Rattlesnake Rings and Sun Bleached Bones: Welcome to Gogo Ferguson’s Jewelry

Painting of Gogo by West Fraser.

One cannot really speak of Gogo’s work without discussing Cumberland’s history, natural beauty, and the cultural remains it holds. Cumberland is 40 square miles which is not a bad size for paradise. For thousands of years this area and coastal Georgia was inhabited by indigenous people. It was first the Timucua Indians that lived on Cumberland, and they left their mark. There was a Spanish mission in the 1600s, Oglethorpe’s two forts erected in the 1730s, the Greene family, the Stafford plantation, descendants of freed slaves, and the Carnegies.  Now, a person could write a book on Cumberland, and in fact many people have done so.

Gogo’s grandmother painted by the artist, Ipsen, Boston.

Gogo is a direct descendant of Thomas Carnegie and granddaughter Lucy Ferguson, daughter of Margaret. Janet, aka Gogo, has quite a knack for finding fossils, like shark teeth and an eye unearthing interesting natural remains of all kind. Not to mention her interest in the Native American history of the island. She caught my attention, as someone who understand and appreciates nature. Her interests align with my anthropology and archaeological experience, but I was also drawn to her because of my jewelry obsession. With her work coming in different finishes or metals, the price points vary, allowing for one to buy multiples in silver or to focus on the 14k pieces depending on your style. 


Her work is really an extension of earth and all of its treasures, what it leaves behind, what it can teach us, the beauty of life and death. Like glittering glamorous fossils, her jewelry catches the eye without trying to hard.  My favorite pieces include her cast metal boars tusk necklaces and the rattlesnake rings. Delicate, yet tough at the same time…..her work is not restricted to jewelry.  I’d love to have one of her seaweed sculptures hung on my wall. Yes, she dabbles in sculpture and décor.

Gogo’s New England Seaweed Sculpture. From Gogo Nature Transformed.

I personally discovered the island when I was living in Atlanta about 10 years ago and have been going about once a year since.  At heart, I am a country girl who enjoys wildlife, nature, and the peace the island gives me. I relate to what many of the people drawn to Cumberland see, pure nature and history coexisting. You either love it or it’s not your cup of tea. You have two options in terms of staying on the island, take the national park service ferry over and camp out or stay at the historic Greyfield Inn, still owned by the Carnegies. There are a few private land holds, but nothing public. What you find there are wild beach trails, clean sand, and so much space for just an “island”. I did not stay at the Inn (which Lucy opened officially in the 1960s) until last year on my  birthday when I met the talented Gogo.  Her work is truly art, not just jewelry but an extension of her place in nature and Cumberland. Her line includes home goods, sculpture, and jewelry.  Mikhail Baryshnikov photographed on Cumberland’s beach by Annie Leibovitz in 1990 with Rob Besserer….explains his first experience with the island and Gogo:

“Like many, my first experience of Cumberland Island was a field trip of sorts. I wanted to see the wild horses that famously roam its dunes-relics, like so many things on Cumberland, of past attempts at domestication. What I didn’t expect was the mystery, the majesty, and the simple raw beauty of the place.

I don’t exactly remember when my encounters with Cumberland led to meeting Gogo, but at least thirty years ago, when she welcomed me into her modest house with a bright smile and the offer of an oyster roast, it was clear that she and Cumberland were two parts of an organic whole (Gogo Nature Transformed, Introduction 11).

The ruins of the Carnegie’s Dungeness. Another earlier home site also burned in this same location.

Her work has garnered lots of press, celebrity wearers, magazine articles, and even her own exhibit at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.  She grew up enjoying summers on the island and spending time with her ecologically minded grandmother Lucy, before finally returning to live there in the 1979, as a single mother.  Her work slowly evolved when she began making pieces for guests at the inn and looking back to her roots and the island. Her 1989 spread in People magazine, helped propel her work forward.  She designed the wedding rings for Carolyn Bessette and John in 1996. 

Interview:

What is your educational background and how do you use it in your life today?

I went to high school in Providence and art school in Massachusetts.

Favorite piece you ever designed or made?

That’s hard to say… each new piece I design becomes my favorite. But if I had to choose one for sentimental reasons it would be my logo which is made of rattlesnake rib bones and vertebrae. It was one of the first pieces I ever created and cast it into gold and silver. It symbolizes 30 years of blood, sweat and tears!

Gogo’s rattlesnake logo, from Gogo Nature Transformed.

 

Describe your process from start to finish.

My process is to be out in nature and walk the shore line after the tide comes in or after a storm and search for new inspiration. The design process is constantly running through my head. Every six hours, the tideline deposits new inspirations for me to discover. I’ll take it back to my studio and sometimes look at it for up to a year until I get a creative flash of what to do with it. The colors and patterns in nature are what are really mind boggling to me. They all have a purpose and I feel my place is to transform that into wearable art or something fabulous for the home.

What are your first memories of Cumberland?

Being a young child with my grandmother on the island – we constantly went clamming, horseback riding, and exploring the island. I learned from her about the land and how the magical process of nature worked on it.

Why do you think you feel so connected and inspired by it in terms of your work?

Seven generations of my family have lived on the island – it’s literally in my blood and I consider it the soul of my family. It is my sense of place on this earth and I feel very fortunate to call it home.

What other places have inspired your jewelry line?

