This week I have been taking a look at jeweller and collector Anna Tabakhova’s book ‘Clasps: 4000 years of fasteners in Jewellery’ which details a fascination with the fastener throughout the ages and I’ve already changed my attitude towards the clasp as just a means to an end.
From Egyptian times the oldest removable clasp followed on from the simple knot. Older styles of closure would have been perishable so ancient clasps remain a mystery. The discreet closure created by two simple joining folds date from 2000 BC.
Interlocking twists, nesting boxes, slot and slide, pin and hinge, ball and loop, double hooks, screws, and sliding balls or a junction box where two slides meet in a decorative feature, pins with safety chains are all details as aesthetic solutions to join sides. Like the puzzle clasp by Petr Dvorak, here, attention has not been spared but painstakingly lavished on an intricate fixing to keep this piece about your person.
Rings and pendants traditionally act as the focus for fancy settings, enamelling and elaborate details. Here we see necklaces where the clasp is not pushed to the back but is the focus point of the piece as, more conventionally, a pendant would be. And fasten your seat belts for the section on transforming jewels, from necklaces to tiaras with clever mechanisms. Day (well a very fancy day) to-night pieces with a series of catches. A bird brooch whose wings can fly off to become earrings.
The author set out to make an art book and technical manual based on historical research which began with her own collections, then moved on to museum and private collections. This resulted in a marvel of inspiring colour images and 28 original illustrations which could give you the closure you need for your next collection or inspire a lifetime of clever clasps for your jewellery making. So not just pretty pictures (although this book does provide a wide range of beautifully selected pieces throughout the ages). Surely there must be a catch!? Nope, the clasp isn’t for everyone apparently. Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel is quoted as saying ‘I hate clasps! I got rid of clasps’ and the figure-hugging designs that resulted from this aversion are detailed in these pages.
I had a very nice time consulting this book that acts as a cross-section of jewellery through time, without ever realising that I had a particular interest in what keeps pieces together. I also enjoyed chancing upon this little scene above from the authors’ Twitter feed. In conclusion, it’s clear that the appreciation of clasps is not a simple open and shut case.
Lil Adams is the London Jewellery School Sundays Studio Manager. Lil studied Fine Art in Leeds and lived in Melbourne before travelling about and settling in London. She now works at the British Architectural Library and enjoys making jewellery with found and natural objects and is shamelessly addicted to casting. You can see her work on instagram @smalltoad_jewellery