The Jewelry District, Episode 84: Guest Marion Fasel


Join JCK editor-in-chief Victoria Gomelsky and news director Rob Bates for a talk with jewelry historian and author Marion Fasel, founder and editorial director of the website The Adventurine. They cover her unlikely introduction into the industry, her writing partnership with the late Penny Proddow; her history with InStyle magazine; the story behind her newest book, B Is for Bulgari; her exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History; and her path into curation.

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Show Notes
02:17 Victoria and Rob welcome their guest, Marion Fasel
03:30 The trio recalls late jewelry designer Daniel Brush
07:47 Marion shares her unexpected start in the jewelry world
11:52 Marion talks about her longtime collaboration with Penny Proddow
15:17 Making a connection with InStyle
19:46 Working with Bulgari
22:15 Curating Beautiful Creatures
25:00 Telling a story through curation
25:32 The Adventurine
26:20 The most exciting new trend in jewelry

Episode Credits
Hosts: Rob Bates and Victoria Gomelsky
Producer and engineer: Natalie Chomet
Plugs: The Adventurine @jckmagazine

Show Recap

Remembering Daniel Brush
Victoria and Rob ask Marion to share memories of jewelry designer Daniel Brush, who died last month. Marion describes him as an extraordinary talent and intellect who became a cult hero in the jewelry world for reviving methods from the distant past such as granulation.

Marion’s Unlikely Start
After graduating from New York University, Marion took a summer job with jewelry collector Ralph Esmerian in 1989, entering data about his collection into a computer, a new approach to archiving at the time. Her “short-term” job lasted 25 years and led to her writing partnership with jewelry historian Penny Proddow. “At that time, Ralph’s collection was considered one of the greatest of the 20th century. There was a lot of artistry to the pieces, so I came at it like an art historian because I had studied art history.”

Partnering With Penny Proddow
Like Marion, Penny Proddow joined Ralph Esmerian as a new college grad. Marion calls Penny’s specialty “the detective work of jewelry history,” finding the sources of inspiration and cultural influences that led to specific pieces and trends. Penny and Marion collaborated on the book Hollywood Jewels, the first of many books they cowrote.

The InStyle Era
In the early 1990s, jewelry coverage in consumer magazines was scant. So when InStyle featured Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels, Marion and Penny wrote a letter to the founding editor complimenting the article. This connection led to the pair becoming regular InStyle contributors. Their first article covered the 1996 Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis jewelry auction at Sotheby’s. Readers and advertisers responded, and soon InStyle was giving Marion and Penny up to 16 pages per issue to write about jewelry.

Fast-forward to today: Consumer magazines have changed dramatically, with less in-depth jewelry coverage. Rob mentions consumer magazines devoted to watches, but Marion considers this a different market; its largely male audience considers watches collectibles akin to cars.

Gone, too, are Marion’s collaborations with Penny, who died in 2009. “We wrote everything together,” she recalls. “It was absolutely side by side.”

The Serpenti Story
Victoria asks Marion about her trilogy of books for Bulgari and her newest work, B Is for Bulgari, celebrating the brand’s 50th year in America. Marion explains that then-CEO Michael Burke’s plan was for a solo volume on Serpenti, but the book was surprise sensation. “Now Serpenti is ingrained in people’s minds with Bulgari, but when the book was published, it was a fluke,” Marion says. “It happened to be Chinese New Year 2013, the year of the snake, and it was fashion week, so everyone went absolutely ballistic.”

Beautiful Creatures
Marion’s path led from books to curating exhibitions, including Beautiful Creatures for New York’s American Museum of Natural History. The opportunity arose when the museum was renovating its hall of gems and minerals and invited her to brainstorm ideas for a jewelry exhibit. Walking through the museum sparked an epiphany: “I realized my audience was about four feet tall because it’s a children’s museum.” She wanted to curate an exhibition kids would understand and respond to.

Her solution? Elegant, animal-themed jewelry made in the last 150 years. Victoria notes that the result inspired a lot of people, including designer Lauren Harwell Godfrey, who created a Menagerie collection.

Visual Storytelling
Rob asks about the connection between writing and curating. Marion says storytelling is at the center of both, though the storytelling aspect of curation takes tremendous effort. “It’s extremely time-consuming to make the story visual so people don’t have to read it if they don’t have the time or inclination. They can see it because that’s the experience with an exhibition.”

The Adventurine
Marion calls her website The Adventurine the fulfillment of a dream. “I launched The Adventurine because I wanted to tell all parts of stories that I enjoyed, and I thought there was an audience for it. I’ve been thrilled that there is.”

Trend Watch
Marion says the most exciting trend in jewelry now is designers producing annual and seasonal collections with organized themes and stories rather than simple extensions of their existing work. “I find it extraordinary how sophisticated independent design has become.”

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By: Natalie Chomet

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