Jewelry expert Amanda Triossi was ahead of her time when she started collecting jewelry of the 60s and 70s. Now, jewelry of this era is getting its due with the exhibit “Simply Brilliant: Artist-Jewelers of the 1960s and 1970s” and its corresponding catalogue, which Amanda penned an introduction for. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about the collection highlighted in the exhibit, why the popularity of 60s and 70s jewelry has shifted, and who the major players of the time were. Read the episode transcript below.
Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. Today, my guest is Amanda Triossi. She is a jewelry historian, curator and author. Most recently, she authored one of the introductory essays to the book Simply Brilliant: Artist-Jewelers of the 1960s and 1970s, which catalogues the exhibit at the relatively new DIVA Museum in Antwerp. The exhibit is then moving on to Pforzheim and Cincinnati. We’ll hear more about the exhibit and Amanda’s own jewelry journey. Amanda, welcome to the program.
Amanda: Thank you very much.
Sharon: So glad to have you all the way from home. Tell us about your own jewelry journey.
Amanda: I’ve always been passionate about jewels, and I had an epiphany very early on in life. When I was four years old, my mother gave me a magazine with the coronation of the Shah. That was 1967, and it was my best bedside storybook. From then on, I knew I wanted to be involved in jewelry. This was treated as an eccentricity in my family, but I persevered.
Sharon: You were saying you knew when you went to university that you wanted to study art, but you wanted to be involved in jewelry, which impressed me. There are not that many people who know right now, going to school, that’s what they want to do with their degree.
Amanda: It was very hard, in fact, because now jewelry is gaining more scholarly respectability, but when I was at university, decorative arts was considered sort of like a swear word; one just didn’t consider decorative arts. At Cambridge, when I mentioned to my professor that I wanted to do jewelry, he really frowned upon me. It was absolutely something I wasn’t supposed to do. I ended up making a compromise because I wrote my dissertation on jewelry and Renaissance paintings. I was allowed to that. That was my beginning, let’s say, of a more scholarly jewelry journey.
Sharon: That must have been a fabulous piece of research for your dissertation, writing about jewelry during the Renaissance.
Amanda: It was quite specific, because the theme was looking at secular portraiture and images of the Virgin in Italy and Florence from 1440 to 1490, so it was very narrow. The reason it was so narrow was, at that time, all the great artists either worked in workshops that also produced jewelry or had been trained as jewelers themselves. For example, even Leonardo da Vinci or Brunelleschi, the very famous architect, all the great names of that period, Botticelli himself, were involved directly in jewels. When one reads a book on the history of art, often art historians mention how these painters were trained as jewelers, but don’t go into depth. How did they deal with jewelry in the two different spheres? That was the subject of my dissertation and the outcome—
Sharon: It’s very interesting. It sounds like a labor of love in many ways.
Amanda: Absolutely. I started way back, and the outcome was that in the secular sphere, they’re following fashionable types of jewels, which of course is a fantastic record because very few of them have survived. Those in the religious sphere follow completely religious iconography, so they’re not jewels that would have been worn. Where there is an overlap, it’s quite interesting how the artists deal in the particular way. It was interesting to see the difference of approach. I could have gone on to do a Ph.D. on the subject. There’s a lot that one could have analyzed, but I stopped at a more narrow level and in time, my interests have moved on.
Sharon: You then, as they call it, moved into the real world. You worked at auction houses.
Amanda: Yes, exactly, from studying history at Cambridge and being introduced to jewelry via my dissertation, I moved on. I was an intern at Sotheby’s in London, very frustrated because all my peers were earning lots of money in banking, and I was making tea and sticking stamps in the jewelry department at Sotheby’s. But it was a wonderful place to be because of the sheer volume and quality of jewels. Then I began being paid as a cataloguer, and then I became an auctioneer. I was trained as an auctioneer, and then I headed the jewelry department of Amsterdam. I was always interested in history of jewelry design, and I began lecturing on history of jewelry design. I was asked by Sotheby’s to set up a course devoted only to history of jewelry design, and that really took off. That was in 1992. I ran it for eight years, twice a year for one month. It was an intensive course. It was wonderful, because I could share my passion with my students. My family always teases me because wherever I go in the world, I have friends, and usually my friends are my ex-students.
