Jewelry, unlike most things, possesses symbolic, ritualistic, and decorative qualities—and the history of jewelry is nuanced and longstanding. Jewelry has been worn, collected, and prized since since history was first recorded—and while trends, movements, and the materials with which jewelry is made have developed over time, the essence of jewelry—its inherent specialness, and its ability to provoke desire—remain intact.
Marion was one of the first jewelry editors to discover Spinelli Kilcollin. Fasel was one of our first followers on Instagram, and we were thrilled when she contacted us one day to photograph a ring for a print editorial first national print editorial. We rushed to overnight the piece from Los Angeles to New York, but a major snow storm delayed our shipment and we didn’t make the deadline.
It was a minor tragedy in the journey of our new brand seeking recognition, but it was the start of our relationship with Marion. Read her feature on Spinelli Kilcollin here, and after the interview, read on for further information of the history of one of our favorite things!
SK: Many Spinelli Kilcollin pieces feature a mix of different precious metals: 18k golds in rose and yellow, sterling silver, and rhodium plated silver. At what point did mixed metals become popular? Are there jewelers that have worked exclusively with mixed metals, or movements during which mixed metals were especially important?
MF: The history of mixing metals in jewelry goes back to at least the Middle Ages. Metal smiths were working gold, steel and silver together in everything from jewelry to swords and attire for literally knights in shining armor. Over time mixed metals have been a mainstay in jewelry for example in the 19th century before the introduction of platinum fine jewelry was made of silver topped gold. In the twentieth century a variety of gold alloys were used in daytime jewels during the 1940s. These are just a few examples but there are countless instances over time.
We work a lot with Pavé-set diamonds. Pavé, as we know is french for "pave" — how did this style of setting stones come about and become popular?
As soon as lapidaries knew how to cut diamonds with some level of expertise in the 18th century, jewelry designers were setting them in pavé. The pavéd diamond look has been ubiquitous in jewelry every since. What has changed is the refinement of the setting as technological advances allowed for smaller gems and a reduced size of the prongs.
Repetition is a crucial element of Spinelli Kilcollin jewelry — each of our pieces features repeated forms — can the same be said for designers of the past, or of historical jewelry movements?
As Andy Warhol once said, “Repetition in reputation.” It is something that is used by designers to establish their styles - elements are pulled through collections. A movement in jewelry becomes a style when there is a shared language of forms. Every movement has it and all good designers have signature elements repeated in their work.
Many of our pieces are incredibly minimal, and others are quite ornate -- has it been, historically, common for other jewelry designers to work in these two modes simultaneously?
Absolutely, the best designers do not box themselves in to being a minimalist or a maximalist. Elsa Peretti is know for her minimal sculptural work but she also has pieces that express the opposite. There are lots of designers working today that have what might be considered classic work and more ornate editions of a designs.
Is there a piece of jewelry that made you adore jewelry?
I started in jewelry right out of college working as an archivist for a man who was a gem dealer but had the largest collection of 20th century masterpieces in the world. There was Cartier, Tiffany, Lalique and so much more. What made me become fascinated by the field was the stories behind these jewels—the people who made them and what inspired the designs. It’s what still drives me every day
Who are a few of your favorite jewelry designers, from any decade?
My list of favorite jewelry designs goes from A to Z. Some of the more obscure names are Flato, Jean Fouquet, Verger.
It’s another laundry list of items and it actually changes seasonally. For example I have this carved pink opal flower ring from Irene Neuwirth that I only wear when its warm.
Are there any pieces of jewelry that you own and never take off?
Every since 2012 - when I wrote the storyline for the exhibition Cartier and Aldo Cipullo New York City in the 70s - I have been wearing my Juste un Clou bracelet. Cipullo was an amazing man and I really fell in love with his ideas during the project. It’s also an easy to wear piece that fits everything from hiking to an evening on the town.
What do you think the future of jewelry design will look like?
Over the last ten years or so fine jewelry styles have been splintering into tribes the same way fashion has. In other words there are any number of looks and ways to go. I expect that will continue. I hope it does and the field begins to have more diversity in every way.
Jewelry—which as a category is, one could argue, a hybrid between art and fashion—has a long and complicated history. Ancient jewelry designs are frequently derived from customs—the dead were buried with their richest garments and ornaments, jewelry was worn for protection and ornamentation, and pieces were given as tokens of love.
Jewelry was initially made from materials such as stones, animal skins, feathers, plants, bones, shells, wood, and naturally occurring, semi-precious materials like obsidian.