Anywhere I travel — I was recently walking down the street in Martha’s Vineyard and saw a beautiful skeleton of a leaf on the ground. I now have it taped to my kitchen window where it will stay until I decide how I want to incorporate it into a design. I don’t have to be in an exotic location to be inspired… as long as there is raw nature to see and study.

How would you describe Lucy’s role in your work or understanding of the island?

Lucy was an original naturalist. She taught me everything about the intricacies of the island and to respect it and always learn from it. She had a keen sense of her surroundings — she was deaf at an early age so her sense of nature was far more attuned than most peoples. She handed that wisdom down to us.

What piece do you wear from your jewelry line?

Everything! I am always wearing multiple pieces everywhere I go. I’m currently wearing a new arrowhead opera-length necklace, dolphin disc necklace, rattlesnake rib bone earrings, sea urchin ring, rattle snake multi rib cuff, and a spiny murex conch cuff. I think that’s the great thing about my line…they are all statement pieces, but they all complement each other very well.

Do you feel your jewelry or home decor is art or sculpture?

Art — that is my goal — to design pieces that are wearable art or functional art for the home that then inspire the owner and those around them who see it.

Your work is now made in the artist community in San Miguel de Allende, please describe your relationship to them and Mexico city?

I started going to SMA in the late 60s through an artist program with the Rhode Island School of Design. I fell in love with San Miguel, its architecture and the culture. I have been going back ever since and now own a home there. I work closely with a local artist named Julio Miguel who I take my inspirations to and work with him on transforming them into designs. I’ve brought him to Cumberland so he could see the island firsthand and understand my source of inspiration. I have great respect for Julio and his creative talents.

 

Describe your work with Nicole Miller if possible?

Nicole is a dear old friend of mine who often hosts shows for me in NYC. She also designed a beautiful silk custom-made scarf with a map of Cumberland Island on it to commemorate my High Museum exhibit in Atlanta. We still have them in stock and they serve as a great souvenir of Cumberland.

Do horses at all inspire your work or design, experiencing them riding with Lucy and then as they are now on the island daily? Yes, the horses have been on the island since the1500s. They’ve acclimated beautifully to the island and I love that we all live symbiotically.

What is your work day like? I understand you typically “work” and “hunt” during the fall and winter or early spring?

I explore and hike year round, but when I’m on Cumberland I love to walk the tideline to see what has washed up, especially after a big storm comes. I find sharks teeth, shark vertebrae and other natural treasures.

Gogo’s collection of prehistoric shark teeth, most she found and some from her grandfather.

Speaking of home, I have seen inside of your house and the decor is pretty fabulous, as is the history of the home’s construction. Can you speak about it a bit and how you decorate?

Thank you. I always incorporate nature into my home. Deer antlers become towel racks, shark vertebrae become door pulls. Driftwood becomes center pieces for the table. My husband Dave and I designed the house and built most of out of reclaimed items from old carriage houses and barns on the island.

Is it fair to say you have a gift for finding artifacts and fossils as well as the bones you use in your work? Is this something that you have worked at?

I think I have a natural eye for seeing unusual things in nature and I have reinforced it over the years.

What is your most current line and is there a new piece or commission you are currently designing? I created a line of pearl designs to mark my 30th year in business this year that have been very popular. I also just finalized an arrowhead pendant that comes in gold-plated, rhodium, and brass. This one is great because both women and men can wear it.

Are you experimenting with any new materials or ventures? The above-mentioned arrowheads are all made of new materials.

What piece of jewelry can you not live without?

Raccoon penis bones! I make earrings, bracelets and necklaces out them and they are the best conversation starter ever.

Raccoon Penis Bone Earrings. GogoJewelry.com image.

Do you have any books you would recommend for those discovering Cumberland for the first time? There are great photography coffee table books by my cousin, Mary Bullard. I would love to do one of my own, to showcase the island through my eyes.

What is your trunk show agenda like, how can people interested in your work see it off of the island. I know you spend time in Martha’s Vineyard? We are on the road frequently for shows, and I love to do speaking engagements. I have my summer shop on Martha’s Vineyard in Vineyard Haven that is open through September. My shop on Cumberland is open year-round, and we have a permanent store on Saint Simons Island. We have wholesale accounts in Atlanta, Charleston, Fernandina Beach, and Memphis, and of course the website is always open for business!

Describe how your jewelry has evolved from the very first pieces to now?

I have never try to deviate from natures designs, however over the years I have begun to combine precious stones to some of my beads.  I have evolved in growing my line into homewares, serving spoons of New England sea clams, cockle shells, oyster and mussel servers, candle holders of seed pods, sea urchins and votives of Maine sea kelp.  I am always transforming in my mind the treasures i have found on the tideline or in the forests to some wearable of functional piece, it is how I look at my surroundings. 

I know your daughter was involved in your business, has continued?

My daughter Hannah remains as creative as ever and even though her priority immediately is raising her precious son Ronan Zephyr Carnegie Thomas, she has started her own line in England where she now lives.  One of her designs was auctioned at the Princess Trust for the largest amount in the auction.  I am so proud of her and know that she will soar, she is so very creative.

What do you hope your legacy will be and the future of your brand?

My desire is for my designs to be considered art, that my clients become collectors and understand and appreciate the beauty and perfection of natures designs.  

www.gogojewelry.com

CBS Sunday Morning

High Museum Feature

Book List:

Gogo Nature Transformed. Sarah Schleuning. High Museum of Art.

