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There is a classic phrase: “Art is an Ambassador of Peace.” And this is true

25 april 2022

veronika_voldayeva_xx.pngChief Expert of the Gokhran (State Valuables Depository) of Russia Veronika Voldaeva, Art History Ph.D., Honored Worker of Culture of the Russian Federation, author and compiler of the decorative and applied section of the Gokhran’s collection of valuables, curator of the exhibition “Man-made Link of Times. The Art of Russia’s Jewellers”, which is currently being held at the State Historical Museum.

Veronika Voldaeva told Rough&Polished about the specifics of her work, the treasures of the Diamond Fund, about the Gokhran exhibitions and the jewellery competition “Russia. The 21st Century”.

Please tell us how you became an art critic.

It so happened historically that before the Revolution [of 1917], my grandfather was engaged in art, then my mother did researches at the Moscow Kremlin Museums all her life. The business of my life was the study of jewellery art, gold and silver business in Russia in the 18th-20th centuries. I work at the State Valuables Depository in the Department of Analytical Certification, Exposition of Valuables of the Diamond Fund and the State Fund of Russia.        

What are your official duties?

The Chief Expert of the Gokhran performs a practical, routine work connected with jewellery items. We do the examination of all historical heritage items stored at the Gokhran and the jewellery pieces coming to the Gokhran.

You are the Chief Expert at the Gokhran. Do you have the last word what is a state’s valuable and what is not?

Not only my word counts - things acquire the status of a historical heritage item thanks to a collegial decision: a group of experts is involved in this, the procedure cannot be otherwise.

You can be envied: do you work only with precious and beautiful pieces?

You know, I love all our jewellery pieces, all our collections... Probably, without this, it is impossible to convey knowledge to young professionals who come to us. We deal directly with pieces and also work with the archives. In 2014, my large monograph was published on the history and creative activity of the Sazikovs firm, the largest and oldest jewellery house in Russia.

How was the collection of the Diamond Fund created?

The Diamond Fund exhibition opened in 1967. It has its own history how it was built, and it consists of three major sections.

Firstly, it is a mineralogical section that includes precious metals and precious stones in their pristine, rarest natural state such as large nuggets of gold, platinum, pre-revolutionary finds, as well as those found after the Revolution up to modern times. The rarest collection of high-carat and high gem-quality diamonds is stored and exhibited there.

Are all the diamonds named?

Yes, almost every diamond is named. These are unique, one-of-a-kind diamonds.

The exposition contains the richest collection of historical heritage items, masterpieces of jewellery art, including the state regalia of the Russian Empire, and a magnificent collection of works by the masters of the Gokhran Experimental Jewellery Laboratory founded in 1970, which functioned till the early 2000s. Only five craftsmen were selected to work at the Laboratory who made a kind of revolution in the jewellery art. In the 1970s and 1980s, jewellery factories operated in the USSR and very interesting jewellery pieces were produced, but those were mass-produced jewellery items. The craftsmen at the Gokhran Experimental Jewellery Laboratory fulfilled very unusual state orders. They created jewellery pieces made in a single copy, today such jewellery items are considered to be designer jewellery art pieces. Their unique works are recognized by the world community of connoisseurs as the works of high artistic value. For example, the “Russian Beauty” diadem and the “Russian Field” diadem are truly extraordinary jewellery art works - in terms of their high artistic level, ideal proportions, excellent craftsmanship taking into account that they worked with such a complex material like platinum.

There is another part of the Gokhran art collection, which has actually been formed over the past 30 years using the historical valuables stored here. Many of them are displayed as part of the Gokhran exhibitions.

As for the Gokhran: is it possible to tell any price for its treasures, or are they priceless?

Of course, it is impossible to tell their price because a variety of valuable things are stored at the Gokhran such as masterpieces of world art, unique works of the most famous Russian jewellers of the 18th-20th centuries, precious metals in bars and nuggets, rare precious stones. For example, the Russian state does not melt down the nuggets, and a large collection of nuggets has been created. The nuggets of the 19th century are stored at the State Fund of the Russian Federation, as well as the ones mined during the Great Patriotic War that are very valuable gifts of nature that we treasure. Even in the most difficult times, the state preserved them, did not melt down and did not sell these unique natural samples of precious metals - native gold, native platinum, and even native silver in nuggets. Everything is treasured! Many samples have the status of unique ones. The Gokhran of Russia stores historical items created by masters of the major jewellery firms in Russia such as the Sazikovs, Khlebnikovs, Ovchinnikovs, Bolins jewellery houses, as well as by Fabergé, Lyubavin, Morozov firms. It is possible keep on mentioning the names of the geniuses of the Russia’s jewellery art of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The works of the Moscow Jewellery Factory, the Moscow Experimental Jewellery Factory, Sverdlovsk Factory are stored - there is a great variety of jewellery items.

Today, a small section of the Gokhran of Russia’s collection is displayed at the exhibition called “Man-made Link of Times. The Art of Russia’s Jewellers”, which opened on February 15, 2022 at the State Historical Museum.

