Precious few women who reach their tenth decade embody the peak jewelry chic and cultural resonance of 93-year-old Mimi Lipton. Based in London, Lipton is a former antique dealer, gallery curator and author who’s an applied art world legend for having commissioned master artisans from seven countries to produce over 80 one-of-a-kind, 22-karat gold jewels set with exquisite, unpolished colored gemstones, baroque pearls, antique carved ivory, bone, jade and other materials she collected during decades of globe-trotting. Lipton is in the news now because London-based dealer Valery Demure is exclusively offering her legendary treasures under the banner of Collect or Perish, via Objet d’Emotion, the online design-driven jewelry gallery that Demure founded and curates.
Created out of jewelry materials sourced on Lipton’s many adventures throughout Africa, Thailand, China, Nepal, Tibet, Australia and other countries, Collect or Perish jewels embody the philosophy, vision and artistic aspirations of a mid-to-late 20th century female world traveler and peerless jewelry connoisseur. Mimi Lipton has always valued adornments that embody material beauty, cultural significance, artisanal heritage and rarity more than conventional luxury jewels. As Demure explains, “The jewels that Mimi commissioned decades ago crystallize and express a love of Nature and respect for humanity. Collect or Perish pieces are alive with a visual and tactile power, artistic finesse and world view that looks and feels all the more luxurious given our climate crisis, culture wars and the decline in traditional jewelry artisanship due to the spread of inexpensive; mass-produced jewels and trend-driven, upmarket jewelry. Global pandemic-induced travel restrictions,” Demure continues, “color the already beautiful Collect or Perish pieces with deeper feelings and historical poignancy. These jewels are very much about the freedom to create in harmony with Nature and present oneself to the world with dignity, humility and artistry.”
Indeed, having experienced many artistically accomplished cultures at a time when they were relatively remote and unindustrialized, much of the jewelry Lipton commissioned was influenced by their incomparable, and in many cases, vanished cultural and environmental splendors. Only when she was in her 70s did Lipton start conceptualizing designs for her iridescent Ethiopian opals, midnight blue lapis lazuli, limpid aquamarines, juicy pink tourmalines and rugged demantoid garnets the color of alpine forests. Only when most people give up working did Lipton commence creating jewels with all of the above, plus baroque pearls, Venezuelan corals, seashells, carved jade, bone, antique ivory and more.
As Demure puts it, “Mimi’s only instructions to her jewelers were to utilize her jewelry materials as is, without cutting or polishing, and set them in 22-karat gold designs to maximize their visual, sculptural, textural and poetic properties. These monumental, seductive and flattering designs transcend time and appeal to people of all cultures, ages and genders.” The unparalleled artisanship and vast variety of materials present in Lipton’s jewels remind this writer of collections lovingly amassed and owned by Millicent Rogers, Ganna Walska and Doris Duke. While these three wealthy women had wildly divergent tastes in jewelry, each one of them passionately collected jewelry materials throughout their lives. Like Mimi Lipton, each one bankrolled and commissioned important jewelry for jewelry’s sake, and wore her designs with distinctive panache.
Born to a Jewish family in Vienna in 1928, Lipton and her family left Nazi Austria for Belgium and eventually landed in England. As an adult, Lipton worked at London’s Institute for Contemporary Arts (ICA) and was also closely involved in the research and realization of the exhibition “Peoples of the Golden Triangle” and its accompanying book. (Both focused on the Karen, Hmong, Mien, Lahu, Akha and Lisu ethnic groups who struggle to maintain their folkways in the region where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos overlap. Naturally, all of these tribes make and wear jewelry that embodies different degrees of significance.)
Clad in a turquoise blue tie-dyed dress and a boldly scaled 22-karat gold and lapis collar necklace, Lipton appears more like the seventy-something empress of an artistic tribe than a 93-year-old retiree. Lipton sourced the lapis lazuli in her necklace and matching ring from Afghanistan, which has been mining the blue rock for almost 7,000 years. (The lapis used in Ancient Egyptian jewelry and objets d’art originated from Afghan mines.) The Nepalese jeweler Ram Rijal created this set by enrobing cylindrical and rod-shaped clusters of gold-flecked lapis in artfully textured gold settings linked by large, graceful rings. While the resulting neck piece features large-scaled, heavily textured links replete with negative space, the matching ring renders successful homage to Brutalist style. The grand scale, heft and ruggedly graceful texture of this necklace and ring imbues them with a trans-historical allure; a material and visual mystery.
Looking at these and all of the other alluring jewels in Collect or Perish, one wonders: Who made these treasures? Where were they made, and when? Who wore them? Are these pieces antique or vintage? They look like they could be from South America, Asia, or perhaps they could even be 21st century European jewels…
Through working with master jewelers to realize her penetrant vision, Lipton has created something that embodies much more than a fine jewelry collection. Collect or Perish is an alchemical manifestation of adornments. amulets and talismans that live on the body, brining both wearer and viewer into the echo chambers of diverse cultures, different times and faraway places.
Collect or Perish: Available at www.objetdemotion.com