Cumberland Island: A History (Wormsloe Foundation Publication Ser.)Mar 1, 2005

Cumberland Island (GA) (Images of America)Jun 9, 2004

by Patricia Barefoot

Wild Horses of Cumberland Island – Pre order… November 30, 2017

by Anouk Masson Krantz (Author), Oliver Ferguson (Foreword)

Cumberland Island: Strong Women, Wild Horses. June, 2004

MY PICKS:

Gogo 14k Armadillo Shell Cuff. GogoJewelry.com image.

Spiny Murex Conch Cuff. GogoJewelry.com $295.

Boars Tusk Cuff. GogoJewelry.com $50.00

Boars Tusk Pendant. $200. GogoJewelry.com

Seaweed Necklace. $450. GogoJewelry.com

Rattlesnake Double Rib Ring. Gold/Silver. $425. GogoJewelry.com

Alligator Scute Earrings. $150. GogoJewelry.com

  • All photography unless otherwise stated, taken by Sara Brandon the author, rights reserved Sarara Couture. Images of jewelry displayed reflect her original and personal shop/home experience on Cumberland.

Accessorize Talk- Here’s To A Bejeweled Fashion Week Season

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If you follow my obsession with the accessorized streets of the city during fashion week, you know I could NOT close out my review of the fashion week season without the jewels!  Having taken photography classes in college, being slightly obsessed with jewelry history, and I’m actually a trained anthropologist…. fashion week is kinda of my guilty pleasure. It combines the anthropology of material culture, people watching, and literally various cultures with accessories and photos! I love to be on the streets shooting when I can, but sometimes I am busy styling or finding jewelry, attending a show, and just trying to organize the media madness of accessories news as it comes in from the online shows. Things are definitely changing in the fashion world and with the online access and direct to customer designs now occurring it’s hard to keep up.  Reviewing the street style jewelry and runway looks helps me in selecting some vintage pieces for the shop and with my own accessories designs. So to wrap it all up for this season, I am combining the best of what we shot on the streets in NYC with pieces seen on the runways in New York, London, Paris, and Milan instagram style. There were streets lined with big earrings again, big belts, metallic sunglasses, statement necklaces and cuffs, and even glam barrettes.  Let the belt, earring, necklace, ring, hat….festivities begin.  (Click here for the bag and shoe review).

THE STREETS OF NYC:

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A Quick Instagram Illustrated List of What I’d Cut a B#@CH for From NYC, LONDON, MILAN, and PARIS:

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Delpozo earrings via their instagram SS 17. Amazeballs. @delpozo.

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Creatures of the Wind Earcuff, via their instagram. @creaturesofthewind

Tom Ford, Fall Winter 16. Ready to wear, presented during SS17 NYFW. Gigi Hadid via the instagram @myqueengigi

Tom Ford, Fall Winter 16. Ready to wear, presented during SS17 NYFW. Gigi Hadid via the instagram @myqueengigi

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Alexa Chung rocking a Girls hair clip by Ashley Williams London. 

@Balmain metal body jewelry outfit and collar chain by @wmag.

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@fentyxpuma corseted body pearl style jewelry fit for a queen by @lynn_ban.

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@Loewe madness, large leather and metal cuffs, statement necklaces. By @portermagazine.

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@crfashionbook instagram account image, @Balmain earrings.

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@ellebrasil instagram coverage of @Balmain. Another necklace from the well accessorized show.

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@wmag coverage of Phillip Plein’s belts! @ambravernuccio photo.

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@thesatorialist coverage of Fendi boots.

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@proenzaschouler earring lust….

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@BritishVogue Dior accessories coverage.

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@Givenchy agate necklaces. Via @nayla_alnaimi

MontageArt: Abstract Portrait of a Brazilian Fashion Jeweler

Montageart "African" collection jewelry. Image Montageart.

Montageart African Necklace. Image Montageart.

 

I have a deep love for the way in which Brazilian artists and designers see the world. Having studied 5 years in Brazil, I was able to get a sense of fashion trends, learn about popular fashion designers, take in how they interpret popular and folk cultural inspirations and follow their fashion week coverage. Beyond this, I have such an appreciation for the jewelry created by indigenous Brazilians, as well as, by artists with brands or even those that can be bought on a beach or roadside.  I ran across the brand Montageart recently, and decided they’d be a fit for the blogazine. They are beyond creative and this is evident in both their jewelry line and artistic home decor and lighting. They had me at the gigantic necklace they created as wall decor! The artist’s definition of Montage is “a combination of images taken from any number of media (photographs, film, and handmade). These images can be whole or partial, glued together on a surface (such as a photomontage), or edited together to produce a video or film” (arthistory.about.com).  When one gazes at their pieces, they can begin to understand why they chose this name. They create with each piece, a sort of an accessories collage. Their necklaces and bracelets are very editorial but also textural. Their work has been featured in Brazilian Cosmopolitan, Estilo, Shape, Elle and on well known figures.

Montageart jewelry in Shape Brazil.

Montageart jewelry in Shape Brazil.

 

I was instantly drawn to their armor style modern, but earthy mesh pieces. These oversized examples have such style and fashion references as well.  Some of my favorite designs can be seen below. You can also browse more of their creative process and jewelry examples via their instagram.

mesh necklace Montageart

Amazing montageart headdress via https://instagram.com/loo_ana/

Amazing montageart headdress via https://instagram.com/loo_ana/

The Interview:

When did you begin making jewelry and why?