The exhibition at the State Historical Museum is extended until July. Perhaps, this is indicative of the event’s significance.

This exhibition has become an important cultural event in the life of Moscow and Russia. The exposition of the exhibition attracts great attention of visitors, they examine the works for two, three hours. The State Historical Museum offered to extend the exhibition for three months more, and the Gokhran’s management agreed.

The exhibition is the result of the work of the Jewellery Art Competition “Russia. The 21st Century” held by the Gokhran every second year. The works accepted for the Competition show the current state of the designer jewellery art, and not only the designer’s art. The works of jewellers from 46 cities of the Russian Federation were displayed at the Competition.

What differs the Gokhran Competition from other jewellery competitions, of which there are many such as the Competition of Jewellery Design in Hong Kong, Recognition by St. Petersburg competition in St. Petersburg, J-1, the Battle of Jewellers, etc.?

First of all, the Competition held by the Gokhran of Russia is non-commercial, therefore, absolutely everything related to its activities, including the final exhibition, is held free of charge. The Gokhran took on the responsibility of developing the exhibition project, artistic arrangement of the jewellery pieces. The competition judging panel consists of, dare I say it, outstanding jewellers of the 21st century who won the world recognition, such as Ilgiz Fazulzyanov, Alexey Dontsov, and Eduard Nikitin. The judging panel members are famous art historians and experts in the diagnostic assessment of precious stones. All their names can be found on the official website of the Gokhran of Russia in the section “Judging Panel Members of the Competition”. They are wonderful people passionate in their profession, and most importantly, interested in the work of our competition. They are doing serious work and they know many masters of the jewellery community. The work of the judging panel is a kind of collegial examination of jewellery items. After all, a competition is a place where only good works are sent to, and we choose the best, most interesting ones out of them, which become the winners of the Competition. Such qualitative characteristics as the perfect craftsmanship and the originality and novelty of ideas are very important when evaluating the jewellers’ works.

The jewellery art works quite innovative in terms of aesthetics were awarded the Grand Prix, and there were even discussions on social networks. Perhaps, innovative things should cause controversy.

This is normal. Imagine, if there were no creative discussions about jewellery pieces and no opponents, there would be no creative artistic life. Let us turn to the history of the 19th century - Stasov was very critical of the works selected for art and industrial exhibitions, but they won the Grand Prix there. And at the first World Exhibition in London in 1851, such names as Sazikov, Kemmerer, Seftigen were mentioned. And they were our outstanding jewellers of the 19th century. In the same way, there should be, of course, criticism while discussing the art works now.

Why are there no such brands as Fabergé, Sazikov, Ovchinnikov, Bolin today, which really represented the heights of the Russian jewellery art?

They were also criticized by their contemporaries. Someone liked them, someone didn’t, and it was wonderful, like today’s criticism is. Because it’s a real life, which means that people are interested in what they hold in their hands, see at the exhibitions they visit.

Is there a possibility that our best jewellers can create a truly global brand?

There should be a lot of brands, and they should definitely occupy their own niches. We also have many interesting jewellers; there are wonderful works by Ilgiz Fazulzyanov, Alexey Dontsov, Eduard Nikitin, and Gennady Sokolov - they are very different.

Each of them goes his own way, each has his own creative manner - and most importantly - the designer’s individual features, as well as a high-class artistic and technical approach to the implementation of their ideas. Our competition participants have absolutely amazing works. For example, the world-famous sculptor Dashi Namdakov was awarded a diploma for the special artistic expression of his jewellery, and his jewellery pieces are displayed at the exhibition.

The jewellers normally write about their creative works in essays they send to the Organizing Committee, according to the Regulations on the Competition, and tell us that their jewellery art works are in certain collections today. Of course, this process is on the rise, everything cannot be done in a short period of time. Jewellery art should have some support, and we try to support it by all possible means. At the end of the Competition, awards and diplomas are given to the winners, participants in the exhibition ... It turns out to be a kind of a club of like-minded people: when people come to the exhibition, they attend not just a social event - they have a chance in networking and communicating with each other, discussing new interesting ideas and the jewellery works displayed. The jewellery art pieces created by the jewellers are beyond the level of highly artistic items made to order, they come into the history of the jewellery art. This is a completely different sphere of life of a piece of jewellery.  

It is remarkable that the Gokhran has joined in the promotion of the jewellery art. Many jewellers complained about the lack of state support...

Our exhibition, for example, provides support not only for the prizewinners of the Competition. This is the support for a large number of jewellers who took part in the Competition. The exhibition is formed in such a way that jewellery works of completely different styles are exhibited at the next exhibitions. Each next showcase “attracts” the visitors as it offers jewellery pieces of a completely different style, designed in a different manner.

Is this the third exhibition based on the results of the Gokhran Competition?

