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Jewellery as an Art

By  Alice Mullins

[Editor's Note:  This is the second part of an article published by Alice Mullins in The Magazine of Art,  circa 1900.  You may also enjoy the first part.]
Pendant after HolbeinJewel from Ghirlandajo's Portrait of a Girl
Pendant and Jewel after Holbein and Ghirlandajo

The very word jewellery,  or jewel,  means joyau,  joy,  for jewellery has no reason for its existence  (except,  perhaps,  in a brooch or studs,  which are essential to neatness,  though even here a hook or button would often do as well)  if it does not make for us  "a thing of beauty"  that is  "a joy for ever."  Gems and precious stones are not jewels until the jeweller's skill has wrought and set them,  and not then,  if we use the word in its true sense,  when he has failed to make a right use of their beauty,  but turned them into mere trinkets and gimcracks at the demand of a foolish fashion.

Belt buckle after Holbein.
Waist Buckle after Holbein

But as we can never have good jewellery while material is valued above workmanship,  neither can we have it,  as Mr. Ruskin has pointed out,  while fashion has an influence on its manufacture,  and is constantly decreeing change.  For no artist worthy the name will tax his brains to devise a brooch or a bracelet,  a clasp or a necklet,  that he knows may go into the melting-pot twenty years hence because it is out of fashion.  It is only with the promise of permanence that the true artist has the heart to embody his noblest thoughts.  There is some excuse for fashion in dress,  in a modified degree,  for clothes are,  from their nature,  perishable,  and in repeating them it is pleasant to all of us to change.  Moreover,  no lady of sense  (and in all questions of personal adornment it is the female sex who are most concerned,  thus curiously reversing the order of the animal world)  likes to attract special attention by her dress.  Therefore a certain broad uniformity is essential to avoid the peculiarity which would ensue if everyone followed out their own ideas exclusively;  and a lady of taste,  though with no pretensions to "smartness,"  is glad to adapt the current fashions to suit her own individuality and style.  But jewellery has no such excuse for change.  It may be made beautiful because of promise of permanence in its material;  and if it is beautiful,  why should we ever wish to cast it aside?  It is only because it too often makes no pretence to be a thing of beauty at all,  only a "novelty,"  to use a trade phrase,  that fashion can hold sway over it;  and fortunately it does,  for the melting-pot eventually is the best place for the ugly and unsuitable things produced,  when the false popularity given them by fashion has subsided.  When we see a fowl's bone or  "merrythought"  copied in gold and studded with a gem or two,  we are very glad to know that in all probability it will not last,  to go down to posterity as typical of the jeweller's art of to-day;  and that if it is a jewel,  or joy,  to anyone now,  it will only be so for a passing year or two until fashion has introduced some other incongruous novelty.  The bone is a wonderful piece of mechanism in a fowl's breast,  but of the taste that allows it to be copied and worn upon a lady's throat the less said the better.  The same remark applies to the beetles,  miniature frogs,  chickens,  cocks' heads,  spiders,  mimic banjoes,  etc.,  that are offered to an appreciative public to satisfy its taste for something new.  I am not for one moment maintaining that no artistic jewellery is to be had.  Several artists are turning their attention to it.  I saw,  too,  not long ago,  some delicate gold work for brooches and necklets,  reproductions of old Dutch filigree work,  at a well-known shop in Regent Street,  and some very fine Indian jewellery of exquisite workmanship.  Other jewellers,  no doubt,  can show us some really good work of beautiful design;  but they will also tell us there is very little demand for this sort of thing,  and that the public,  as a rule,  are quite satisfied if their jewellery is of hall-marked gold,  or,  better still,  composed of diamonds,  indifferent to the fact that the gold is cast,  and polished,  and machine engraved into the most utterly meaningless and uninteresting form,  and the diamonds are set with no other end in view than to make a blaze of brilliance,  "huge electric lamps of millionaires,"  that kill the brightness of even the youngest and brightest eye.  These are what we call our jewels and joys,  and spend thousands of pounds daily to buy,  and debase our workmen to produce,  while we let hundreds of artists die of poverty and neglect,  or grow heartsick in the struggle to make a living out of the limited forms of art that we will recognise.

Sixteenth Century Italian purse mount in chased steel.
Sixteenth Century Italian Purse Mount

But why should we not have again a beautiful goldsmith's art such as flourished in the past? It is not for want of money,  for money enough is spent on what we call our jewellery now; and it is not for want of artistic faculty,  as the thousands of exhibited and rejected pictures and works of sculpture show every year.  If once there was a general demand,  the artist would soon train himself to devote his energies to supply it.  There is not only metal and gem work in jewellery ready to his hand,  and enamelling,  but there are the beautiful arts of miniature-painting and cameo-cutting that might be revived and encouraged,  besides the still wider field of gold and silver plate.  The question has greater significance than even the personal responsibility of each individual buyer,  and will have to be faced in this wider sense,  as the vast labour question calls louder and louder for redress.  The common argument for all dispersion of wealth,  whether wise or unwise,  is that it is "good for trade," yet the present condition of our industries,  and the state of our poor,  should convince any thoughtful person that such argument is based on wrong premises,  and that ill-managed wealth in a nation,  as in a household,  is not good,  but fatal in its results; and that therefore this wasting of wealth on things evanescent and unworthy,  as most of our modern jewellery is,  and still more this crushing out of the creative instinct of a nation and loss of precious human energy,  by forcing it into unproductive channels,  is a very serious matter for us all.  And the first step towards remedying the evil is to recognize that in the wise application and distrubution of the labour of its people lies a nation's only true source of strength and enduring prosperity.

Necklaces and brooch from the Giuliano bequest.
Necklaces and Brooch from the Giuliano Bequest

Note - A valuable collection of jewellery has been bequesthed to the South Kensington Museum by the late Mr.  Carlo Giuliano,  of Picadilly,  and is now to be seen in the South Court there.  The jewellery consists for the most part of goldwork decorated with minute granualtions after the Greek and Estruscan fashion,  the principal example being a magnificent necklace with fifty-two amphora-shaped pendants and enriched with no less than 157,580 tiny gold granules.  It will be seen from the reproduction above that the necklace is similar in design to that reproduced on this page from an ancient Greek specimen in the British Museum.  We reproduce also an enameled flower necklace with pearl pendants.  The brooch we have illustrated is one of three,  beautifully wroght in granulated gold decorated with pearls.

Pendant with jewels and bracelet after Holbein,  ancient gold sandal heel with Hercules in relief.
Pendant and Bracelet after Holbein,  Ancient Gold Sandal Heel

Return to  Part I  of the article.

* * * * *

Ms. Mullins never had the pleasure of examining a jewel by Bijoux Extraordinaire,  but if she had we are sure she would have approved.  Here are a few of our
recent creations ....

2.90ct emerald-cut sapphire and diamond ring in platinum.Three stone platinum ring with three oval diamonds.18kt gold engraved ring with trillium tsavorite garnet.

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