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Filtering by Category: Jewelry Inspiration

Jewelry Inspiration: Tassels

Jana Gumovsky

Van Cleef & Arpels, France. “Cordes Ludo” bracelet with diamond capped tassels, in 18K. Circa 1951.

Lady Grey, USA. Hand Shaped Tassel Earrings.  14K Gold Plated.

Chanel, France.  “Perles de Nuit” necklace in white gold, set with diamonds, and cultured pearls. 

Lanvin, France. Tasseled Gold Tone Necklace. Gold-tone brass and Swarovski Crystals.

The tassel is one of the most whimsical adornments popularly present as much in fashion as in the realm of interior design, but despite its seemingly trivial nature the tassel has a rich history and rather fascinating provenance.

The presence of tassels can be traced as far back as Ancient Egypt (c.3150 BC), found amongst burial items in Pharaohs’ tombs. In Ancient China, tassels were incorporated in the rich silks, and in Biblical times added rugs and garments.  Throughout history, tassels were popularly used in Ancient Greece, the Orient, Persia, Rome, England and Italy. During the Middle Ages, wealthy houses used them in clothing, tapestries, draperies and pillows, appropriating the styles of Arabic fashions.

However, the modern popularization of tassels as ornamentation could be accredited to the French. In the 16th century the Guild of Passementiers was established. The art of “passementiere” is the making of trims and to become a Master of the guild one had to complete a 7 year-long apprenticeship. The trims and tassels created by the passementiers were made of silk and metallic gold or silver thread, and thus became a symbol of wealth, power and prestige.

In the 17th century, King Louis XIV and the French Royal Court commissioned tassels to be used to adorn the costumes of royalty, thus influencing the fashion in all of Europe. Later on, following the years of the French Revolution (1789-1799), interior design became a favoured pastime among the upper classes and the popularity of the tassel was once again resurrected as it donned anything from doormen, carriages and curtains to cushions and keys. Fashion and design magazines created trends that put tassels on shoes, parasols and sashes. By the 20th century the excesses of the Victorian era became shunned and a minimalistic aesthetic took hold, soon to be replaced by the geometric designs of the Art Deco period. 

Art Deco sapphire and diamond sautoir by Lacloche Frères, circa 1925

The popularity of the tassel in fashion and jewelry never receded despite the volatility of fashion styles of the 20th century. The technological advances of the past century have also uniquely inspired jewelry design, thus bringing me to the introduction of my favourite tassel jewelry piece – the "Zip" necklace from Van Cleef & Arpels.

Van Cleef & Arpels, the renowned French jewelery house, has created one of the most memorable and ingenious pieces of jewelry of the 20th century. The idea for the “Zip” necklace is credited to the Duchess of Windsor who approached the jewelry house in 1938 and asked the house’s artistic director to create a jewel that incorporates one of the most popular technical innovations of the time, the common zipper.

After years of design and development, the “Zip” necklace was finally released in 1951 and immediately became an iconic design of Van Cleef & Arpels. The necklace features a removable element that enables it to be converted into a bracelet by literally zipping the two sides together into a thick band. A rich gold tassel embellishes the necklace and hangs at the side when worn as a bracelet. The original “Zip” remains an extremely coveted piece by jewelry collectors  and continues to be lauded for its originality and the technical ingenuity of Van Cleef & Arpels. 

The "Elyse" necklace in antique brass.

Finally, my favourite interpretation of the symbolism of the tassel stems from its use in mala necklaces - the prayer beads used by Hindus and Buddhists. The necklaces are comprised of a string of 108 beads completed with a hanging fabric tassel. Every element of a mala contains  inherent symbolism, including the tassel which is believed to hold importance in spiritual teachings and promote enlightenment. The individual strands of a tassel blend and flow together in constant change and represent change within changelessness, the illusion of separateness and the undivided unity of the Divine.

The very first ENARMOUR piece I envisioned was the “Elyse” tassel necklace. I still remember doodling the geometric design on a napkin after dinner at my grandmother’s house almost a year ago (pretty sure I still have that napkin somewhere). This necklace materialized when the idea for the jewelry brand was just that- an idea, and in a way it was this inaugural tassel necklace that set the tone of the first collection. I’m confident to say that tassels will surely make a repeat appearance in 2016. 

Fibonacci: Capturing a Mathematical Enigma in Jewelry

Jana Gumovsky

I have always found fascination in numbers and becoming a mathematician has been one of my secret aspirations. Alas, my proficiency in higher mathematics has never quite panned out the way I had hoped but my fascination remained. In fact, my grandfather is an esteemed mathematician in Moldova, who well in his 80s still reads lectures at the capital's polytechnic university. Perhaps it's genes, or maybe it's the endless possibilities and the excitement of the unknown but I will always remain drawn to numbers. 

Introducing: The Fibonacci Bracelet - my homage to the world of numbers.

From top to bottom, the Fibonacci bracelet in Green Aventurine, White Quartz, Red Carnelian and Blue Magnezite

From top to bottom, the Fibonacci bracelet in Green Aventurine, White Quartz, Red Carnelian and Blue Magnezite

These beaded bracelets follow a specific number pattern : 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, which are the first 6 numbers of the Fibonacci sequence. But what does that mean? Mathematics, like art, has an inherent beauty and often that beauty transpires when equations and number patterns are discovered in our world, hiding in plain sight. But first, a bit of history:

Leonardo Bonacci

Leonardo Bonacci

Leonardo Bonacci (c. 1170 – c. 1250), popularly known as Fibonacci or Leonardo of Pisa, was the first great Western mathematician after the decline of Greek science.

