This mid-19th-century portrait, “Woman from Bahía,” depicts a richly adorned and elegantly attired Afro-Brazilian woman.
The portrait shines a spotlight on the great wealth and diverse social statuses held by people of African descent within Colonial and post-Colonial Latin America.
GIRL OUT OF AFRICA
In my Mother’s land, Ebony is just another tree and diamonds grit the shore.
Golden nuggets are found when you scratch the ground and beneath a full moon the lioness roars…
Being a Yoruba Woman of West African and Brazilian descent, gold is a birth right and fact of life: it is abundant beneath the ground and my ears were pierced before I dribbled my first word.
Gold has its own language that communicates across crowded rooms and is its own lingua franca amongst women of diverse origin who may not speak the same language.
We understand a lot about each other by sight that may speak louder than the only words we may understand of a language we may or may not speak:
bizantina, riccio, segrinato, spiga, stampato…
In my culture and growing up in the care and company of “big women” in terms of size, status or adornment style, anything less than 18 carat didn’t count; it was not gold: it was an alloy and to be avoided at all costs.
Try to sell it and you will see…
For most Yoruba women, any piece of jewellery that is not worth its weight in pure gold is not worth buying, it devalues rather than adds to a woman’s aspect.
Yoruba women rarely do things by halves in Life, so are not wont to begin doing so in matters of serious adornment.
750 parts of pure gold per 1000 is the gold floor.
If you’re looking to the long-term take this rule as a master-key that separates your fine jewels that are guaranteed throughout a lifetime from the fashion pieces that may lose their plating within a season.
Like women, gold comes in many colours from the most absorbing black – controlling the oxidation of gold alloyed with cobalt or electroplating gold with ruthenium can produce it – to the most reflective white metal: white gold is simply yellow gold alloyed with at least one white metal normally manganese, nickel or palladium.
Many wonderful shades of gold lie between these poles including buttery yellow and rich chocolate and my current favoured variation of rosaceous and melon-toned pinks.
ROSEACEOUS unSEEN Peek™ – Pomellato lead trends with semi-precious gemstones set within rose gold that are as striking as the actress Tilda Swinton, muse of a 2011 collection.
The warm tone of rose gold looks just as fantastic on those with the palest skin and reddest hair as it does on those of African descent and dark complexion: it melts into mine as if shea butter…
Women who would never be complimented by the same shade of lipstick can cleave to the warming power and skin showcasing properties of rose gold.
As well as being of the moment and the basis of a new capsule of pieces within my trove, rose gold also appeals to my love of world history and culture as well as my passion for adornment: it was popular during the Victorian period, so when I look back at black and white photographs of my ancestors from that period, I wonder if they were wearing it…
Rose gold – also known as red gold – was also very popular in Russia at the turn of the nineteenth century and remains so for many whose ancestry is Russian or not when they choose a wedding band that is reminiscent of the traditional Russian matrimonial ring.
The Art Deco period riff on the Russian wedding ring is an eternal statement of romance and style: three interlocking bands of pink, white and yellow gold respectively symbolising Love, Friendship and Fidelity were created by Louis Cartier in 1924.
The Trinity ring may encircle its wearers with chic allure, but it also signifies a Holy Trinity that transcends romanticism: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. Regardless of religion, there is no denying the endlessness of a circle as the perfect embodiment of eternal love or matrimony that can only be parted by Death.
In ancient times, impurities in the smelting of gold often lead to gold turning a reddish hue, hence the reference to gold as “red” in texts from the Greco-Roman and Middle Age periods.
In modern times, gold is red in tone by choice: 14 carat red gold which is made with 41.67% copper is favoured by some in the Middle East.
22 carat rose gold which is also known by the term “crown gold” is a cooler alternative introduced to the world by Henry VIII and commonly used in the creation of bullion coins that can be a fashion statement within themselves hanging from a necklace, bracelet or chain belt.
If you prefer uniformity in your look, it is good to stick with one marque when building a collection of rose gold as shades can vary widely between brands or carat grades due to the variant formulas of gold, copper and silver.
Some may like different shades of pink, but I am more a matchy-match type when it comes to my jewellery; I guess it is a Yoruba thing…
When it comes to the foundation of any jewellery wardrobe, there is nothing better than precious metal.
It doesn’t have to be heavy or expensive, but it will make a lasting impression, especially when passed on to your future generations.
Silver was once worth more than gold and with the foresight of Mr. Buffett’s hording it may prove to be so again one day.
Jewellery snobs are wrong to look down on silver, it has a unique beauty and lunar quality all of its own which has been treasured throughout time from the ladies of Kush to the mamacunas of the Inca Civilisation right down to the flower children of the 1960’s and 1990’s bohemian socialites.
