Big Fat Indian Weddings!

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(Photograph courtesy of Narayan Jewellers.)

Yes, a wedding is about two souls being joined in holy matrimony but, it is also about a joyous occasion that some girls have been planning for years and years; before there was even a hint of a significant other.

The outfit, the hairstyle, the shoes, and the icing on the cake; the jewellery!

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(Photograph courtesy of Narayan Jewellers.)

Indian weddings are long-drawn-out affairs that last for a few days with guests coming in for the whole production full of celebration, song, dance and wardrobe changes. Wardrobe changes require complementary accessories and every bride worth her salt will tell you so.

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(Photograph courtesy of Narayan Jewellers.)

However, for everything a reason and there are delicious details that accompany every piece of jewellery that adorns the bride, little bits of tradition that are at the very root of each significant piece. We’ll talk about it all one at a time in the posts to come.

Stay tuned!

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Gold for the win.

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(Burial mask of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun; images courtesy of Huffpost and Deposit Photos.)

The ancient Egyptians were of the belief that the bodies of the dead were to be preserved in order for the soul to have a place to dwell after death. The mummified corpses had masks that covered their faces; plaster for the common folk and masks made of precious metals like gold for royalty. One of the most famous burial masks belonged to Tutankhamun who was an Egyptian Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty. The mask is carved such that it has a nemes headcloth, bearing the royal insignia of a cobra and vulture.  There are inlays of gemstones and coloured glass, quartz for the eyes, obsidian for the pupils, lapis lazuli around the eyes and eyebrows, turquoise, amazonite, faience carnelian, feldspar and other stones make up the inlays for the collar. This mask is now on public display in a museum in Cairo.

(Illuminated manuscripts, Islamic and Christian; images courtesy of  Pinterest and Wikimedia.)

An illuminated manuscript referred to manuscripts decorated with gold or silver in the form of borders or miniature illustrations. This practice of creating illuminated manuscripts prevailed in Islamic as well as European texts.

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(Kintsugi pottery; image courtesy of Ceramic School.)

Gold dust and lacquer, that is what the Japanese use to fix what’s broken. Pottery in particular. Cracks are filled in with this combination which ultimately results in beautiful scars. It is called Kintsugi pottery, the basis of which lies in wabi-sabi, which in turn refers to acknowledging the beauty in imperfection.

Gold; durable malleable gold has always been of immense value, for good reason, since time immemorial.

Klimt with his Midas touch.

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Visitors of the Belvedere Museum watch Gustav Klimt´s painting 'Der Kuss' (getty images)

(Visitors of the Belvedere Museum watch Gustav Klimt´s painting ‘Der Kuss’; image courtesy of Getty Images.)

Gold in art; it would be remiss of us to leave out Gustav Klimt, especially with regard to the subject of gold leaf.

Klimt was an Austrian artist, a Symbolist painter who lived and worked during the 19th century. Symbolism; as Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé puts it is, “to depict not the thing but the effect it produces”.  The protagonists in his work were largely women, the female body played a consistent role and there was a degree of eroticism in his compositions that often made his work the subject of controversy.

Klimt’s golden phase is what brought him a lot of critical acclaims and those artworks created during the said phase remain the most regaled of his body of work. He used a lot of gold in his paintings and is especially well known for his use of gold leaf.

The Kiss is a painting by Klimt which consists of a perfect square that encloses a couple mid-embrace in elaborately embellished robes; Art Nouveau style. This famous painting is now housed by the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere museum in the Belvedere Palace, Vienna.

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(Judith and the Head of Holofernes Gustav Klimt Artist Gustav Klimt Year 1901; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

Judith and the Head of Holofernes also known as Judith I is yet another famed golden painting by Klimt. The subject matter is biblical in nature and it represents Judith with the head of Holofernes (whom she decapitated herself). The composition is such that Judith is front and centre, the focus of the piece with the head of Holofernes in the corner, conveniently cropped out of the frame. Österreichische Galerie Belvedere museum in the Belvedere Palace, Vienna houses this work of art.

