In the 1920-40s England was rich with wonderful personalities and colorful artists, but even then there were stars that shone brighter than others. One of these stars of London in the interwar era was the Polish Jew Moshe Oved. He was known and loved by all the local Bohemia, particularly because the personality of Oved was a work of art.
He wrote poetry, sculpted, he was an expert in jewels and antiquities. He was the owner of the most famous at the time London's shop of wonders — Cameo Corner. This antique store had an emphasis on old jewelry and cameos. Moshe used to walk around the shop in a luxurious robe, with a large amethyst on a chain, and decided the fate of his "wards." Throughout England came the glory of his eccentricity. He presented rare things from his collection to the visitors which appealed to him. Those who he did not like, he shamelessly cheated and blew. His shop gathered the artistic color of London.
Portrait of Moshe Oved
He worked with precious stones and metals. And once, in the early 1920's, he met a friend and his future wife. This lady, née Gwendoline Ethel Rendell, converted to Judaism and entered the history of jewelry under the name of Sah Oved.
Almost nobody has heard of her in Russia, and yet Sah Oved (1900-1983) was one of the most talented and original jewellery designers of the first half of the 20th century. It will take a whole monograph, not a small essay, to tell you why it is so. I will try to outline only the main features of her work.
She was a pioneer in the art of jewellery. Her style was born in the cradle of the Arts and Crafts of the late XIX century, but what she did with the heritage of Arts and Crafts in her work is beyond any stylistic boundaries. In her works she joined Celtic and medieval motifs with the Jewish old Testament poetics in some alchemical way.
A very typical example of her work. A fragment of a bracelet. Silver, gold, coral. 1936
The "Lion of Judea" bracelet. Gold, rubies, diamonds. 1936
The fact is that at the time of her flourishing as an artist (the early 1930s) there was nothing independent in the jewelry art of England. Most of the works were created in an average and went out art deco style: a lot of gems, some metal, lots of sparks and glitter, little rims; lots of graphics, little plastic. Forms, which had established at the dawn of the 1920s were replicated almost unchanged. Goldsmiths worked mainly with stones — metal wasn't popular. There were precious metals: white gold and platinum.
First, Sah used to make jewelry in a single copy for her friends. She presented them more often than sold. Second, she worked with yellow gold and silver, paying tribute to her past in the workshops of Arts and Crafts. Third, she was among the first who put raw crystals and stones in the jewelry of the twentieth century as the main characters. Now this technique is common, but back then it was very unexpected.
A clip. Quartz, gold, gems. 1933
A collar necklace. Gold, precious stones. 1931
Earrings. Gold, emerald, and pearls. 1935-40.
A bracelet with kneeling figures of the Jewish slaves.
Gold, silver, precious and semi-precious stones. Abt 1935
A ring of gold with agate. The stones were specially selected and treated to resemble human faces — a small one and a big one. This ring Obed did for her daughter. This is Sah herself. It's her declaration of love. Abt 1950
The thing with which the works of Sa Obed charm the most is its multi-layered depth. Each piece carries a deep religious and philosophical meaning. It's not even a "jewelry", it's a work of art, made by the jewelry means. It is always very spiritually filled with details hidden from the superficial glance, with inscriptions (usually in Hebrew), biblical allusions and direct quotations.
A brooch. Gold, topaz, garnet, diamond. 1951
A brooch. Gold, amethyst, pearl. Abt 1950
The "Life originated in water" necklace. Gold, silver, agate, jasper, aquamarine.
A necklace with sea horses. Gold, pearls, rubies. Abt 1940
A ring. Gold, fire opal. Abt 1940
During the bombing of London in 1940, Sah and Moshe Oved were taking refuge in the basement of their store. Moshe was suffering from a hand tremor. Then Sah asked him to make wax models of rings. Later these lovely models were cast in silver and gold.
Moshe made this ring for his friend, whose son was killed during the bombing. There were no precious metals at that time, so Moshe used his cufflinks. A lamb — a symbol of innocent victims.
These rings would not exist but for Sah. Her impact is clearly seen in them. Her love of wildlife, an amazing power of observation and a sense of humor (though her husband also had the last one).
There is almost nothing written about Sah Obed, and her works have not been studied enough. In the first place it is so because she didn't make a lot of works, and almost all of them are in private collections. One author noted: "...her jewelry has a special runic magic, which is woven in folk tales."
I think Sah would be pleased with such a definition.
*All images are taken from the Internet. The rights belong to Bonhams, V&A Museum, Tadema Gallery.