For as long as jewellery has existed, jewels have been worn as amulets, charms, or talismans. A talisman is believed to carry magical and protective powers; some protect the wearer from danger or negative energy, others bring good fortune, and others serve as symbolic declarations of love, strength, and hope.
Talismanic jewellery is a universal form of adornment with prehistoric origins. In India and ancient Greece, gold was believed to have healing powers; ancient Chinese and Egyptian culture believed that jewels, such as turquoise and jade, were the keys to the afterlife; the Aztecs understood the mystical value of jewels, offering emeralds and jade to the gods by throwing them into the sea; and in traditional African and Islamic cultures, talismanic jewellery was worn to ward off evil spirits. Interest in talismanic jewellery, in their different forms, continues to have tremendous international appeal today. Drawing inspiration from both ancient and modern cultural symbolism, Elisabetta Cipriani’s wearable art collaborations highlight contemporary artists’ reinterpretation of amulet materials and symbols to create new kinds of enchanting talismanic jewels.
Inspired by ancient beliefs in the mystical healing properties of stones, German contemporary artist Rebecca Horn and Lebanese jewellery designer Noor Fares are united in their interest in creating pieces which channel positive energy to their wearers. This is particularly evident in Rebecca Horn’s unique Untitled (2019) labradorite necklace and rings, created in collaboration with Luisa del Valle. By incorporating rare stones such as labradorite, widely revered as premier talismans of protection, Horn’s wearable art pieces act as a psychic shield, deflecting and neutralising negative thoughts and energy.
Rebecca Horn, Untitled (2019), 22kt yellow gold and labradorite necklace and 22kt yellow gold, silver, and labradorite ring, Unique
Rebecca Horn, Untitled (2019), 22kt yellow gold and labradorite rings, Unique
In a similar vein, Noor Fares’ new Prana collection explores the ancient seven Chakra belief system, namely, Muladhara (Root), Svadhishthana (Sacral), Manipura (Solar Plexus), Anahata (Heart), Vishuddha (Throat), Ajna (Third Eye), and Sahasrara (Crown). From pre-historic religious symbols to modern day shapes such as hearts, flowers, and crescent moons, Fares’ timeless designs combine ancient symbolism and contemporary iconography to provide wearers with protection in alignment with their chakras.
Noor Fares, Bespoke Sahasrara Rock Crystal & Anahata Emerald Earrings (2019), 18kt grey gold hexagonal rock crystal and muzo emerald earrings with amethysts, coloured pave sapphires, white diamonds, and an inlay of stones, Unique. Front and back view.
Noor Fares, Bespoke Sahasrara Pendant (2019), 18kt grey gold carved amethyst pendant with dark purple amethysts, coloured pave sapphires, mother of pearl and enamel, 36cm long circa, Unique. Front and back view. Winner of the 2019 Couture Design Award ‘Coloured Gemstones Below $20k’ category.
Noor Fares, Bespoke Vishuddha Choker (2019), 18kt grey gold paraiba tourmaline choker with coloured sapphire baguettes, pearl, and white diamonds.
Cameroon-born artist Pascale Marthine Tayou and South African artist Kendell Geers’ respective wearable art projects both draw from traditional African culture and serve as amulets that channel good fortune and excellence. Tayou’s collection of unique Gri Gri rings (2017) are believed to stem positive energy from within. Inspired by traditional voodoo African good luck talismans, the rings consist of 18kt yellow gold, African fabric and coloured thread, which are tightly wrapped around a south sea pearl – a symbol of purity. Tayou’s colourful Gri Gri rings enable the wearer to keep protection close at hand.
Pascale Marthine Tayou, Gri Gri (2017), 18kt yellow gold rings with south sea pearl, beads, African fabric, and coloured threads, 7 unique rings
Kendell Geers’ The Word (Love) Made Flesh (2019) wearable art project – consisting of a pendant and a pair of silver and enamel cufflinks – also draws inspiration from traditional African symbolism. The Word (Love) Made Flesh features an intricate figurine-like design derived from the ‘Hwe Mu Dua’ (‘measuring stick’) West Andrinka symbol for excellence and perfection. The pendant beautifully displays different brightly coloured patterns on each side, whereas the cufflinks reveal positive and negative black and images. These spiritually charged wearable sculptures cannot, however, be categorised as either European or African, but are rather representative of an interplay between cultures, archetypal signs, and sacred symbols. In the true spirit of Kendell Geers, the archetypal trickster, the ancient African symbols featured in The Word (Love) Made Flesh have been refashioned in an Afropunk style and spell out the word ‘LOVE.’ The Word (Love) Made Flesh thus epitomises the artist’s tendency to refashion ancient iconography by embracing both traditional and contemporary African aesthetics.
Kendell Geers, The Word (Love) Made Flesh (2019), Silver and enamel pendant and cufflinks, 7 x 7.4cm (pendant); 2 x 2cm (cufflinks), Edition of 20
Symbolism embedded within jewellery may also serve as powerful reminders of key values. Ania Guillaume and Ilya & Emilia Kabakov’s respective wearable art projects, for instance, evoke sentiments of strength, perseverance, and hope. Guillaume’s special interest in the symbolic power of the ginkgo leaf can be seen in Sérénité (Serenity) (2018), a gold-plated brass hand-sculpted candle holder. The ginkgo tree is native in China and Japan and is famous for its ability to survive natural and man-made disasters, including the tragic Hiroshima bombing that occurred in 1945. In Guillaume’s Sérénité (Serenity), ginkgo leaves embrace a light-bringing candle – serving as a symbol of resilience, hope, and peace.
Ania Guillaume, Sérénité (Serenity) (2018), gold-plated brass hand-sculpted candle holder, 16 x 15 cm, Edition of 8 plus 4 AP, Signed and numbered. Created in collaboration with Acampora Profumi.
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s The Fly wearable are collection also carries sentimental power. Consisting of a necklace, ring, earrings, and bracelet, each piece incorporates the fly motif, a reoccurring motif in Ilya’s artistic oeuvre, which is transformed into something precious. For the Kabakovs, the fly is a metaphor for human existence, symbolic of the everlasting ability of humans to persevere and find hope and freedom in the face of darkness.
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, The Fly (2010), 18kt yellow gold fire enamel necklace with diamonds, and peridot, Edition of 10, Signed and numbered
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, The Fly (2010), 18kt yellow gold fire enamel earrings with emeralds and diamonds, Edition of 10 (earrings); Signed and numbered
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, The Fly (2010), 18kt yellow gold bracelet and ring with emeralds and diamonds, Edition of 15, Signed and numbered
Significantly, jewellery is also often worn as a declaration of one’s love. Enrico Castellani’s Nastro.(1963–2016) and Giulio Paolini’s Due in Uno (Two in One) (1967–2016), are the perfect symbols of love and commitment – both of which were originally conceived for the artists’ respective partners.
Enrico Castellani, Nastro (1963–2016), 18kt yellow satin gold brooch and pendant, 1.8 x 3 cm long, Edition of 10, Signed and numbered
Giulio Paolini, Due in Uno (Two in One) (1967–2016), 18kt yellow gold ring, Edition of 30, Signed and numbered
The wearable art projects discussed above demonstrate that despite prehistoric beginnings, talismanic jewellery remains forever relevant in contemporary jewellery design.