Inside the Jewel Vault with Dr Beatriz Chadour-Sampson
Dr Beatriz Chadour-Sampson
Beatriz aged 4 sorting gems
Charm bracelet by Chadour Charms Inc
Beatriz' Russian grandmother
Beatriz' family sapphire & diamond ring
Automaton ring, gold silver enamel & seed pearls
C17th Pomander closed
C17th Pomander open
Empress Eugenie's Pearl Diadem
Empress Eugenie 1826-1920
Friedrich Becker Kinetic brooch
BCS: Thank you for having me. And you really put me in a difficult position because having worked on so many jewels from antiquity till today, I, had the greatest of difficulties to choose six, but I managed in the end!
JCC: Well, thank you so much for making that effort for us, because I can't imagine how many thousands of pieces you must have studied and secretly yearned for. As I mentioned in your introduction, your father was a jeweller. So can we go back in time to your childhood? How much did his involvement in jewellery play a part in your own interests, do you think?
BCS: Well, I need to add he was a refugee from Europe, and he settled in, Havana, Cuba. And he learned from a French refugee how to cut and polish diamonds. It, was a question of survival and chance in life. So I grew up with gemstones, and there's a little photograph of me. I was about three and a half or four years old, sitting at a table with a lot of stones in my father's office. So I suppose that's where jewellery started off in my life.
And then during, the Cuban revolution, we moved to New York, and my, father opened a business called Chadour Charms, Inc. And charms, of course, in the late 50s, early 60s, were extremely fashionable. I had a wonderful experience, when I was writing the book Power of Love, I was checking an auction catalogue. And there suddenly I found a picture of a charm bracelet that belonged to Vivian Leigh and believe it or not, one of the charms was designed by my father. He sold to Van Cleef and through Bloomingdales and other retail companies. So until 1962, we were in New York, and in the school holidays, I didn't play with children. I was playing around on 47th Street with jewellery
Gold charm by Chadour Charms Inc
And then when I was slightly older, in my teens, I was allowed to make pearl pairs. I had to sift the pearls to a quarter of a millimeter. These bags of pearls sibling them and then matching, up pearls. Because pearls are not just white, as you know yourself. They've got a lot of colour hues in them. So I grew up in the jewellery trade.
JCC: You, did you thoroughly immersed in it!
BCS: I know, but that had, of course, a negative effect first, because when I was 18 and I left home, I said, I don't want to have anything to do with jewellery ever again. So I decided I would study art history and classical archaeology, Italian philology and then my thesis, because of my background, I wrote about, a Renaissance Goldsmith and it, was through my thesis, that I suddenly then was plunged into jewellery.
JCC So you couldn’t get away
BCS But I was fortunate. I have to say in hindsight, the Museum in Cologne. It's now called Museum für Angewandte Kunst (Museum for Decorative Arts. And I was given a Thyssen scholarship for three years. And I wrote a catalogue of 900 pieces of jewellery covering 5000 years of jewellery history.
BCS So that's where my wide interest in jewellery began. And that was my first book I wrote in 1985, That was the beginning of the jewellery history.
JCC: The story of your father - could I ask, how did he end up in Havana? Where was he from?
BCS: But maybe we should just go into the jewel vault with the first piece, because that's part of the history of the family.
JCC Yes, the first item you've chosen is your Russian grandmother's ring. And you've very tantalizingly said it was the only the only jewel that you possessed that survived the Revolution. So please, tell us more about your family and your Russian grandmother.
BCS: Well, my mother's family was British and lived in the Cotswolds. But my father's family came from Russia. And I, to explain that the family was five times refugees in the 20th century.
BCS: My grandparents, were born in Lithuania, the Russian ones, but because of the programs, somehow they managed to have special license to live in St. Petersburg, Russia. And so my father was born in St. Petersburg, Russia 1908. But they went from Russia to Poland, from Poland to Germany and they settled in Frankfurt am Main. And that's when my father learned German, because he went to school in Germany.
And we were also very Liberal family. It was a Jewish family. So they had, to leave Germany and they left just in time. And, they moved to Paris, they were there, in the latter part of the 30s, just before Second World War. And that's when I assume this ring was made.
JCC: Out. We've gone from Lithuania to St. Petersburg to Frankfurt am Main. We've gone to Paris.
