THE ART OF STAYING AT HOME BY LUZ CAMINO

“En el corazón de todo arte grandioso hay una melancolía esencial.

At the heart of all great art is an essential melancholy.”

Federico García Lorca

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Portrait by Chris Gambrell_ 

At the end of April, I received a letter from Luz Camino—a Madrid-based jewelry designer and friend. She included a photograph of herself: a classy, beautiful woman wearing a light brim hat, sitting peacefully and elegantly on a wooden garden bench.
The bright spring day filled my own room, as I became immersed in the smells and sounds, felt the refreshing wind in my hair and light of the sun on my skin. Indeed, the very name of this amazing lady, radiating warmth, sophistication and soft luminescence, means ‘light’.

Madrid, April 30th, 2020

Dear Maria,

It is truly kind of you to think about me and my family. We are all in good health, thank God. I trust that you and your family are equally well. Hopefully, we will all manage to get through these difficult times we are living in the best way we can.

I must admit I felt privileged from day one. My dearest friend and partner invited me to seclude myself in his home outside Madrid, together with him and his Argentinian cousin who was visiting at the time and could not return home. It is a spacious house with a garden that allows us to stroll and breathe fresh air. We are like the Three Musketeers ready to have the best time possible.

On March 13th, I set off to this home just a few days after returning from Maastricht, where I had an exhibition of my pieces at TEFAF represented by Deborah Elvira gallery. I packed a quick suitcase with four trousers, four shirts, four pullovers, two pairs of shoes, two pairs of earrings, some watercolors and pencils, some gems in order to finish some pending designs, and two books.  I thought the lockdown would last three weeks at most, but we were evidently wrong because I have been here for seven weeks now…
 
These past few weeks, I have had the privilege of witnessing the blooming of spring: from the dormant trees, bushes and plants wearing their naked winter outfits until now, when they have reached their maximum splendor. I have never experienced this with such calmness and consistency. We rarely have the time to actually ‘see’ when looking, and we have now been given the opportunity to notice wonderful things that happen around us which we usually miss in our day-to-day rush.
 
Every day I go out in the garden to see what new flower it gifts me with that day. I have seen a peony’s life, from the bud to its full bloom and how it gradually wilted. I have discovered nests in trees that, as you know, Maria, will end up inspiring new jewelry designs. I have noticed the silence of the absence of cars and planes that allows us to hear the trilling of the different birds.
 
 

Every morning, I read for a while in bed and jump out at nine to have breakfast in my robe and nightgown. We try to do so all three together.

After a few days locked up, we decided that we had to cooperate in a solidarity project and so we started making reusable masks to be distributed free of charge among nursing homes in Madrid, made with the fabric surplus donated by Neck & Neck – a children’s clothes brand. I have to say, my sewing machine has become my favorite object or fetish these days. My tool for helping others.

We dedicate several hours a day to sewing the masks after breakfast, lunch and dinner. We have already delivered several hundred.

Not a day goes by where I do not do some exercise, for an hour or so. After working out, I get dressed and put on makeup as if I were invited out to lunch. I believe it is important to feel beautiful.

In the afternoon we play cards, canasta and crapette, very much fighting to win. At night, we watch a movie, a TV series or the news.

Aside from all these activities, I dedicate some time to work on jewelry designs. How could I not? I just finished a custom-made pair of earrings for a client through Moda Operandi and am developing my new collection that will be shown at Bergdorf Goodman at the end of the year.

Every day I talk with my family as well – it’s a big one! – and with friends who are spending isolation on their own. We have group videocalls with my children and grandchildren, which is fun and helps us keep in touch. I also stay in touch with Ana, my assistant, and a thousand times more with my son Fernando who, as you know, works with me and is my greatest help and support.

He has been involved in my designs for a long time now and he is behind the conception of several pieces. He plays an essential role in the development of my work and I am so happy to see that he shares my vision when it comes to jewelry, knowing that he will be able to follow in my footsteps. As you can imagine, after my telling you all of this, the days feel rather short and there has not been a single one where I felt bored or tired of isolation.

Sad, however, unfortunately yes, because as a result of this terrible pandemic, we have lost dear friends that I shall never forget. I hope, dear Maria, that you are taking good care of yourselves. Personally, I cannot wait to work full time again soon so that I can go back to collaborating with the great team of craftsmen who give life to my designs.

Made In The Sun: The Amber Fields of Ukraine

IN UKRAINE, FRENZIED AMBER MINING HAS DESTROYED THOUSANDS OF HECTARES OF FOREST AND MARSHES.

In scenes reminiscent of the gold rush in America’s Wild West, greed is corrupting not just the land but also the lives of the villagers hoping to make their fortune from it.

