Jewellers put a new shine on timeworn coins
Ancient coinage finds fortune in contemporary collections
Nicola Bulgari’s passion for coin collecting in the 1960s saw ancient coins enter the Roman jeweller’s design canon, becoming the definitive Monete collection. Now, a host of independent designers is interpreting historical currency with contemporary flourishes, adding pearls, coloured gemstones and carefully-considered chain designs. Here is our pick of some of the best.
The practice of mounting coins as jewels known as ‘Gemme Numari’ - or coin gems - is rooted in ancient Rome. Its relevance in the design canon throughout time has waxed and waned, but in the Thirties, as new caches of antique coins came into the market, Roman goldsmiths revived the trend of using ancient coinage as precious elements, satisfying new interests in ancient cultures. By the Sixties, Bulgari, highlighting its Greek beginnings, began to develop a distinctively new style of gemme numari. Its Monete and Tubogas collections incorporated bronze, gold, silver and electrum coins from the ancient Mediterranean world into the rich, gold chain designs that had become definitely Bulgari. ‘The common denominator for the jewels adorned with coins was the play of contrast: between the warm, matt finish of the antique coin and the smooth, polished shine of its surrounding setting; the colour contrasts between the metal of the coin and that of the gold or steel mount, and, of course, the contrast between ancient and modern,’ says Amanda Triossi, author of Bulgari: 125 Years of Italian Magnificence (Skira, 2010). – Caragh McKay
Konstantina Pantelous was inspired by ancient Greek mythology for her jewellery brand Hermina Athens, where she takes traditional concepts and twists them, pairing gold-plated coins with her signature chain designs. Here, coins reference their rich history as decorative adornments, albeit with an off-kilter edge as they dangle from pink silk yarn, loops of pearls or bright beads of coral or crystal. Metal links in contrasting colours are generously proportioned; wallflowers need not apply for Hermina’s fun take on the trend.
Eli Halili’s preoccupation with uniting the old and the new can be traced back to a childhood spent in Israel; the love of archaeology it ignited is something he has since integrated into his jewellery. Objects gain new subtexts with the passing of time, and Halili here imbues an old coin, its value almost obscured by a rich patina, with a new secondary value. A circle of 22 carat gold brilliantly unites the ancient Byzantine Empire coin with its original pecuniary purpose.
HHD Henry Dakak Jr
Lebanese designer Henry Dakak Jr’s background as an art historian informs his jewels. Since launching his label HHD Henry Dakak Jr in 2016, he has been inspired by Bulgari and drawn on ancient historical artefacts for inspiration and, as such, infuses each piece with a weighty character. ‘I buy coins from different countries and different epochs, sometimes at auction sales or from connoisseurs, and I have a large collection,’ he says. He experiments with ways in which to incorporate Roman coins into his pieces, frequently pairing them with a vivid 21 carat yellow gold to accentuate their tarnished state, without dismissing their historicity.
Bina Goenka’s exceptional high jewellery marries ancient techniques with precious raw materials to create miniature works of art. Her pieces are one-of-a-kind, and so there is a sly humour in her decision to celebrate one of the twentieth century’s most minted coins, the 50 pesos piece. Cast in 18 carat gold, the common coin is juxtaposed against heavy links of gold and over six carats of white diamonds.
Italian-born and London-based designer, Benedetta Dubini, has translated these ancient capitalist constructs into symbols of femininity by marrying them with rose, white or yellow gold. ‘Each piece is unique,’ says Dubini, ‘therefore my work on pairing them depends on the texture of the individual piece and what accentuates its characteristics.’ Sourcing her coins through accredited numismatic dealers and from auctions around the world, the coins she chooses in gold, silver or bronze come in a range of patinas - particularly bronze, which can be green, blue or brownish in colour. Coins, when worn around the neck and studded in brightly coloured studded gems, or swaying from earlobes with tassles of joyful green agate, become imbued with a wholly new functionality.
Half-sisters Francesca Kelly and Marianna Doyle’s Sicilian heritage is evident in Soru Jewellery’s designs, which weave together Italian cultural and creative influences. This undated medallion, handmade in Italy, uses gold-plated silver for a playful way into the trend. Featuring the patron saint of the environment, Saint Francesca Assisi, it makes for a timely tribute. §