A reference work on jewellery design

Clasps: 4,000 years of fasteners in jewellery

Every now and then I come across a book of which I think ‘How did I not know of this book before?!’ and this little book is one of those. Le Fermoir en Bijouterie, or in English, Clasps, devotes almost 300 pages to one of the most overlooked parts of jewellery: the way it closes.

Silver bracelet made by Tuful Ramadan, in the exhibition 'Making their Mark: women silversmiths from Oman' in the British Museum

Clasps in jewellery: 4,000 years of history

This book covers the use of clasps and other ways of fastening jewellery from the distant past to our times. From the Bronze Age to jewellery designs of our time, the author covers a multitude of ways to close necklaces, bracelets and anklets. You will see how torcs work, how anklets hinge, illustrated by a dazzling variety of jewellery. That includes a necklace worn by Marjorie Merriwather Post for example, but also a few examples of regional jewellery from Europe and the rest of the world.

This is 4,000 years of history, but apart from ancient Egypt and a lovely excursion to jewellery types of other areas, the focus is firmly on European jewellery: clasps like those of Maghrebi fibulas, or sliding knots from Indian jewellery are not included. That is not criticism, as this book covers an incredible amount of material – I think I’m just really hoping for a Part 2!

Clasps in close-up: photography and drawings

Another thing which makes this a great reference book are the detailed photographs of clasps. The beautiful pieces of jewellery are not only shown in their entirety, but also with focus on the details of the clasp. That means that you’ll see a lot of images of jewellery pieces both closed and open, and with details of that part you never see when worn: its reverse side.

Detailed schematic drawings throughout the book highlight closing mechanisms where necessary. The last part, the glossary of clasps, presents an overview of 25 types of closing mechanisms in chronological order. Each type is accompanied by a schematic drawing of its function. And all of these are shown in use, too, as part of a jewel.

The book features hundreds of pieces of jewellery, dating from prehistory to high-end jewellery of our day and age. You will see museum pieces from archaeological museums as well as contemporary designs and everything in between: think Etruscan gold to Van Cleef and Arpels.

I loved to see the intricacy and clever design of jewellery closing devices throughout history. And because they are presented in such a wide time range, this book allows you to appreciate the originality and creativity that jewellery designers managed to come up with, time and again. A clasp can be part of the design itself, the eye-catching element in the centre or the invisible, innovative solution to wearing a jewel safely and securely.

Clasps to study and understand

This is a wonderfully illustrated book which both jewellery historians and jewellery designers will love. It presents a wide overview of types of clasps and it offers a gorgeous selection of jewellery to admire. Many of which you will see photographed in this detail of their closing mechanism for the first time! This really helps in understanding how a jewel is constructed, or, when you’re admiring a painting or an old photograph, to get some idea on how a jewel is worn. A lot of work went into compiling this book, and I am sure you will appreciate this encyclopaedic overview. For me, this is definitely a reference book that I will pull out often!

More information on Le Fermoir en Bijouterie/Clasps

French title: Le Fermoir en Bijouterie. 4000 ans d’histoires.

English title: Clasps. 4,000 years of fasteners in jewellery.

By Anna Tabakhova, 2019. 283 pages, full colour, in either French or English.

Published by Editions Terracol: click here for the English version, and click here for the French version.

Available with the publisher, online and in well-sorted bookstores.

I purchased the French book in the museum shop of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.

Where can I find more on traditional jewellery from Southwest Asia and North Africa?

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Sigrid van Roode

Sigrid van Roode is an archeologist, ethnographer and jewellery historian. Her main field of expertise is jewellery from North Africa and Southwest Asia, as well as archaeological and archaeological revival jewellery. She has authored several books on jewellery. Sigrid has lectured for the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Turquoise Mountain Jordan, and many others. She provides consultancy and research on jewellery collections for both museums and private collections, teaches courses and curates exhibitions. She is not involved in the business of buying and selling jewellery, and focuses on research, knowledge production, and education only.