Sharon: That sounds great. Was that part of an academic program Sotheby’s had? Who was attending that?
Amanda: Well, it was quite interesting. I was slightly prejudiced to begin with because I thought it would attract ladies at lunch. Instead, I was completely misled. Anybody wanting to take a full-time, one-month course in London are people that are seriously committed to the subject. So, it’s the people that are absolutely passionate, if not obsessed, with jewelry; for example, gemologists that have knowledge of gems but not of the history of jewelry. My students were designers who wanted a broader understanding of the development of jewelry design from a historical perspective. Dealers, or the children of very established dealers, were sent to take the course. It was actually a wonderful mix in age, and definitely all people that were seriously committed and have ended up in fantastic positions in the world of jewelry these days.
Sharon: Wow! It sounds great. I wish I could have taken that myself. It sounds fabulous.
Amanda: It was called “Understanding Jewelry with Amanda Triossi.” Of course, London at the time was a wonderful place because there are, first of all, all the great sales. Both major auction houses specialize in antique jewelry. London is the center for antique jewelry, so it’s a fantastic opportunity to handle antique jewelry. Secondly, there are amazing public collections, let alone the crown jewels at the V&A, the British Museum. I think in terms of jewelry, London really offers a great range. Also at the time, in the 90s, some of the most important museum curators were also jewelry historians. All jewelry historians were London-based, so they all contributed to the course and lectured on the course. The students had the privilege to be exposed to really the best people that were around at the time.
Sharon: Wow! It sounds like a fabulous course. You’re probably the most knowledgeable person, and it’s great visibility for you. In the meantime, you started collecting antique jewelry from the 60s and the 70s, before anybody was interested in it.
Amanda: Well, it was kind of by default. I didn’t set out to collect 60s and 70s. It happened en route in the journey. To speak in your language, it was part of the journey, inasmuch that I started at Sotheby’s in 1986, and definitely jewels of the 60s and 70s were completely frowned upon and undervalued. They were sold for less than break. As I told you, I’ve always been attracted to jewelry, but my means didn’t allow me to aspire to Deco or, at the time, Art Nouveau was very fashionable. The Japanese market was very strong, and there were all Japanese collectors buying Art Nouveau jewelry and Art Deco, and obviously that was way, way beyond my reach. These rather extravagant, big jewels that everybody thought were absolutely hideous caught my eye, and I could afford them.
Initially, my first purchase was a little diamond ring that I bought for £450, my first savings. It was very tame, but gradually I grew into bolder pieces. Then, when I started wearing them, everybody started noticing them. I thought, “Well, maybe they’re not so disgusting. They’re quite fun.” That’s how I started collecting. Then, of course, I started buying more and more, and then you become a bit like a junkie. I broke my £1000 barrier, and you feel very, very guilty, and then you go up a bit more. I could never admit to my mother in particular that I had bought yet another jewel. I was always feeling very guilty, but that’s how I proceeded. My mother is one of those women that is not particularly interested in jewelry, and in fact I was considered a bit odd because I liked it, but I proved I could make a profession out of it. At the end, I won her over.
Sharon: It’s funny; I was saying to my husband last night that yes, I’m a jewelry junkie, and that’s a lot better than cocaine, but sometimes I wonder. I’m sure there are a lot of jewelry addicts listening to this. Tell us about this exhibit at DIVA, how you got involved and what it is.
