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Saturday, 22 June 2013

EXHIBITION: The Bonfire of Vanities....

Van Cleef and Arpels gold, seed pearls and diamonds compact. Sotheby's


Until very recently, had I been asked what the linkage between my work in the City and my passion for jewels was, I would have struggled to find an answer. This story may sound too conveniently poetic for this blog, but it is the truth!.

It was friday afternoon and my last meeting of a very hectic week finished a bit early, so instead of a cab I decided to walk to the tube station. Being June in London, a wall of water came out of nowhere and I run into the nearest building. And here my luck began, for the random refuge turned out to be the Goldsmisths' Hall, the magnificent headquarters of The Goldsmiths' Company, which is currently hosting the exhibition of a private collection of c. two hundred vanity cases, compacts, minaudieres and other necessaries from the Seventeenth Century to the 21st. To the magnificent premises and the exquisite collection, the choice of Meredith Etherington-Smith is just the icing of the cake. The grandest dame of arts, luxury and jewellery in London, whose books I devour, has managed to perfectly recreate the lavish and joyous atmosphere to which these extraordinary objects belong.


From today's perspective, these bejewelled boxes are essentially make up containers elevated to the ultimate extravagance. However, when understood in the context of their time, they become authentic objects of desire for collectors, for very few objects combine such beauty and perfect workmanship with a piece of history from a magic time that will not come back.

Make up in beautiful containers dates back to the Egyptians, Ancient Greece and Rome, the Qing and Ming periods in China to France in the 18th Century. Throughout history it has been perceived as a symbol of wealth and refinement, hence the importance attached to the box in which it was kept as well.

Enamel and tortoiseshell Vanity Case, 1920s. Sotheby's


Most of the collection is centred around the beginning of the Twentieth Century, which I would call the "Golden Age of Vanity Cases". Economic buoyancy as well as mine discoveries encouraged jewellers creativity and led them to design bejewelled objects that could be displayed. Cosmetics were still affordable only by the elite classes and the aristocracy as they were custom blended by artisan parfumiers who then fitted them in the bespoke boxes of each client. Vanity Cases were ordered from the famous jewellery houses in a bespoke nature and quite often to match the colour and style of a particular outfit.

Cartier lacquered cigarette case, 1920s and Boucheron Vanity case, 1940s. Sotheby's

All the boxes above will be auctioned by Sotheby's in London on July 11th.