In what seems like a long time ago in a galaxy far far away…. Specifically, February of this year, before Covid-19 was a fact of our lives, I received an LOL email. No joke, LOL is what I call learning on line. I actually have taught many of these about marketing and writing starting in 2000.
This email from Christie’s described a 10-week online class entitled History of Jewellery Design: 1880 to Now.
Explore the glamour and exquisite craftsmanship of Haute Joaillerie from the Belle Époque to the present day. Vanessa Cron brings high jewellery to life, revealing the context of its creation in this introduction to jewellery design. Encounter the patrons, jewellers and fashions that made Europe the epicentre of influential new styles of jewellery, and see the global reach of high jewellery in the twenty-first century. (From the course description)
I write historical suspense that has main characters involved in the arts of one kind or another. Each required immense research. Whatever the subject, I need to immerse myself in it.
When one of my reincarnation novels, The Book of Lost Fragrances, featured a perfumer, it wasn’t enough that I wore perfume or had done the advertising for Charles of the Ritz fragrances for a few years. I had to know more.
So, for over a year I studied with the grand dame of noses, Sophia Grojsman. I spent a small fortune on vintage perfumes. And I worked with the Frederick Bouchardy, a brilliant NYC based perfumer who read one of the novels, The Book of Lost Fragrances, and volunteered to make the scent in the book as well as let me name it.
In 2013, I decided to write about a family of 19th century French witches (based on my great grandmother.) And when I cast one of them as a jeweler in The Secret Language of Stones, I knew it wasn’t enough that I loved and wore jewelry and had been obsessed with it since my mother let me wear her pearls when I was three years old. No, in on order for me to write about this rarefied world I need study both the history of the art and learn how jewelry was made.
I began my education by reading everything I could get my hands. But it wasn’t enough. I needed first-hand experience. Because of insurance laws, I found it surprisingly difficult to get inside a jewelry studio and learn at a bench. So finally, I took myself off to Paris to attend two weeks of classes at Van Cleef and Arpels, L’Ecole School of Jewelry Arts. where I could go get a taste of everything I needed plus go inside their workshop and see their artisans at work.
I rented a tiny studio apartment on Rue Jacob on the Left Bank and made no plans but to go to school every morning and a museum every afternoon. It was cold and raining that November. But that didn’t matter. Each morning I walked the twenty minutes across the Pont du Carrousel, through the Tuileries, over to Place Vendome and then around the corner to Rue Danielle Casanova and my class.
After taking every session I could cram in during two weeks, I came home and continued studying, meeting with jewelers, historians, curators, collectors and indulging my lifelong love of window shopping like crazy.
And I’m still at it. Both writing novels that take place in the world of jewelry and studying.
So, when I read about the Christie’s course, given by historian Vanessa Cron, I signed up immediately. Little did I know that the classes would be given during the worst pandemic the world would know in the last 102 years, that I would be holed up at home, overwhelmed by bad news, struggling to concentrate on writing or reading and oh so very, very ready to escape.
And escape I have. All last week. Ironically, of all times and places, Christie’s took us to The Belle Époque in Paris. The dream era has always captured my imagination but never more so than now. I can be in my office, dog at my feet, and for a half hour every day leave our current nothing-Belle-about-it- époque and have Vanessa Cron take me back in time.
The first session, in the self-directed series, consisted of eight chapters, each a 5 to 7 minute video. The length is perfect. Long enough to really be engaging and chock full of information, and yet not that long that I found it difficult hard to concentrate.
The Belle Époque, the beautiful age, was a time of great luxury and tremendous change. The second industrial revolution brought new wealth, while radical innovations such as the electric light, the cinematograph, and the automobile changed the way people could enjoy their leisure. The ‘‘nouveaux-riches’ proudly exhibited their success in their extravagant mansions, light-hearted parties and extraordinary jewels. (From the course description)
So far, the videos I’ve watched have highlighted the fabulous “white” jewelry of the era—platinum diamond and pearl extravaganzas belonging to Princesses and (my favorites) the courtesans La Belle Otero and Liane de Pougy. I’ve gotten lost in the images of these long-ago women wearing their amazing and breathtaking pieces by Cartier, Fabergé, Chaumet and more. I’ve been able to dream about a time and place so different from the here and now.
Online classes are not new but in the days of Corona-19 they have become, for many of us, a valuable resource and welcome respite. I’m taking an exercise class online, watching cooking videos in my effort to expand my repertoire of limited meals. And I’ve been watching and participating in the amazing lectures that GemX has been offering via Zoom. Founders, Lin Jamison and Heidi Garnett have really risen to the challenge of the times by offering twice weekly talks with some of the most engaging personalities in the jewelry biz from collectors, archivists, gem cutters, designers and curators. And all of the talks are archived—a true treasure trove of gems.
I can’t compare my two weeks in Paris at L’Ecole to these Christie’s classes. Or the Gem X Zooms. They are all totally different experiences. Yes, I miss the in-person ability to see the sparkle of the gems, touch the cold metal, or examine a stone under a microscope. But this LOL thing is keeping me sane, engaged, and learning.
Most of all I’m grateful for the chance to even take these classes. There are so many essential workers out there doing difficult and often dangerous jobs putting their lives at risk, while I flit off to Paris in the 1890s or to a jeweler’s studio in Amsterdam without leaving the comfort of my own home.
That’s why for each class I take and every lecture I watch, I make a contribution to the wonderful charity so many in the jewelry world are supporting, NoKidHungry.com. Because there really is nothing that is more valuable than human life.
M.J. Rose (www.mjrose.com) is a New York Times bestselling author, her most recent novel, Cartier’s Hope, (Jan 28th 2020) has been called “A bold, satisfying tapestry. Smart, fierce, lovely, and intricate,” Kirkus (Starred Review)