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Out of This World! Jewelry in the Space Age

on Mon, 07/06/2015 - 00:00

Out of This World! Jewelry in the Space Age
Mankind has always had a fascination with the stars. The Sun was considered by many early cultures to be a god, for instance, and the constellations likewise held religious significance. The dream of travelling to the Moon and beyond was reflected in the Nineteenth Century novels of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, while the Twentieth Century continued the aspiration through the works of such sci-fi luminaries as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark and Robert Heinlein.

With the advent of radio, film and television, sound and images were added to these narratives as the science fiction genre evolved and grew in popularity. Starting in the 1950s, meanwhile, the fantasy of space travel became reality, resulting in Neil Armstrong becoming the first human to walk on the Moon in 1969. Mankind’s fascination with the stars is not limited to factual space explorations and science fiction space operas, however, but has spilled over into the culture of the times in other ways as well.

A 2013 exhibit at the Forbes Gallery in New York City that was transported to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh during June 2015 showcases just one of the many ways that the realm of outer space has impacted our culture—in the form of jewelry. Out of This World! Jewelry in the Space Age contains an impressive and priceless collection of broaches, pins, pendants and earrings that pay homage to the significance role that the stars and universe has played in the evolution of mankind, a blending of both science fact and science fiction into an art of wonder and beauty in its own right.

Items within Out of This World! include relics from close to 200 years ago that were inspired by the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1759. A star neckless and Halley’s Comet pin from 1835 and brooches from both the Georgian (1714-1837) and Victorian (1837-1901) Eras, for instance, are joined by more contemporary brooches and bracelets that carry the theme of “shooting stars” into modern times.

Jules Verne, meanwhile, used Tampa, Florida, as the launch site for his From Earth to the Moon spacecraft, a fact reflected in the artwork of the Tampa Necklace by Van Cleef & Arpels that features a rocket trailed by diamonds and interchangeable pendants.

The successful launch of the first satellite, Sputnik, by the Soviet Union in 1957 was likewise a source of inspiration for not only jewelry but other “Space Age” designs incorporated into everything from toys and furniture to coffee mugs and Christmas lights. As the space race heated up in the 1960s, meanwhile, so did the imagination of jewelry makers around the world, who not only crafted gems as art but as a commemoration of mankind’s achievements as well.

The Paris newspaper Le Figaro, for instance, commissioned Cartier to construct three solid gold Lunar Module replicas to be presented to Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins upon their visit to France after the successful Moon landing of Apollo 11 in 1969. A small piece of microfilm is embedded in each of the Lunar Module’s core that contains the names of Le Figaro subscribers whose donations made the gifts possible.

Out of This World! also contains jewelry crafted with the same material used in the construction of spacecrafts by NASA—including titanium, polymer, nitinol and dichroic glass—as well as material from meteorites that have travelled to Earth and items that were taken into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle.

“Astronauts are allowed to take up to twenty personal items on space missions in their Personal Reference Kit,” the exhibit explains. “Jewelry is often among the items of choice for astronauts because of its small size and personal nature. A series of watches were also made for astronauts to wear in space.”

The popularity of Star Trek in the 1960s and Star Wars in the 1970s has likewise led to an abundance of science fiction inspired jewelry and merchandise. Contemporary designers like Sergey Jivetin in New York, Mark Rooker of Virginia and Paul Bierker of Paul Michael Design in Pittsburgh have all incorporated such sci-fi icons as the droid R2D2 of Star Wars, the TARDIS from Doctor Who, the spacecraft Serenity of Firefly, the Galileo Shuttle from Star Trek and even the image of Han Solo frozen in carbonite into rings, earrings and pendants.

Needless to say, the Out of This World! Jewelry in the Space Age contains literally hundreds of items within its exhibit, a collection that spans both decades and centuries as it explores not only the art of such jewelry but a history of mankind’s fascination with the stars and beyond as well.

“We have come a long way in our quest to go into space,” Out of This World! curator Elyse Zorn Karlin reflects in a companion catalogue to the exhibit. “Americans have walked on the Moon and made many visits to the International Space Station. Satellites have allowed us to communicate worldwide, predict the weather, and explore distant worlds. Missions to Mars, Mercury and Pluto and the discoveries they are revealing are in the news right now. With the end of the Space Shuttle program, the private sector has jumped in to fill the gap. There are even a number of companies preparing to offer tourists trips to the Moon!”

Mankind has always had a fascination with the stars, a fascination immortalized in the cultural artifacts of the past and the present—a trend that will no doubt continue well into the future.

Anthony Letizia

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