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Recently at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra I attended an exhibition of jewellery created by the Paris House of Cartier. Writers often keep their characters in their heads, and during this I was accompanied by Cassandra from Silver Linings. Crazy? Probably! Cassandra designs and fashions silver jewellery, and though Cartier works with gems, she would love such an exhibition.
The more than 300 pieces of jewellery and related ephemera have been lent by Cartier, by the British royal family, the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), the Princely Palace of Monaco, private collections and others. The first impression on walking into the darkened exhibition is of glittering and almost overwhelming opulence. The pieces are displayed in LED-lit high-security cases of varying sizes according to the item, and accompanied by brief details. I was particularly entranced by the life-size figure of Queen Marie of Romania, a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, wearing a ball dress with a long shimmering pendant given to her by her husband King Ferdinand.
And the jewels themselves – diamonds, diamonds and more diamonds, different sizes, different types of ‘cuts’ and facets, various settings in precious metals such as gold or platinum; some larger gems such as emeralds are carved, others are polished but not given facets. Designs of every imaginable style are evident.
As well as jewellery for personal adornment, Cartier designed accoutrements including vanity and lipstick cases, powder compacts, clasps for handbags and evening bags, clocks, watches, cigarette holders and cases and lighters, cigar cutters, ashtrays. One area of the exhibition displays historic items specifically for men, and contains several smoking accessories. Another space is set up to illustrate the stages of jewellery production. Each table explains the process from the designer’s idea, to the jeweller, the cutter and the polisher, with one table showing the tools used. Cassandra would have been interested in these as some are similar to those she uses for her work.
As well as European royalty, Indian maharajahs, and the generally very well-heeled, Cartier attracted stage and screen personalities, the latter not only with jewellery for themselves but to display in their movies. In the final section of the exhibition, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe flaunt jewellery in movie clips shown sound-free with subtitles, making an enjoyable ending to a couple of hours spent with the jewels.
Leaving Cassandra behind, over coffee at the café I wondered whether, as a writer of contemporary romances, I could imagine a story where the lead character owns a vault-full of diamonds. So far, my notebook is blank on this, but who knows!
Enjoy your reading! Priscilla
(This image is not from the exhibition.)