We started in 2002 as a hobby, when we realized that we could turn it into a business. Eduardo is an architect and I (Alex) am a graphic designer. Today, we work as designers for Montageart. We discovered that people had been looking for accessories to mix with their jewelry in order to create unique looks. We then started selling as this aesthetic became a trend, incorporating such vintage pieces. We were sort of in the right place at the right time. Our strength is in the mix of materials and the superposition of layers without limits.

Vietnam collection image. Montageart.

Vietnam collection image. Montageart.

Vietnam collection 2015. Montageart.

Vietnam collection 2015. Montageart.

What are some of the things you look to for inspiration each season?

Our latest collection was inspired on Vietnam. We have always researched diverse cultural groups and have chosen a few of these as a theme for some of our collections. However, we are not limited to such inspiration. We have used different themes such as bees, travel, etc.

Montageart bee necklaces. image by Montageart.

Montageart bee necklaces. image by Montageart.

Explain your process for design and construction?

We have a sort of intuitive process during the construction of the pieces. We always try to be attentive to what is happening. Also, taking into account the attitude and wide diversity of the people who wear our jewelry. We keep an open mind and don’t get caught up in trends, but we do pay attention to them. 

Montageart image, large decorative necklace wall art.

Montageart image, large decorative necklace wall art.

What were some of your favorite creations so far?

Besides accessories we created a brand of objects for home decor. Sort of decor out of objects, right now our favorite is a large “collar” made to decorate the wall.  

Does Brazil inspire your designs in any way?

Yes, but not solely. As it was mentioned before, we are always open to new ideas and contrasts. Again, with no limits.

What are some of your favorite materials to work with?

Many. We really like textile treads in general, crystals, rough stones, and metals- which we also dye. We are constantly experimenting with new materials.

Fashion inspirations current or past?

We like a lot Karl Lagerfeld, Manish Arora, Vivienne Westwood, Miucha Prada. Among Brazilian designers, Antonio Bernardo and Amir Slama…

Who are your jewelry icons, maybe a brand you look up to, styles 1920s, art deco, 1970s, Victorian?

Miriam Haskell ,YSL Bijoux, Cartier, Paco Rabanne, 1920s/art deco  jewelry, antique pieces, tribal/ethnic jewelry. We are always doing research look not only to the history of the accessory, but decoration, art etc.

Dragon of the East: Jute Magazine features Sarara Couture Jewelry

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Love a good dragon? Feeling a bit Daenerys Targaryen?  Well, so do we; the “webitorial” now posted on Jute Fashion Magazine’s website today, shot by none other than the talented Hannan Saleh, features our jewelry. That’s our Miao collar, Judith Leiber handbag and a big vintage Accessocraft dragon necklace, one of my favorites.  Hannan let us have a few extra images and I’m posting them below.  The editorial went live today so be sure to check out the complete photo story on Jute. 

 

 

 

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Bill Smith Jewelry Archive and Runway Size Richelieu

Bill Smith Coin 1969

Bill Smith of Richelieu Halter, Rare 1969 piece from my archive.

I spend many hours researching fashion accessories of the past. Sometimes they lead me on a journey. A few Richelieu pieces that have challenged me, led me to think more about why Richelieu jewelry attracted me in the first place?  That always lands me right back to one of my all time favorites, Bill Smith.         

Vintage Bill Smith necklace. Met museum online archive image.

Vintage Bill Smith necklace. Met museum online archive image.

Bill Smith and Richelieu:

Bill Smith was born in Indiana in 1936. In the 1950s he was originally in NYC to study dance, but eventually decided on jewelry instead in 1958, setting up his own shop.  He began working for Richelieu in 1968, as the vp and then head designer. During this time he became the first African American to win the Coty award for costume jewelry design. Many of his pieces were only signed on a tag that was attached.  Some pieces are signed on the metal- Bill Smith of Richelieu…His designs are often African inspired. You can see this in the archive photos for Look Magazine, April 1971, which included a spread entitled “Fashion Now: Black Pow!” Afterwards Bill Smith worked under his own name designing for Cartier, Omega, Hattie Carnegie and Anne Klein.   

Bill Smith-Look Magazine., circa 1972 which include a spread entitled "Fashion Now: Black Pow!"

Bill Smith-Look Magazine., circa 1971 which included a spread entitled “Fashion Now: Black Pow!” The model was Naomi Sims wearing an 18k hat made for her. From a copy of the original magazine.

Richelieu was a jewelry company founded in New York by Joseph H. Meyer & Bros, which began in 1911 and ended in 2003.  The jewelry is just beginning to gain popularity among collectors and wearers of fashion jewelry. An interesting link about the Richelieu patents and signatures is:jewelrypatentproject.com. You can see some sample signatures and dates for Richelieu at Illusion Jewels under Joseph Meyer. 

 Image from, Black Enterprise Jul 1981. Bill Smith.

Image from, Black Enterprise Jul 1981. Bill Smith. From a copy of the original magazine.

However, let’s concentrate on Bill Smith and the mini archive here of his rare work for you to study. First let’s start with not only his jewelry buy his rare body jewelry. At Richelieu he does something sort of ground breaking- constructing dresses, skirts, vests, halters and beyond from costume materials and metals. While we see the metal mod connections of the time in those by the likes of Paco Rabanne the bead part and jewelry link is quite fascinating. Here I’ve put together both old magazine images and article photos with some of the pieces they reference in an attempt to provide a visual archive of his work.

Bill Smith Jewelry Ad 1960s.

Bill Smith Jewelry Ad 1960s. From a copy of the original ad.

