Elena Veselaya: “Jewellers don’t pick sides in the geopolitics”
Last year, 2022, was a year of great geopolitical and economical changes in the world. We all were intact with them in different ways, and the jewellery industry should have felt that shift in the market, in the creativity, in the brands and their clients ambitions and expectations. So Lostinjewels decided to make a series of interviews on the subject to draw a picture of the moment.
The first expert I, Olga Zakharova Kaetano, talked to was Elena Veselaya, a jewellery expert, a writer and a journalist, also a translator of the Russian edition of “The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire”, written by Francesca Cartier Brickell. Her name is well known not just in Russia, where she lives and works, but also widely outside the country. Many jewellery admirers and professionals follow her Instagram blog @twentyonejewels_byelena and since recently – her Telegram channel.
LIJ: Elena, are one of the most important jewellery experts about the Russian jewellery market and you are the person that introduces foreign high and premium jewellery to the Russians and Russian jewellers – to the rest of the world. 2022 was a year of global changes. If you could draw the line connecting the year before it and now, January 2023, how would you describe the “jewellery” moment we are in?
Well, it’s obvious that the world won’t be the same. I don’t want to repeat what everyone knows – the pandemic not only froze the jewellery industry as many others, it not just took many lives. The virus happened to be deadly not just to physical health. It, like Dementors from “Harry Potter”, drained people of hope, joy and creativity. A lot of jewellers lost interest in their work and closed their workshops.
“People don’t want to work,” – that is what I used to hear everywhere. It’s a widespread decline in the level of ambition.
Just when we started to see the light 24th of February 2022 came, and we were sucked into vacuum. What next is to expect, I don’t know. The level of craftsmanship falls in the whole world – young artisans don’t replace the old masters. And it’s not because they are less talented – jewellery as a field became less attractive to them. Young people understand that they can achieve fast and obvious success elsewhere, no need to lose their sight looking into the microscope and keeping themselves bent over the workbench.
LIJ: What insights did last year bring? Was there something that you didn’t expect to discover – good or bad?
Don’t want to be trivial, but what’s happening now ploughs up not just Russia and Ukraine but the whole world. Russia was never fully included into the world jewellery market – there was always a curtain for us – iron or glass or other kind. Young Chinese or Indian designers can more easily enter the world community than someone from Russia. Now those chances for us are almost zero.
As for surprises, there was actually one. I continue making “Jewellery”, an annual book of the world’s most interesting collections of the year. I was absolutely certain that most of the foreign brands wouldn’t object to being published in it.
The jewellery community is based on personal relationships, not on the geopolitical alliances. Jewellers don’t pick sides – they think in concrete categories, as well as aesthetical.
And I wasn’t wrong. Only one brand found it necessary to send me a kind email thanking us for the past collaborations and support that we provided them for many years. But they decided to “suspend” their participation… Till the better time. Honestly speaking, I felt bad about it. I understand their concerns, but… The brand is Hemmerle… It is a decision of the same sort as if I would refuse to write about them in memory of the victims of World War II.
LIJ: In 2022 there were many exhibitions, auctions, and all sorts of events. Which do you find the most meaningful? And what is the meaning?
I [as a Russian citizen] couldn’t physically visit the exhibitions and auctions in Europe for obvious reasons, so I can analyse only the auctions results. In troubled times “the eternal values” come to the fore – people start to buy gems. Design and art stepped down. The objects I thought were worth attention were sold close to the estimate or stayed unsold. For the first time I couldn’t tell auction results though usually I’m good at such predictions. But what can I say? I wasn’t there.
Jewellery names that attracted a lot of attention for the last few years now are sold for modest prices. It was the centenary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, all auction houses tried to present jewellery made in the Egyptian Renaissance style, but even that calculation didn’t work out. So the interest now is mostly addressed to the gems.
Instability in the society causes a particular interest in the things of “the sentimental value” – it’s either jewellery with known provenance or touching jewel “toys” – cats, dogs, owls, dragons, unicorns – so to say “to hug and weep”. People miss actual feelings or can’t express them for a reason (separation, immigration, losses), so they find comfort in cute creatures.
LIJ: Do you think that Russian jewellery brands were hurt by the western sanctions? Apart from Alrosa, Russian companies are usually very small… What were the consequences for them?
The problems the Russian jewellery industry is experiencing are hardly connected to the sanctions. Yes, it’s more difficult to get the gems, but that task can be solved. Jewellery business in Russia wasn’t based on export volumes, the exception is trading in raw materials. But there are much more gems and jewellery in the world than the number of people that want to buy them.
So the Russian brands with their ambitions to enter the world market are not really needed. The world is interested in selling, not buying – so the only thing that is needed from us are raw materials that can be found elsewhere, especially if we consider the conditions on which Alrosa trades.
