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In Jewelry, Gold Flakes

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You don’t have to be a “jeweler” to be attracted to shiny objects. According to scientists, it is human nature.

A the theory argues that our prehistoric ancestors developed this attraction as they searched for water sources in the desert. Today, when we see the sparkle of metal or the sparkle of diamonds, it somehow evokes the sparkle of a swimming pool in the sun. We move towards her in response.

Throughout history, people have also turned to this precious metal whenever the going gets tough. So, as we face inflation, multiple democracies in crisis, and the lingering effects of a pandemic, is it really surprising that there seems to be a modern-day gold rush?

“In these troubled times, gold reassures,” writes Bérénice Geoffroy-Schneiter, art historian, in an email. “It’s always been a safe haven and hoarding is a way to overcome anxieties.” (Ms Geoffroy-Schneiter is also the author of “Gold: The Impossible Collection”, a book celebrating the role of metal in art, architecture and fine jewelry, which will be published this summer by Assouline.)

Another manifestation of this anxiety: the purchase of jewelry. Management consultants Bain & Company estimated global jewelry sales at 22 billion euros (about $23.2 billion) last year, a buying trend that has benefited several gold-focused designers .

“I’m busier now than I’ve ever been,” said Pat Flynn, a highly regarded jeweler and goldsmith based in High Falls, New York. A one-of-a-kind 18-karat gold beaker, a sort of minimalist chalice he made in 1990, is on display in “Gold in America: Artistry, Memory, Power” an exhibition at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut.

Mr. Flynn’s 44-year career in the jewelry industry has involved handcrafting rustic bracelets, rings and pendants in a variety of metals, including steel, iron and silver, often pairing with diamonds for contrast. (Prices range from $1,000 to $30,000.) But his techniques reflect a special affection for gold, rooted in the ease with which it responds to handling and its resistance to tarnishing over time.

“You can work more precisely and precisely with gold,” Flynn said. “When you learn the material, it’s like a baker learning to work with bread dough, and it becomes second nature after a while. This is one of the reasons why gold is so pleasant to work with.

“And I’ve had people wear my gold coins every day for years and years and years, and the material holds up,” he added.

For Loren Teetelli, who founded her Loren Nicole line in 2016 (prices range from $1,500 to $500,000), gold offers a portal to ancient civilizations — a lifelong inspiration for her work, which she crafts at hand in his Los Angeles studio. After a brief career in archaeology, she has gained considerable attention in the jewelry world in recent years and plans to present her latest collection at Bergdorf Goodman this fall.

She credits part of her success to her use of 22-karat gold, which has a higher content of the precious metal than the more common standard 18-karat or 14-karat gold.

“The alloy I usually work in is a historic alloy combining pure gold with copper and silver,” Ms Teetelli said. The recipe she favors matches exactly that used in ancient Greek, Egyptian and Eurasian cultures, several examples of which can be found in museums around the world, she said. (A catalog of the 1994 “Greek Gold” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is one of his favorite references.)

The color of 22-karat gold is also distinctive – rich, warm and beautiful, according to Ms. Teetelli. “And it looks so good on so many different people,” she said. “We had a trunk show last weekend, and one of the sales people said the high karat gold made everyone look like they had a tan.”

Ms Teetelli said her pieces were ‘linked to ancient mythologies and ancient techniques’, such as gritting, chasing and repoussé, as well as a hammered texture from Roman times which has become one of her most signature features. more recognizable. “My designs really wouldn’t exist without these stories,” she said. “I see it as a way of celebrating and respecting the history of gold and goldsmithing. I appropriate it by reinventing certain techniques and making them more modern and portable. And I like this idea that I’m preserving history for the future.

British designer Melanie Eddy echoed those sentiments. “In a way, working with gold is almost paramount,” she said over the phone from her Goldsmiths’ Center studio in London’s Clerkenwell district. “You go back to generations of people working in gold for thousands and thousands of years.”

Originally from Bermuda, Ms. Eddy holds a graduate degree in jewelry design from Central St. Martins, where she worked as an instructor, and has been creating her fine jewelry line for 15 years. (Prices range from $500 to $40,000.) “You have to respect the material,” she says. “There is a legacy. I also think because it’s expensive, you don’t want to be frivolous with it.

The permanence of gold and its inherent sentimental value has been a comfort to Ms Eddy’s clients during the pandemic, she added. “They were like, ‘I’m in my tracksuit and I’m working remotely, and it’s awful, and I’m trying to homeschool, but your ring is sitting on my finger, sparkling, and it makes me just so happy,” she said. “Or they’d be like, ‘I’m taking your earrings out, and it makes me look dressed up. “”

Although gold is now trading at over $1,850 an ounce, up from $1,260 just five years ago – “Some of my early gold coins went up more than six times, just in gold value,” Ms. Eddy said – she described a trend towards bigger, bolder pieces, a style she is known for.

