Mahnaz Collection’s “London Originals” Exhibition to Debut in NYC

by Wendy Sy Photographed by Courtesy of Mahnaz Collection
Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The 1960s and ‘70s were a renaissance—for fashion, art and music, yes, but also for British jewelry. Starting today, more than 150 works from that era will be on view in “London Originals: The Jeweler’s Art in Radical Times,” a new exhibition on view at Wright Gallery and Mahnaz Collection.

“The designers who we feature came out of war in Britain in the ‘40s and ‘50s—they were kids growing up in a very difficult environment,” says Mahnaz Collection’s owner Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos. “London had been burned. There was not much in terms of buildings and some of them were immigrants who had fled the war in Germany. Some came from Austria, one was Italian, another Australian, but they all settled in London at this time.” These jewelers worked in similar ways by drawing inspiration from nature. Instead of faceting a gem they preferred to explore materials in their natural states.

“London Originals” features jewelry by designers like George Weil, Charles de Temple, Gerda Flockinger, Tom Scott, Kutchinsky, Barbara Cartlidge and David Thomas. “It’s a privilege to show their work,” says Ispahani Bartos, who notes that their clientele included the British royal family as well as influential figures from Ursula Andress to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Opening up a glass display case, Ispahani Bartos takes out a brooch made by John Donald in 1972. In addition to the diamonds—designed so that they appear to radiate from the outside in—what makes this piece unique is the uneven texture of its 18 karat gold circle frame. Donald’s technique was to place molten gold in cold water, shocking it to create texture. He called it the “nugget flake” for its resemblance to a raw nugget of gold pulled from the earth.

“There was a reaction to jewelry from decades prior when gold had a very high polish,” says Ispahani Bartos. “What’s interesting about this work is that it feels very familiar to us.” Indeed, some of the pieces in the lineup could have been made yesterday. Case in point: stackable rings, invented by designer and sculptor Wendy Ramshaw. “What’s interesting about her stacking rings is that she would also design these fitted stands so when you’re not wearing them, you can screw them on there to be displayed as an art object,” says Victoria LaMantia, jewelry and client relations manager at Mahnaz Collection. “She really thought about jewelry in a very comprehensive way.”

For Ispahani Bartos, who moved to London as a teenager in the 1970s, this jewelry has a deeply personal significance. “One of the first hand-me-downs my mother gave me was a little Omega watch designed by Andrew Grima. I still have it,” she says. She began collecting vintage jewelry while working as a foreign policy and international security professional, but at the time, it was just a hobby. “I worked in Russia, Guatemala, Nigeria and many parts of the world where I wasn’t wearing jewelry—that wasn’t my life,” says Ispahani Bartos. The course of her career changed after she shattered the central diamond in her three-carat engagement ring. “It was very strange. My husband and I looked all over to replace the ring. We found tons of options but you can’t really replace it, which speaks to the emotional value.”

She continues, “That was the downside, but the upside led me to discover this world of jewelry. My previous work was all about war, violence and conflict resolution. I was attracted to this opportunity to work on the creative side of human endeavor.” Ispahani Bartos then opened Mahnaz Collection with the hope to redefine the term “luxury”. “It’s not just about the value of the material—it’s about the hand of the maker, the capability of the craftsman. That’s really the meaning behind our jewelry.”


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