By  on October 8, 2007

LONDON — It's a far cry from the usual jewelry exhibition, what with the bloody guillotine blade, the skeleton bones and the stuffed crows pecking at a diamond drop necklace — but, then, British designer Theo Fennell has always viewed his gems from a skewed perspective.

Fennell's new exhibition, "Show Off," which opened in London in late September and will move to Moscow, Dubai and Los Angeles over the next 18 months, is more than just a sales pitch. It's a manifesto of the designer's life philosophy.

"It's jewelry's duty to be life-enhancing and talismanic, and, sometimes, jewelry is all that remains," said Fennell, pointing to a pair of glistening ruby and diamond dagger earrings dangling from the freshly guillotined head of Marie-Antoinette, and a diamond and peridot cross pendant resting on the chest of a skeleton.

But "Show Off" isn't all gloom. The theme of the show is life and death, so Fennell pins his sparkling earrings on a replica of Ingres' Venus and on paintings of distinguished Georgian ladies as well. He's also twisted a string of South Sea pearls onto the neck of a swine.

There's a political bent, too, with Fennell taking 20th-century villains, including Lenin, Mao Zedong and Mussolini, and turning them into 18-karat gold rings. Kinder, gentler types, including Gandhi and the skull of Amelia Earhart, also get the gold-ring treatment.

In addition to the theatrical sets, props and complex dioramas, Fennell has slipped some simpler bits into the show: a footprint in a snowdrift, with a ruby and diamond key pendant abandoned close by, and a tire track in the mud, with a snake pendant glistening near it.

"Sometimes jewelry is defined by loss," said the designer.

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