MOROCCAN unSEEN Peek™ – The Berber or Imazighen people are the indigenous and original inhabitants of North Africa. Their culture has mainly evolved in Morocco and female adornment with elaborate silver jewellery serves both a symbolic and talismanic purpose.
Silver jewellery of the highest quality is a good entry point to the collection of semi-precious and precious stones as good quality and less well known stones are often set in sterling at bargain prices.
Cosmopolitan girls with a silver craving can get transcendental fixes with great cultural references in Bali, Ethiopia, Mexico, Thailand and London’s own Camden Lock Market.
If you like the white metal look in a form that will not tarnish or is greyer in tone, look to platinum over silver.
Although platinum costs much more than silver, it is stronger and will last many lifetimes.
You really do look after platinum pieces for the next generation.
TIMELESS unSEEN Peek™ – These platinum pieces from the Edwardian, Art Deco and MM eras respectively attest that Age will never wither Style.
If you purchase or have inherited an Edwardian piece you will appreciate this fact and will look at your own pieces – antique from specific or diverse periods or unique new commissions – as future heirlooms for the younger females in your lineage.
Platinum decorated Egyptian caskets in the 7th century BC and was valued for its strength by Pre-Columbian civilisations.
The modern usage of platinum began with the European court jewellers of the 18th century and reached great heights during the Edwardian and Art Deco periods with iconic pieces produced by Cartier and Tiffany.
The platinum jewellery boom turned to bust with the advent of The Great Depression and its reclassification as a controlled material during WWII.
Platinum began to regain its crown as the King of Precious Metals in Japan during the 1960s.
German designers of the 1970s gave platinum a unique identity with their stark modernist designs and ubiquitous satin finishing.
During the 1980s Italy got the platinum bug and popularised the exquisite look long showcased by the reigning house of Buccellati in a classic case study of opulent style trickling down to the masses in more accessible pieces.
Switzerland and America soon followed suit in the 1990s and platinum is now a precious metal that most consumers are au fait with and many aspire to add to their jewellery collection, preferably via a platinum ranked debit card.
Platinum’s relative purity, greyish white colour and resistance to tarnishing make it the contemporary jeweller and cognoscenti favourite.
It is the best friend of diamonds when combined to form an engagement ring or eternity band guaranteed to pack an almighty punch and be valued greater than the sum of its parts.
A new year is the perfect time to showcase a new look or think forward to Summer time and acquire new pieces in preparation for showcasing them on bare skin.
As I have said, I can be quite matchy-match when it comes to jewellery and no more so in synchronisation of shades.
Matching gemstones to colour variations of gold and silver is a good look and enhances the stone to dynamic effect.
It may be more a case of resurrecting the past as well as reinventing the wheel in some esteemed ateliers…
The Lydians, an Anatolian people who inhabited an Iron Age kingdom within western Asia Minor, were known for their production of green gold as far back as 860 BC.
Green gold was a naturally occurring alloy of silver and gold known as electrum and the perfect base for fired enamels.
Incidentally, Herodotus identified the Lydians as the creators of gold and silver coinage and the first people to open shops retailing goods in permanent locations.
…Surely some of them were awe inspiring jewellery emporia.
If you are a collector who works directly with jewellers and goldsmiths to commission your pieces, you might like to mention that 75% gold, 23% copper, and 2% cadmium creates a light-green shade of 18 carat gold when deciding to set your peridot or prasiolite.
Alloying 75% gold with 15% silver, 6% copper and 4% cadmium creates a dark-green alloy that can enhance the verdance of tsavorite or amplify the jardin structure within emeralds.
Be aware that there are some health concerns to cadmium use, so green gold might be best saved for special occasions rather than worn daily.
When it comes to using metal as a medium of Art, Joel Arther Rosenthal does it better than most, elevating metallurgy to greater heights with his innate mastery of substance as displayed in the sublime six pieces below:
“JAR developed a new type of metal, blending silver, gold and nickel, amongst other alloys. The precise magic formula is a heavily guarded secret, a bit like the Coca-Cola recipe, which is known only to their manufacturer. Even I have never been able to learn the exact ‘ingredients’!”
~ François Curiel, Chairman of Christie’s Asia Pacific
One of my favourite African gemstones is Tanzanite: a variety of the mineral zoisite that was discovered in the Mererani Hills of Northern Tanzania’s Manyara Region in 1967 and named after its country of discovery by Tiffany & Co.
Tanzanite has never been discovered elsewhere and comes in variant shades of blue and violet determined by artificial heat treatment.
