Bar­bara Berger

Adore Gems & Timepieces - - FEATURE -

Bar­bara Berger’s in­stan­ta­neous love af­fairs with jew­ellery can strike up in the most un­ex­pected lo­ca­tions. The New Yorker, who re­sides in Mex­ico City with her hus­band, jew­eller Mau­rí­cio Berger, was once strolling around the Zona Rosa mar­ket when she stum­bled upon a pin of an Airedale ter­rier, which she im­me­di­ately pur­chased with a friend in mind who has the very same breed. On her re­turn home, while search­ing for some­thing sim­i­lar in her jew­ellery books, she re­alised the un­ex­pected dis­cov­ery was in fact a very rare Tri­fari worth US$4,500. You may also spot the fab­u­lous sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian sur­vey­ing the hunt­ing ground at La La­gu­nilla mar­ket in the cap­i­tal or Paris’s Paul Bert and Ser­pette strips. She never shops on­line be­cause “the spirit of the piece has to be felt in your hands,” she says.

“My en­tire col­lec­tion is based not on his­tor­i­cal value but the coup de coeur. Jew­ellery is a pas­sion in my life. As time goes on, the col­lec­tion has re­ally taken on its own his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance,” says the ex­u­ber­ant Berger.

Her for­mi­da­ble col­lec­tion of the best in cos­tume jew­ellery from the early 20th cen­tury to present day has show­cased at the likes of New York’s Mu­seum of Arts and De­sign, the site of an al­most year-long show in

2013 that was ac­com­pa­nied by the book Fash­ion Jew­elry: The Col­lec­tion of Bar­bara Berger. In her fore­word for the tome, Berger states no fewer than six jew­ellery de­crees to live ar­dently by. The top of the glam­orous man­i­fest is: “Al­ways put on more jew­ellery.”

Berger may be known as The First Lady of Cos­tume Jew­ellery but she also dons fine jew­ellery by her hus­band and JAR. Di­a­monds have paved her ad­ven­tures, mark­ing both her early life and her ro­man­tic life — her grand­fa­ther, fa­ther, sons and hus­band all made their path in the di­a­mond busi­ness. It has been sug­gested that her pas­sion for cos­tume jew­ellery is a re­bel­lious re­sponse to what peo­ple may ex­pect her to col­lect. But it is not the case. The adaman­tine is just part of her DNA, she says. “What woman would not love di­a­monds? Then she’s not a woman.”

She col­lects mostly fan­tasy pieces rather than struc­tural ones and has long been drawn to the play of cos­tume, say­ing with an air of de­fla­tion: “I wish I lived in the time of Marie An­toinette but un­for­tu­nately, I live in the time of grunge.”

“Jew­ellery should never be toned down. It is an ex­pres­sion of who you are, your style. It’s like putting on a fa­cade be­fore you go out of your house ev­ery morn­ing. Ev­ery day is a dif­fer­ent day and a dif­fer­ent emotion,” she con­tin­ues.

Her eyes are drawn to the ex­tra­or­di­nary and unique de­signs im­bued with hu­mour, and one senses she is a canny jew­ellery seeker. In­deed, af­ter the Mad­off cri­sis, she was pro­pelled to Palm Beach and Mi­ami to see what the pawn­shops were of­fer­ing.

“I have al­ways looked for bar­gains but if there is a piece that I re­ally love, I would pay any price for it,” she ex­plains. And she has a wealth of prac­tice. She was just 13 in Paris, when her flea mar­ket mis­sions be­gan with a pair of Chanel ear­rings. On her trav­els, she likes to dress ca­su­ally in black tights so she can run around un­no­ticed. But while she might like to be un­der­stated dur­ing the day, she em­braces the over the top at night. “I think you should own it all but [as a dress rule] no woman should leave the house with­out a pair of ear­rings.”

She con­sid­ers Coco Chanel, Elsa Schi­a­par­elli and Miriam Haskell as the true vi­sion­ar­ies of cos­tume jew­ellery, but in her more than 4,000-strong col­lec­tion, there are pieces from some 80 de­sign­ers who hail from revered cou­ture houses such as Valentino to con­tem­po­rary de­sign­ers she views as des­tined to be col­lectibles of the fu­ture. Some of them in­clude Iradj Moini, David Man­del, Larry Vrba, Robert Sor­rell and Daniel Von Wein­berger. From each de­signer, she has her favourite pieces too. “Ba­si­cally, I love them all,” she says. Some trea­sured ex­am­ples in­clude two swan hat­pins by Schi­a­par­elli and a Nina Ricci neck­lace with mir­ror-en­crusted charms.

Berger de­scribes her col­lect­ing rai­son d’être as “the plea­sure of ac­qui­si­tion, the minis­cule win­dow that opens on a mo­ment frozen in time.” Her jew­ellery trove also gives her se­cu­rity, a sense of whole­ness and makes her feel com­plete. “I have tri­umphed over stress­ful times through the fan­tasy and the baroque with the soft touch of the wand that is my jew­ellery col­lec­tion.”

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