Almost all cultures have used jewelry for religious, fiscal, and adornment purposes, for materials that were considered to be scarce and novel were prized—and are still valued. Emeralds were favored in the middle east for their color—green symbolizes, they believed, the eternal. Abalone shells, in various cultures, were traded as currency and also worn as jewelry.
The development of jewelry can be roughly attributed to three ancient civilizations: Egypt, India and China. Egypt and Mesopotamia can be credited for developments in metallurgy, gem collecting, and glass manufacturing—methods that were later adopted by Europe following the fall of Ancient Egypt and Roman Empire.
During the Byzantine and Germanic areas, metals became more popular. In India, Egypt, Europe, China, Japan, and elsewhere, gold took over the market. Richly saturated, 24k gold pieces became status symbols. Process' of handwork like filigree and inlay were preferred. Many pieces incorporated stones, but others were comprised solely of metals.
During the second half of the 15th century, pictorial representation, done via painting, enamel, and inlay—became popular. Images depicted religious scenes, served as good luck charms, and held written words.
At the beginning of the 18th century, in Europe, a new source of diamonds was found in Brazil. The availability of diamonds in Europe increased dramatically, and with it the look of jewelry changed. The emphasis was now less on metals and enamel, and more on the stones themselves.
Globally made jewelry became a bit more refined and intentional during the 19th century, when pieces became were inspired by Gothic, Renaissance, Greek, Etruscan and Roman, Rococo, Naturalistic, and Moorish design and jewelry.
Jewelry was made by hand throughout the duration of history, of materials that were available. During the Industrial Revolution, however, the social evolution created a market for a vast quantity of jewelry at prices the middle class could afford, and jewelry became something that could be more readily made my machine. Despite the growing dominance of the machine, the use of metal alloys, and the decreased levels of handmade jewelry, goldsmiths’ technical ability remained at a high level.
By the 19th century, trade allowed for the exchanging of materials and ideas—and so much of the jewelry that was coming from Europe was influenced by places like Japan and Egypt, and stones (jade, agate) used in those locales were incorporated into designs.
As a response to mass production and the advent of machine made jewelry, the bourgeois classes of the 19th century favored handmade fine jewelry, which was—and still is—considered to be an ultimate expression of luxury.
Companies like Fabergé, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Bulgari, which were often family-run, were favored over those that lacked a story. This is demonstrated, perhaps most famously, by Cartier, which was founded by Alfred Cartier and his son Louis. Spinelli Kilcollin follows this tradition: the first Spinelli Kilcollin ring was designed by Yves Spinelli's father, Antoine, and each piece of Spinelli Kilcollin jewelry is made individually.
At the end of the 19th century, Art Nouveau became an incredibly popular style in art, interior design, and jewelry. The movement is thought to be a reaction to the jewelry that came before it, which imitated ancient styles and emphasized the importance of precious stones in jewelry. Art Nouveau jewelry was prized not for its intrinsic value but for its design and symbolism. The movement is, perhaps, best represented by René Lalique, whose work was figurative and bizarre and often include figures of animals and flowers. Other jewelers of the time, like Georges Fouquet and Henri Vever, created more geometric works, but were still considered to be Art Nouveau jewelers because of their attention to detail and embellishment.
At the beginning of World War I, the popularity of Art Nouveau lessened. As painters and sculptures entered the worlds of Cubism, Futurism, the abstractionism, jewelry followed suit and texturized the conversation—Art Deco jewelry, which was geometric in form and comprised of smooth, polished, surfaces and precious metals, became popular. For the first time in the jewelry's history, precious stones like diamonds and sapphires were no longer the focal points of the pieces that they were incorporated into. Raymond Templier, Jean Fouquet, and René Robert were among the most prominent Art Deco jewelry designers.
During the time in which Art Deco jewelry was popular, it ruled the market. After, jewelry designs became a bit more disparate: individual designers returned to making pieces that were distinctly theirs, and jewelry re-became an expression of individuality and personal taste.
Rings—those decorative and functional—have always overlapped. Wedding rings, signet rings, and family crest rings are at once symbolic, functional, and used as forms of adornment. "Fede-rings," which are engraved with messages that symbolize things like love and magic, have long been used as amulets and wedding rings. An early written account of a more simple, minimalist wedding ring appeared in 1554.
Though the process' of making jewelry developed over time and the variety of materials used in jewelry changed, the symbolic and aesthetic reasons for wearing jewelry always remained the same: jewelry is a non-verbal expression of love and affection, wealth, rank, political and religious affiliation, and, of course, taste.