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907. Oil, silver, and gold on canvas. Christie's

(Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907. Oil, silver, and gold on canvas; image courtesy of Christie’s.)

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, also known as The Woman in Gold is yet another famous painting in gold leaf by Gustav Klimt. It was a painting of a Jewish banker’s wife; Adele Bloch-Bauer, commissioned by the banker, it was embroiled in intriguing events of history wherein it was stolen by the Nazis but recovered years later in order to be returned to the family before being sold yet again. It is the last painting depicting his golden phase in its entirety. It is now displayed in the Neue Galerie, New York.

Nothing beats Gold beating in this case.

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If we’re going to talk about gold leaf, it’s best to begin with Gold beating.

The last artisan battiloro goldbeater in Europe L'Italo-Americano Newsletter

(The last artisan battiloro goldbeater in Europe; image courtesy of L’Italo-Americano Newsletter.)

Gold beating is a process that has been in use since the time of the Egyptians. Gold is a metal that has always been known for its ductile quality and the fact that it is long-lasting in nature. Hence the process of hammering this precious metal became a technique frequently practised by craftsmen and artisans. Gold was hammered into the thinnest possible sheets, as thin as a leaf, which is where it got its name.

The gold with an alloy such as silver or copper is melted then cast into bars which are run through rolling mills several times until they are close to an inch thick. These sheets are then cut into smaller sized pieces, wrapped in goldbeater’s skin (ox intestine membrane) or in modern times – polyester film about 150 in number and this wrapping is called a cutch. This is wrapped further in parchment to hold it all together; placed upon larger surfaces like marble or granite slabs that can withstand heavy blows. Then these are hammered again, for hours together, into thinner sheets as the packages are rotated and turned until the gold within expands somewhat equally in every direction.

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(Gold leaf tissue book; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

They are then removed from the cutch, cut up equally and put into a packet called a shoder which is 100 times the number of skins used in the cutch. The packet is hammered for hours again until the gold expands to about 5-inch square.

The pieces are then removed, cut further, coated with gypsum so that it doesn’t stick to the skin after which it is put into a mold for the final beating which again lasts a couple of hours and the gold is about 6 inches in diameter after which it is finally cut and placed in a book of tissue pages for safe keeping.

A bit more associated with gold leaf in the next post, stay tuned!

 

Golden Greek Gods!

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When you think of ancient Greece, humungous beautifully carved sculptures come to mind, or don’t they?

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(Athena Varvakeion, a small Roman replica of the Athena Parthenos by Phidias; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

Mighty Athena and formidable Zeus; both with a core of wood and covered in carved ivory, embellished with gold, all at the hands of Phidias – sculptor of the Classical Greek era. Athena stands tall in the Parthenon at Athens at 40 ft.; Zeus is seated in the temple at Olympia, 36 ft. tall.

These towering structures were known as Chryselephantine sculptures, the word chryselephantine itself suggests ivory covered in gold (chryso- is used in combination with another word to indicate the use of gold). The face, the arms and the legs of these figures were carved in ivory and the embellishments which consisted of armour, robes, jewellery/ accessories and locks (literally golden locks) were distinguishable from the ivory body parts because they were covered in gold leaf.

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(Statue of Zeus, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

However, nothing of the original art remains to this day with the exception of miniatures (replicas) from the archaic era and remnants of certain sculptures which lead to knowledge of these towering structures. Quite unfortunately and yet understandably, it is the expensive nature of the materials used that led the statues to be destroyed during the periods of warfare.

More about the fascinating Gold leaf technique in the next post.

Art and Gold.

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(Tanjore painting of Lord Krishna; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

Sure, crafting beauty out of gold is an art form but this isn’t restricted solely to jewellery-making, as valued as that profession is!

1600 AD is as far back as Tanjore paintings go. What are those, you ask? Thanjavur is a south Indian town, which is where this style of painting originated, hence the name.

