Kick back with one or more of the titles on our essential reading list for jewelers
Caught up in the day-to-day duties of retailing, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that, as a jeweler, you’re selling one of the world’s most culturally significant art forms, boasting a history that unfurls all the way back to early man.
Can you envision Cleopatra without that glittering gold headpiece? Coco Chanel without a mess of long pearl strands? Or Jennifer Lawrence as The Hunger Games’ tenacious Katniss Everdeen without her gold Mockingjay pin?
Jewelry has defined both eras and icons. And its roots, mavericks, and methodologies are always accessible—for reference, inspiration, and sheer entertainment—in books written by astute authors who have dedicated their professional lives to revealing what makes jewelry (and its devotees) tick.
There’s no better time to build—or add to—a robust jewelry library than summer, when foot traffic slows in stores and luxuriously long days beckon us to belly flop on a beach with a good read in our hands.
Whether you’re ready to update your in-store library or are contemplating your summer reading list, consider these titles. Selected by JCK editors and a handful of book-smart jewelry pros, college professors, and historians, they range from pragmatic academic texts to juicy biographies.
Mavericks and Masters: Books by and about legendary firms and designers
Paulding Farnham: Tiffany’s Lost Genius by John Loring chronicles the life and exquisite work of the little-known designer who charmed the world with his intricate flower-motif jewelry as head of design for Tiffany and Co. around the turn of the 20th century. Farnham helped define the firm’s look, and reproductions of his works are sold by Tiffany & Co. to this day.… And while we’re talking Tiffany, The Jewels of Jean Schlumberger was written by a quartet of European museum curators: Chantal Bizot, Evely Posseme, Marie-Noel De Gary, and Helene David-Weill. The beautiful book spans the entire career of the artist best known creating big-gem baubles for Tiffany & Co. and Elsa Schiaparelli.… The gorgeously illustrated Cartier: Jewelers Extraordinary, by Hans Nadelhoffer, is “the definitive book on Cartier jewelry,” says jewelry historian Joyce Jonas, a personal acquaintance of Nadelhoffer, adding that “he knew everything there was to know about the brand and the jewelry.”… Kenneth Jay Lane: Faking It, coauthored by the famed costume jeweler, is a decidedly lighter read, but no less engrossing because “he’s such a gossip,” says National Jewelry Institute president Judith Price with a hint of glee. “He tells you about all the famous women he’s known and worked with.”
Timelines: Books that spotlight jewelry’s fascinating history
If you invest in just one book on jewelry history, consider 7000 Years of Jewelry edited by Hugh Tait, which Jonas considers “one of the best books out there on the subject,” remarking, “Tait is just a brilliant writer.” The jam-packed tome, which features more than 400 photos, explores and explains the many styles, techniques, and materials used in jewelry fabrication throughout history in a number of different cultures. Find sections on Egyptian necklaces, Mayan Central American jewelry from A.D. 600 to 1000, and Renaissance pendants.… Fashion for Jewels: 100 Years of Styles and Icons by former British Vogue editor Carol Woolton explores the links between fashion and jewelry over the last 100 years, from the Victorian era’s delicate chokers to the 1970s’ caftan-ready chunky jewels, and describes how modern-day muses such as Michelle Obama are shaping the style landscape.… Jewelry design innovations spanning 700 years are the subject of A History of Jewellery: 1100–1870 by Joan Evans, which includes 400 photos and illustrations of rare ornamentation.… Slightly more obscure, but no less informative, is The Story of Jewelry by J. Anderson Black, a comprehensive history of jewelry design that’s epic in scope—covering pieces from prehistoric to modern times and illustrated with large, lush, full-color plates.
Icons and Muses: Titles by and about the world’s most glamorous jewelry lovers
No Hollywood celebrity, before or since, has embraced the glitz and glamour of high-end jewelry like the late Elizabeth Taylor. In Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair With Jewelry, the screen legend—who amassed one of the world’s most dazzling private jewelry collections—tells the stories behind her most notable pieces, including the 33.19 ct. Krupp diamond and the 69.42 ct. pear-shape Taylor-Burton diamond, both gifts from her husband, actor Richard Burton.… The glittering crown jewels of India are detailed in glorious full color in Maharajas’ Jewels by Katherine Prior and John Adamson, which tells the tales of Indian princes and their showstopping baubles, with stories woven in and around a history of the rise and fall of India’s royal houses.… John Culme and Nicholas Rayner detail the storied collection of Wallis Simpson, the controversial American heiress-turned-royal who inspired King Edward VIII to abdicate his throne, in The Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor. The stylish socialite stood out among blue-blooded collectors because “she didn’t just go into a store and buy a big piece of jewelry—she made her own by conferring with Cartier and others,” Price explains.… Speaking of stylish socialites—Searching for Beauty: The Life of Millicent Rogers, the American Heiress Who Taught the World About Style by Cherie Burns is an absorbing read because “she is so unconventional,” Price says. “She gave up everything and moved to Taos, New Mexico.” But not before romancing Clark Gable and becoming a muse to couturier Charles James, among other accomplishments.… In 20th Century Jewelry & the Icons of Style, Stefano Papi and Alexandra Rhodes examine 11 illustrious women who influenced and advanced jewelry design after World War I, including Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, the Duchess of Windsor, actress Merle Oberon, and opera singer Maria Callas.
Nuts and Bolts: Academic and how-to tomes that educate and inspire
Karen Bachmann, an award-winning designer and professor of jewelry fabrication at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y., uses Oppi Untracht’s Jewelry: Concepts and Technology in all her classes and calls it “one of the best books on jewelry making.” Jonas agrees and adds that Untracht “is a jeweler himself, so he understands all the mechanics of jewelry making.” The illustrated reference also explores jewelry fabrication throughout history.… Theory & Practice of Goldsmithing by Erhard Brepohl, also on Bachmann’s reading list, “really breaks down the how-tos,” she says. Among its takeaways are explanations on “the mechanics, the metallurgy, the melting points, and the actual chemical processes involved in making jewelry.”… Practical Wax Modeling: Advanced Techniques for the Wax Modeler by Hiroshi Tsuyuki and Yoko Ohba “is an excellent book—without being overwhelming,” Bachmann says. The step-by-step textbook and its predecessor, Basic Wax Modeling (also by Tsuyuki and Ohba), were written as part of the curriculum of the Lost Wax Courses of the Japan Jewelry Craft School.
Facts and Stats: References that inform and entertain
The pragmatic Starting to Collect Antique Jewelry by John Benjamin “is a gem because Benjamin knows his stuff backward and forward,” Jonas says. The contemporary book could double as a handbook for estate jewelers, metalsmiths, and gemologists alike—as it expounds on topics such as setting old gems, spotting forgeries, and appreciating underused jewelry arts, including enameling and cameo creation.… The alphabetically arranged An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewellery by Anita Mason and Diane Packer is perhaps the closest thing there is to a jewelry dictionary, with categories such as legendary designers, tools, jewelry folklore, metals, and gemstones given equal space and treatment.… Understanding Jewellery by David Bennett, worldwide chairman of jewelry at Sotheby’s, and Daniela Mascetti, senior director of jewelry at Sotheby’s, is a timeless reference for jewelry buyers on what to look for and what to avoid in the market. “They have so much expertise and so much at their fingertips,” Jonas says. “It’s one of those books I go to over and over.” Like so many other books on our list, its usefulness borders on the boundless.