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New Book Highlights Ugly-Beautiful Jewelry from the 60s and 70s

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

Because this book covers the sixties and seventies, you know the jewelry is going to be unconventional. Everybody knows that these two decades were all about challenging the way things are done socially, culturally, politically, and in every other way you can think of. Jewelry was no exception, and the designs in this book certainly challenge your idea of what you might want to wear as bracelet, or necklace (The earrings aren't too far out.)

The book is actually the collection Kimberly Klosterman, who collected these pieces over two decades. She says that she always liked this type of jewelry, and she currently has a business buying and selling jewelry to the luxury client. On her website she states that she began her career collecting art and antiques but now is interested in jewelry that is "wearable but unique" and mostly from the sixties and seventies. The "sold archive" gallery on her site is great to browse and it gives you a very good sense of the "ugly-beautiful" jewelry collection in the book.

As a collection, the pieces are unusual but have some element about them that is pretty. Some pieces are even strange, and yet they still are somehow attractive. As Cameron Silver puts it in the Preface, "Kimberly's collection has honed in on a certain group of rarefied artist-jewelers with a distinctly esoteric view. These pieces were designed for a very select crowd, but decades later they are now appreciated by a broader audience, thanks to Kimberly's discerning eye and insatiable appetite to search for treasures from Tennessee to Tokyo. What was once considered big and ugly is now considered big and beautiful. What was once scrapped for metal and gems is now being celebrated in museums."

The Chapter "The International Exhibition of Modern Jewellry 1890-1961" by Rosemary Ransome Wallis explains, among other things, how important this event in 1961 London was for supporting and introducing the artist-jewelers who are represented in Kimberly's collection, and how the Exhibition helped advance the chief design aesthetic of the big, gold, ruggedly textured, often with uncut gemstones, that characterize many of the pieces. Delicate it is not. The jewelry is big, brash, and the textures that are made in gold are not precise, but rather happenstance-looking and free-flowing. Surfaces are uneven and parts of the piece and also whole pieces are asymmetrical.

The artist-jewelers that I think represent this aesthetic the best are:

Andrew Grima

Vintage Van Cleef and Arpels "Manchette" bracelet

Arthur King

Gilbert Albert

I do have to say I found one piece ugly-ugly, even repulsive, and that is the pendant made with animal toes on pages 138/9. I wish I could provide a picture. I can't imagine anyone wanting to wear something like this. I find it out of place in the book among the gemstones and diamonds and pearls. It's feels like the authors weren't exactly sure of it either, as the only information we get about it is circa 1970, it's dimensions (17 1/2 inches overall) and 3 5/8 x 1 5/8 x 3/8), and category 48 of the collection. Most curiously, we don't know the designer, even though every other piece in the book tells us the designer. I can think of no reason not to list the designer other than it is unknown. In that case, leave it out or say "unknown."

Aside from category 48, I did very much appreciate this book for giving me something new, the concept of ugly-beautiful, to think about. To quote Cameron Silver on page 10, "Jolie laide is what the French affectionately call something that is both beautiful and ugly. Kimberly and I spoke of the courtship in selecting a piece of jewelry. 'Is this ugly or fabulous?' she asked. It was both."

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