Tuesday, 28 July 2015

History of Jewellery - Part XIX

In this, the penultimate (I've always wanted a chance to use that word) post based on the lecture we got from Susan Rumfitt back in March, I'm going to talk about three things.


I mentioned before that she told us Art Deco was the last true style of jewellery. She said it suits all ages and lifestyles, if not price brackets. In the 1960s there was an art deco revival - and the name 'art deco' was coined. Back in the interwar period it was called something like 'art moderne'.  In addition to the revival in the 60s, she told us Cartier had re-invented itself in the 21st century with its art deco jewellery. However at present I only find art deco writing implements for women, price from £300-770. (No presents, please).

Oh yes, and the tiara worn by Kate Middleton when she married Prince William was made by Cartier in 1936 for the Queen Mother.


One of many hallowed institutions here in Britain that is associated with jewellery making is The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. I remember visiting a jeweller in some small Northumbrian village on a day out with Vivien and he explained about the hallmarks on gold jewellery that signify not just the standard, but much more. I suspect it would be difficult to sell my American jewellery - not that I want to at this point - because of the lack of hallmarks. If the phrase 'Worshipful Company' amuses you as it does me, you can read about the 12 livery companies of London. They are called livery companies because back in the day of their original guilds, craftsmen wore special clothes to signify membership.

Anyhow, Susan told us about a fabulous exhibition at Goldsmith's Hall, designed by Alan Irvine. You can read about that here.  She pointed out that whilst we're quite blase about seeing jewellery in glass boxes sparkle madly because of special lighting, back in 1961 this was a new idea.


In Vienna, one very rainy day back in May, we spent the day at The Dorotheum, an auction house, browsing room after room and floor after floor of beautiful things for sale. To my amusement I learned that the German word for jewellery is 'schmuck'. Of course, in English it has a different definition: a foolish or contemptible person. The term come from the Yiddish word 'schmok', which means ... something else.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Whitby Past and Present

We made our way up the famous 199 steps to the abbey, AKA Caedmon's Trod. Caedmon is a familiar name, as he was a Northumbrian poet - and a monk who cared for the animals at the double monastery (both monks and nuns) at Whitby in the Seventh Century. 

I looked forward to getting a better photograph of the outline of the ruined abbey. On the way up we read the cemetery stones, mostly Victorian, some older. 

I love the way the horizon blends sea and sky...

Because families were often buried all together one can read stories in the inscriptions even when only names and dates are given. 

Like the woman whose husband died when he was 48, in 1857. Their daughter died the following year, aged only 17. The woman lived to 1886 and died at the age of 78: 'Her end was peace.' I found that, and others, quite evocative.

I was annoyed when I reach the gates of the abbey and saw a sign asking people not to photograph the markers. I think I understand that they are not meant to be tourist attractions, accessories to the Dracula mystique. Though it is inevitable that they will be seen in that way by some, that wasn't my intention. 

And what is the point of putting the sign at the top after people have already wound their way up, snapping all the way?

The abbey at the end of the street!

Never mind, we enjoyed spotting the goths in their lovely outfits and I found other surprise views of the lovely abbey. It reminds me a lot of ours at Tynemouth.  

After a very long walk along the beach to admire the row of colourful huts, we were glad to make our way back the the motor home.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

History of Jewellery - Part XVIII

If you're confused about the timeline of the subject matter in these posts, it's probably because I'm a bit muddled as well. Just because I'm determined to finish what I started doesn't mean it will be done in a sensible, orderly fashion, OK? I might go back one day and re-jig these posts, but for now you'll just have to bear with me.

For a while it seemed I couldn't get away from mentioning the Duchess of Windsor if I wanted to talk about jewellery. Now it seems I'm stuck on Liz Taylor - and pearls. 

Susan told us briefly about La Peregrina, a large natural pearl which Richard Burton bought for $37,000 from Sotheby's for Liz Taylor's 37th birthday in 1969. It sold in 2011 for something like $11.6 - 11.8 million.

My thoughts when I began to write about this were to re-tell the story about how Taylor famously 'lost' the pearl and found it in the mouth of one of her dogs. I was thinking she was pretty casual with a pearl that was owned by Philip II (1527-1598) of Spain. His wife, Queen Mary (1516-1558) of England, was painted wearing it, as was Margaret of Austria (1584-1611) Queen of Spain.  And of course it passed through the hands of the Bonaparte's of France.

We'll make no unkind comparisons between Liz and Mary, OK?

My other thought at the time was that Susan told us no one knows who bought the pearl from Christie's (well, I suppose they do, but it doesn't seem to be in the public domain). I was thinking that there are so many fabulous treasures that disappear into private collections and are never seen again. We need to all support our museums to enable the public access to such wonders. I think that's all I wrote on the subject.

