October 21, 2021

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Surrealist Jewelry That Mimics the Human Form

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“I’ve often thought there should be beauty contests for the insides of bodies,” one of a pair of twin gynecologists (both played by Jeremy Irons) archly tells a female patient in the Canadian surrealist David Cronenberg’s film “Dead Ringers” (1988). “You know — best spleen, most perfectly developed kidneys.”

While today’s jewelry designers may not be reaching inside our bodies for inspiration, a few are at play in the corporeal realm, casting body parts in precious and semiprecious metals to make necklaces, rings and even masks that have us seeing double. For her first foray into fine jewelry, the designer Sophie Buhai created a limited-edition sculptural nose brooch in 18-karat gold that she cast from her friend Kaylie, who she says “has the best nose in L.A.” Buhai’s previous works include silver bust and derrière pins inspired by phallus amulets in bronze and gold that ancient Romans believed offered protection — to young children, among others who wore them — from illness and death. “We were wondering, ‘How do we use that power and make it female?’” she says.

Meanwhile, for Schiaparelli’s spring 2021 ready-to-wear collection, the artistic director Daniel Roseberry photographed models in September on the streets of Paris wearing gold-plated half-masks, cast from and covering their noses, lips and chins. “The masks were born of necessity,” says Roseberry. “There was a rule that people outdoors had to have their face covered, so we made them in case we had problems.” The collection’s other bijoux de fantaisie include golden toe covers and finger caps with long fingernails; golden nipple buttons, provocatively placed on a sober navy suit; gleaming, golden tooth earrings; and purses with golden nose clasps. “I loved the idea that you would be decorating yourself with yourself, or things that would echo parts of your body,” Roseberry says.

As avant-garde as these anatomy-inspired pieces feel today, they actually follow in a long tradition. Gold finger and toe caps were found in the tomb of the three wives of the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III (circa 15th century B.C.), presumably adornments for a journey to the afterlife. A couple of millenniums later, the French sculptor Claude Lalanne made her own version of these accouterments and the gilded breastplate and bodice that the designer Yves Saint Laurent paired with the diaphanous chiffon evening gowns he showed in his hallucinatory fall 1969 haute couture collection. There’s also Man Ray’s sensual gold torque necklace with floating lips from the 1970s, and Salvador Dalí’s 1949 diamond, ruby and enamel Eye of Time watch pin, as well as his dazzling ruby-and-pearl-studded mouth brooch. “They are jewels, but are equally alluring as objects,” Buhai says. “They would look just as beautiful pinned to a lapel or sitting on a countertop.”

Nowadays, of course, such ornaments have an added weight, as our eyes, noses, mouths and fingertips have become conduits for infection. But these pieces remind us that, not so long ago, they were instruments of sensual delight — and, hopefully, will be so once more.

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