BCS: Now in Paris. The political circumstances weren't very good. But I have to add in the meantime that my mother was living in Berlin.
She decided to learn German in 1936 when the Olympics were on. So please don't ask me about her spying or her actual .... She was always the black sheep of the family. But she lived with an aunt, the aunt of my father's, in Berlin. She stayed in Berlin with her family. And she said, oh, you must meet my nephew. We have a big Russian refugee meeting in Milan. So that's when my parents got together in Milan. And then my mother followed my father and went to Paris. And that's where they were together in Paris. They couldn't get married because my father was stateless because she, would have become stateless immediately in those days. And he had a so-called Nansen passport, which was for stateless people. And then, of course, the Germans marched in 1940. And again, they were in danger. And it's my mother, who certainly had some sort of active role during the war. She bribed the German general, pretended to be, Irish and neutral. And managed to get the whole family pieces of paper to get them out of Paris. And they walked to Marseilles.
JCC: They walked from Paris?
BCS: From Paris to Marseilles. And then my family, my father and my grandparents, they were put in an internment camp. And my mother knew the dangers of this internment camp. But she managed to get the family out, how she got them out of the internment camp, I do not know. But she saved their lives. Whereas the aunt, from Berlin, had also joined them by then. And she decided not to leave the internment camp because she felt she was in safety. Little did she know that she was then sent off to Auschwitz and never came back. So, my grandparents stayed in France. They, were kept in safety by a Catholic priest in Lyon. And my parents went on an adventure.
They travelled through Spain and Portugal. And stayed in Lisbon. And, of course, in Lisbon all the spies of all different nationalities were there. And my mother was sent back to Britain. I have the old passport where she had to take the boat to Glasgow. And she was repatriated and then sent off to Germany at the end of the war. So, she was in the services of some sort there. My father managed to get the old banana boat to Cuba, to Havana. And started selling ice cream and did all kinds of odds and jobs to earn a living or survive. And that's when he met this friend of his from Paris who opened up this cutting and polishing of diamonds.
And after the war, my mother joined him, and married in 1947, in Havana, Cuba. That's where I was born.
JCC: And that's where you were born. Amazing. What, an astonishing family history that takes in all of the upheavals from the early 20th century.
JCC: So can we go back to your grandmother's sapphire and diamond ring, it’s a cabochon sapphire
BCS: A dark Sapphire cabochon.
Beatriz’ Russian grandmother wearing the original sapphire & diamond earring
BCS: And I have, this photograph of her wearing it as an earring. So I'm assuming that on her way from Germany to France or Russia, she probably still had it in Germany, but by the time she got to Paris, she may have lost one earring, and this has been turned into a ring.
JCC I see
BCS: So this is a bit of a puzzle for a jewellery historian. If you get this ring on an opinions day, is you'd say, oh, yes, it's got a French hallmark. It's platinum. It's got a maker’s market S & S. And so it's a French ring. Now, if you wouldn't know the provenance, you’d say Oh it's a French platinum ring with sapphire and diamonds. Oh, no, it isn't. It’s a Russian earring.
JCC: No. this is the secret history of jewels, especially family jewels, that only you would know. I love the photo that you've very kindly shared of your Russian grandmother. She's wearing it in her right ear, and it looks like it's a drop earring then. So it's a beautiful jewel.
JCC: Well, so we have your Russian grandmother's ring as the first piece in your vault. So tell us, please, what's the second piece in your vault?
BCS: By sheer coincidence of my work in Cologne, I met a collector in Switzerland. And that was the family of the Koch collection. And I've, been very fortunate. I, chose it because it really is part of my life apart from my grandmother and my family. I worked on the Alice and Louis Koch collection for now 30 or five years. So it is a large part of my life. That is why it's the second piece. Now you put me in a rather difficult position because Alice and Louis Koch collection, has 2500 rings. So I had to whittle it down from two and a half thousand to one piece!
JCC: One piece that you would want in your fantasy jewel vault.
BCS: I could put the whole showcase in.
JCC That’s kind of cheating Beatriz
BCS: I chose a ring, which brings back a lot of memories.
JCC: You said, it was a favourite ring of the collector that you worked with. Which of the collectors was it?