His well-known moniker “Fibonacci” is derived from the Latin words “filius Bonacci”, literally translated to “son of Bonacci”. Fi'-Bonacci could be considered the equivalent of the English William-son or John-son.

Fibonacci was born in Pisa, Italy, to Guglielmo Bonacci, a wealthy merchant who directed a trading post at a major port located in present day Algeria. As a boy, Fibonacci accompanied his father on his commercial trips to the Orient. It was during his travels along the Mediterranean coast that the budding mathematician became acquainted with the Hindu-Arabic number system and discovered its enormous practical advantages compared to the Roman numerals, which were still current in Western Europe.

Fibonacci ended his travels around the year 1200 and returned to Pisa. Upon his return, inspired by his interactions with the foreign merchants he met while under the tutelage of his father, Leonardo wrote a number of influential texts that played an important role in reviving ancient mathematical skills. His works garnered him recognition among his contemporaries and high esteem from the reigning Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II.

His most well-known published book is Liber Abaci (1202), literally translated as “Book of Calculations” or “Book of the Abacus”. The book, which went on to be widely copied and imitated, was based on the arithmetic and algebra that Fibonacci had accumulated during his travels. In it, Fibonacci introduced the so-called modus Indorum (method of the Indians), today known as Arabic numerals and the Hindu-Arabic place-valued decimal system. The book showed the practical importance of the new numeral system by applying it to commercial bookkeeping, conversion of weights and measures, the calculation of interest, money-changing, and other applications. Furthermore, Abaci contains a large collection of problems aimed at merchants. They relate to the price of goods, how to calculate profit on transactions, how to convert between the various currencies in use in Mediterranean countries, and problems which had originated in China. The book was well received throughout educated Europe and had a profound impact on European thought.

Two pages of Fibonacci's   Liber Abaci , currently stored at  the   Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze  in Italy. The box on the right-hand side shows the  Fibonacci sequence.

Two pages of Fibonacci's Liber Abaci, currently stored at the Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze in Italy. The box on the right-hand side shows the Fibonacci sequence.

A math problem included in Liber Abaci led to the introduction of the Fibonacci sequence for which Fibonacci is best remembered today: A certain man put a pair of rabbits in a place surrounded on all sides by a wall. How many pairs of rabbits can be produced from that pair in a year if it is supposed that every month each pair begets a new pair which from the second month on becomes productive? The following assumptions accompanied this problem: no rabbits died during the year and in each pair there was always one male and one female rabbit.

The answer can be derived by a number sequence in which the next number is decided by adding the two numbers immediately preceding it.

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, etc.

This sequence, and its accompanying equation, has proved extremely fruitful and appears in many different areas of mathematics and science.

Now this is where it gets (even more) interesting.

Although Fibonacci's Liber Abaci contains the earliest known description of the sequence outside of India, the sequence has its roots in Indian mathematics. It has been noted by Indian mathematicians as early as the sixth century in connection with Sanskrit prosody, which is the study of metre in Sanskrit poetry. In the Sanskrit oral tradition, there was much emphasis on how long (L) syllables mix with the short (S), and counting the different patterns of L and S within a given fixed length results in the Fibonacci numbers.

Furthermore, if a Fibonacci number is divided by the number that directly precedes it in the sequence (particularly when dividing the larger numbers), the ratio is consistent. And when that ratio is transformed into a number we end up with 1.618033…ad infinitum. This magical number is commonly known as φ (Phi) or as the “Golden Ratio” and it was a matter of great fascination to the ancient Greeks. When the Fibonacci sequence is displayed as a series of adjacent squares they form a rectangle known as the “Golden Rectangle” and if you run a line through their corners you will have a spiral where the ratio at each juncture equals 1.618. 

As with many other mathematical concepts, the purview of the Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio spans well beyond the realm of pure mathematics. The golden spiral mirrors the spiral of the nautilus shell, snail shell, the cochlea of the inner ear in human anatomy, the horns of many animals, the arrangement of flower petals, of leaves on a branch, of seeds in a pinecone. The proportions within human and animal anatomy also exemplify the golden ratio. This ratio permeates our makeup to its smallest component- our DNA, with 21 angstroms in width and 34 angstroms in height, the double helix of our genetic makeup includes two consecutive Fibonacci numbers. The golden rectangle also holds mysterious aesthetic properties and for centuries its proportions have been incorporated in great works of art (such as Dali’s The Sacrament of the Last Supper (1955)) and in architectural structures such as the Greek Parthenon, the Great Pyramid of Giza and the great mosque of Kairouan, among others.

Greek Parthenon and the Golden Rectangle

Golden Spiral in spiral galaxies

Golden Spiral in the eye of a hurricane

Salvador Dali's "The Sacrament of the Last Supper"

Some of the greatest mathematical minds of all ages, from Pythagoras and Euclid in ancient Greece, through the medieval Italian mathematician Leonardo of Pisa and the Renaissance astronomer Johannes Kepler, to present-day scientific figures such as Oxford physicist Roger Penrose, have spent endless hours over this simple ratio and its properties. But the fascination with the Golden Ratio is not confined just to mathematicians. Biologists, artists, musicians, historians, architects, psychologists, and even mystics have pondered and debated the basis of its ubiquity and appeal. In fact, it is probably fair to say that the Golden Ratio has inspired thinkers of all disciplines like no other number in the history of mathematics.
— Mario Livio, the Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World’s Most Astonishing Number

And now, “jewelry designers” can be added to the lengthy list of professions that share a fascination with Fibonacci numbers.