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Flights of Fancy

A new exhibit pays tribute to “out of this world” jewelry, past and present, inspired by the moon, the stars and space travel.

By Phyllis Schiller
 
Diamond, gold and sterling silver starburst pendant by Tiffany & Co., 1880–99.
Courtesy Tiffany & Co. Archives.

Visible from earth but tantalizingly out of reach, the moon and stars have been a constant source of awe and wonder. From prehistoric times to the “final frontier” of Star Trek, from the worship of moon goddesses to man walking on the moon, the wonders of the firmament have held a fascination for mankind, serving as the inspiration for artistic flights of fancy, including jewelry. A selection of some of the most memorable pieces is now on display in a new exhibit, called “Out of this World! Jewelry in the Space Age,” at The Forbes Galleries in New York City.
   The exhibit is the brainchild of guest curator Elyse Zorn Karlin, co-director of the Association for the Study of Jewelry & Related Arts (ASJRA) and publisher/executive editor of Adornment magazine. “I’ve been intrigued by the idea of ‘space gems’ for awhile,” says Karlin. “There’s peridot from space, microscopic diamonds have been found in meteorites and astronomers have discovered planets that are full of diamonds. Then I realized that I have costume jewelry that was clearly influenced by Sputnik. And that set me off on a train of thought that if you go way back in history, the moon and stars have always been represented in jewelry. The interest in heavenly bodies goes back to ancient times and we’ve never lost it. Once we could actually travel into space, it only intensified. But what surprised me was how many contemporary jewelers are still inspired by space.”

A Chronology of the Cosmos
   The pervasive presence of space-themed jewelry is beautifully illustrated in this exhibit that ranges through the centuries, from Georgian jewelry to contemporary pieces made from meteorites, which Karlin gathered from about 75 lenders. It was a labor of love that took a little over a year to pull together.
   About half of the jewelry on display represents antique or period pieces. “In terms of older pieces,” says Karlin, “we have a beautiful Victorian diamond crescent brooch with a chalcedony owl sitting inside the moon. It’s darling. We have a bronze dish that Macklowe Gallery lent us of a Pierrot and the moon. We also have a 1930s Bakelite Pierrot and Moon brooch.”
   Other stellar pieces include a series of Halley’s comet brooches — the comet named after the English astronomer who first identified it — dating from before the mid-twentieth century. “They’re all really different and really fun,” says Karlin. “We also have a wonderful late-Victorian rocket brooch, made of nephrite jade with a gold tail and gold nose cone, as well as an elegant Victorian starburst pendant by Tiffany,” shown opposite.
   The jewelry timeline begins with the circa 1835 Georgian “Halley’s Comet” brooches through Victorian pieces. It then travels into the early twentieth-century through the explosion of jewelry based on the 1957 launch of Sputnik and the early space race when the U.S. first got a man into space. From there, the exhibits turn to jewelry from the 1970s and 1980s based on space themes before segueing into more contemporary designs.
   Also on display are collectibles and space memorabilia, including a print of a photograph Neil Armstrong took from space, as well as both NASA and Russian mission pins and the West Point ring worn by Ed White, the first American to walk in space. The ring was purchased by a group of West Point graduates and, after the exhibition, will be donated to West Point in honor of White, the first West Point graduate to become an astronaut.

Star Attractions
   Jewelry paying homage to the space race ranges from cereal box space pins and rings collected by children in the 1950s to a 1960s diamond and platinum rocket ship brooch. A fantastical 2010 gemstone necklace by Van Cleef & Arpels traces its inspiration to the 1865 novels of Jules Verne that prophesized men building rockets and landing on the moon. Another Van Cleef piece, the Moon Landing pendant, was made in 1969, the year U.S. astronauts landed on the moon. There also are Cartier Sputnik earrings and the Cartier lunar module replica, which was commissioned by the French newspaper Le Fiagro for presentation to the Apollo 11 astronauts when they toured France.
   In the 1980s, there were a lot of Scandinavian jewelers who did pieces based on space — big, in-your-face pieces, points out Karlin. “We have several by Björn Weckström, one of which is known as ‘the Princess Leia necklace’ because Carrie Fisher wore it at the end of the movie “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.” Moving into the twenty-first century, there is an array of jewelry by contemporary designers, such as a wonderful Genevieve Yang moon phase necklace and a cuff bracelet that looks like you’re viewing the night from the moon,” says Karlin. “We also have a series of space-related kinetic rings by Italian-Canadian designer Claudio Pino that look like a combination of telescopes and gyroscopes.”
   Also on view is a fascinating selection of jewelry made from materials that came from space — meteorites and tektites, as well as materials that were developed for use in space, such as polymer and titanium. “We have something called nitinol — an elastic alloy of nickel and titanium developed by the Naval Ordnance Laboratory that retains its shape memory so you can bend it into something and when you release the material, it goes back to its original shape,” says Karlin. “There are rings made from meteorites by John Biagiotti, David Yurman and Donna Distefano. We also have a ring and a brooch by John Hatleberg, one with moldavite, a variety of tektite, and one with pallasite, peridot that is extracted from a meteorite.”
   The 186 examples on exhibit are visual proof of how space has influenced and inspired jewelry designers. “They represent a cross-section of fine and more commercially available pieces,” sums up Karlin, “including some that are abstract and some that are very realistic depictions of actual spacecrafts. All serve to tell the story of how space has long been in our consciousness.”
“Out of this World! Jewelry in the Space Age” is on display through September 7, 2013, at The Forbes Galleries in New York City.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - May 2013. To subscribe click here.

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