However, upon this writing, I've come up with some other observations besides that Taylor's dog is lucky to have survived his little escapade. Last night we watched a BBC programme that had to do with establishing the provenance of a painting belonging to a certain English church and supposed to have been given by a particular aristocratic family in the area. Bill and I were taken with the way that so much likelihood, supposition and expert opinion were the basis of the given 'provenance', which is defined as the history of ownership used to help establish authenticity.

When I came to re-write about La Peregrina (which means the Pilgrim, or the Wanderer), several things occurred to me:

Cartier's listing gives the provenance of the pearl as:
Spanish Kings:
Philip II, (1582-1598)
Philip III, (1598-1621)
Philip IV, (1621-1665)
Charles II, (1665-1700)
Philip V (1700-1746)
Fernando VI (1746-1759)
Charles III (1759-1778)
Carlos IV (1778-1808)

Joseph Bonaparte, of France (1808-circa 1844)
Prince Louis Napoleon, of France (circa 1844-circa 1848)
Duke and Duchess of Abercorn (circa 1848-1914)
Elizabeth Taylor (1969-2011)

I can't help but wonder who owned the pearl between 1914 and 1969? I see from reading Wikipedia that there is another pearl, called the Pearl of Kuwait (with a different weight) that claims to be that worn by Bloody Mary, etc. Establishing provenance and keeping it with the right article must be a pretty complicated business.

I started to be really shocked that something could be worth over 50 times its previous value (if $37,000 in 1969 is $224,440 in 2011) in just 42 years because Elizabeth Taylor owned it. Then I remembered all those rubies and other pearls in the necklace, La Peregrina didn't just hang on a leather strap...not to mention that she designed it and it was by Cartier and we don't know how much they paid for the Cartier necklace. Still...

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Day Out at Whitby

The other destination on our agenda was a return to Whitby. We've been a couple of times, once with the running club and another time we went on our own. Bill went a second time with the running club, but I had to miss that trip. I had to go to Dublin on the Sunday to be ready for a course we were putting on starting Monday morning. There was nothing for it, but I'm still sad about that weekend because they all stayed in a B&B next to Whitby Abbey and they said it was really atmospheric. The B&B has since closed and the building has another use, so that was an opportunity lost to me. Even before I knew this I really resented work biting into my weekend that way. Another reason to be so glad I'm retired!

Whitby Abbey just at the back...

Whitby is really built up and crammed together, so it was nearly impossible to get a good shot of the Abbey from a distance. There was a lot going on in Whitby other than the crowds of tourists: there was a Goth convention in town, so loads of great clothes and make up to enjoy. I'm guessing Goths like Whitby because of its association with Bram Stoker's Dracula. They meet there twice a year, I've discovered. 

Sunshine makes everything look better!

The town - and much of the areas we drove through - was also preparing for the Tour de Yorkshire after last year's brilliant success as part of the Tour de France. It made little sense to me that a tour of France should take part in England, but nobody asked my opinion and it was great for British tourism, so why not?

The Tour de Yorkshire has probably saved thousands of old bikes from landfill!

Whitby is also known for its jet jewellery. Soon after I moved here, a friend in Salt Lake contacted me on behalf of another of her friends to see if I might help her obtain jet for her jewellery making. I had no idea how to get to Whitby at the time (I didn't drive the first 4-5 years I was here) and I didn't have the time or energy to add that to my list of things to learn about living in a foreign country. So that never happened. I did buy some earrings and a small silver and jet brooch when Bill and I visited the second time. Queen Victoria was responsible for this industry taking off; given the black colour of jet it was the perfect accessory for her lifetime of mourning after Albert died. What the Queen did, others followed suit.

He was eyeing my fish and chips, I tell you!

We got to Whitby not long before noon and Bill felt it was obligatory that we have fish and chips for lunch. I didn't disagree but dreaded walking around with all that in my tummy. Surprisingly, he made a sensible decision that for once we would share a single portion of fish and chips and that was just right for me. I had to laugh at the chippie we got our food from, though. In addition to deep-fried pizza, candy bars - you name it - they also did organic and vegan (no doubt deep-fried) for the health-conscious.

We sat on a bench on the marina to eat. My main worry was that the seagulls wheeling around would either poo on my food or try to take it off me. They are pretty fearless, you know, and big enough they could do some damage. 

And complaining loudly that he didn't get any...

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

History of Jewellery - Part XVII

There is, you know, a dark side to jewellery, to precious gems. I've long heard the phrase 'blood diamonds' but didn't really know what that was about. I thought maybe it meant something to do with the dangerous business of mining. Susan didn't tell us about those, but rather about pearls. 