Richelieu necklace I restored and turned out to be Bill Smith per the newspaper image above. Sarara Couture image.

Richelieu necklace I restored and turned out to be Bill Smith per the newspaper image above. Sarara Couture image.

Rare Bill Smith Rhinestone Bra. Circa 1969.

Rare Bill Smith Rhinestone Bra. Circa 1969.

Back view of tassels on Bra, From my archive.

Back view of tassels on Bra, From my archive.

Bill Smith jewelry tag.

Bill Smith jewelry tag.

vintage Richelieu necklace

As I have seen whole sets with rings and necklaces, it is my belief that some skirt halter combinations had other accessories that could be stacked as in this example.

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Unsigned Richelieu necklace to accompany skirt.

Bill Smith body jewelry. 1969. Private Archive permission obtained.

Bill Smith body jewelry. 1969. Private Archive permission obtained.

1969 Bill Smith Cape

1969 Bill Smith Cape

1969 Bill Smith Body Jewelry Cape. Back view.

1969 Bill Smith Body Jewelry Cape. Back view.

1960s body jewelry halter and skirt. Private archive, permission obtained.

1960s body jewelry halter and skirt. Private archive, permission obtained.

1960s-possibly early 70s tassel outfit. Private archive, permission obtained.

1960s-possibly early 70s tassel outfit. Private archive, permission obtained.

I have seen another shown as a cape but after seeing the bra and skirt together with original tag before I believe it to have been sold as shown. Of course his pieces can be worn in various ways.

I have seen another shown as a cape, but after seeing the bra and skirt together with original tag before…. I believe it to have been sold as shown. Of course his pieces can be worn in various ways.

Circa 1968-69 Bill Smith Chain Halter. Private archive. Image permission obtained.

Circa 1968-69 Bill Smith Chain Halter. Private archive. Image permission obtained.

Ebony Oct. 1968 image. Bill Smith article/jewelry.

Ebony Oct. 1968 image. Bill Smith article/jewelry. From a copy of the original magazine.

Now to the question of the red necklace I am researching as well by the brand…Was this necklace worn by Richard Burton playing King Arthur in Broadway’s Camelot?  I bought it from a source who is friends with an old film and theater costumer.  Now if you have looked over the blog, you will see I do love a good piece of fashion or jewelry with an old Hollywood, film, or a theatrical history as well.  This piece was supposed to have been worn by Burton in the production, so I am off to look through many pictures and see what I can verify.  There are three possibilities, if it was worn on stage by him: Camelot 1980-1981, Hamlet 1964, or Camelot 1960. Many times a verbal history can be off. However, at the very least it is an enormous King worthy Richelieu runway style necklace.  The length seems more proportionate to a man. Seeing it on my brother made me think….. The piece is large and styled like a necklace in royal red, that would fit a King in such a production.  The design and color are possible clues.  It is signed Richelieu in two places. I have however seen a version of this necklace shorter in red and another in green… They did also make pieces for productions…. In fact, Bill Smith did all the jewelry for the broadway production of Coco.  I believe, per the style and signature, dates to around the 1960s-70s. The cursive script according to the patent site below ceased use in 83.  Quite frankly,  I think the 60s-0s in general was when they made some great pieces.  This royal red necklace does appear to date from the late 60s early 70s when Bill Smith was vp, but could be the work of another artist with them at the time or just Richelieu. For now it resides in my personal archive.

Sarara Vintage photographs of large Richelieu piece,rights reserved.
Signature plaques, Richelieu copyright symbol and printed to the right on plaque.
Vintage Richelieu Necklace, signed. Sarara Couture, Shary Connella photo.

In the end, I think that the collector’s market for Richelieu is growing, especially the large 60s-late 70s pieces, especially those very rare ones linked to Bill.  Pieces by Bill Smith for Richelieu designs range from 500-4,000 depending on the design.  Bill Smith pieces are beautiful and collectible.  A current market example for Bill Smith can be seen below. Sold at an auction house for over 4,000 for the pair.

Bills Smith Body Art Jewelry/ 1969-70. 

SHOP OUR VINTAGE BILL SMITH BODY JEWELRY

Vintage Trifari Jewelry: Designer Diane Love Speaks about Jewelry as Art and Artifact

 

Feature image, 1970s Diane Love for Trifari Ad with Shekmet necklace and ring/earrings from her collection.  

The jewelry designs of Diane Love for Trifari are special for various reasons. Their collaboration led to innovations in costume jewelry and also brought a custom couture, yet historic feel to costume jewelry. Since Diane first began designing jewelry in the 1970s, her designs have become extremely collectible. Her one of a kind pieces, (about 135) created for Bergdorf Goodman in precious metals and stones, are now selling for many times their original price as are her Trifari designs.

 

Over the years many designs have been attributed to Love that are indeed not hers, due to the fact that her jewelry for Trifari was not signed. They originally only had an identifying hang tag with her name on it and box.  I felt it especially important to interview Diane about her body of work for this reason, as well as to celebrate the jewelry as she intended it, as wearable works of art. During the interview process, I learned various details which illustrated the story of her Trifari collections as a whole, as well as how she approached the designing of the pieces. This examination of the specific differences and characteristics of the Diane Love /Trifari collection is discussed below. During her interview she clarified for me the specific characteristics to look for when trying to identify a Diane Love design. You may recognize some of her book pieces, but few have really been archived. The lack of reference material also adds to the misidentification of some Trifari designs as Love’s. After she stopped designing for Trifari, they continued to create jewelry with ethnic themes and these are often misattributed to Diane. These brightly colored, less detailed interpretations that Trifari produced were not based on actual artifacts, but were more loose interpretations of cultural art.  A very different approach from Diane’s.

