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LONDON — Call it intellectual bling.

London gallery owner Louisa Guinness is currently showing and selling jewelry made by artists from Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst to Sam Taylor-Wood and Antony Gormley.

This story first appeared in the December 18, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Guinness, who specializes in furniture and functional objects by contemporary artists, views the jewels as miniature art. “Look, it’s like wearing a little Kapoor,” says Guinness as she flashes a hollow, enamel-and-gold Anish Kapoor ring during an interview at her spare space in South Kensington. “And like Kapoor’s art, it plays tricks with your mind. You can’t tell whether the ring is concave or convex.”

Taylor-Wood’s jewelry also mimics her art’s often cheeky and risqué aesthetic. For the show, she designed a limited-edition diamond necklace in the shape of a four-letter word, and a tamer white gold and diamond ring called the Tear Catcher. As in Ancient Rome, the partly hollow ring holds teardrops, which can then be poured into small glass vials.

But while the jewelry may resemble the artwork, the prices, which are comparable to Cartier’s, certainly don’t. “The pieces are well priced for jewelry and extremely well priced for art,” says Guinness. Kapoor’s ring sells for about $15,000, while one of his sculptures can go for as much as $200,000. The gold Picasso pendants with carved bull’s heads, Egyptian symbols or naked ladies start at $14,000.

Guinness, who is a member of the giant Irish banking-and-brewing family, traveled through Europe and the U.S. to find the pieces by the deceased artists. “In the Sixties and Seventies, about three or four jewelery makers around the world commissioned artists like Picasso to make jewelry. Some of his pins came in an edition of 20, but we don’t know where the rest of them are.”

Guinness wanted to cover as much ground as possible for the show, using artists from several countries and eras and employing different mediums. The show’s oldest piece is one of Alexander Calder’s hammered brass squiggle-shaped necklaces from 1938 and the most recent ones were commissioned from Taylor-Wood, Gormley and Kapoor. “I gave them no parameters, and the artists love to do these projects because it gives them another creative doorway,” says Guinness.

Gormley, who designed rubber and steel necklaces and alabaster earrings, says the commission was a challenge. “I’m interested in the relationship between materials and the body, how one informs the other,” the British sculptor says. “I’m usually concerned with what’s going on inside the body. But a jewel sits on the skin, and I’m interested in how it expresses what goes on inside the body.”

This won’t be the last time Guinness throws out a challenge to her contemporary artists. She’s already thinking about asking them to design ladders or wallpaper for future exhibitions.

“Artists are creative creatures and they like producing something different,” says Guinness, who also plans to do a jewelry exhibition every year. “I’d like to specialize in artists’ jewelry. For one thing, it’s easy to show — and it’s not as heavy as furniture.”

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