Apparently in the time before the technology of making cultured pearls ('farmed pearls') was discovered, slave boys were weighted down to help them get deeper for the larger pearls. Of course, some drowned whilst others died from the bends (internal bleeding caused by surfacing too quickly). Pearls brought up by boys who died had higher value. Sometimes, perhaps if the pearl was big enough and they survived, they might be freed. Charming story, eh?

Consulting Wikipedia, I learned that blood diamonds are AKA conflict diamonds (and their are of course other conflict resources) mined in a war zone and used to fund an insurgency or over-throw of the government. Various countries in Africa are given as examples. In 2000, the World Diamond Conference at Antwerp adopted a system of international certification to allow only import of officially sealed packages of diamonds and to impose criminal charges on traffickers in conflict diamonds. However, apparently the system isn't fool-proof as demonstrated by the Marange diamonds in Zimbabwe, where there are rumours of forced labour, etc.

In more recent years rich diamond sources have been found in Australia and Canada, but the history of diamonds is generally connected to countries in Africa. When you consider the dangers of mining, the great wealth attached to owning mines and the racial inequality that has existed, what do you think might have been the number of deaths attached to gaining that wealth? And what percentage of those deaths do you think were white people? Those ideas don't just attach to diamonds and pearls but to most gemstones, I expect. I think we should all look at our jewellery and consider what its real cost might have been.

We can't talk about the history of diamonds without mentioning De Beers. When I first moved into this house my neighbour was a lovely old lady named Dorothy. I often regret that I didn't spend more time talking with her. She was still quite beautiful in her own serene way, always friendly but never nosy. She told me briefly that she'd been in the WAAF's during WWII. She'd long been a widow when I met her and she mentioned that her husband had been older than she. Also that they had lived for a number of years in South Africa because her husband worked for De Beers; I think she said he was an engineer. I wished I'd asked her more about her life as I imagine she had some great stories to tell...well, some stories, anyhow. 

My favourite diamond ring, Grandma's engagement ring. They were married in Feb. 1913. The centre diamond isn't that large, but it flashes beautifully in the sun (which is in short supply today). I think Grandpa did pretty good, considering he was only 19 when they married!

The name De Beers belonged to the brothers who sold their farmland to Cecil Rhodes. Given that we have Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, Rhodes University in South Africa and the Rhodes Scholarship, funded by his estate, one wonders why the diamond company was named De Beers. I'm sure he had his reasons. I'll spare you all the business details (most of which I don't understand anyhow) but some of the relevant dates are:

1888 - Founded by Rhodes and Rudd. Cecil Rhodes was chairman of the board.
1902 - Rhodes died. De Beers controlled 90% of the world's diamond production.
1927 - Ernest Oppenheimer became chairman of the board; the Oppenheimer's ran De Beers from then on.
1947 - American ad agency working for De Beers coined the phrase "Diamonds are Forever". Equating diamonds and love, the market in engagement rings was thus boosted.
2011 - The Oppenheimer family sold 40% of their De Beers holdings to Anglo-American (which an Oppenheimer started, but later sold), giving Anglo-American 85% ownership. The Oppenheimers apparently decided they wanted out of the diamond business. (Love the link above: Diamonds aren't forever.)

Over its nearly century-long diamond monopoly of the diamond industry, entries for De Beers under 'Legal' on Wikipedia include

  • Sherman Anti-Trust Act
  • South Africa's missing billions
  • Diamond prices (which De Beers controlled by withholding or flooding the market)
  • Industrial diamonds (needed for its hardness and thermal conductivity for grinding, polishing and cutting in industry and science - so not just a pretty rock)
  • European Commission
  • Conflict diamonds and the Kimberly Process
  • Forceful relocation of indigenous San people in Botswana
Sadly, vast money and power do not seem to make people nicer.

On a possible more positive note - though entirely through self-interest - Susan said that De Beers is responsible for keeping the jewellery industry thriving, through grants for new designers.

The best part of Grandma's ring isn't the diamonds, it's the sweet little hearts on each side of the setting.

If you want to know more about diamonds (and why De Beers wanted men to 'surprise' women with proposals of marriage) read on here.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Gold Bag

I've completed two projects in recent weeks. The 'discipline' of putting them on this blog has helped quite a bit. It makes me hold myself to finishing one thing before beginning another. I can't help but wonder how would my life have been different had I established this habit when I was younger. Still, I'm younger than I will be next year...

Anyhow. I took advantage of some brief morning sunshine to photograph the bag I just finished. It still needs threads trimmed and a final press, but the sun waits for no one. 

I tried attaching the handles between the shell and the lining and put a contrasting, divided pocket inside. The lining is hand stitched to the shell. I'm undecided about whether this is an improvement. On one hand, finishing the ends of the handles is unnecessary; on the other I'm not confident about only having one row of hand stitch attaching the lining. Will have to think about this some more.

