Some picture them in portraits of royalty, woven into wigs of French kings, strewn on the skirts of Medici duchesses.
Those less committed to art galleries might think of a family heirloom; the ring your grandfather proposed with, that one day you will use too. Some will imagine with distaste the sleek ostentation of brands on Bond Street, some, by turn, will slaver at the thought of those same shopfronts.
There are those who view jewellery as status, a commodity, a cut-and-paste signifier of fortunes ample, the Cartier love bracelet, the Van Cleef Alhambra collection, those secret codes that whisper wealth. Simpler still, jewellery may remind you of being a teenager, of kicking it after school in a shopping mall, rifling through the accessories at Claire’s. Maybe it’s that earring and necklace set you’ve worn every day since your 18thbirthday that is just part of your adult uniform. Maybe, you don’t think of jewellery at all.
No matter what you think, I guarantee you won’t give it as much thought as Valery Demure. A French native turned East London fixture, Valery came to the capital in her early twenties having studied journalism and completely by chance found herself working at Whistles. “That was when Whistles was interesting, when Whistles wasn’t what it is now. When it was full of cool designers. Did you know they were the first ones in London to carry Dries Van Noten?” She stayed for five years, before moving to Jess James the cult jewellery store which closed its doors in 2009. Of this experience she offers, “I was doing everything. I had my hands in all the pies because my boss was very lazy.”
You may have already noticed from these quotes that Valery does not hold her tongue. But it is precisely this honesty, a lack of what Valery scathingly called “diplomatique”, coupled with a penetrating understanding of her market, which has made Valery’s next venture legend in the jewellery world.
Following six years at Jess James she started her eponymous agency, together with her husband, with the goal of only representing jewellery designers. Applying her unique combination of pr know-how, industry insight, retail strategy and a keen, curatorial eye, she provides a tailored service for every one of her clients. “We’re a boutique,” she explains, “We tend to stay around 20 clients. We get contacted daily, but I’m quite specific, I’m still quite French. I’ve been here for 25 years but I am still very French in my sensibilities. I like clean, I like well-made and I like quality, I like originality. And I like to work with women.”
This last has been the theme of what is arguably her biggest coup to date. This year, Valery Demure was the first ever exhibitor of contemporary jewellery at PAD, the prestigious art and design fair in London (she will also show at PAD in Paris, Monaco and Geneva). Christening her latest project Objet d’Emotion, she handpicked 12 of her designers to show their jewellery, arranged by award-winning set designer Scott Wilson (whose clients include the V&A and Valentino) on specially commissioned furniture by Simone Brewster and sculpture by Luna Paiva.
“The first PAD session is a celebration of womanhood. It’s an ideal scenario. I like to work with women designers and women jewellers, because I think we need to support each other. I’ve always thought that – before the #MeToo movement, by the way!” She bursts into hearty laughter. The carefully chosen pieces at PAD included one-off exquisites and bespoke styles from a cohort of her finest, most trailblazing designers. These include Melanie Georgacopoulos, the queen of pearls who works their moonstruck lustre through all her collections, occasionally even slicing through them to create previously unseen effects; Alice Cicolini, who’s enamel pieces are crafted in the studio of the last Jaipuri meenakari trained in the enamel traditions of Persia, evoking the artisanship of a lost civilisation; and Bibi van der Velden whose work is playful, kinetic, an enchanted spell cast by jewelled mammoth egg earrings or ivory frog rings with emerald eyes. The mastery displayed by Valery and her designers was rousing, exhilarating, thrilling. And it reclaimed jewellery for the modern woman.
Although we’ve seen a rise in commercial accessories with mid-range prices, as well as trends in stacking, mixing and layering which make everyday use of pieces, there are still misconceptions. Much has always been made of the connection between women and jewellery. So much in fact, that it became another one of woman’s fatal weaknesses. A female sin. Agatha Christie’s schoolgirls inevitably become “bewitched women” as they gazed on flickering bounty. In Marilyn Monroe’s film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, (where she sings the famous number, ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’, coining the phrase), the Monroe character, Lorelei Lee, is practically sick-obsessed with jewellery. When shown a tiara by a wealthy heiress, her eyes widen like a python watching prey, she snaps her fingers open and shut in a clutching motion and tries to reach for the piece exclaiming, “Did you ever? See anything… anywhere… like it?”
The media, as is so often the case, was no help. Elizabeth Taylor was cast as the ultimate woman gone stark raving crazy on jewels. The Telegraph, for instance, wrote of her husbands “satisfying” her “passion” for pendants, rings and brooches. Since women were liable to get goo-goo eyes and lose their minds over gems, the implication was they needed men to make the accessories, (in Monroe’s song every designer she mentions is male, “Tiffany’s, Cartier, Black Starr & Frost, Gorham… Talk to me, Harry Winston!”) and then control the supply and purchase.
Valery asserts that the lack of equality in jewellery manufacture is still shocking; almost all studios are filled with men, brands are run by men and the designing and craftsmanship is predominantly performed by men. On a visit to one of the most prominent historical jewellery houses, Valery noted there was only one woman employed in the company, and she was only there as an apprentice. But just as women have begun designing, they have begun buying. “That’s a big big change”, Valery notes, “now sometimes women are earning more than men and are buying jewellery for themselves. Well, I would say when you go over 5-6k, there’s still a man involved. But all jewellery under that women are buying for themselves. That’s really something.”
In any industry, as buyers become more discerning, they can learn not only what makes a valuable item, or how to develop a collection (what Valery calls their “signature”), but they can start to make consumer choices based on good ethics. Another of Valery’s missions is calling out copycats, huge blockbuster brands who steal the designs of independents. Never scared to speak out, she always names and shames on social media. In addition to her reputation as a paragon of good taste, Valery champions bespoke against mass production, art against reproduction and the love of craft over the love of profit. It is no surprise that Valery’s newest venture is titled Objet d’Emotion. Everything she does is as rich in feeling as it is in value.