BCS: The third generation of the Koch family. And he was an elderly gentleman, very special, but also very strict. I would have to get the box out where this one particular ring was, because it was his favourite. I mean, he lived with his rings. But each time I came, it was a ritual. We took the box out. So the mystery ring is one with a musical device. And he moved the little lever and the music would start playing.
BCS: And he was quite like a child with his toy, always looking. I'll never forget that. There's something a very vivid memory, and that's why I chose it. It's a charming piece.
Early 19th century gold, silver, seed pearl & enamel automaton ring, Alice & Louis Koch Collection, Swiss National Museum, Zurich.
It was made 1803 or around 1803 and it shows it's gold, silver and enamel scene. And the scene is encased in seed pearls. And the scene shows a young woman with a bird organ on her lap. A bird organ, or you call it a serinette. And it was used to tune canaries in the 18th century.
JCC: Tune canaries?
BCS: And then opposite her is her teacher, or violin. Well, the teacher has a violin under his arm, but he has also, his conducting stick and conducts the music. But there seems to be a lot more going on, because in the background, you have a garden. You have a red curtain and a blue column. And, hovering over, the woman, the young lady is, a dove and a garland of roses. And at her feet is a dog, which is a symbol of loyalty. So, there's a lot of love going on. She may be playing the bird organ, but I think he's serenading to her so it's a love scene and music. That's a charming piece.
JCC: Well, do you know, that's such a beautiful object. And I can quite see why you would want to select something that was meaningful to the people you were working with.
17th century pomander in the form of a book, closed
17th century pomander, open. Silver gilt.
BCS: And now, I know you're heading for my next piece up in the jewel vault. Yes, because I wrote this book and, it, had an incredibly interesting title. It was called The Thing of Mine I Have Loved Best: Meaningful Jewels. Now, this, to me, is meaningful in a very different way but the, one I've chosen is what you call a pomander. And in this case, it's a very rare Pomander. Pomander is Pomme au Ambre, which was the Amber Apple. It's really a container. And you've got segments and all kinds of awful weird stuff in there. All kinds of animal fats and all sorts of rather disgusting materials which wouldn't have helped the smell. But there was the belief that it would cure you from the Plague, during the times of the plague, in Europe.
But the example that I've chosen is very rare. It's in the shape of a book. It's Southern German, from Southern Germany. It's dated 1620 to 30. We can date it pretty well because of the beautiful engravings, it's silver gilt, the engraving with, fruits and foliage. So we can take that decoration. So that gives us easy thing. But what's even more fascinating is that we had somebody helped us with that, apothecary books that, actually name the contents that are in this. And the book was from 1626. So, it all fits in very well, this puzzle, which is not always the case in jewellery history.
But inside it, you've got twelve compartments. Usually, an apple has six segments. But this is a book form. It has twelve compartments. And it has a little spoon, which acts as the mechanism for the hinge.
JCC: Ah so that’s what it’s for
BCS: And on top, the actual holder of the book pomander, is around, circular pomander, the apple shape, and a serpent, which is the actual loop. So it's a highly complex design.
But inside you've got all sorts. It's all marked out, all with engraving. So, you know exactly what goes into what compartment. So amber, cinnamon, cloves, lavender, rose, nutmeg oil. And you've got, also stuff that's, German names, stuff called Krause, which I know means frizzy hair. And there's another one that's called a hair pomade. And there's apoplexy salt in there. And there's a poison plum pulp. Don't ask me what that was good for.
For me, it's interesting. I've always been fascinated by pomanders, also for a different reason, because for, me, jewellery started as an amulet and then became a symbol of status. And when I do my courses on jewellery history, I always start around 150,000 BC with eagle claws. Then I move on to shells, 70,000 BC, and then we move on quickly after that. But jewellery for me, had a medical-amulet effect. So, this is a continuation of what I think in the heart, in the essence of jewellery, was first amuletic and then status and then beauty and all the rest that came that followed.
JCC: Yes. I can see why you chosen it.
BCS: But I know I was always teased at the V&A because there’re two boards with pomanders, and I didn't let them reduce the number of pomanders because I found it so exciting. So I was teased about the pomanders. Yes.
JCC: Well, thank you for sticking to your guns, because I love the pomanders as well.
