Known as “the unsung heroes of jewellery design”, the important work of jewellery illustrators is celebrated in a new exhibition at Sotheby’s in London, ahead of the Geneva Magnificent Jewels sale. Let’s go to know the Masters of Design!
Sotheby’s Celebrates Jewellery Illustrations: Watching a jewel come to life, from imagination to sparkling reality, is a fascinating process. Designs begin as rough charcoal sketches, which are tweaked and fleshed out into detailed gouache drawings, themselves a work of art. It’s with the help of those drawings that jewellers select the stones that fit the design exactly; the equivalent of an architect’s blueprint.
But often these important works are discarded once the jewel is created, the often-anonymous artists receiving not a fraction of the recognition or praise as the jeweller whose name appears on the finished product.
You may also like: High Jewellery Couture’s Haute Accessories
Sotheby’s is shining a light on these often-overlooked works in a new London exhibition. Entitled Masters of Design, the exhibition puts on public view for the first time hundreds of jewellery drawings spanning 60 years (1890 – 1950), which have been discovered and painstakingly restored by a private collector.
Displayed alongside vintage clothes from the corresponding era chosen by William Banks-Blaney and luxury design jewellery from Sotheby’s upcoming Magnificent Jewels sale in Geneva, the exhibition illustrates the aesthetic evolution of the late-19th and mid-20th centuries.
From a design for a royal Russian tiara by jeweller to the tsars Bolin, to studies for iconic designs by the likes of Cartier and Van Cleef and Arpels, the exhibition showcases changing fashions in jewellery and explains how these were influenced by advances in technology and societal trends. The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 for example led to an influx of Egyptian-inspired jewels, while France’s liberation from German occupation in 1944 inspired Cartier designer Jeanne Toussaint to create the iconic “Freed Bird” brooch.
The show includes studies for Cartier’s instantly recognisable Tutti Frutti styles of the 1920s, featuring carved sapphires, rubies and emeralds, which will be displayed alongside a pair of Cartier Tutti Frutti clips set to be auctioned in Geneva with an estimate of £50,000 – £80,000. It features some spectacular drawings by French jewellery designer René Sim Lacaze for Van Cleef and Arpels, including a vivid necklace of tumbling rubies, the real-life equivalent of which would be a joy to behold.
Fascinating also are the drawings which show the evolution of a jewel’s design, such as the array of Art Deco circle brooches with various options for gem-set ornaments. Which ones went on to become jewels we will never know, but it provides an insight into the detailed design process which remains the same today.
This may also interest you: The Best Watch and Jewellry Show in the World
“The drawings seen in Masters of Design are far more than a group of works depicting the jewels and objects that were fabricated from them. They are a testament to the creative talent of the artists behind the jewels, an expression of the rich stylistic and aesthetic landscape of the period of their inception, and a primary source of that eventful and pivotal chapter of our history,” says Emma Paleschi from Sotheby’s jewellery department.
“To view the Masters of Design collection is not only to discover a perfectly preserved slice of the golden age of decorative arts, but it is also to bear witness to the creative spirit, which through good times and bad retains its optimism, imagination, energy and lustre.”.
Stay tuned at our Jewelry Category for updated news every week.