Pavé set tanzanite stones take on an amazing accord when set in blue metal as the crystal exhibits the phenomenon of trichroism and appears to be different shades in alternate lighting.
Blue gold is made so with the addition of the chemical element indium.
Oxidation of an alloy of 75% gold, 24.4% iron, and 0.6% nickel can also produce blue gold: a layer of blue gold will form via heat treatment in air between 450–600 °C.
An alloy of gold, ruthenium, rhodium and three other elements heat treated at 1800°C produces a rich sapphire blue shade of 20-23 carat oxidised gold that would look wonderful matched with a complimentary shade of sapphire for a truly game, set, match look.
IRIDESCENT unSEEN Peek™ – James Taffin de Givenchy blackens and blues stainless steel and platinum to unique and mesmeric effect within his iconoclastic ring designs.
To spare the expense, silver can be plated with indium and some jewellers are beginning to get wise to presenting tanzanite this way without being asked by consumers.
One look, I would not be shy to demand when metallurgy catches up with my visions would be purple gold which would be a great foil to pave-set amethysts or other violet stones within the sapphire and tourmaline spectrum.
Purple gold does exist but it is a compound not an alloy, so very fragile and used more like a gemstone than a metal.
It would surely have been loved by the Romans who favoured amethysts for their reputed ability to ward off drunkenness. Unfortunately they were not wise to the alloying of gold with aluminium rich in gold-aluminium intermetallic (AuAl2) to achieve the shade.
BLACK MAGIC unSEEN Peek™ – Gaia Repossi has revamped the family maison’s allure with abstract and anthropological designs many cast in black gold and black rhodium alloys.
There is nothing crude about the look of black metal: gold (alloyed with 25% cobalt or oxidised in controlled conditions), silver plated with black metals such as rhodium or ruthenium which are found within the platinum family of metals or stainless steel (perhaps your watch strap) blackened by CVD, a plasma-assisted chemical vaporisation process.
Laser treatment of metal could also impart a black finish as nanostructures are created on the surface of a piece of metal, but this process is typically found in high technology applications rather than jewellery manufacture.
Black metal is a modern innovation that is revolutionising the jewellery world and its dramatic aesthetic is favoured by rock princesses and a real Queen.
MAJESTIC unSEEN Peek™ – HRM Queen Rania of Jordan owner of the 2003 Boucheron creation The Emerald Ivy Tiara. The modern masterpiece was designed in black gold by Solange Azagury-Partridge a jeweller who brought a Westbourne Park edge to the venerable haute joallerie maison.
I would love a black metal watch pavéd with black spinel, but appreciate that contrast with stones is as much a reason for choosing black metal as seeking the uniformity of a black melee.
Rubies and opals look amazing and quite futuristic and otherworldly when set within black metal.
Coloured stones set within black metal is quite an organic look to my sensibility as most gemstones were formed in dark rock: nature knows best…
I have forsaken the matchy-match philosophy for once, since becoming enamoured of the graphic contrast between black rhodium pieces and the peachy coral tone of carnelian cameos from Italy’s Torre del Greco region.
The dark setting of cameos vanquishes the old-fashioned reputation of one of my favourite visual art forms and bestows a sharp modern edge to one of the most ancient jewellery aesthetics.
For the frugal or those looking for a truly historic look or antique accord, brass and bronze are great jewellery metals.
Brass and Bronze are more affordable than their precious metal counterparts and aesthetically unusual in day to day wear, so you can develop quite an arresting signature look that is utterly your own.
Brass is commonly used in quality costume jewellery as the base metal which is then covered with gold or silver plate.
Brass can take centre stage and be showcased with panache with fashion forward pieces including cuffs, charm bracelets, knuckle rings and contemporary copies of ancient pieces.
Bronze which is made from combining tin with copper was a spoil of brutal war during British colonisation of the Benin Empire of West Africa just as gold was in conquest of the Asante Kingdom of Ghana.
I often pay homage to the valour of my Yoruba ancestry and wear aesthetic accords and design cultural motifs as part of my metallic adornment.
For me the ultimate acquisition would be a Sierra Leonean or Brazilian diamond set in Nigerian iron in tribute to my ancestral origins and Ogun, the Yoruba God of War and Iron.
Ore from Ibadan, my ancestral home would be most fitting, but Itakpe in Kogi State has the purest deposits.
Diamonds may not be my birth stone, but I was certainly born to wear them in a martial metal.
The Sophisticated Society and Gold Rich Asante Kingdom
Silver in Ancient Egypt by Jimmy Dunn http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/silver.htm
GET SET – Article on JAR and source of François Curiel quote http://www.bespoke-magazine.com/109/article/get-set
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