Amanda: The story goes back to my teaching days. The collection on view is a one-owner collection. It’s owned by Kimberly Klosterman, who is Cincinnati-based. Kimberly took my course in the 90s, and she comes from a family of collectors, not of jewelry collectors, but serious collectors in other fields. At the end of the course, some of the students who I liked and got to know better, they asked me if I could show them some of my pieces, so I invited them back to my flat. I didn’t have a safe; I kept all my jewels behind my boiler, so they were all a bit hot. I’m sure it didn’t do them very good, but anyway. Kimberly remembers me taking out Andrew Grima and Arthur King and things behind my boiler, and that was her epiphany. From then on, Kimberly decided that was what she was going to collect. I think the great compliment for a teacher is that the student surpasses the teacher, and I think Kimberly has really shown this in her eye for collecting. The scale of the collection has, by far, superseded mine. Also what I think is even more important is the very scholarly approach. Kimberly Klosterman is not only a jewelry junkie like all of us, but a serious, committed collector who has really contributed, with this collection and these exhibitions, to furthering the knowledge and understanding of this period.
Sharon: How did this exhibit come about?
Amanda: Obviously, it’s Kimberly Klosterman’s brainchild. She was supported by Cynthia Amnéus, the Curator of Fashion and Textiles of the Cincinnati Museum who is the editor of the catalogue. That is how it came about. I was very honored to be involved in writing an essay for the catalogue. It shows that the jewelry junkies—it’s about participating in this great project in a field that is close to my heart, but I’m also doing it with people that have become really good friends over the years. The exhibition has had great reviews; it’s fantastic. Unfortunately with this pandemic, we were all planning to go and be there in person. This didn’t happen. The program of the exhibition was to open in Antwerp at the DIVA Museum, which is, as you mentioned, the relatively new diamond museum of Antwerp. It opened on the 30th of October and has just closed, but the curator there, Catherine Regout, organized a fantastic virtual tour, which is still available on the museum website for the duration of this year until the end of 2021.
Sharon: Is the physical exhibit moving on?
Amanda: The exhibition has just closed at DIVA and will be opening at the very important jewelry museum in Pforzheim on the 27th of March. It will be open in Pforzheim until the 27th of June, and then finally it will come back home and will open on the 22nd of October at the Cincinnati Art Museum. It will close on the 6th of February 2022.
If one wants a taste of what the DIVA Exhibition looked like, I think the virtual tour gives you a very good idea. It was divided into three sections, the first mainly devoted to the 60s. The whole décor of the exhibition hall was very evocative of the 60s. The curator wanted to create a 60s cocktail atmosphere, so you find all these organic, asymmetrical, textured gold jewels of the 60s. The collection is very transversal, if one can say that. It touches upon independent jewelers and important established jewelry houses, and some jewelers that were also unknown to me. For a first comer and for somebody that knows quite a lot about it, it’s a very informative exhibition. The second section was devoted more to fashion, to set the mood. There were two mannequins wearing Pucci and recipes from the 60s projected on the walls, as well as newspapers of the time. The final room was much more space age. It was white. It was a transition into the 70s, and you can see the difference. I think it’s very interesting to see the difference between the jewels of the 60s and jewels of the 70s.
Sharon: Yes, that would be very interesting.
Amanda: There were also mannequins. Obviously, the 60s is much more textured, much more organic, and the 70s is sleeker, cleaner, geometric. You really get a grasp of what independent jewelers and then, subsequently, what the major jewelry houses were doing, trying to find a style of jewelry that was more informal and casual to go with the spirit of the time.
Sharon: Do you happen to remember offhand who the jewelers were that you hadn’t heard of?
Amanda: Oh yes, many. My knowledge is more Eurocentric, so, for example, the name Barbara Anton I had never heard of; Roger Lucas, a Canadian; or a French jeweler called Champiniard. There’s a host of jewelry, and in the catalogue each jeweler is analyzed, and a short biography is provided with fantastic illustrations and a section on the signatures of each individual jeweler. It’s beautiful. It can be a coffee table book, but it’s also a fantastic reference book for those who are seriously interested in understanding more or particularly interested in the period. It’s a great learning tool, and it’s a credit both to Kimberly Klosterman and to Cynthia Amnéus who put the whole work together.
Sharon: It’s a beautiful catalogue, and it is a learning tool. I was looking through it and saying, “I didn’t know that. I don’t know that person,” like you were saying.
