Is jewelry storytelling entering an age of authenticity?
From social media to reality TV, polished and aesthetically pleasing images have been giving way to real, more widely relatable looks.
The trend has been reflected in publishing, too, as four books introduced this year rely on personal description and historical records, offering insights into the work, dedication and challenges that have shaped their subjects.
“Cartier: The Impossible Collection”
By Hervé Dewintre, Assouline, $1,200
In this addition to Assouline’s “Impossible Collection” series, the evolution of Cartier’s style is explored through 100 pieces that the house produced in the 20th century, including the 1948 emerald panther brooch, the first time its signature animal was presented in a realistic manner.
“The story of how Cartier built its style tracks how modern luxury was born,” said Hervé Dewintre, a journalist and jewelry consultant in Paris who wrote the book. “Cartier started the trend of producing entire collections. My task was to establish a connection between its past and its present.”
The book’s publication in October coincided with the 40th anniversary of the Cartier Collection, a selection of its creations that the house has been compiling since the 1980s. “It is a great archive of the style of Cartier,” Mr. Dewintre said.
The book explores in detail why certain shapes, materials and motifs entered the house repertoire.
“You will always see ancient echoes with contemporary elements in Cartier’s jewelry,” Mr. Dewintre said. “Motifs are chosen from within a shared heritage of human civilization, which means you can find motifs from Egyptian temples or some going back to the Neolithic era.”
Those foundations were laid primarily by Louis Cartier, a world traveler, art connoisseur and a member of the house’s third generation. And it mostly occurred during the period just after the house moved into its boutique at 13 Rue de la Paix, which still is its headquarters today.
“Louis encouraged his designers to look beyond their own universe, to be curious about the world, to examine art and architecture, and to draw inspiration from the past,” Mr. Dewintre said.
“Only one part of the past was off limits,” Mr. Dewintre said. “Louis forbid them from looking at antique jewelry. He did not tolerate derivative creations.”
“The Spirit of Chaumet”
By Gabrielle de Montmorin, Thames & Hudson, $85
Chaumet opened an archives room in its Place Vendôme flagship in Paris in 2022, allowing it to take a deep dive into its own history and tell a richer, more accurate story of how the jeweler came to prominence serving clients like Marie Antoinette and Empress Joséphine.
In commissioning the volume, published in French and translated into English, “we wanted a light and playful book that was also an extremely well-informed retelling of the history of the maison,” Jean-Marc Mansvelt, the chief executive of Chaumet, wrote in an email.
“‘Esprit de Chaumet’ had to be fresh and sexy so people would read it,” said the author, Gabrielle de Montmorin, a jewelry specialist in Paris. “Opening this book is like peeking inside a jewelry box.”
To characterize the jewelry house, she selected 12 adjectives — Parisian, cosmopolitan, visionary and the like — as headers for the same number of chapters. “The true essence of Chaumet is captured by those adjectives,” she said.
Ms. de Montmorin delved into the house’s archives, a trove of 66,000 drawings and 300,000 photos, to enrich her storytelling. “Joseph Chaumet had the foresight of keeping all sorts of sale and client records,” she said, referring to the director from 1885 to 1928 who gave the house its modern name. “He set up one of the first photography studios on the Place Vendôme. Those photographs bring the true story alive.”
“Van Cleef & Arpels: A Dictionary of Wonders”
By Fabienne Reybaud, Flammarion, $85
This alphabetical exercise explores the history of Van Cleef & Arpels, the Richemont-owned jeweler, and the renaissance it orchestrated in the 21st century.
Each letter corresponds to one or more themes which the book’s author, Fabienne Reybaud, a journalist in Paris, said in an interview are “key to the identity of Van Cleef & Arpels.”
“A,” for instance, is for Alhambra, a four-leaf clover motif that is a house signature. “Four-leaf-clover sketches from 1906 are found in Van Cleef’s archives, but the first Alhambra sautoir was created in 1968,” Ms. Reybaud said, referring to a style of long swingy necklaces.
And “F” is for Fairy Tales, the title of a chapter that delves into the reasons for the presence of fairy creatures, ballerinas, unicorns and a poetic natural world in Van Cleef’s contemporary repertoire.
In the book, Nicolas Bos, the house’s chief executive, said that by 2000 the company was looking “for elements of the maison’s past that had a resonance in the 21st century, themes that could reflect the spirit of the times.”
And, Ms. Reybaud said, the house “adopted the concept of the ‘merveilleux’ — or the marvelous — as a founding theme at a time when ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ were highly popular.” It also started gradually increasing the size of some pieces that, she said, clients had considered “small and sentimental.”
“This was a deliberate strategy,” Ms. Reybaud said, “to breathe new life into certain historic designs, with Americans and a certain European clientele in mind.”
“Cora Sheibani Jewels”
By William Grant, ACC Art Books, $55
This volume marks the 20th anniversary of the eponymous jewelry brand that the designer founded in 2003. Cora Sheibani’s career is interwoven with her personal and family life, and the story begins with a description of her heimat, a German word that is the title of the book’s first chapter.
“Heimat means your home, your heritage, your place of belonging and what connects all of these things,” Ms. Sheibani said from London, where she now is based. But her heimat is the Swiss village of Appenzell where she grew up, and where her collaborator Sebastian Fässler, a local goldsmith and family friend, still lives.
“Other jewelers won’t tell you whom they work with,” Ms. Sheibani said. “But I don’t pretend to make everything myself, I rely on collaborations.”
Ms. Sheibani is the daughter of the Swiss art dealer and collector Bruno Bischofberger, and grew up around artists such as Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Art informs her visual signature, her sense of color and the playful aesthetics of her creations like the potted plant earrings or the cloud brooches dripping with diamond raindrops. “I like color and very graphic things,” she said.
“People usually write about how everything goes right,” Ms. Sheibani said. “But for me, things happen in a roundabout way, with failures and mistakes. The book is also about when things don’t work out and you must change course.”
At less than 10 inches wide and weighing only about 3.5 pounds, the book is designed to be easily handled. “Making a hefty coffee table book filled with pictures seemed completely uninteresting,” she said. “I wanted a book that you would read and told the story of a real creative journey.”