Tanjore paintings are famed for the gold coating that graces the surfaces of their artwork. Especially since most of the compositions were dedicated to portrayals of Gods and Goddesses wherein the application of gold gave the work a bit of life and seemed to inspire a sense of devotion in the worshippers who came across the work of art.

Artwork depicting deities were often embellished with gemstones and glass beads and other ornaments in order to give it a royal look and a 3 dimensional one at that. The ornaments that adorned the deities, along with the clothing were made of pure gold as well.

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(Tanjore painting of Sri Lakshmi Devi; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

Gold foil or gold dust is what was used most often in the application on the artwork/ paintings which gave the work a sheen that could last decades since gold isn’t as susceptible to corrosion and tarnishing as is the case with other metals. Gold can outlast most other metals which is what benefitted the artwork it was upon which it was used.

This is strictly to Tanjore paintings and the manner in which they originated the trend that picked up in Indian painting traditions.

More on Gold in Art in the next post!

Cultured Pearls: The Quartet.

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N08881-351_web(Cultured Pearl, Platinum and Diamond Necklace, Circa 1940; image courtesy of Sotheby’s.)

 

Natural pearls, as the name suggests, are formed without any influence from mankind, whatsoever. They form in the bodies of shellfish also known as mollusks.

Cultured pearls, on the other hand, are, yet again as the name suggests, grown in a special preparation and specifically for the purpose of collecting pearls then used in the process of jewellery making.

There are four kinds of cultured pearls:

Tahitian Pearls:

Most often cultivated in Tahiti and other islands of French Polynesia which is where the name comes from. These pearls are an average of 9.5 mm with shapes that range from spherical to oval to baroque; they come in colours of Black to brown with bluish green hues and overtones between green, blue and pink. Tahitian pearls have a fair amount of lustre and the surface quality ranges from spotted to clean and the nacre quality is quite decent as well.

Akoya Pearls:

These pearls are cultivated in saltwater bodies in Japan and China with an average size of 6 to 8 mm in near-round and round spheres. Akoya pearls are mostly white or creamy with yellowish pinkish hues in overtones of pink or green. More than acceptable lustre accompanied by surfaces that aren’t too marred but fairly clean with a chalky to acceptable nacre.

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(Two Cultured Pearl and Diamond Necklace and Pair of Matching Earrings; image courtesy of Sotheby’s.)

South Sea Pearls:

These pearls are cultivated in the regions surrounding the Philippines, the land down under; Australia and Indonesia. The orb-like pearls are of an average size nearing 13 mm and the shape ranges from round to baroque with colours that are rather sombre in elegant tones of white, cream and silver with yellowish, orangey bluish tones and overtones of pinks, greens and blues. The lustre of these gems is more than acceptable to them, a healthy amount of sparkle and reflection, a mostly clean surface with an acceptable nacre quality.

Chinese Freshwater Pearls:

These freshwater pearls are often cultured in freshwater ponds or lakes, in the USA and China for the most part. The typical size of such a cultured gem is between 4 to 14 mm in a range that again falls anywhere between round and sem0i-round to baroque. The colours these come in are white or cream with colourful hues that are yellow, orange, pink and purple. The overtone adds a rather lovely mix to the pearl with colours of pink, blue and green of which the orient plays a part as well. The lustre is nothing short of admirable with a surface that is mostly clean or in some cases moderately / slightly spotted with a yet again acceptable nacre quality.

The process of culturing pearls as such deals with a trained expert extracting mantle tissue from a mollusc and inserting a small part of the tissue along with a shell bead into the gonad or mantle of another host mollusc. Over time the tissue grows and a sac is formed around the bead onto with nacre is secreted and eventually, voila; a pearl forms!

 

 

 

Pearls of Wisdom.

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(Magnificent natural pearl and diamond necklace, image courtesy of Sotheby’s.)

These little orbs are first housed by oysters on the ocean floor then by glass showcases on land in quaint settings where people go to purchase a little bit of beauty to light up their lives or simply to benefit from a bit of retail therapy.

Pearls have, since time immemorial, been a subject of absolute fascination.

