Treasures for the wearer

25 05 2009

I’ve always loved jewellery that has a secret for the wearer – a gem or exquisite detailing on the underside of a brooch, or embellishment on the inside of a ring.

I have recently discovered a new term that could be applied to some examples of this concealed beauty: stealth wealth. On further research it turns out the phrase has been around for a long time, but I haven’t connected it to jewellery before. I found the term when reading the March 2009 AFR Magazine. It was used to refer to a beautiful ring from e.g.etal with ‘ruby ball-bearings’ on the inside the band.

from AFR magazine March 2009 edition

from AFR magazine March 2009 edition

It is the work of Sean O’Connell and is amazingly comfortable to wear. He also has made rings with ceramic balls and stainless steel balls, but the most covetable is the ruby one. The underside really is undetectable from the passive viewer – so  much so that while looking for it at e.g.etal I actually had to ask for help to identify which was the one in the magazine. [As an aside, Sean was one of the artists involved in this year’s Giving Beads.]

Forbes defines the term as follows: ““Stealth wealth” is about accoutrements that are subtle, not necessarily readable by the general public, but by those in the know.” And later in the same article: “There’s an immense amount of detail that only the wearer is aware of; you don’t see that detail unless the wearer wants you to see it.” The tailor being quoted is referring to bespoke suits, but this is how I connect the concept to jewellery.

The practice of paying special attention to the back of a brooch is one I liked ascribing to when making work for my degree. It is also a practice that Bettina Speckner seems to like too. When first viewing her exhibition I didn’t know there was such gorgeousness on the underside until I asked to pick up one of the pieces.

Below is an image of a brooch by Bettina: unfortunately I could not find its name, but it is the only photograph I could find with the back-side of the piece shown.  This is exactly what I mean by a ‘treasure for the wearer’ – only the wearer knows the underside is so spectacular, for there is no hint from the ‘front face’ of the brooch.

from Kath Libbert Jewellery (UK) website; used under fair dealings provision (for review and critique) of Copyright Act

from Kath Libbert Jewellery (UK) website

Also, on a recent visit to e.g.etal I learned that Katherine Bowman (one of my favourite jewellers) often has a little gem set on the back of her rings, where only the wearer knows of it. Lovely! I have only named a few jewellers here, but there are many who do this in their work.

I personally love this aspect. My view is that jewellery is worn for the wearer, and less for the observer – displays of wealth, or using jewellery to mark ones class or associations, belong to bygone eras. Personal decoration is worn for the experience, it does not require ‘the gaze of the other’ to exist.

But I also wonder – when selling or exhibiting work, why not display the pieces so that the underside can be seen too? Especially if they are so incredibly beautiful. If it is desired by the artist to sell the work, for a viewer to eventually become the owner and wearer, isn’t it best to show how wonderful the whole object is? Or is it a means of finding those worthy of owning it: in that if you interested enough to look at the back, and therefore find this beauty, then you may be the right person to own it. This is where talking with the staff at galleries is really important to understanding the whole piece, for they will often point out such treasures – imagine walking away not realising that you’ve only seen half of the beauty.

Returning to a point I make above, wearing jewellery to mark oneself as belonging to a particular group is actually interesting now that I give it some more thought … especially with the growth in popularity of the Singelringen and the abominable Pandora bracelets … more on that another time.


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10 05 2010
Madrid museums #1: Lazaro Galdiano « Melbourne Jeweller

[…] shown with little mirrors behind them so you could see the reverse – something I’ve written about before. Also of particular note were the texts alongside the groupings – which thankfully were in […]

30 01 2012
In the press « Melbourne Jeweller

[…] particular aspect has been one I’ve written about quite a number of times (most especially on 25th May 2009), as I very much like the intimacy and secrecy of a detail only known to the wearer … […]




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