The main problem in the Russian jewellery business today is tax codex reform, which has made many small workshops leave the market. I don’t want to go into detail, but that was the worst thing that happened to the industry. And that strike was made from within the country, not from outside.
LIJ: Are there experts and bloggers that you follow or subscribe to? Can you recommend anyone? Have you changed your preferences in 2022?
I can’t say that the community changed much. Rather, the spread of social platforms is slightly different. Some people moved to Telegram, but it’s uncomfortable. It’s difficult to credit illustrations there, the feed is hard to read and follow. But even there people find a way to share and learn. The water will find its way.
I would recommend a few Western bloggers on Instagram, which is prohibited in Russia right now. I still use it though, I must confess. For instance, Christine Cheng from Simon Teakle Gallery in the USA. She has a perfect taste and always shows jewels to the best advantage. Or @Jewelsdujour by Natalie Bos Betteridge – one of the most informative blogs on jewellery.
Among Russian bloggers I can’t say I follow someone in particular. Maybe Jenya Tyshkevich – she’s more interested in the contemporary, so I like to read about something I don’t know deep enough.
As for the rest – people write about who wears what. I’m not interested in the subject. I think they still think about the old concept of advertisers and platforms that might suit them. But where are those advertisers? Where are those brands? Life has changed, and we are still discussing what the jewellery stars wore for the red carpet…
LIJ: If you had to choose jewels of 2022, what would you name? And why?
I admire Claire Choisne’s work for Boucheron – in my opinion, it’s an amazing example of accurate work with the sources, she’s always perfect in that respect.
View this post on Instagram
Speaking about concrete pieces, it’s hard to say. I was limited in travels, so I could see much less things than before… I was very impressed by Viren Bhagat’s works during my summer visit to Mumbai. I can’t show any photography because he is very strict, prohibiting filming and publications. He says: “I don’t entertain dealers, jewellers and bloggers”. The few pieces he showed I feel like they are still in front of me. But apart from my admiration I can’t present anything to the public.
A very beautiful collection was made by Edmond Chin for the jubilee of his brand Etcetera. But my judgement is based on the pictures – when I get to Hong Kong, I hope I will see it for real.
LIJ: What are the main problems you see in the jewellery world, in the industry?
Problems are always the same. I separate following traditions and plagiarism, stealing from the neighbour. If you look at the booth expositions at Vicenzaoro, you will understand what I’m talking about. Italian designers make the same stuff that their neighbours do. They don’t even go far for inspiration – copying the pieces in front of their booth. I don’t mention that 80% of jewellery production in the world are copies of the big brands designs. There are a lot of enthusiasts who make “nails” and “alhambra” versions. And until there are people who want “the same but cheaper”, such masters will continue to “create”.
As for the use of aesthetics and ideas of past generations, here, in my opinion, it is rather a continuation of the cultural memory of mankind. The jewellery that comes out from it is different, enriched with new ideas and techniques. I don’t see any bad in it.
For example, one of the frequent comments from people: “So-and–so made a jewellery branch of lilac – this is an imitation of JAR». But the lilac branch was created by nature, not by Joel Arthur Rosenthal. Artists just interpret God’s plan, each in their own way.
LIJ: What would you recommend to the jewellery designers that are searching for their path to recognition? How should they work with experts and influencers like you?
I never refused to share my opinion with people who asked for it. It might sound exaggerated but I see my mission in educating not just the jewellery designers but also their clients. That’s why I give lectures on jewellery art and even recorded a video course. Unfortunately jewellers don’t think that such knowledge is important.
If you think that someone is interested in expert opinion you are wrong. Self-expression is egocentric – people simply don’t understand why they need to know history.
So to say, jewellers generally are quite ignorant – with exception of the few highly ranked. For example, JAR is a highly educated person – you can see it in his works. Viren Bhagat and Edmond Chin – those people are of encyclopaedic knowledge and it goes far beyond their profession. At the same time they don’t look at their colleagues’ work at all.
LIJ: How do you stay in such good relationships with everyone and continue to own your opinion, keeping your own voice? And where is the border between the critique and the taste matters?
No one likes critique. You shouldn’t take my recognition for a sign of appreciation – I’m loved by few, and feared by many. But mostly by those who prefer to be petted and cherished… Judging that is made out of someone’s taste is incompetent criticism. And often criticised people lack the qualification to distinguish one from the other.
LIJ: What is your dream about the jewellery world? What should it look like and what kind of changes would you like to be a part of?
I would like to see more ideas in the jewellery – authentic, new – so business matters were no threat to beauty.
I want people to develop and educate their own taste and to choose not the things advertised but those that are sincerely liked. Though that dream seems very far from where we are now.