Lustre is of prime importance for it is what determines the quality and value of a pearl first and foremost and this can be derived from the reflections upon its surface, whether they are bright and sharp or blurry and unclear.

The iridescent quality of a pearl also known as the nacre is the thin film covering the pearl. The nucleus is visible under the nacre, and the appearance can be hazy or clear depending on the thickness of the nacre which in turn decides just how indestructible the gem is.

Appearances do mean a lot when it comes to gems, any scratches on the surface of the pearl could lessen its value.

Colours can range from soft and subtle to sharp and bright, dark to light and in shades of white, cream, yellow and pink to blues greens and black. These can be the overall colour; the body of the pearl, the translucent colours that cover the dominant colour which is called the overtone and the Orient colour which looks similar to the colours of the rainbow which seem to be right at the top.

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(Rare and Impressive natural pearl and diamond tiara, Chaumet, 1920; image courtesy of Sotheby’s.)

The shape most desirable are, of course, the round one but those pearls that come in the shapes of pears, an oval or irregular shapes; baroque pearls are also quite fascinating.

Larger pearls are of more value as well, in comparison to the ones of a smaller size.

Last and certainly not the least, it is of significance that the pearls match one another especially when they are to be strung together or in order to form a set. This is when it all comes together, size, shape, colour, surface quality, nacre and lustre!

More information in the next post!

Pearls fit for a princess!

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(Princess Diana wearing the Sapphire and Diamond Pearl choker; image courtesy of PEOPLE)

This lovely sapphire surrounded by diamonds was originally a brooch that was a wedding gift to the late Princess Diana from the late Queen Mother. The princess had it modified into a pendant to be set among seven strands of pearls. It made for a spectacular choker necklace.

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(Princess Di in the three stranded pearl choker; image courtesy of the Royal Post.)

Another pearl choker that the Princess wore often consisted of three rows with a turquoise and pearl cluster clasp, which the Princess wore in the front or hidden at the back of her neck. She later altered the clasp to one made up entirely of pearls.

(Princess Di in various pearl necklaces; images courtesy of Pinterest and PEOPLE.)

Whether it was the eleven stranded pearl necklace with diamond and ruby spacers or double-stranded long classic pearl necklaces or layers of pearls with a pearl drop pendant (borrowed from Fergie), the Princess carried off the effortlessly elegant look that was only enhanced by the pearl jewellery.

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(The late Princess in the diamond and pearl necklace in 1997; image courtesy of Marie Claire.)

The diamond and pearl necklace is one worn by the late Princess during her last official engagement before her tragic demise in 1997. It was said to have a brilliant cut diamond and marquise diamond scroll motif centre, with a South Sea cultured pearl five stone and marquise diamond fringe drop.

Safe to say, royalty or not, pearls suggest sophistication, taste and a timeless elegance.

Ropes and ropes of pearls!

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(Coco Chanel; image courtesy of Vogue.)

Blame it on Coco. Not only did Gabrielle Coco Chanel relieve us women of the restraining corset and introduce us to chic clothing we can actually take a breath in (boxy tops and pants ladies!) but she made costume jewellery a thing. Faux bling! This rule-breaker was of the opinion that a woman should have options whenever she wished to accessorize and costly jewellery shouldn’t hold said woman back. I’m sure a lot of us would chime in with a Hallelujah Amen!

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(Gabrielle Coco Chanel (52) – 1935 – Photo by Man Ray; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

“A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls.” Coco said so and she lived by those words, the proof, so to speak is in the photographic pudding. She wore them, piled them on, to be specific and there are a whole lot of pictures to prove the fact. She believed that costume jewellery was provocative, that pearls went with a whole lot of outfits, that they lent grace and that elusive finishing touch to most looks. She has been a pioneer walking the pearl laden path and paving the way for fashionistas since the 1930s.

As for her designs, the pearl necklaces were created in the same way that she’d wear them, more than a single strand, more than a few strands of cultured pearls; ropes and ropes of them as Coco would say.

More talk about pearls in the next post!