Andrew Grima: Art Jewellery Uncut

Display of Andrew Grima jewellery at Bonham’s in London

There is something immediate about jeweller Andrew Grima’s work. His designs frequently used raw, uncut semi-precious stones, scattered with tiny diamonds and fronds of gold that frame the irregular surface of an opal or tourmaline. I first saw his work at a Bonham’s fine jewellery sale earlier this year, and was fascinated by the impact of his designs, which dominated the cases in which they were displayed. Last week I had the pleasure of viewing a private collection of fifty five pieces of Grima jewellery, again at Bonham’s, and saw the scope of his design ideas from the 1960s-1990s.

Andrew Grima necklace, 1966

Trained as an engineer, Grima was intrigued by gemstones as intricate structures. In many examples he retains the original stone’s integrity to create organic forms supported and celebrated by innovative settings. His most famous designs comprise gold wires, expertly articulated to move with the body and studded with diamonds, and the sale included an incredible necklace demonstrating this technique.

Andrew Grima pendant, 1973

One of the most dramatic pieces was a 1973 pendant of spiky green dioptase that sparkled as light hit its contours. Grima framed this with tiny squares of gold, carefully graduated in size, and angled to fit this irregular form perfectly. A few square diamonds added to this already theatrical necklace, to create a piece of art that is typical of his quest to reinvigorate post-war British jewellery design.

Andrew Grima rings

Alongside this, were vibrantly coloured rings, pendants and brooches that glimmered like sea anemones, edged with clusters of diamonds, all carefully chosen according to their original shape to fit the requisite area of the body. Rings with huge tourmalines unapologetically proclaimed the allure of gems and minerals mined in Australia and Brazil – their relatively low cost allowing Grima to experiment with bold architectural settings.

His fascination with the stones themselves is graphically demonstrated in his collaboration with Omega watches, each of which use a gemstone, rather than glass, as the watch face, with time slowly ticking by underneath a shell pink or duck egg blue tourmaline – his witty reminder of the stones’ longevity, and a little memento mori for the wearer.

 

I was intrigued by Grima’s work – which needs to be viewed in relation to London’s art, craft and fashion evolution in the 60s and 70s. And perhaps my favourite discovery, aside from the glorious jewels themselves, was the incredible photographs of his Jermyn Street boutique. Designed by his brothers with sculptors Geoffrey Clarke and Brian Kneale, its frontage was decorated with slabs of slate – their dull, textured surfaces framing the gleaming jewels within.

 

Thank you so much to Emily Barber, Head of Fine Jewellery at Bonham’s, for introducing me to Andrew Grima’s work and so generously sharing her amazing knowledge of jewellery with me.

 

Watch this 1966 clip of Grima’s boutique and jewellery:

https://www.britishpathe.com/video/jewellery-boutique

 

Jewellery, Adornment and the Pursuit of Brilliance

Early 18th century diamond and gold necklace, Portuguese

Emerald and diamond girl dole brooch, c1830 and later

To Georg Simmel, adornment is a contradiction – on the one hand, it displays the wearer’s value, aesthetic taste, membership of a particular group, on the other, it is visible to the viewer, giving pleasure to her, as well as to the owner.  In his 1908 essay ‘On Adornment’, Simmel elaborates on this theme, outlining a spectrum, with tattoos at one end, since they are closest to the skin, and dress in between, moulded  by the wearer’s figure and marked by age, and finally, jewellery placed on the body, but separate from it.  Jewellery thus has special status, its uniqueness resides in its economic value, authenticity and style, but it always seems new, and supplementary to the wearer’s individuality.  While choice of fine jewels surely reflects personal taste, it is interesting to consider the ways gems interact with the wearer and add to her social value.

A case of sparking diamond and emerald jewels

I was reminded of Simmel’s essay when I visited Bonhams’ view day for an auction of fine jewellery last month.  Guided through the delicious rows of glittering rings, bracelets, necklaces, brooches … by Emily Barber, Director of the Jewellery Department, I was continually struck by Simmel’s comments about the pleasure given to both wearer and viewer by these gems – a fleeting relationship created by the bright light reflected by a diamond brooch as you glance across a room, or the deep red glow of a spinel cut to display its clarity as the wearer moves her hands.  In so many interactions, jewellery catches the eye and draws our focus.

A spinel and diamond ring, c1915

Simmel describes how ‘the radiations of adornment, the sensuous attention it provokes, supply the personality with such an enlargement or intensification of its sphere: the personality, is more when it is adorned.’  As such, wearing fine jewellery is ‘a synthesis of the individual’s having and being,’ it implies wealth, but also personal qualities – of taste, discernment, perhaps even beauty and style matching the gems.  At the heart of this is jewellery’s ‘brilliance’:

‘By virtue of this brilliance, its wearer appears at the centre of a circle of radiation in which every close-by person, every seeing eye, is caught.  As the flash of the precious stone seems to be directed at the other – it carries the social meaning of jewels, the being-for-the-other, which returns to the subject as the enlargement of … [her] own sphere of significance.’

Gold, diamond and fire opal ‘cinnamon stick’ brooch/pendent by Andrew Grima, 1970

So, as you look at these photographs of the jewels I saw at a Bonhams, consider Simmel’s words and the ways that, once purchased, they might infer what the wearer has, but also who she is.  As Simmel notes, ‘Adornment, thus, appears as the means by which … social power or dignity is transformed into visible, personal elegance,’ – a magical process brought about by the jeweller’s skill at cutting and setting each gem.

With thanks to Emily Barber, all images by permission of Bonhams.

Sapphire, ruby, emerald and diamond brooch, Van Cleef & Arpels, c1970

Sources:

Fine Jewellery, 27 April 2017 (London: Bonhams, 2017)

Georg Simmel, ‘On Adornment,’ (1908), in Daniel Purdy, Ed., The Rise of Fashion: A Reader (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), pp.79-84