Insert blue section
JCC: Well, I remember one of the greatest treats of my career was walking through the V&A Jewellery Gallery with you, and you explained how you had rearranged this astonishing collection
And I also love the description that you gave me of how you'd set all the jewellery out into on squares of A4 paper on the floor of your home so that you could best work out how they should all be displayed in roughly thematic or chronological order.
BCS: Yes, not at all high tech. We had black and white photographs of the old Gallery, which I cut up at speed 4,000 little jewels about the size of your fingernail. No, it was A3 sheets. A, three sheets. And I used double sided tape and played around what made sense to put on a board because for me, it's so important when the visitor looks at a board, the story should become apparent and then the labels help you understand more the depth of it. So, for me, the visualization per board is very important.
JCC Oh, gosh, I mean, incredibly impressive.
JCC Now, we've got your Russian grandmother's ring. We've got the automaton ring from the Koch collection, which is just glorious. And we've got this fabulous pomander. What is item four? It's quite a different thing.
BCS: It is different. It's a Pearl diadem that belonged to Empress Eugenie. In 1853, the Spanish Princess married Napoleon III, and, when she married, she was given this diadem by Napoleon III to wear. It was made by Alexandra Gabriel Lemmonier, and it has 212 pearls. And I'm not just saying pearls. They're absolutely beautiful quality. Part drop, part round, all different shapes, and a lovely sheen on them, even, though it goes back such a long time, it kept very well. And 2,000 diamonds. I'm glad I didn't have to count them!
19th century pearl and diamond diadem once owned by Empress Eugenie of France, Louvre Museum, Paris
She was like the style icon, like we know today. The celebrity cult was already a long time ago. It existed. And whatever Eugenie wore, the whole aristocracy of Europe had to wear. If it was the fashion of Charles Worth, she really made Charles Worth the fashion house. She was painted by Winterhalter, Franz Xaver Winterhalter. the whole European aristocracy was painted by Winterhalter. And she had a great fashion for pearls, and she draped them all over. She really, loved her pearls. And so it's a story of pearls, style icon, and…
But there's also a sad part of this story, and that's where the history of this piece then comes in. Madame Garrett wrote about a book, called My Mistress, Empress Eugenie. And she wrote in it that she warned her mistress not to wear pearls at her wedding day, because according and I know that from the courses I've given on pearls that anybody from Italy or Spain, you wouldn't give pearls to the bride because it, brings bad luck. It's a bad omen. So, it's interesting that Madame Garrett tells the Spanish Princess, don't wear your pearls. And she writes in the book, the omen was fulfilled because, Eugenie in 1870, she had a fantastic life, and they brought back luxury to Paris and jewellery and everything. It was really an incredible life. And as I say, she was ‘The’ style icon of the time from 1853 to 1870. But in 1870, Paris was overtaken. And, the Third Republic was introduced, after they'd lost the battle in 1870. And Eugenie, with Napoleon III went into exile and they went - and she was always a very good friend of Queen Victoria. And the family moved to England and lived in Farnborough. And she died in 1920. So, lived quite a long life, whereas she lost her husband and son very early.
But of course, the pearl diadem didn't go with her, she had to sell her pearl necklace, according to Madame Garett, because she needed the money. But the pearl diadem was, sold by the Third Republic in the famous sale of 1887 of all the Crown Jewels, because they didn't want to have any reminders of the time of the Empire. So, in 1887, the jewels were all sold. Many, American heiresses bought them. Tiffany, bought quite a big lot as well as Paris jewelers. And, then in 1890, a Prince decides to buy it for his wife to be a Prince from Thurn und Taxis in Regensburg, a very mighty aristocratic family in Southern Germany, and so he buys in 1890, and his wife wears it at their wedding. And then, one doesn't hear anything much about the diadem, at least not in my circles.