The first exhibition based on the results of the Competition was held at the State Historical Museum in 2016, but only the prizewinners took part in it. In 2019, there was a very large exhibition at the New Manege in the centre of Moscow. As you can see, the Gokhran chooses special venues for its exhibitions, the best and prestigious ones. And it is very important for jewellers to exhibit at the State Historical Museum as its history goes 150 years back. The Historical Museum houses one of the finest jewellery collections from ancient times to the present day. The jewellery art works by Fabergé, Khlebnikov, Ovchinnikov, Bolin are exhibited at the Museum. It is a great honour and responsibility for any jeweller today to be next to the works of the outstanding jewellers, no matter what niche he or she occupies in our jewellery art and in the world art.

The permanent general name of the Gokhran Competition is “Russia. The 21st Century”. Each new final exhibition has its own name. The current exhibition is named “Man-made Link of Times. Art of the Russia’s Jewellers”, it has “a poetic name”, as one of the jewellers said. We have been thinking for a long time what could unite the jewellers of different generations and epochs. They have different social, material status, but they are united by a high responsibility for the jewellery works they offer to the public. In the 19th century, it was written about Sazikov’s stores in Nevsky Prospekt (Avenue) and in Ilyinka Street in Moscow that these stores were like museums. The jewellery pieces were created at such a high standard level. We are now presenting the jewellery art works made in 2020, 2021 or early 2022. Many of them were created specifically for our Competition.

Exhibits of the Gokhran’s historical collection were taken abroad to be displayed at the world-class international exhibitions. Please tell us about them.

In 1997, a large exhibition was held in the People’s Republic of China that aroused genuine interest among the Chinese and European tourists who came to China. There were huge lines to the exhibition. In 2000, there was an exhibition in Berlin that was also very successful. It was held in the historic centre of Berlin. Both historical and modern art works included in the collection of the Diamond Fund exhibition were showcased. There was a section of art works of the 19th century - these were classic works in the Russian and European styles, the works telling how silver and gold could be used to imitate other materials in precious metal and, of course, it was very informative for the visitors. And many people made amazing discoveries for themselves. The visitors took a great interest in the exhibitions and expressed their feelings, people visited the exhibitions many times, they were eager to come as they were interested in the Russian jewellery art.

Are there any similar exhibitions planned in the future?

Such projects can be of great interest. Now, we are busy arranging the exhibitions we planned. In 2019, we showed our exhibition in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, which became a major event in the region. This year, an exhibition in Yakutsk is being held in April. Yakutia celebrates the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Yakut ASSR.

There is a public museum at the Gokhran of Yakutia, and it is the venue for the exhibition, which, I hope, will also be received with great interest. The works of the jewellers at the Experimental Jewellery Laboratory of the Gokhran of Russia, the modern ones, including the piece of jewellery “The Great Imperial Crown” are offered for the exhibition; this is a replica made by the craftsmen of the Smolensk Factory using new technologies and a new diamond cut. This is a one-of-a-kind work of jewellery art, so the Gokhran acquired it in 2020 and included it in the State Fund of the Russian Federation. The exhibition includes the works by the creative laboratory of the Gokhran, which made smaller copies (two-thirds) of the scepter and orb. After all, regalia are not subject to export from their place of storage, this is an international practice. Therefore, the works of modern jewellers are of interest - how all this can be made now using new technologies. The exhibition features wonderful examples of the jewellery art of the 19th century, including the works by enamellers, silversmiths, and jewellers, of course.

What stories or events of your 30-year practice as the Chief Expert at the Gokhran do you particularly remember?

I would like to mention two cases. Many representatives of the diplomatic corps of different countries visited the Berlin exhibition, the symbol of which was the “Russian Beauty” diadem. This diadem captivated everyone and evoked a sense of closeness as if it was a living one. The Spanish ambassador visited the exhibition with his wife who was fascinated by this diadem; she looked at it for a long time, her face was wet with tears of delight that this diadem evoked. And, leaving the exhibition, she waved “Goodbye” to the diadem, as if the “Russian Beauty” was alive - the diadem was a manifestation of extraordinary, divine beauty. It was very touching. There is a classic phrase “Art is an Ambassador of Peace.” And this is true.

And at the Gokhran exhibition in 2019 visited by a huge number of people, I was surprised that the visitors perceived the modern works (that took part in the Competition) as a still unknown, unusual world. People turned out to be not indifferent to the creative world of the jewellers: they approached and examined for a long time to see how the stone was mounted, how the enamel was made, and asked endless questions. And at the current exhibition, after they had seen the jewellery art works many people went to the guest book and left amazing comments about their impressions, how these things touched their souls and hearts so that tears welled up in their eyes. And those were and are not ordinary emotions, people like the spirituality of the jewellery world.

If you see the ring by Veronika Mucha and Victoria Sinelnikova, you will be surprised how the old Fedoskino School of the late 18th century harmoniously combines with the today’s aesthetics, and the ancient monuments of the Moscow Kremlin - with the new architecture of Moscow. This is a continuation of the traditions - hence, it is the man-made link of times. In my opinion, we gave a very correct name to the exhibition.

Galina Semyonova for Rough&Polished