'Wearing' your jewels isn't exactly a new idea: I'm not going to trace it back to its origins, but it's somewhere between Ancient Mesopotamia and the first hieroglyphics in Egypt. However, its latest incarnation is something else entirely, courtesy of a unique collaboration between Daphne Guinness and Shaun Leane. Titled Contra Mundum - 'Against The World' - their collaboration pushes jewellery into an entirely new realm. In fact, maybe it's more of an old realm, that of armour - albeit eighteen-carat armour, hand-crafted chain-mail and five thousand pavé white diamonds. Guinness is in fine company - Charles V sported his own diamond-studded armour, as did King Clovis a cool millennium earlier, but Guinness and Leane's creation fuses the aesthetics of armour with the delicacy of an evening glove. The pavé diamonds trace a design not dissimilar to fine lace or a Coromandel screen across the forearm, combining decoration with protection and an appearance of delicacy (although the piece itself weighs over a kilogram in gold).
How does such a collaboration begin? Guinness laid it bare in our In Fashion interview earlier this month: 'Shaun and I were standing in a corner at a party one night, about five years ago, and I said "I just want to make a suit of armour".' That declaration, however, was the result of a lifelong fascination with armour born on the pages of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and fed through trips to the armourial galleries of the Metropolitan Museum Of Art in New York and London's Wallace Collection (coincidentally the collection that also inspired Vivienne Westwood's A/W 1988 tweed 'Armour' jackets).
The entire piece has been custom-made to Guinness' arm, a feat of artisan engineering from Shaun Leane that necessitated a cast of Guinness' arm in plaster and rubber as a reference between numerous hand-fittings over the course of half-a-decade. Kind of haute couture meets haute joaillerie, although 'joaillerie' doesn't seem to cut it, frankly, when confronted with Guinness' mail-and-diamond clad fist. 'It was always to do with feeling that the world was quite a dangerous place,' said Guinness. 'Also I dislike the idea of jewellery being like a price tag around someone's neck. It needs to be something else - and there is something extremely magical about armour.' Leane concurs that the project 'has pushed myself and my team to create the ultimate piece of wearable art.'
When it came to titling this one-off collaboration, Guinness and Leane settled on the Latin Contra Mundum, which translates to ‘Against the World’. Armouring oneself against the world, perhaps - but also running against the world in creating this utterly one-off piece, a riposte to the idea of mass-manufacture and minimalism. An objet d'art in the truest sense of the world, Guinness will be unveiling the piece this evening in an intimate setting to an invite-only crowd - but Nick Knight captured these images earlier this year whilst undertaking his latest 3-D scanning project with Guinness herself.
Contra Mundum is being exhibited and represented via Jay Jopling at the White Cube Gallery, London N1.