Publication Reviews 35.2

Wilhelm Lindemann (ed.) and FH Trier/Idar-Oberstein 2011 Thinking Jewellery: on the way towards a theory of jewellery. SchmuckDenken: unterwegs zu einer Theorie des Schmucks. Stuttgart, Arnoldsche Art Publishers: 352 pp., hardcover $70.00.

This volume presents portions of the lectures and objects in exhibitions held in conjunction with six of the ongoing symposia entitled Thinking Jewellery, held by the department of Gemstone and Jewellery Design at the University of Applied Science Trier, Idar-Oberstein, which is in a city world famous for its lapidary production. These events began in 2003 when the university shifted its course orientation and set about formulating a theory of jewelry. While the title and introductions are bilingual, most of the speakers and participants were from German institutions, so the already dense academic language is not helped by the English translation. Three blocks of text are interspersed with an equal number of photographic sections, usually of jewelry, some quite intriguing, but with very little relationship to the text.

While those who research, write about and/or make jewelry all have fairly definite ideas on the function of such ornaments throughout human societies and their history, those who spoke at the Trier symposia held much more diverse opinions. Lindemann, the editor of this book, provides a summary of the symposia; unfortunately, Menninghaus’s meaningful evolutionary view of human ornamentation was not available for inclusion in this publication. Habermas, writing on the psychology of jewelry as beloved objects, undertook an interesting poll of one hundred eighty-six students as to what objects were important to them, as well as what jewelry and non-jewelry objects meant to them. Jewelry ranked fourth after photos/letters, vehicles and animals while over sixty percent regarded reminiscence as the primary function of jewelry. (Perhaps this partially explains the attraction of narrative jewelry.) Self-expression and talismanic value ranked less than ten percent, far ahead of any other attribute. The only real discussion about ethnographic jewelry was by Seiwert, the recent author of a book on the Bir Collection of Middle Eastern/North African jewelry, all of which is still unfortunately labeled the Orient by German ethnographers. The best overview of jewelry came from Marjan Unger; she has long been active in this field and recently earned her doctorate on this topic. She has both a worldwide and historic perspective, as well as experience working in fashion. Her views are realistic, rational and thoughtful. While we are far from an acceptable theory of jewelry, Unger has laid a good foundation.


Robert K. Liu




Elin Rantakrans 2011 Buying the Right Photo Equipment. 70 Tips from the Top. Santa Barbara, Rocky Nook Inc.: 128 pp., paperback $19.95.

As a photographer for Ornament and an occassional jewelry workshop instructor, I am interested in books that may help students, especially with regard to the appropriate equipment for closeup photography of jewelry.

Part of an attractive series of photography books originally published in Swedish, from a firm specializing in this topic, and well printed in Estonia, they are marketed to the beginner and intermediate photographer. The author is a practicing journalist/photographer trained in the U.S. and Sweden. The seven chapters, with topics such as choosing a lens, each have tips covering one or two pages, accompanied by a photograph that illustrates a point, like increasing the feeling of space by using a wide-angle lens. The image and text essentially show by example. Some are fairly simple techniques but if one were conversant with all the methods and equipment discussed, there would be a substantial investment both in money and time. Unfortunately, for the craft photographer, there is not much directly applicable.






Madeleine Albright 2009 Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box. New York, Harper Collins: 176 pp., hardcover $40.00.

When Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, fixed a serpent brooch to her jacket before a meeting with Iraqi officials, she had no idea this small gesture would become an iconic moment in her career. After the meeting, Albright was asked about the significance of her pin, to which she replied that it was her way of sending a message to Saddam Hussein and his cohorts. Again, in 1996, her choice of jewels spoke to the nation’s mood when she donned a blue bird brooch, head pointed downward, to announce the shooting down of two unarmed civilian aircraft by Cuban fighter pilots. Through moments like these, Albright became known for her silent communication through her carefully selected brooches, and while former president George H. W. Bush became known for saying “Read my lips,” Albright became known for telling reporters and peers “Read my pins.”

Written in the first person, this delightful book provides a window into the mind and diverse jewelry collection of the charming, often self-deprecating Madeleine Albright. While she admits that the impact of jewelry can be seemingly small, Albright begins this interesting collection by exploring historical evidence of the long held role of jewelry in political and world affairs. In other sections of the book, Albright gets more personal, sharing stories of how her collection began and grew, taking the time to describe the pins in detail and their significance to her at particular moments in her life. Despite what one might expect, her collection of brooches is not only precious metals and gemstones, but includes many quirky pieces, from artists both known and unknown, ranging from historic cultural motifs, to sentimental acquisitions like a crude heart pin made by Albright’s youngest daughter.

Patriotic ensembles, animal and insect-inspired pieces, florals, hearts and banners, or more metaphorical symbols, like a pin fashioned from fragments of the Berlin Wall when it came down—as time went by Albright’s choices became more intentional and dramatic. She wore a Chinese ceramic shard dragon pin while testifying to Congress on U.S-China relations; an antique French brooch of a gold eagle with rose-cut diamonds when she was sworn in as the first female Secretary of State; a simple stylized, textured gold dove to pay respects to victims of genocide in Rwanda in 1997; a Cartier-esque zebra straddled her shoulder as she met with Nelson Mandela in his estate in South Africa in 1997.

