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Dalí joies: Jewels that express convictions |

Fashion and Beauty

Dalí joies: Jewels that express convictions

ART DE VIVRE - Ricky Toledo, Chito Vijandre - The Philippine Star
Dalí joies: Jewels that express convictions
The Eye of Time (1949) platinum, diamonds, ruby, enamel, Movado clock. This brooch incorporates two of the most iconic Dali symbols, the eye and the clock.

Salvador Dalí placed value on the design and craftsmanship of his jewelry, over and above the material worth of the gems.

Over a million tourists visit Figueres, Spain each year, mainly to see the spectacle of Salvador Dalí’s Theatre and Museum, housing the single largest and most diverse collection of works and curiosities of the controversial surrealist. Most of the busloads, however, never get to see the Dalí Joies museum, tucked discreetly on the side of the main building — the better for those travelers who go beyond the “take selfie and post” routine and spend time to contemplate some of the most breathtaking pieces of jewelry and objets d’art.

Quiet and discreet, of course, were never Dalinian traits. His technical virtuosity and singular imagination — epitomized by his painting “The Persistence of Memory” in 1931 with the iconic melting pocket watches — made him a leading figure in the surrealist movement.  His “love of everything gilded and excessive,” however, and his predilection for unorthodox and grandiose behavior became a cause of dismay for both admirers and critics, overshadowing the finer points of his art.

Necklace with Entwined Limbs (Choreographic Necklace, 1964) 18k gold, amethyst, green sapphire, diamonds.

To deliver a lecture at a London exhibition in 1936, Dalí arrived in a deep-sea diving suit and helmet, carrying a billiard cue and leading a pair of Russian wolfhounds. His helmet had to be unscrewed and as he gasped for breath, he proclaimed that he just wanted to show that he was “plunging deeply into the human mind.”  At a film showing, he knocked down the projector in a rage, claiming that the filmmaker “had stolen the idea from his subconscious.” His fame grew, landing him on the cover of Time magazine in 1936 and getting him patrons like Edward James, Sigmund Freud and Coco Chanel.

Salvador Dalí showing his jewel, Grapes of Immortality in 1970. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

By 1939, André Breton, co-founder of the Surrealist movement, coined the derogatory nickname “Avida Dollars,” an anagram for “Salvador Dalí” and a phonetic rendering of avide a dollars or “eager for dollars,” as a commentary on the increasing commercialization of Dali’s work, resulting in the artist’s expulsion from the movement.

His work became increasingly multifarious, working in various media — from sculpture and film to clothes and stage sets for plays and ballets.  Inevitably, he would also do jewelry that would express both his art and his philosophy, which he likened to great artists like Leonardo da Vinci whose scientific spirit envisaged the possibility of miracles under the sea and in the air and Benvenito Cellini, Boticelli and da Luca who he said “created gems for adornment, goblets, chalices — jeweled ornaments of puissant beauty.” 

Calling himself a “Paladin of a new Renaissance,” he said that his art encompasses physics, mathematics, architecture and nuclear science, “the psycho-nuclear, the mystic-nuclear — and jewelry — not paint alone.”  

The Royal Heart (1953) 18k yellow gold, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, aquamarines, peridots, diamonds, pearls with a moving mechanism that makes the heart beat, representing Queen Elizabeth II’s heart beating for her people.

Just like in Renaissance times, he placed value on the design and craftsmanship of his jewelry, over and above the material worth of the gems.

The history of the creation of jewels in Dali’s oeuvre dates back to the early 1940s till 1970. With the help of  Argentine-born Carlos Alemany, his designs came to life in the goldsmith’s New York studio. In 1949, the Philadelphia banker and philanthropist Cummins Catherwood and his wife Ellengowen, patrons and friends of Dalí, acquired 22 pieces directly from the artist. This collection was later bought and expanded to 39 pieces by the Owen Cheatham Foundation in 1958 after which it was exhibited to raise money for various charitable and cultural causes. It changed hands further in 1981 to a Saudi multimillionaire, followed by three Japanese entities, before finally landing with the Dalí Foundation in 1999 with the guidance of the Associació Espanyola de Gemmologia.

The Space Elephant (1961) 18k gold, emeralds, rubies, diamonds, aquamarine, Omega clock. A recurring image in Dali’s work, the elephant is a distortion of space, its spindly legs contrasting the idea of weightlessness with structure.

Aside from designing the jewelry, Dalí also selected the materials to be used, focusing not only on the colors and shapes but also on the symbolic meanings and connotations attributed to the gemstones and noble metals.  Just as in his paintings, the artist continued to reinvent universally celebrated themes in his jewelry such as the heart, the cross and the Madonna. 

Dalí with Coco Chanel in 1938. (Photo from

Metamorphism and cosmology in both nature and religion also preoccupied him: “Anthropomorphic subjects appear and reappear in my jewels.  I see the human form in trees, leaves, animals; the animal and vegetable in the human.  My art — in paint, diamonds, rubies, pearls, emeralds, gold, chrysoprase — shows the metamorphosis that takes place; human beings create and change.  When they sleep, they change totally — into flowers, plants, trees.  In Heaven comes the new metamorphosis.  The body becomes whole again and attains perfection.” 

Ruby Lips (1949) 18k gold, rubies, pearls. Inspired by the lips of Hollywood star Mae West.

When some critics dismissed his jewelry as frivolous, the artist remarked that they were “Delusive! The Dalí jewels are totally serious. I am pleased if my jeweled telephone earrings bring a smile. A smile is a pleasing thing. But these earrings, as with all my jewels, are serious. The earrings express the ear, symbol of harmony and unity. They connote the speed of modern communication; the hope and danger of instantaneous exchange of thought.”

Explosion (1959) Platinum, rubies, diamonds, lapis lazuli, fluorite, rough crystal.

Ultimately, the fact that his jewels are on permanent exhibit and not resting soullessly in someone’s steel vault fulfills their raison d’etre. “They were created to please the eye, uplift the spirit, stir the imagination, express convictions. Without an audience, without the presence of spectators, they would not fulfill the function for which they came into being.  The viewer, then, is the ultimate artist. His sight, heart, mind — fusing with and grasping with greater or lesser understanding the intent of the creator — gives them life.”

The Light of Christ (1953) 18k gold, platinum rays, rubies, diamonds.

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