I got into jewellery when I was a student. I studied plastic arts in the Netherlands, and the Dutch in the 1960s saw an important moment in time where, just after the war, the government was heavily sponsoring people to become artists. They had a very strong jewellery section, but it wasn't jewellery as we know it. It was more body art, and that really got me interested in the more unique and artist-made jewellery.
I did an internship at Christie's in the jewellery department, and I thought I better do my gemology degree as well. It's the requirement if you need to better understand the jewellery world; you can do a diamond grading degree and coloured stone grading degree, gem identification, and then you can go on to do pearls, which I did.
That's how my interest grew, but it very much came from a plastic arts background.
I recently purchased two massive pieces by a young Russian artist and you have to slide them on; I haven't found a way to wear them yet, or an event to wear them to. But I like artist jewellery - some of the pieces I have are great examples made by artists who dabbled in jewellery, and they're often very architectural or kinetic, often one-off pieces of design. Some are by well-known artists, for example Giacometti was making buttons for Schiaparelli and those are now sought after.
We have four of them. They're buttons, they're big; you could wear them as a pendant, and that's quite special. But I do like gemstones as well. I straddle both worlds. I'm not a great fan of Victorian jewellery. I mean, I love it when it's extremely high quality but it wouldn't be my instinct to buy and sell that.
I prefer the more one-off unique pieces. I'd say a bit more edgy.
I worked for two contemporary jewellery companies, buying their stones: everything from millimetre-sized diamonds for their watches, to 30 carat diamonds for their private clients. I thought it would be great to see the wholesale side of the jewellery world.
It never really occurred to me to do absolute contemporary jewellery. I like the history behind the jewellery, even if some of it is only from the ‘40s, I just need the pieces to have a bit of history to them. The ‘70s pieces have an amazing design legacy that we don't often see in contemporary jewellery. I suppose it's like an old 1940s Chanel suit - I would much prefer that to something brand new. Some jewellery has great provenance and it’s exciting to own something that, for example, Elizabeth Taylor would've owned. It's special.
I have hundreds of alerts coming up on various online platforms around the world, and diligently go through endless of jewellery sites every morning, and something will come up at auction. So I buy a lot at auctions and occasionally, if I'm lucky, private clients will want to resell jewellery. And occasionally it's good.
I travel a lot to physically see the objects. If there's something extremely curious or if I think I know what it is, but I'm not quite sure. Or if there's a gemstone involved. There's a big problem with the internet, and it's that the camera lies. You can have an image of an aquamarine showing a wonderful blue colour, whereas in reality, it's a lot paler, sellers like to enhance it. So last week for example, I went to Amsterdam because there was a piece there that I wanted to buy. It was worth the trip to establish the price, because I've made mistakes in the past.
It took a while and it's still in the process, but I think the clients I have now, know that if they want something special, they come to see me. I think we all have a distinct style.
I do have great antique jewellery that is Victorian or Georgian, but I only buy pieces that are very modern looking. People will look at it and assume it's 1960s or ‘70s. But it's actually from the 1890s, or 1860s sometimes, which is phenomenal. So I do concentrate more on design than on a certain date. Preferably the design has to be minimalist, or very strong especially if it is from a period when things were maybe a bit fussy. Like the Victorians were a little bit fussy in their curvatures and their design, but you can find bracelets that are extraordinary from that time; big, chunky things. And you think this designer was 150 years ahead of his time.
The English market is just about starting to understand the artist jewellery market and I can see there's a premium coming up slowly on these pieces. For example, Swiss designers from the fifties and sixties are now being understood and coming up in value. They're just very wacky and beautiful. I once bought a piece and I thought, “wow, who's that artist?” And then discovered that he is a Swiss designer named Othmar Zschaler. So now every time I see his work, and there's not much anymore, I try to buy it. I think he's in his nineties, and he really did some great things. One or two of my clients understand this so it's fun. They might not buy it, but they will appreciate it.
The majority of my clients are I would say 50 or 60, financially secure in their own right and quite strong characters. Funnily enough, I don't get too many young people looking for a little this or that. I get strong, independent women, often over 60, with a very definite idea of what they want.
But, selfishly, I also don't want the younger generation unless they really know what they want. I, myself, only really started understanding what I liked and wanted when I reached my forties. But I'm very happy to have these customers who don't need to ask their husbands for money - that I really like.
I also have quite strong, mostly gay men who are happy to wear some very funky jewellery. They're a bit younger actually; more in their thirties and forties, but they just have more confidence, I think.
I think men can be much more eccentric than they're being at the moment with their jewellery. Men are doing the brooch thing now, but I think they can go beyond that and get more funky. I bought a necklace from this Swiss designer (Othmar Zschaler), it's got a huge opal in it and it's a beautiful thing. It's on its way so I haven't seen it yet, but a man can easily wear it. Or I have another necklace from an Italian artist named Umberto Mastroianni from the forties. It's mechanical; it looks like the inside of an engine that he's just stuck on a plate, but it is very beautiful.
Men can wear that - I think men can wear anything. It's suddenly just starting to come out again. Men used to wear jewellery so much more, especially in India. I think men can really take it to another level, but for some reason that's not happened yet. I'm waiting for it to happen.
I did one course and made a silver ring, and I could hardly finish the course, it was annoying me so much. I do pottery and knitting and stuff like that, but I couldn't do this, especially because I’ve been handling the finest jewellery for so long. I did it to try and understand how difficult it is, and well, that worked. That was the point of the whole course. It's just like, leave it to the experts.
Obviously there's both art and craft involved in jewellery. So, going back to Zschaler, for me he is definitely an artist because he was painting as well. He was making everything himself. The Italian fellow I mentioned from the forties, Mastroianni, was an artist but he didn't make the jewellery. Someone else made the jewellery, something that happened a lot in the sixties, especially in Italy.
Picasso had a design, but someone called Francois Hugo made it for him. So it is a Picasso piece, but it's made by someone else - that's accepted. Even the Mastroianni piece it signed "Mastroianni" but others made it. So for me, those are artists working within a, I wouldn't say factory style, but in a situation where they'd set up a group of craftsmen who were able to execute designs by artists, as that was all the rage at the time.
I consider my jeweller to be an absolute craftsman, one hundred percent. He was working for Graff as his top setter and mounter, and you have got to be so good to be his top man.
The word “craft” has maybe become a bit loaded. I still think the word is great and it means a lot to me if somebody says it. But in the same way, if someone says “I'm an artist”, I always wonder to what extent they actually are artists.
But it's not a hierarchical thing, it's not like one is higher than the other. They are so distinct. I think a lot of sculptors would've loved to be craftsmen in jewellery except that they are just not, and I think a lot of jewellers could have been sculptors, but decided to just work on a smaller scale. You see, for me, a craftsman is somebody who's really high up. I think in America or Holland in the sixties, people came up with some really groundbreaking jewellery designs and they were calling it body art, so they must have considered themselves to be artists. You don't need to distinguish yourself; if you're involved in it, you can be both, you know?