As Albright explored the meaning of personal adornment further through her jewel collection, she speaks of finding her own sense of identity and pride. Read My Pins is filled with witty commentary and reflection on seminal events in her career, but also on more intimate details of her personal life, and on defining her role as a modern woman in our society and in greater world politics. Perhaps most interesting to jewelry lovers, Albright’s stories lay bare the ability for adornment to hold deep meaning beyond its monetary value, to rise from mere decoration to a powerful communicator conveying messages of our hopes and dreams, fears and values, all without uttering a word.


Jill A. DeDominicis




Valerie Steele and Patricia Mears 2009 Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out. New York, Yale University Press and Fashion Institute of Technology: 288 pp., hardcover $60.00.

Isabel Toledo may consider herself more a seamstress than fashion designer. But, this extensive collection of her work proves her prowess in all things fashion, from cutting and sewing, to her courageous exploration of new forms in clothing structure and design. With essays from Valerie Steele and Patricia Mears of FIT, and stunning, full-page photography, the book traces the story of Toledo’s life, from her birth in Cuba to her youth in the United States, and her intense relationship with husband and artistic partner Ruben Toledo.

Steele artfully recounts the couple’s younger days in New York, illustrator Ruben rubbing elbows with Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, and Isabel volunteering at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and designing stage costumes. More and more Isabel was drawn to the world of clothing design, and once she and Ruben married, their collective vision propelled them into the fashion spotlight. Large photographs illustrate these years and convey the sense of commitment and creativity the two shared, portraying the stunning Isabel with her long, pin-straight black hair and the handsome Ruben, various runway shots and models in Toledo’s collections, and Ruben’s striking complementary illustrations. These photos offer a glimpse into the silhouettes that shaped Toledo’s signature style: interesting seams and drapes, dimensional cuts, trapeze backs, exaggerated pockets, and balloon skirts.

A captivating narrative, the book centers on Toledo’s non-traditional career. Her unique vision, refusal to play into the politics of fashion and uncompromised designs prompted a backlash from the American press and fashion elite. While Toledo is not a typical commercial fashion powerhouse, this book proves the strength and longevity of her craft. Steele and Mears celebrate her unconventional structure and construction, and her rejection of the narrative themes other designers rely on for cohesion in their collections, instead letting functionality and design steer her. The many photographs reflect this lack of concern with trends. Still, the essayists explore the quintessential Toledo look, and sections of the book, with titles like “Liquid Architecture,” “Organic Geometry,” “Shadow,” and “Suspension” trace the subtle undercurrents of her designs.

As her mainstream popularity ebbed and flowed, Toledo experienced a bit of a comeback in the mid-2000s. First, she designed for Anne Klein, astounding critics with what she could accomplish with financial backing and high-level support. Later in the decade, she received awards, and sightings like a flirty, flowy black tunic and pants combination worn by Michelle Obama, and the yellow wool lace coat and dress Obama wore on Inauguration Day, helped put Toledo back on the mainstream radar. In a time of cookie-cutter and copycat fashion, Isabel and Ruben Toledo are a reminder of the struggles and beauty artists find when remaining true and uncompromising to their vision.






Usha R Bala Krishnan and Meera Sushil Kumar 2010 Dance of the Peacock. Mumbai, India Book House Limited: 335 pp., hardcover $250.89.

Dance of the Peacock delves into the rich tapestry of Indian jewelry, but beyond that brings into focus the importance of gemstones in the cultural fabric of India. Well-photographed, with hundreds of examples of jewelry featuring every type of gem, Dance of the Peacock is an encyclopedia of craft. The first section of the book visits each of the major gemstones used in India in turn, examining their cultural relevance, their origins and major mine locations, famous gems, and even astrological importance, which to the Indian court was paramount.

The book also drives home the gem trade that thrived between India and other nations for thousands of years, and paints a vivid picture of the shifts in global trade caused by the entrance of Europe. The interplay between sovereign rulers of nations involved only a minority of the global population, yet the accompanying socio-economic ties defined the relationships of those countries in that era.

As the book explores the adornment of ancient India, through geographic regions, feminine ornamentation, the Mughal empire, and the use of jewelry as political power, the reader will form a comprehensive image of the complexities of Indian jewelry and gemstones and their status as a cornerstone of Indian culture. The book ends with a section on the craftmakers of these pieces, and an epilogue describing a brief summary of India’s gemological history. Little vignettes help enrich the text, such as how wearing rings on the middle finger of the left hand—the “sun finger,” which attracts and absorbs the energies of the sun—is taboo in that it blocks the transferral of energy from the finger to the body. Rife too with linguistic terms for shapes, types and purposes of jewels, as well as philosophical concepts, religious entities and more, the book is a splendid way to learn more about not just India’s gemological traditions, but the country itself.


Patrick R. Benesh-Liu



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