JCK show is always at the Mandalay Bay convention hall, billed as “the jewelry industry’s premiere event.” Believe me, for a portion of the sprawling JCK show, “flea market” is not an exaggeration.
Over two days we saw the latest awe-inspiring domestic and international designers and most sought-after trends. I can answer with a resounding yes, that some jewelry designers are truly artists in the highest sense of the word.
One of the greatest examples of art in the fine jewelry world is Carrera y Carrera from Spain, a company whose origin dates back to 1880. Carrera y Carrera’s identity is tied to sculpture and strong symbolic components related to the natural world. Each collection has a unique theme and each piece of jewelry tells a tale different that that what you expect at first glance. The newest collection, debuted in Las Vegas, is called, “Seda Imperial” – imperial silk.
An Eastern legend has it that 46 centuries ago, a Chinese princess named Liu-Tsu was forced, at age 14, to marry a barbaric Khan against her will for political reasons. In revenge, Liu-Tsu, who knew her shawl held the secret of Imperial Silk embroidery – the best guarded mystery of the Far East, unknown to other countries – threw it into the depths of the ocean. Amazingly, according to legend, the shawl made its way to Spain, along with the secret of Imperial Silk embroidery.
Over time, the shawl that Liu-Tsu was said to throw in the ocean became known as the Manila shawl, considered an adaptation between ancient Chinese tradition and Spanish emblems, thanks to the fusion of Eastern and Western culture.
The sculptor-jewelry artisans of Carrera y Carrera were inspired by the beautiful legend and struck by the similarity of embroidery and jewelry design. The creation of a Manila shawl requires the expert hands of an embroiderer who dedicates months of work to create a garment and adornment of incalculable value. Similarly, many months of meticulous work by master sculptors, gemologists, and goldsmiths are required to create Carrera y Carrera jewelry.
Carrera y Carrera has adapted the most characteristic images of the Manila shawl to the rings, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings in the Seda Imperial collection. Floral motifs inspired intricately detailed pieces that honor flowers with special meanings. The rose meant secrets, the lily denoted purity, the cherry blossom signified bravery, and the peony symbolized the empress.
The heron, or garza, is another motif of the Manila shawl. According to the ancient art of Feng Shui, the image of a heron is used to ward off negative energy. Carrera y Carrera artisans have depicted this powerful bird in rings, earrings, and pendants in yellow gold with diamonds and prasiolites, fancy stones in many shades of green.
Are these intricate, hand-crafted creations mere fashion accessories to accent an outfit – or are they art? You be the judge!