Living in Fantasy

Don’t overlook the art of storytelling when it comes to jewellery
by Duncan Parker

THE STORY BEHIND A JEWEL CAN BE VERY PERSONAL, such as the commemoration of a milestone or the memory of an ancestor. Whether it’s a pendant, a bracelet, or even an engagement ring, jewels help to express aspects of one’s identity, signifying important moments in one’s lifetime. This being said, jewellery can also be imbued with a deeper story by its designer. Often, fantasies involving folklore, mythology, or history are incorporated into designs, spinning tales through intricate and delicate details. Overall, pieces that integrate storytelling into their overall design add meaning and interest for the wearer. Although overlooking these details may not cost you sales, being able to highlight the history of your pieces could lend you an extra ounce of selling power.

Once upon a time
Jewellers of the 19th century embraced the world of fantasy more fully than those before or since. The world was opening up, and those living in

that period became aware of what was beyond the garden gate or local pub. The Victorians were industrialized, and there was a middle class taking in the pictorial magazines with photographs and illustrations of the mysterious world around them. Pictures of pyramids, excavations at of Roman ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy, and unearthed ancient civilizations were all sources of wonder for these individuals. This influence is clearly seen in 19th century art, with portraits of high- society men and ladies wearing the attire of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, or that of ancient Roman nobles. People even built fantastical Roman and Greek ruins on their properties. During this period, the art and architecture truly reflected a widespread fascination with the whimsical imagery of the ancient world. This captivation with the world of the past also translated itself into jewellery. Today, these jewels continue to capture interest in today’s markets, from what we see at auctions.

From the history books

Some of the most noted jewellers of the 19th century were Fortunato Castellani and his two sons, Alessandro and Augusto. The work of the Castellani family is referred to as “Archeological Revival” and “Etruscan Revival” in its style. These jewels were produced as a result of Fortunato Castellani’s fascination with the art of the ancient world. Images in these works of art look back to ancient figures, including the caduceus, a staff entwined by serpents and topped by wings, symbolizing a messenger. This caduceus appears at the top of a hairpin made by the Castellanis. Today, one of these hairpins is in the collection of the Cooper Hewitt Museum, a division of the Smithsonian Institution. Much of Fortunato Castellani’s inspiration stemmed from decorative items uncovered during archaeological excavations of Etruscan and ancient Roman sites in Italy. Because of this, Fortunato often worked images of mythology and folklore into his jewels. The snake-haired Medusa, Greek Amphorae, and

other extraordinary animals all found their way into his designs. Castellani’s protégé, Carlo Giuliano, established his reputation with jewels
that were inspired by designs of the Renaissance. The 16th century was a very important time in the world of design. Delicate ornamental metal work and exquisite enamel are trademarks of Giuliano’s work, which is often seen in his cameos.
These days, we tend to think of cameos as images of the female face in profile. In antique cameos, we often see fantasy images—which is actually
more common than the infamous pro le. Often, themes included Hebe feeding the eagle of Zeus, Rebecca at the well, Ulysses, Flora, Britannia, and woodland frolics or battle scenes.
 
Good ol’ days
A more recent theme in fantasy jewellery was the diamond encrusted dollar sign of the 1980’s and the diamond set dice cuf inks of the same time, which represented the fantasy of winning at gambling or being rich. They may not be the most exciting mythological symbols, but they certainly make a statement—one that doesn’t need to make a comeback. Perhaps we tend to take jewels too seriously, but we do still see some
jewels inspired by storytelling. Certainly, stories help to clinch a sale, making a jewel far more interesting. Wearing something that has a story to tell is a great conversation starter, and often has more meaning for the wearer. A fantasy, a tale from folklore, a mythological creature, or a design inspired by history has always made a jewel stand out. Something that borrows from the four corners of the small world in which we live can make a statement that inspires wonder. A tiger perched on the top of a watch, such as Cartier’s le Cirque Animalier, is light-hearted and striking. A mokume jewel inspired by Japanese design will have your friends asking what you’re wearing. A gingko leaf inspired by a prehistoric tree is simple beauty. Fantasy and fantastic jewels don’t have to be antique, but wherever you find them, they are inspiring.

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