Amanda: Yes, I had no idea who Champagnia was. I was quite interested to see how major jewelry houses promoted the work of independent artist jewelers at the time. For example, Roger Lucas worked for Cartier and so did many others, even Aldo Cipullo. All these people were actually brought in by the established houses. Established jewelry houses also mimicked, let’s say, Andrew Grima, Arthur King, Gilbert Albert. It’s quite interesting to see that the roots of this style of jewelry are quite deep. If one goes back at least 10 or 15 years, one finds them referencing and being inspired by artists in the fine arts that could afford to be more experimental earlier on.
Jewelry tends to be the least experimental medium due to its high intrinsic value. I think that is something to take into consideration: jewelers cannot afford to be too experimental. They are dealing in gold and diamonds because they land craft in matter of seconds. If you’re dealing in canvas and paint, you can afford—and of course, the audience that buys jewelry tends to be more affluent and more conservative. In all periods, I think there’s always—1920s jewelry is an offspring of cubism, of fauvism, but 10, 15 years later. It’s no coincidence. 60s jewelry is the same. The groundbreaking exhibition held in London in the 1960s, the International Modern Jewelry Exhibition, again was 1960s. It’s a catalyst of all of the styles, but the style is already formed. It was a showcase for an already-formed style.
Sharon: That’s interesting. That’s true, when you think about it. The genesis is 10 or 15 years earlier.
Amanda: It lags behind, but I think the understanding is quite clear for these reasons. In my research, I came across an Italian jeweler who actually was a painter but also did jewelry, Adame Minola. She was heralded in an article of the 50s for creating modern jewelry. It is very organic; it does reference the jewelry that comes later. Her major pieces are in silver, not in gold. It just shows you’re not experimenting with gold, but that look was already considered modern in the 50s. There are a lot of avant gardes that preceded Andrew Grima, Arthur King, who are the great names of artist-jewelers associated with this style.
If the pandemic is under control in the U.S., for anybody interested in jewelry, I think Cincinnati is a must-go destination from October 26 onwards, because it is a groundbreaking exhibition. First of all, there has never been an exhibition on the subject since 1960 or 1961 in London. Secondly, it is a style and definite look that is attracting great attention and most scholarly attention. It is an amazing private collection. It’s a great credit for the history of collecting, for the history of jewelry. I think it’s going to be a groundbreaking exhibition.
Sharon: It’s definitely on my list. One would hope that by October, or at least few months thereafter, before it closes in February, things will be back to normal. Cincinnati is definitely on my list.
Amanda: For those who are Instagram-savvy, they should check Kimberly Klosterman’s Instagram, as she posts images and more detailed information about her pieces.
Sharon: Yes, she’s very consistent.
Amanda: Very consistent. For example, one of the pieces by Arthur King in the collection, she discovered very recently that it actually was a piece in the collection of Andy Warhol. It’s a brooch that is in the exhibition, but she happened to come across it. It’s a gold malachite and diamond brooch by Arthur King dating to the 1960s. It was included in the sale catalogue of Andy Warhol’s estate that was sold at Sotheby’s in 1988, and she didn’t know it. She bought it because she liked it, so that information had vanished. It’s not included in the catalogue because it’s something that she just recently discovered.
Sharon: Interesting, I definitely want to get there. I’m sure that everybody listening will it put on their list.
Amanda: And saying that, I think Simply Brilliant is a must-have catalogue.
Sharon: Oh, it’s fabulous.
Amanda: For those who want to see the exhibition virtually, check out the DIVA website to do a virtual tour of the exhibition that was held there. I’m not sure if the museum in Pforzheim will have a virtual tour on their website, but we’ll wait and see until it opens on the 27th of March.
Sharon: You’ve given us a great overview, and I’m sure people will be checking it out online. Thank you so much for being here. I can always talk to you forever, so hopefully we’ll talk again soon. Thanks a lot, Amanda.
Amanda: Thank you very much. It’s a great pleasure talking to you as well.
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