This finishes off the green and gold project that started off as a notebook cover. It didn't work because the fabric was too stiff to wrap nicely around a notebook. On the other hand it might make a pretty good cover...something else to consider! 

Oops - 'scuse my camera strap - Picmonkey can't save me from that!

I liked the effect well enough to do a similar piece in gold with bright green thread for the other side. I've plenty more of those strips of fabric. A few more of these bags and my scrap stash might be a bit more manageable.

Can you tell I was in a hurry!?

Another project was this peach coloured jumper. I'd intended to have to finish all my projects before starting ANY others, but this isn't entirely practical. For one, I go to a knitting group twice a month and it wouldn't do to be sewing there. For two, knitting is much more portable and practicable on the move. When I turned this in to the knitting group I was told I'd just doubled my output for last year: this is the second jumper I've given them. She said it with a laugh and I replied that no one could accuse me of being fast. 

This is the same pattern as the purple one, but for some reason I struggled to get the neckline right. I worked on our Budapest-Vienna trip. My sister-in-law, Jane, watched me rip it out and study the instructions repeatedly. When I got home I had more quiet time and inner calm to look at it again and the solution became obvious. I can see my knitting has improved a great deal over the last year or two, in that I can now spot and correct most of my mistakes. It doesn't seem like much, but to me it is huge: an alternative to starting over (again).

Well, now I'm off for a day in the kitchen. I got a great deal on soon-to-spoil mushrooms and red peppers at 30p a bag. I washed and dried the peppers when I got home. Now I'm going to do the same for mushrooms and spend the day roasting veg for the freezer!

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

History of Jewellery - Part XVI

Chanel Picture

I thought bib necklaces were a recent innovation, but turns out they were big in the 1950s because of Dior's New Look with its open collars. 

Yet another piece belonging to the Duchess of Windsor.

Dior was fast taking over the fashion world from Chanel, who went into semi-retirement at the Ritz Hotel.  Poor thing, eh?

I expect by now there is no one who doesn't know she had an affair with a Nazi soldier and according to our lecturer was a spy for the Germans with the code name of Westminster. This latter is new information to me, but apparently a book was published a few years ago based on some declassified archival information. I'm aware that a lot of the upper classes in both Europe and America had Nazi sympathies, ranging from simply liking those ideals better than those of communism to thinking Hitler would sweep the world clean and start a new order, putting things 'right'.

Anyhow, Chanel has been dead for over 40 years now. Our jewellery history lecturer mentioned a painting that hung in Chanel's Ritz apartment that had been 'overlooked'.  You probably know all about this already,  but this was news to me. If you missed that news story (back in 2013), the story goes that the inventory the Ritz took of Chanel's apartment when she died did not include this painting that hung on the wall. 

I can't see how it could have been overlooked, it's pretty garish - and it's about 6' tall, but that's the story. It is described as 'rustic, of Byzantine and Renaissance period' and is by Charles Le Brun, a 17th Century French painter. I'm not sure it can technically be referred to as 'lost'; no one knew it ever existed.

How it came to be in Coco Chanel's possession is unknown, but her Nazi connections are suspected to be the potential route, looted either from a museum or from a private home.

I though it was a fascinating story.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Sun Court

One of the most astonishing things (I'm trying to quit my 'amazing' habit - sick of the word!) we saw in Scarborough was the Sun Court. It is sort of a topless green house, with chairs - and a bandstand. 

I gather various musical entertainments happen there, including 'coffee dances'. (I wonder how those differ; possibly something about the time of day, but I can't seem to nail it down.) I do worry about that checked flooring, though. I would think it could make dancers dizzy!

The Sun Court is part of Scarborough Spa. We had lunch in the cafe, overlooking the beach. I hated to be indoors out of the sun, then again it was nice to be sheltered from the wind. I knew there was a theatre there, but hadn't realised the number of venues attached to the same building.  

Scarborough's history as a "Spaw" (as it was first spelled) town began in 1620, when a Mrs. Ferrer discovered natural mineral waters on the site. By 1690, Scarborough was famous as a 'spaw' and as a seaside resort for bathing. The trick was to get clients down the cliff to the beach. I think we found their solution for that.

I think this is the 'cliff lift' mentioned on the Scarborough Spa website.

Cliff-falls, sea storms and fire have all devastated the buildings at this site, though the present day buildings, built in the 1880's seem sturdy enough.

The higher we climbed up the stairs, the better the view!

I saw a poster that said both Tom Jones and Jessie J would be in concert (separately) in Scarborough in July. Turns out there is yet another music venue north of there, call the Open Air Arena.  Bet either of those shows will be great, but if I had to choose, you know I'd go see Tom.