By Naomi Gryn 

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Illustration By Chris Gambrell

According to the ancient Greeks, Phaeton – the son of Helios, god of the sun – used his father’s golden chariot to ride across the sky. Fearing that the earth would be set on fire and destroyed, Zeus struck the chariot with a thunderbolt. Phaeton was thrown into the river and drowned. His grieving sisters became poplar trees, and their tears turned into amber, known in Greek as elektron, or made in the sun.

When you wear a piece of amber, you link yourself to the time of the dinosaurs. This fossilized tree resin, warm and soft to the touch, dates back millions of years, with inclusions such as insects, leaves, flowers, even dinosaur feathers that give us a window onto prehistoric ecosystems.

European amber has a rich honey color. It comes from a forest of giant conifer trees that once stretched for thousands of miles. The world’s largest known deposit is found along a coastal strip by the Baltic Sea, northwest of Kaliningrad, where it has been excavated since the mid-nineteenth century. Then, in the 1990s, Ukraine started to mine its own Rovno amber, called after the Rovno, or RIvne, district in northwest Ukraine, it what is now known by locals as the National Republic of Amber.

In China in ancient times, it was believed that tigers could live for 1000 years. After they die, their souls turn into amber – hu po in Chinese, meaning ‘tiger spirit’ – which was thought to bring good luck and have healing powers, and was used in jewelry, ornaments and medicine. In recent times, as supplies of jade became exhausted, a Chinese craze for hu po led to the price of amber soaring from $900 per kilo in 2011 to $2000 per kilo in 2015, and up to $4500 per kilo for very large stones.

Amber excavation in Ukraine became incredibly lucrative and, after the ‘EuroMaidan’ Revolution of 2014, as the country descended into lawlessness, criminal gangs operating in co-operation with corrupt police officers, Ukraine’s security service and politicians took charge of the country’s burgeoning amber trade. Amber miners – mostly villagers from areas with high unemployment – some equipped with pumps made from car or van parts, others with simple shovels, descend on forest areas where amber deposits have been found. Miners blast craters in the sandy soil and flood them with high-pressure water, so that amber will float to the surface. Then they wade into the water and use nets to fish out the stones.

Excavating as much as 400 tonnes of amber a year, the process has already turned many thousands of hectares of land into desert. No longer able to support plant life, once lush pine and birch forests and marshes now resemble a moonscape. Rivers and streams are polluted. It’s an ecological disaster.

Illegal miners have been making up to $50,000 a day, while the average salary for a Ukrainian factory worker is just $2,100 a year. Local youngsters now refuse to work in other jobs. There are drunken brawls and frequent fights over money: life in and around the amber fields resembles the wild west of America at the height of the gold rush. With no other means to support their families, the miners have been known to face down armed police trying to stop their activities. They bring guns, knives, even grenades to the pits. The amber is sold either to illegal Chinese wholesalers, or smuggled into Poland where it can be passed off as legally excavated Baltic amber and sold at the Gdansk stock market

With so much money to be made from bribes, no one involved in the protection rackets wanted to see Ukraine’s amber trade legalized, but at the end of last year, a bill was passed to try to control amber production.
Meanwhile, the oversupply of Rovno amber has drastically reduced its value, which has dropped to just $450 per kilo. And Chinese customers have become more discerning, now preferring smaller pendants to large ones, wanting only top quality beads of a certain size, color and shape. But our love story with amber is only on pause as it is still gaining popularity in Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Iran where it is used for prayer beads.

The wisdom of the ancient Greeks echoes through the millennia: as we tear up our forests to raid their resources, we risk setting our world on fire and destroying the precious ecosystems that support human life. The amber tears of Phaeton’s sisters are a warning: enjoy our planet’s magnificent treasures, but guard against human greed so that our children and grandchildren might share them too.

THE OCEAN’S GIFT: ANGEL SKIN CORAL NECKLACE BY HEMMERLE

FIVE STRANDS OF AN EXTRAORDINARY AND RARE STUNNER

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Some creations belong to no one. Like our children, each with their own unique individuality.

Some things can never be forgotten. Like this exquisite necklace, flawless and pure.

Here is one of my favorite portrait paintings by Chris Gambrell. Hiding under a swaddling cloth is my newborn son, just a few weeks old, who also has skin like an angel.

Around my neck is the one-of-a-kind, divine Hemmerle necklace: five strands of pale-blush, ancient and extremely rare angel skin coral, complemented by diamonds and rose gold. So rare, in fact, that it took several decades for the jewelers of Hemmerle to collect the necessary amount of coral, simultaneously making sure that the beads all match in texture, tone and color, a faultless achievement of balance and symmetry.

A moment of perfect harmony, balanced by two of nature’s most extraordinary gifts: one in my arms and the other wrapped around my neck…

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