Book Review: Fashion For Jewels

Just shy of 200 pages, Fashion for Jewels assumes the daunting task of categorizing the last 100 years of Western jewelery design. In 39 loose chapters ranging from “Art Nouveau” to “Punks, Piercings and Pins,” author (and British Vogue jewelery editor) Carol Woolton attempts to dissect the unending reciprocal pull between fashion and jewelery. She reveals that “in the hands of great designers a piece of jewelery can become a precious, sculpted snapshot, encapsulating the fine and decorative arts, fashion, cinema and architecture of the time it was made, reflecting like a mirror the current zeitgeist and social history of the period.” Quite a mouthful for a coffee table book in which almost two-thirds of the pages picture sparkly stones set in gold.

Nonetheless, Woolton packs the history of each movement (from both clothing and jewelery perspectives) into around four pages: one page detailing the historical context and fashion trends of the movement followed by two brief profiles on jewelers, icons, or specific styles within each category. For example, the section titled “Twinset and Pearls” profiles Japanese pearl farmer Kokichi Mikimoto alongside Princess Diana. Each section is also framed with a full-page colour photograph, most often from a runway show that corresponds to the following chapter.

While the organization may seem fairly straightforward, the extensive amount of information being relayed in such short bursts, combined with the visual overload, left me feeling overwhelmed. Each image provides accurate visual cues for the various topics at hand and is exquisitely rich in detail and colour. However, they don’t always match the pieces described within the text. In a chapter focusing on Rock and Roll inspired jewels, Woolton describes “diamond tattoos in the shape of peace signs, zodiac symbols and spinning star rings,” as well as “a rock and roll version of the ID bracelet using lapis, emeralds, diamonds and heavy-linked macho straps.” My eye darted around the page looking for these pieces, only to be greeted with a fire engine red circular necklace and a set of silver rings. So although it’s one of those books you can flip open at random and enjoy, (the images alone provide ample stimulus for the wandering eye), when it actually comes down to reading, there is an uncomfortable disconnect between text and image; my comprehension of the chapter was more cluttered than my own wooden jewelery box.

If you are looking for a clear-cut, linear history of jewelery, this isn’t the book for you. The chapters jump back and forth in time between movements, so reading it in one sitting may make you feel as if you’re trapped in a cyclone picking up every piece of jewelery from the last century. I was clicking my bejeweled ruby heels, wanting to go home.

Fashion for Jewels: 100 Years of Styles and Icons by Carol Woolton, Prestel, 2010
Review by Casie Brown
Photography by Valentina RossMottley