A gorgeous coffee table book with sumptuous photographs of jewelry is almost as good as having the pieces in the pictures. Crown jewels, museum pieces, historic gems, remarkable bijoux from celebrities’ collections, catalogues of famous sales, profiles of seminal designers and jewelry houses, and of course, educational volumes, will help make someone a more astute consumer as well as make some beautiful stacks of their own atop a coffee table or bookshelf.
Since ’tis the season, it’s a serendipitous moment to begin building a library of iconic jewelry books. Here is just a smattering of a few especially gorgeous and inspiring standouts. Prices may vary, particularly for out-of-print and used books; but each would make a perfect present for the jewelry, fashion or art lover in your life.
Van Cleef & Arpels, established 1896, is known for many things: its iconic mystery setting; as a jewelry atelier whose customers included Grace Kelly and the Duchess of Windsor; and its ever-popular, contemporary “Alhambra” collection. Van Cleef & Arpels: Treasures and Legends was published a little over a year ago and features lavish photographs and history.
The book was published two years ago and showcases 350-plus pages of jewels worn by the likes of bold-face names from Jackie Kennedy to Gwen Stefani. Webb presided over a boutique that was virtually mecca in the 60s and 70s. His designs are still coveted and command prestige today.
When you wanted a bejeweled cuff on your wrist, Duke Fulco di Verdura, who established his salon on Fifth Avenue, with backing allegedly from Cole Porter and Vincent Astor, was the man to see. Verdura: The Life and Work of a Master Jeweler tells his story and illustrates it with handsome photographs.
Boucheron: The Secret Archives revels in unmasking all the grand dames (and not so grand dames—the first chapter is dubbed “Ladies of Sin”) who have coveted, hoarded, or simply worn Boucheron’s eye-catching creations, from Consuelo Vanderbilt to Mrs. Harry (Gertrude) Payne Whitney, to luminaries of the silver screen, including Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford, and Sarah Bernhardt.
Since diamonds are a girl’s best friend, no bookshelf would be complete without Famous Diamonds, a 2008 volume that weaves history, passion, and anecdotal accounts into the stories and legends of 80 extraordinary diamonds, including the mythical Koh-i-Noor, the Hope Diamond, and the Cullinan, among others.
Two relatively reasonably priced books that are nice additions to a bookshelf are 1994’s Extraordinary Jewels and 2002’s The Master Jewelers. The former tells the tales (scandals and all), with over 150 pictures, of renowned jewelry, from Grace Kelly’s wedding gifts (a diamond-and-ruby tiara and necklace) to the -Duchess of Windsor’s favorite gems. Traina also offers interesting histories of the world’s most celebrated jewelry houses. Snowman has put together some 15 scholars and jewelry connoisseurs each of whom writes a chapter about world-famous jewelry brands, from Boucheron to Tiffany to Bulgari, among others. Gorgeous photos highlight the text, featuring bijoux suited to a museum exhibit as much as to a personal jewelry box.
Assouline Publishing has developed a series of “Ultimate Collection” books, each costing anywhere from $300 to $900, and assuredly worth every penny. Oversize and opulent, the 2013 Impossible Collection of Jewelry: The 100 Most Important Jewels of the Twentieth Century (limited edition of 100) features the personal selections of author and jewelry historian/expert Vivienne Becker, who expounds on dazzling creations from the Wiener Werkstätte, Tiffany Studios, Egyptian-inspired Art Deco masterpieces by Cartier, mid-century designs by Verdura for Chanel, exquisite creations by DeBeers, Van Cleef & Arpels, Graff, and many more.
Ruth J. Katz