Prince and Princess von Thurn und Taxis on their wedding day, Regensburg, Germany 1980. Princess Gloria wears the diadem
But in then in 1980, Prince of Thurn und Taxis, Johannes Thurn und Taxis, marries Gloria an aristocrat. And she becomes Gloria Thurn und Taxis. And she wears the pearl diadem on the wedding, for her wedding. So it goes down the family, from wedding to wedding, in actual fact. And so she's wearing this Eugenie’s pearl diadem with, I think a Valentino dress. But after the wedding, she was very much, she was a style icon as well. So here we go again. But she was called the Punk Princess because she was a bit of a wild character at the time. So, her husband died, well, there was quite an age gap between them and he died, I believe it was 1992. And there were incredible inheritance tax. So, she sold the diadem with other jewels and the French government bought it back. And it's now the pearl diadem that’s in the Louvre. So it's a lovely story, it’s in Paris. It's come back home
Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-1871), The Empress Eugénie, Wearing the Sash of the Order of Queen Maria Luisa (Eugénie de Montijo, 1826–1920, Condesa de Teba), 1854, oil on canvas. Detail. Image: Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
CC: It is absolutely beautiful. You very kindly found and sent me a picture, of Eugenie wearing the diadem, with her pearls. And then pinned to her bodice is what looks like a green enamel brooch, which I…
BCS: It's a three leaf clover.
JCC: Is that the brooch that was given…?
BCS: Yes, given by Napoleon III as a sign of his affection.
JCC: And it's wonderful that she's chosen to wear it in her portrait, because it's much more down to earth and prosaic, yeah, it's lovely that she had both those qualities and felt it was important to be portrayed in both. But very sad to have lost her husband and son in a revolution. There's quite a few revolutions in your Vault here!
Well, so we've got four beautiful items. Can you tell, us, please, what this fascinating item Five? Is it's quite different to the Pearl diadem!
BCS: Well, we're coming into the realms of contemporary jewellery. So to me, the contemporary jewellery is very close to my heart. And it's nothing to do with the gemstones or - to me, it's all about original design, originality, new materials. So, I had a great difficulty in what to choose. In the end, I decided for Friedrich Becker because he was a personal friend. And I was also a personal friend of his widow after he died in 1997. And I had a great admiration for his, work. He was well ahead of his time, probably one of the most copied jewelers. So I decided to go for Friedrich Becker.
Friedrich Becker Kinetic brooch, emeralds, diamond & white gold.
And he is, of course, known for his kinetic jewellery. He also had many people who worked in his workshop. He lived in Dusseldorf, in a beautiful Art Nouveau house. And downstairs in the basement was this incredible workshop of his, where he taught many people and many people helped him. And I'll never forget that upstairs, right under the roof, there was his Kinetic Room. And, in this room, he had several showcases of objects, sculptures and jewellery. Because he was not only a Goldsmith, he was a jeweler. He, was a sculptor. And he made silver objects. And he made really huge sculpture. And when he walked into this room, he put the light on, switch the light on, and everything moved in, this room, it was a kinetic room where everything started to go into motion. And it was something you never forget. And he was there he was also in motion. He was always in motion himself. And he believed man was born to be playful and that you can see very much in his designs. So, what I've chosen is a wheel shaped brooch. And there are two wheels. One wheel is static. It has emeralds on the ends. And the other wheel is slightly smaller and is studded with diamonds. And the little wheel with the diamonds rotates on a rail. And this rail has a little stud on either side. So it go - rotates the whole time, as long as you're moving wearing it. Of course, when you're looking at it, you think the two wheels are rotating. And that's what he loved. Magical effects and optical illusions!
JCC Yeah le trompe l’oil
BCS: Now, the reason why I chose this particular piece is because his wife had the version with rubies. And when I, was working in Hanau and a little bit later, I wasn't a great earner. I wasn't earning enough to buy beautiful contemporary jewellery, but I had to represent and give a lot of lectures and organise competitions and open exhibitions, and so on. So, each time I had, to wear something special, I’d phone them. And they’d say Oh, that's fine, we'll send it. And they sent it by special delivery. In those days. And I would wear this piece.
And I had occasionally other pieces by Becker. I had, for example, this I'll never forget. It was, an exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Hamburg that I had done for a group of Jewellers. And there were 500 people at the opening. And I was standing at a lectern, and I couldn't see anybody. It just was black. I couldn't see a bit. So, I was in a light shaft. And I of course, nowadays I take a kinetic ring off when I give an opening, because you can't wear that. It was two rods, two steel rods that were rotating, and a ring with two steel rods. So, while I was talking, nobody, was listening to a word I said. All they were looking at is this incredible light, play of light up on the ceiling. and when I finished my talk, they were looking at me like, an exhibition piece!
