"Jewelry: The Body Transformed" at the Met

It’s a uniquely wonderful time to be a lover of antique and vintage jewelry in New York City, thanks to the Metropolitan Museum. The show “Jewelry: The Body Transformed,” on view through February 24th,  is a wealth of treasures (pun intended): it showcases the museum’s incredible jewelry collection; it is exceedingly beautiful to look at; and it provides a comprehensive and insightful exploration of jewelry in context. For the Gray & Davis team, it was particularly exciting to learn more about how our own collection fits into the broader history of jewelry, and to glimpse the many connections between the pieces on display at the Met and our own.  

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Jewelry can speak to each other across an incredibly wide distance of space and time, as shown by the similarities between this gorgeous ancient Egyptian broad collar (c. 1353–1336 BCE) and our guilloche enamel and silver collar necklace (David Anderson, 1960). The broad collar lies close to the neck and fans out to frame the face, as does our necklace; the almond shape and bright colors of the faience beads that make up this particular collar are highly evocative of the necklace’s guilloche ovals. The broad collar, the quintessential ancient Egyptian piece of jewelry, had strong associations with royalty, divinity, and protection; looking at them side by side, it’s easy to see how these qualities might have inspired our necklace too.

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This fabulous snake necklace/belt (Elsa Peretti, 1973-4) has a lot in common with our gold and gemstone Victorian snake necklace (c. 1830-1850): both feature a central, stylized snake head that leads directly into a thick, tapering chain that recalls a snake’s body, giving the effect of the animal circling one’s neck. Both pieces are part of an important jewelry tradition: the snake or serpent motif has been around as long as humans have adorned themselves, and is found in cultures around the world.

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“The Body Transformed” also gave us an even deeper appreciation for jewelry’s incredible diversity. This moth pendant by the great French jeweler Lucien Gaillard was created c. 1900, roughly the same period as our butterfly earrings (c. 1890), and both depict winged insects, in keeping with the contemporary passion for naturalistic motifs. Nonetheless, they couldn’t be more different. The pendant is pure Art Nouveau, made at the height of the movement and featuring its characteristic enamel and semi-precious stones. The earrings, on the other hand, are a snapshot of the transition from the established Victorian into the nascent Edwardian style, combining the former period’s love of heavy gold dangling earrings with the pave diamonds popular during the latter.

After you visit “Jewelry: The Body Transformed” (and we highly recommend you do), we invite you to stop by Gray & Davis to check out the pieces featured in this post, and to see how many other incredible connections you can find! You may even be inspired to take a piece of jewelry history home yourself.  

A Few Gems for New Year's Eve

Just a few blocks away from the Diamond District, the world’s most famous ball is preparing to drop. The glittering orb’s annual, vertical pilgrimage will ring in the New Year, just as it has every year since 1907.  The somewhat random tradition began after the city banned the raucous fireworks display that had marked the holiday in years prior (fair enough). Of course, sparkly spheres look just as nice dangling from ears as from sky scrapers.

Drawing on earlier pagan traditions, Julius Caesar officially designated January 1st as the first day of the new year in 46 BC. The month of January is named for the old Roman deity, Janus, god of change and new beginnings. He is often depicted as the Janus Bifrons; a head with two faces that looks into the past and present. A golden pendant, found in Bulgaria and dating to the 4th century BC illustrates:

A double-face gold pendant, 4th/3rd Century BC. History Museum of Schumen, Bulgaria. 

A double-face gold pendant, 4th/3rd Century BC. History Museum of Schumen, Bulgaria. 

Julius’s calendar was adopted and slightly updated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1576, re-confirming January 1st as the beginning of the New Year. Thus, over the course of a millennia, the Christian nations slowly adhered to the Gregorian calendar and the New Year’s date we know and love today. We’re a big fan of Gregory’s calendar, but also keen admirers of his papal ring stacking prowess:

Exchanging gifts on New Years Day was a longstanding tradition in many European courts. In 1405, Isabeau of Bavaria gave her husband, King Charles Charles VI of France this 62cm tall statue of solid gold studded with gems and pearls:

"The Golden Pony," sculpture, French c. 1405. Altlotting Church. 

"The Golden Pony," sculpture, French c. 1405. Altlotting Church. 

 

And who could overlook Norma Desmond’s stunning collection of gems at her New Year’s Eve soiree for two in the classic 1950 film Sunset Boulevard?

Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in  Sunset Boulevard,  1950. Get a load of those bracelets!

Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, 1950. Get a load of those bracelets!

 

Wishing you all a night to remember, and a happy and healthy 2015!

Fondly,

The Gray & Davis Team