 

Example of a bracelet misidentified as Diane’s. It has the Trifari generic cultural theme and is NOT her design.

Diane, (pronounced Deanne) graduated with a B.A. degree in Art History from Barnard.  Her intention was to be a painter, but studio art was not offered at Barnard, so she majored in Art History.  As she said it is the “the best foundation any artist could have”. It was never her plan to design jewelry and perhaps having never studied jewelry design, it liberated her from taking a more traditional approach. In fact, she began as an antiques dealer. It wasn’t until she started making jewelry for herself that she was led to design jewelry for others. In Ms Love’s opinion jewelry being created in the 1960’s and 70’s was more about the perceived dollar value and status than artistic merits. This kind of jewelry didn’t appeal to her, she wanted to wear art, something that couldn’t be duplicated. It was through these designs for herself that her career as a jewelry designer began. Whenever she went out, people would stop her and  and ask her about the jewelry she was wearing and say– “where did you get that, How could I get one?” It was that demand that gave her the idea of designing for others. Thus, she finally started selling her creations, because she found the process of finding the artifacts and creating the designs such an exciting process.

 

Image of Chrysantheum collar from Diane Love’s  personal collection. Done for Trifari and part of the 2nd Collection. Image Diane Love, rights reserved.

                                                 THE INTERVIEW:

 

What were the first two pieces of jewelry that you made for yourself created from?

The first was from a 15th century Chinese jade belt hook and the other a Japanese netsuke.

 

You received your degree in Art History, what was your concentration or favorite area of study?

My thesis was on the legend of Theseus on red figure vase painting.  I was fascinated with Greek and Roman archeology and mythology.

 

Which culture or cultures influenced your early jewelry designs the most? 

I suppose in the beginning Asian cultures. I used a lot of antique Japanese and Chinese pieces. That’s what my husband collected and so that was what I had on hand. But as time passed, I found there were other possibilities that would be interesting.  It was always a challenge to find beautiful artifacts with  artistic merit, that could be adapted but gradually my exploration expanded and ultimately included: Luristan,  Egyptian, Ancient Roman, Russian, Viking , Greek, Byzantine, Sassanian, Scottish and Anatolian artifacts.  If it was beautiful, the right size and original I used it.

 

Luristan bronze pendant example

You created jewelry for yourself first, then made around 100 or so one of a kind designs for Bergdorf Goodman, NYC. These were made using original antique objects that you had found is that right? They also had an emphasis on art history. I have seen a few such signed examples at auction, done in gold and precious stones. In what ways were these designs different and similar to those produced with Trifari?

I made about about 135 one of a kind pieces for Bergdorf Goodman.  As I said, I searched for interesting objects small enough to incorporate into a piece of jewelry.  These precious pieces used the actual artifact, whereas the Trifari pieces used replicas of the original artifact. The artisans I worked with to make the precious jewelry were enormously innovative and developed many ingenious ways to marry the art object to a precious setting, so the piece was comfortable to wear. As you can imagine there is not as much flexibility working with precious metals and stones as with costume materials because I had to be mindful of the cost and the weight of the piece.  The Trifari designs used a base metal and faux stones and permitted me much more creative latitude. I worked with a wonderful model maker/designer at Trifari, Andre Boeuf who was a tremendous help.  We worked together to make the pieces ergonomic and becoming. The Trifari pieces included replicas of the original artifact right down to the color and texture of the original.  And just as with the precious jewelry, every Trifari piece included a description of the original art object, its country of origin and the time period it was made.  All my jewelry, both precious and costume, was sold in a grey satin box with a sliding lucite panel.  This box was intended to display the jewelry as an art object when it wasn’t being worn. 

Sotheby’s auction image of Diane Love, 18K gold, Bronze, and Diamond necklace. 1969. Bergdorf example.

 

Sotheby’s auction image of Diane Love, 18K gold, Bronze, and Diamond necklace. 1969. Bergdorf example.

What was a deciding factor in terms of doing a costume jewelry line?

The positive attention I was receiving from fashion editors was the stamp of approval I needed to interest the heads of Trifari to create the Diane Love for Trifari collection  One of the reasons I wanted to do a costume collection was to make the designs accessible to a wider audience.  Instead of the pieces priced in the thousands of dollars, the Trifari pieces sold for under a hundred dollars.  Perhaps because I am an art historian I loved the idea of spreading my love and interest in art history to others.  It was very rewarding when I saw how enthusiastic women were when they tried on the jewelry.  They were amazed at how comfortable and flattering the pieces were. Today, the Trifari  pieces are selling for many many times their original price.  

 

Stephenson’s Auction House image, rights reserved.

How many collections did you produce for Trifari and which do you think was your favorite and why?

I did two collections each year, so a total of four. I didn’t really see them as separate collections it was more about expanding the existing body of work. I created about 50 designs for Trifari in that two year period. I didn’t have any particular theme except to incorporate an actual art facsimile into each piece. However, in the last collection I began to add designs that did not include art replicas- this seemed a natural development because as I worked on the pieces I found, there were a number interesting elements that could stand on their own. An example of this is the scroll chain I created for the Sassanian disc.  I also had some other ideas that I wanted to explore.