JCC: It would be so much fun to be wearing something like that!
And then we've got item six, which I just can't wait for you to tell us about, because this is by someone quite amazing. He's still with us, and he's one of the great living jewellers, is he not, Wallace Chan. He's broken so many moulds in ‘what is jewellery’. So please, can you tell us what piece you've selected?
‘My Dreams’ Ring, Wallace Chan. Titanium, lapis lazuli, rubelite, green tourmaline, aquamarine.
BCS: Well, I think you're seeing a general theme in my jewel vault. It's the third ring now, I think. And after having catalogued thousands of rings, you thought you'd seen everything. But in 2016, I had the great honor of meeting Wallace Chan, and I think it was TEFAF in Maastricht. And he was quite amazed because I talked to him about the construction, not about the jewels and all the impressions, but about the construction of the ring, because he knows exactly how the ring is worn on the finger, that it doesn't move, and how it really is anatomically made for the anatomy. And when you see these incredible designs, you think Oh it’s not the important part. And, we had quite a conversation about how a ring should be and how it's worn on the finger.
But, the ring I chose for today, one of the three I catalogued is called My Dreams. It certainly is still my dream. And it taught me such a lot about looking at a ring. After all these thousands of rings you wouldn't think it!
It's a beautiful pink tourmaline, and it's an aquamarine. And there's a green tourmaline in the center. They're all different shapes, cut in very different shapes. And they are set, by tension. And it looks quite sort of like abstract art. And what amazed me, is when you have this ring in your hand, you have to play with it. You turn it in all different directions. Because the pink, the green and the blue, they all play into each other, the different colours of the stones. So, they give the stones next to all different hues. It's an amazing play of colour. The beauty of the stones. The clarity of the stones, the beauty. And invisibly set by tzavorite garnets. And then you have on the sides, protrusions of lapis lazuli, almost triangular shapes. And that, well let's say for Wallace Chan, the pink tourmaline is fiery passion, whereas the aquamarine and the blue is all about calm and spiritual beauty. Because he has a lot of philosophy with his pieces. And the lapis lazuli surrounding this whole group on the sides is for him, the oldest form of blue after the sea and the sky. So, it all has a meaning. And the ring itself, the shape, has a titanium skeleton. He experimented long before others with titanium. And it's a skeleton of titanium that holds this whole construction. And it's completely covered with stones. Completely covered. It's completely a symphony of stones. It is my dreams!
And to quote him, I think one should quote him because he has a lot of ideas about his jewellery. he said, “I want to transform my dreams into beautiful feather like jewels which capture the light and tell stories.” I think that encapsulates this ring in every way.
It’s just… You turn the ring in all different viewpoints. It's like a sculpture in your hand. But it fits beautifully on the finger.
JCC: Yeah, you've done such a great job of describing it. But I think until you've seen it, you really wouldn't understand how it all fits together. It is what is dreamlike and out of this world, really out of this world, wonderful.
Gosh. Just an astonishing Vault that you've selected for us. You've got everything in here, from Imperial diadems to automata rings to pomanders to a dream ring. You've got your own family jewels in here. And you've got the Becker kinetic piece. Out of these six astonishing jewels, if you could keep one forever, which one would it be?
BCS: As most of those, if you talk to about the jewel vault, that's probably the most difficult question. It's not because of design. It's about the emotion, in this case. And it's got to be my grandmother's ring because I am sort of like a person who lives everywhere and nowhere. And one shouldn't clutch onto pieces but it's for me, family. So, it's the family piece I would say. It's not because it's my favourite design, it means a lot.
JCC: Well, then I think that's a wonderful choice and a very personal choice, of course. You have just guided us through such a fabulous vault, Thank you, Beatriz.
BCS: Well, thank you for inviting me. It's a great honour. Thank you very much.
The Alice & Louis Koch Collection:
https://www.landesmuseum.ch/the-collection the world’s largest collection of rings from the Egyptian period to contemporary designer makers.
For a video introducing highlights of the Koch Collection in the Swiss National Museum given by Beatriz https://youtu.be/Fvj_vSPRbQU
Empress Eugenie diadem: https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010105008
Wallace Chan: Artworks https://www.wallace-chan.com/artwork/