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Fashion Jewelry: The Collection of Barbara Berger

An Exhibit and Book Dedicated to Fashionable Adornment

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Fashion Jewelry Book Cover 2
Photo Courtesy of Assouline Publishing
Among those who know high-end vintage costume jewelry, Barbara Berger’s affinity for adornment is legendary. Upper crust dealers have been throwing her name around for decades, and collectors who weren’t lucky enough to see her jewelry displayed in other parts of the world could only imagine the treasure trove she’d amassed. Now, after years of glamorous intrigue, a portion of Berger’s 4,000-piece collection will be displayed in New York at the Museum of Arts and Design.

The exhibit opens on June 25, 2013 (see link below for details) and officially runs through Sept. 22, but it's reported that a portion of the collection will remain on display through Jan. 11, 2014. And while it features only a fraction of Berger’s vast collection, most of those 450 of the pieces slated for the display are real beauties sure to please not only fellow collectors, but those who appreciate adornment, fashion, artistry and design. For those who can’t make it to New York to see the demi-collection personally, a new book also provides a glimpse into Berger’s collecting world filled with equal parts of elegance and whimsy.

About the Book Accompanying the Exhibit

While serving as guest curator for the museum, author and vintage costume jewelry expert Harrice Miller worked with Berger to document a portion of the collection in her new book Fashion Jewelry: The Collection of Barbara Berger (Assouline Publishing). The book will be available in May, about a month before the exhibit opens, so those interested in a sneak preview can order a copy prior to seeing the collection. And, of course, all those who’ve had their curiosity piqued but may not be able to make it to New York, can enjoy this sampling of Berger’s treasures through colorful, clear photographs bound together in a high-quality publication.

Although the photos expertly shot by Pablo Esteva definitely play a major part of the appeal here, the text accompanying the illustrations provides insight into the heart of a collector drawn to beautiful things. The forward from Iris Apfel, a fashion icon and revered personality in her own right, imparts true excitement about Berger’s friendship and the jewelry being shared with others through these projects.

Portrait of Barbara Berger Wearing Iradj Moini Brooch

Portrait of Barbara Berger Wearing Iradj Moini Brooch (Click on image for larger view)

Photo © Pablo Esteva
Miller’s introduction also works to explain the significance of this particular collection. And after writing one of the first books on collecting costume jewelry in 1990, The Official Identification and Price Guide to Costume Jewelry (Random House), co-authoring a book with the inimitable Kenneth Jay Lane, and assisting with the sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s costume jewelry sold at Christie’s in 2011 among other related achievements, she does know a remarkable collection when she sees one.

Berger’s own words take you deeper into the psyche of a woman who has been surrounded by diamonds her entire life, and expounds on her choice to purchase costume jewelry and build those acquisitions into a enviable collection. She also shares some of her "personal jewelry rules" including the wisdom of mixing fine jewelry with costume, and the directive to always wear earrings or risk being under-dressed. She also encourages making a bold statement by wearing jewelry with confidence rather than allowing it to wear you.

Jewelry Information Included in the Book

Budding costume jewelry collectors and fashion fans who haven’t studied jewelry made by the designers and manufacturers represented in the exhibit, which includes vintage, couture and contemporary examples, will likely learn something new perusing these pages. Miller does a good job sharing a basic overview of each piece Berger selected to be included, although some of the snippets are very short and sweet where not much is known about the maker.

Those perusing the book with a penchant for artistry and design won’t be disappointed in the photography. Many of the photos were, in fact, created with an artistic eye. But, from the collector’s viewpoint, some of the images leave you longing to see the entire piece rather than an artsy glimpse. This is, perhaps, is an invitation to see the collection in all its glory, but just a tad disappointing for the true costume jewelry enthusiast none-the-less.

Chanel Brooch with Gripoix Glass Insets from the Barbara Berger Collection

Chanel Brooch with Gripoix Glass Insets from the Barbara Berger Collection (Click on image for larger view)

Photo © Pablo Esteva
For advanced costume jewelry collectors, this text won't offer much new information beyond a few contemporary jewelry designers that may be unfamiliar names. That’s not to suggest an avid collector won’t enjoy the book. The pieces shown are by and large rare and valuable examples of costume jewelry craftsmanship. Outside the exhibit and book, one may never have the opportunity to see others exactly like them again.

The section on Chanel offers rarely seen selections and jewelry made by Maison Gripoix is an excellent accompaniment, since Gripoix is well known for providing glass elements to Chanel. We also learn in her intro that Berger’s obsession with costume jewelry began when she was merely 13 after purchasing a pair of Chanel earrings at a Parisian flea market.

One of the highlights for researchers is a pictorial back-of-the-book thumbnail index referencing every piece shown in the manuscript. This will come in very handy for anyone lucky enough to find a piece thought to be depicted in the book, or even a similar example, especially if it’s an unmarked piece. No more leafing through hundreds of pages, just refer to the handy illustrated index.

All in all, whether you’re a devoted collector or have a related interest in adornment, this book is like taking a bus tour of Hollywood mansions. You probably won’t ever have the opportunity to own pieces similar to those cataloged here, but you can still enjoy the view. And if you can’t make it to the New York showing of the collection, it’s true that photos are the next best thing to being there.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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