 

Sassanian disc with scroll metal textile style chain. Diane Love image, rights reserved.

 

Diane Love for Trifari “Scottish Collar”, Love archival image. rights reserved.

This idea that there were no themes leads us to the question, What is the biggest misconception about your Trifari collection?

It is not so much a misconception as confusion because as a young jewelry designer I did not think to have my name inscribed on each piece along with the Trifari stamp. I wasn’t thinking ahead and imagining that years later the identifying hang tags would be detached and people would not know if the piece was mine or an in house Trifari design.  That is why so many things are attributed to me that are not my design. See image of mask below not a Love design…

 

Often misidentified as a Love design, it is NOT. Trifari mask pin.

Were there any processes created for your venture with Trifari which had not been done in the costume jewelry design world before?

There were a lot of things I did that were not being done in costume jewelry at the time- bezel settings, cabochon stones,18K green gold plating, hammered finishes, matte enamels, custom clasps and a black plating, which I developed with the Trifari production people in Providence.  These characteristics were in stark contrast to the bright faceted stones, 14K brown gold plating, shiny finishes and glossy enamels popular at the time. For Trifari to use 18K gold color plating on my pieces took a big commitment on their part because all the vats with gold plating had to be changed. 

 

Met Museum archive image, Diane Love for Trifari necklace. rights reserved/Met.

But I think this and the other details I have just mentioned gave my work a distinctive look.  It is important to understand that none of my designs were copies of jewelry pieces from earlier times.  They were a combination of a replica of an art object incorporated into a contemporary setting, that I created to harmonize with an antique object made, in some cases thousands of years earlier. I wanted the overall look of each piece to feel as if it might have existed for centuries.  It is very much in keeping with my aesthetic to work with subtle color combinations and burnished finishes. 

 

Do you have a favorite piece of jewelry you produced for yourself or Bergdorf?

Not really. Each piece is very distinctive and one cannot take the place of the other so for that reason I enjoy wearing them all and I enjoyed creating each one.  Each presented a challenge which forced me to be inventive.  I like artistic challenges because they force you to go beyond what has been done before.

 

What was your favorite piece that you created for Trifari?

Probably the Egyptian collar with the god Shekmet which I am wearing in the first Trifari ad. It  reflects everything that I strove to achieve in the collection: the exact replica of the original Egyptian artifact with it’s blackened finish,  boldness, a collar that conforms comfortably to the body,  cabochon stones set in bezels, 18K green gold plating and a hammered finish.  I am pleased too with the way the plates of the collar are linked together with simple hook like rings, and the clasp is also a simple hook, in keeping, I think, with the feel of something that might have been worn 2,000 years ago. 

 

Close up view of Shekmet center element. Diane Love Trifari.

That is actually my favorite as well, which I told her….

There is another from the second Trifari collection I particularly like.  It is a French Directoire ornament from a horse bridal in the shape of a crescent moon.  I designed two versions.  One a combination of silver and gold without stones, the other black with small pave stones that are shaded from light to dark ochre to reinforce the crescent shape. There are matching earrings, pin, a ring and a bracelet. I love wearing the collar in the evening if I have a special event– it feels festive. The crescent on the collar, pin and bracelet are the same scale as the original, but the earrings and ring have been reduced in size. 

 

Diane Love for Trifar, second image is the crescent moon design discussed above. Diane Love image, rights reserved.

One of the most popular and biggest sellers I did was based on an Elizabethan wedding band of two clasped hands.  The hands separate when you put the bracelet on- a solution I insisted on although it took some good carving on the part of the model maker to make it work. I did the bracelet and rings to  match in both gold and silver with a burnished finish. It retailed for $15.

 

Another concept I became interested in was trompe l’oeil. I had the model makers translate a black gros grain ribbon with tatting into metal with a black plating.  It looks exactly like cloth until you touch it and it is very flattering to the wrist.

 

 Trompe l’oeil or gros grain ribbon necklace example. Diane Love image, rights reserved. 

I also got into watch design, because Trifari had acquired a watch company and the asked me to create some watches. I did about 6 designs and used replicas of Samurai sword elements in their design.  They were quite a challenge because they also had to work well as watches. 

 

Some online articles have mentioned Diane Love prototypes/designs for Trifari that could not be produced due to cost. How many designs do you think there were, roughly that were never produced. Do you have one favorite design that you wish you could have produced?

That is not in fact accurate.  Everything I wanted to do we figured out how to make and we made it. My design method was to assembled the pieces three dimensionally in wax. Usually the only things I drew were the shapes of links and clasps, and the overall shape of a collar or necklace.   I worked this way in both the precious  and costume jewelry.  After all the pieces are three dimensional and I felt it was important to get a feeling of how the artifact and stones combined in a setting would look three dimensionally.  Of course, some pieces I envisioned where more difficult to execute than others but with the help of Andre Boeuf at Trifari, we resolved whatever design problems arose. Nothing was compromised.

 

If you had the opportunity wear or own a famous piece of jewelry from the past, owned by an important person, or from a specific period and culture what would that be?

That is a good question, I admire the early work of Cartier- their art deco designs…  I also find ancient Roman and Etruscan jewelry very beautiful.   I once owned a 24K gold Etruscan diadem with paper thin gold leaves. It was very beautiful and extremely fragile. 

 

Did you keep any pieces from either your Bergdorf or Trifari collections for your own archive?

