Show some metal!

Imogen Belfield Image courtesy of Imogen Belfield

By: Claire Sharp


Rhodium, titanium, palladium and platinum jewellery can outshine gold

It’s an exciting time to buy precious metal jewellery. The choice is no longer confined to traditional treatments. Designers are combining a plethora of metals from steel to rhodium and platinum, together with bold yellow gold and luxurious plating.

Influences range from hard-edged architecture to nature – rough, dull or dark finishes creating upscale pieces with attitude.

Silver-coloured metals and shades of grey reflecting the modern urban landscape are a big trend. Tiffany’s City HardWear range features double-wrapped chunky chains, minimally decorated with balls and padlocks. It’s low-key and timeless. The Paloma Picasso Caliper ring for men, made from stainless steel and black titanium, is the antithesis of the gold band.

Informality in the way we dress is influential, too. Two designers making stylish jewellery for any generation are Malcolm Betts and Deborah Cadby. They use a multiplicity of metal textures, integrating fine antique precious stones.

Master of high fashion and technical wizard Stephen Webster uses many beautiful finishes including hi-tech plating and ceramic elements.

Plating might once have denoted cheap jewellery, but is now used in high-end work because of its aesthetic qualities. Rhodium plating is often used to make white gold look whiter.

Another process, black rhodium plating, is often used to dramatically enhance the area around black precious stones. Dark plating and the ceramic finishes more associated with industrial engineering are cropping up in sportier-looking men’s items.

Rhodium, titanium, palladium and platinum are far more valuable than gold. They are perfect used in small amounts, or for plating, to make casual jewellery such as soft woven-leather bracelets special. The metal detail could be a small bead or fastening. It’s a trend that celebrates the deceptively expensive and sits happily with watch, phone and trainers.

Imogen Belfield Image courtesy of Imogen Belfield

By complete contrast, titanium – at its glitziest – can be seen in Stephen Webster’s technically complex cuff depicting Japanese fighting fish, in the V&A museum.

Newcomer Hannah Martin’s work sits somewhere between casual and couture. She exploits contrasting metals for theatrical effect. A bright gold sculptural element combined with a black rhodium plated chain is esoteric and luxurious, for example.

Leading young designer Imogen Belfield uses shards and globules of metal to create drama and includes hematite, a mineral made from iron oxide.

Her award-winning Amazonian Goddess necklace in yellow gold with a spattering of black and white diamonds could be straight out of a Hollywood epic. It reflects the continued influence of bold vintage styles, such as 20th-century fine artist jewellers Stuart Devlin, Andrew Grima and John Donald.

The trio’s pieces now fetch record prices at auction. Donald’s 1972 abstract Diamond Crown Brooch sold for £6,250 at Bonhams in April. Their traditional goldsmithing is hard to rival for craftmanship, but new techniques and materials are infiltrating jewellers’ workshops.

Lasers cut shapes from sheet metal and can produce stunning patterns. The 3D printer is used to create wax moulds for casting. The creations of London designers Guy and Max feature complex sculptural motifs, with names such as Algorithm and Digital Nature. Their pieces are the potential heirlooms of tomorrow.

Imogen Belfield Image courtesy of Imogen Belfield

Vintage, antique or new – what should we buy and why

Precious metals are commodities. Jewellery’s value is by weight and purity, and anchored to bullion prices. Only something special bucks the trend. Speculation is therefore full of pitfalls. When buying jewellery think of it as a work of art. If a contemporary or historic maker has a piece in an international museum or has been catalogued in an important sale, there’s a point of reference that will add value.

It’s worth assessing what you have every couple of years. Fashions change and values can leap disproportionately compared to general market levels.

Specialist insurance might be needed if values tip over the £10,000 mark or if you have a rarity.

Jewellery has more sentimental value than most possessions. Here, good insurance cover will help. Knowing that if you lose a single earring you may be able to claim for most of the value of the two under a pairs-and-sets clause is highly reassuring.

Sound construction is crucial. The findings – clasps and working parts ¬– must be in good order. The claws on rings can wear. Safety chains are essential.

Have your items cleaned professionally. Some policies oblige you to have your settings professionally inspected every two to three years. With older items, it’s best to get regular valuations carried out.

Imogen Belfield Image courtesy of Imogen Belfield

A good insurer will know the potential hazards of owning delicate and valuable jewellery. A specialist policy will highlight these. If you are wearing jewellery worth more than £1 million, for example, insurers may stipulate that you travel by pre-booked taxi.

Jewellery policies would normally insure on an ‘agreed value’ basis – in other words, a full inventory of values, for any item irrespective of age. They can also offer cover for ‘unspecified’ items, which tends to be more expensive.

Some high net worth household policies may have a £10,000 single article limit, but standalone jewellery policies may have a higher one – such as £50,000 for unspecified jewellery.

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