After the forced restraints of the past two years, she said, “people aren’t afraid to show their personality, to invite a little joy into their lives and to celebrate themselves.”

Museums have also responded to public preferences. “People just can’t get enough,” said Jeannine Falino, a New York-based curator whose career has included curating several exhibitions centered on jewelry and decorative arts, including “Gilded New York” in 2013 at the City Museum. of New York and, in 1989, “Realms of Gold” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. “Gold has always been one of those natural inclinations of man to covet.”

Over the past 30 years, gold-centric exhibits in New York alone have included The Met’s 2018 “Jewelry: The Body Transformed”; “Gold” at the American Museum of Natural History, in 2006; and the traveling exhibition “Gold of the Nomads: Scythian Treasures from Ancient Ukraine”, at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2001.

“Now it seems like every year there’s a big jewelry show, and the gold remains an enduring feature of all of them,” Ms. Falino said.

CreditASSOULINE

For Ms. Geoffroy-Schneiter, who is based in Paris, work on her book “Gold” coincided with an exhibition she curated at the Monnaie de Paris. This show, “Monnaies & Merveilles” (“Coins & Wonders”), which opened this month and will run until September 25, features more than 200 artifacts illustrating how various forms of currency were used and ritualized across cultures and civilizations.

Among the gold coins, a Baoulé necklace from the Ivory Coast region in Africa, a necklace from southern India and a marangga pectoral from Indonesia, a photograph of which will appear in the book “Gold”.

“One of the pieces that fascinates me the most is a Bulgari necklace, which showcases a coin with the likeness of Emperor Augustus,” Ms. Geoffroy-Schneiter wrote in her email. “It looks like it comes straight out of Roman antiquity. For me, the most fascinating objects in the exhibition are both archaic and contemporary.

At Yale, visiting the “Gold in America” ​​exhibit that features Mr. Flynn’s ship seems to offer the same kind of luxury touch as watching HBO’s “The Gilded Age” or Netflix’s “Bridgerton.” Mounted on majestic blue walls, the show, which runs until July 10, was billed as representing two years of research as it collectively traces the role of gold in American culture over 400 years.

“Gold has driven wars, greed, love, passion, conquest and technology for centuries,” said John Stuart Gordon, curator of American decorative arts at the Yale Gallery.

By selecting treasures such as a toy whistle dangling from coral charms (a baby gift created by famed goldsmith Daniel Christian Fueter in the 1760s), a 1910 Tiffany & Company 18-karat gold coffee service, and a 1960s charm bracelet, “I made the gold interspersed with three life cycle moments: birth, courtship and death,” Gordon said. “So the exhibit is really about the stories of the people who owned the material and were involved with it. They are objects of the highest sentimental value, rare and beautiful, but they are also extensions of the kind of iniquitous world that animated the trade from the 17th to the 19th century, until today.

On one wall of the exhibit is a collection of gold spoons made in the 1720s that are believed to have belonged to Hugh Hall, a Massachusetts merchant who made his fortune in molasses, sugar and slaves. “He was actually one of the biggest slave traders in Boston during this time,” Gordon said. “In 1727, the same year he bought these spoons, he sold 74 of his slaves — all identified by name in his account books. Thus, these spoons become a living reminder that Hall’s wealth came at the expense of human freedom.

Although some jewelry collectors and museum visitors remain fascinated by gold, many recognize the environmental damage and sociopolitical problems of gold mining.

Mr Gordon said he thought about these issues carefully when organizing ‘Gold in America’. And when he leads tours, he concludes by inviting guests to linger over one last image: a photograph of the Fort Knox gold mine in Fairbanks, Alaska, taken by Victoria Sambunaris in 2003.

“One could easily see this image as a celebration of human ingenuity or the beauty of the landscape, while others may see it as evidence of human destruction of the natural world in pursuit of scarce resources,” he said. he declares. “I think ambivalence is crucial – and sums up a lot of the exposition.

“Gold has great historical weight as a material of beauty and art, but also of power and bloodshed, of emotional and financial value,” he added. “It’s hard to disentangle these seemingly opposing points of view, and I think Victoria puts a really good visual on this idea.”

This conflict may also be the cause of some jewelry collectors’ mixed reaction to seeing and wearing gold. But despite the ambivalence, “we’re still going to be drawn in,” said Ms Falino, the independent curator. “There really is nothing like it on earth.”