Only the first piece, which was made for me and which got me started. It is a Ming dynasty, carved yellow jade belt hook in shape of a dragon.  It was set with very small diamonds in green, brown, and yellow mounted in 18K gold. The piece was so often admired when I wore it that it got me thinking that perhaps I should create a collection of one of a kind jewelry using antique artifacts.  When I showed several pieces to Andrew Goodman of Bergdorf Goodman he said we want them so I created entire collection  for the opening of the 57th street wing of the store.  In terms of the Trifari I still have about 30/40 examples. So I would say I have 75-80% of what I created for Trifari in my archive.


*Diane have created a link to this post and our sites which include images from her collection, vintage ads, and photographs of Love pieces and misidentified items. It will be updated as she photographs her archive. 

 

Examples from Diane Love’s private archive. Diane Love image, rights reserved.

Do you collect any antique or vintage designer jewelry?

I have a few things, I’ve picked up at antique shows. Not so much for ideas, but because I like them in and of themselves. I don’t really collect jewelry.  I do love and live with a lot of Japanese art. I have a wonderful collection of Japanese Ikebana baskets.  My source of inspiration goes back to my study of art history.  

 

On your website it seems you are still a working artist, explain your current artistic focus and endeavors?

I am a representational painter and photographer. But recently I have been making abstract collages. In a way assembling these collages is a similar process to what I use when I create jewelry- both the collages and the jewelry are assemblages. 

 

Diane Love, Arctic Sun collage. 2011. rights reserved. www.dianelove.com.

I enjoyed discussing the intimate details of her work and jewelry for Trifari. I think one important aspect of this article is the process of identifying the Trifari designs that are truly by Diane Love. There are several misidentified pieces that continue to be cited as hers in various sources. With her help I was able to clarify these and am including the misidentified examples below. I also wanted to detail characteristics to look for in her work. The most telling thing about the ethnic designs Trifari made after Diane left is that the designs are more generic than Diane’s, such as a stylized mask or “aztec” warrior.

 

DIANE LOVE FOR TRAIT LIST:

*The 18K green toned finish was unique.

*The black finish was something used and a process created by Trifari and Diane.

*Does it have an artifact look as if it was cast from a specific piece not generic theme?

*Majority of the larger stones were cabochons. There were faceted stones on occasion, particularly in

smaller sizes. 

*The pieces were usually completely detailed in the back.

*All clasps were integrated into the piece not standard or stuck on. Clasps look authentic to the time

period and piece. There are no pieces that have a lobster clasp. Clasps for my jewelry was

custom.

*All colors are subtle and hammered or matte finishes.

 

NOT a Diane Love piece, very often misidentified. Looking at our list you can see it’s generic not a real casting, the color is too vibrant and the gold finish is wrong. There is also a green set found in this Trifari example.

1970s Diane Love Trifari ad.

Recent image of Diane Love, rights reserved.

St. Barbara necklace, new example by Diane Love 2013. Sold via Jensenstern.com.

 ARCHIVES/SOURCES/LINKS:

Exclusive link to Diane Love’s Trifari archive/ CLICK HERE FOR IMAGES OF MANY RARE PIECES.


Diane continues to produce limited quantities of precious jewelry created from antique elements. You can see pieces carried at Jensenstern.com. Keep up to date on Diane’s art and jewelry via her own website –Diane Love: www.dianelove.com

 
 

Exhibitions and books covering her jewelry designs– Jewels of Fantasy, by Swarovski exhibited at the Victorian and Albert Museum in London, Musee d’art Decoratif in Paris, Fit NYC, Saudi Arabia and Japan. 

 

Jewels of Fantasy: Costume Jewelry of the 20th Century. by Deanna Farneti Cera.


See Morning Glory for a very extensive collection of vintage Trifari ads.

 

Online Patent archive for Trifari with images, dates, sketches: http://www.jewelrypatents.com/trifari1.html

**Please feel free to write in with comments or questions. I will try to add a response to thoughtful questions or pass them along for Diane. Let me know what your favorite of her designs was from the Trifari collection!

Article Copyright © Sarara Vintage,2013. Rights Reserved.

Past Comments:

 

1. Sammy said…

I absolutely enjoyed this blog entry! It is without any doubt that Diane Love pieces are highly-sought-after and very different from the rest. I had the privilege to own one, which was the Sassanian plaque necklace, and it has become and obsession to find more of her work.

I look forward to seeing the gallery of authentic Diane Love for Trifari, as well as the mistaken ones to update my knowledge. Great job and the interview! 🙂

http://etsy.com/shop/TheOpulentHippo

2. Sarara Vintage said…

Thank you, it should be up soon. As I said we will be adding to it periodically. I think it is so important to clarify this now as Diane Love is still here to guide us:) I love the Sassanian necklace-lucky gal!

3. Waalaa Vintage Jewelry said…

Fabulous, informative interview, and the jewels are spectacular! Thanks so much for sharing!

4. Graceful Antiques and Vintage Collectibles said…

Fabulous. I love Trifari Jewelry. 
Great interview. Thank you. 
Sandy 

Graceful Antiques

5. Jewellery Online said…

Absolutely stunning examples of the artform of jewellery as against the ‘bling’ and glitter of celebrity inspired jewelry. Great article, great blog – keep up the good work.

6. IIJInstitute said…

Such a marvelous piece of art and jewellery. I hadn’t think of such inspiration blog post. I am curious to see and learn Trifari Jewelry. I will consider this points in my Diploma Courses in Jewellery Designing