A previous post has considered how María Félix is seen as an inspiration or muse for artists and creators. In my book about her I aim to challenge this idea as one that is a tired cliché frequently used about and against women in such as way that it has robbed them of creative agency in their own right. Even when women, like Félix, have close dialogues and relationships with the creatives who they commission, they are seen through a focus on their beauty or physical attractiveness rather their co-creative capacities. One aspect I have found myself exploring in depth is her jewellery.
High end jewellery is not my natural wheelhouse. I admire the craft involved, but my own jewels tend to the simple, plain, and relatively inexpensive in what I wear, so I have not cultivated an interest. But, what I have come across has been fascinating and says much about Félix, her taste, and her influence on prestige jewellery making.
From June to September 2021 in the refurbished and reinstalled Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) New York there is an exhibit called Beautiful Creatures. This is held in the Melissa and Keith Meister Gallery and is a new exhibit showcasing “more than 100 animal-themed precious jewels created by the world’s great jewelry houses and artisans, from Cartier’s iconic panthers to Suzanne Belperron’s butterflies” spanning 150 years. In coverage of the exhibit Félix has taken centre stage. For example, despite being relatively unknown in the Anglophone world, the US monthly lifestyle magazine, Town and Country, place their emphasis on Félix, alongside the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson (1896-1986), wealthy socialite and patron to the arts, Rebekah Harkness (1915-1982), and the singer and actor, Beyoncé Knowles (1981-). Félix’s jewellery is a centrepiece of the exhibit because of the value placed on the craft and skill that went into their creation.
I will get into more detail in the book. But, a taster of what the response to her jewellery in the present day can be found in Lauren Hutton’s choices from what’s in the exhibit. Hutton’s style is simple and minimalist, as can be seen from the black dress and gloves, and red cape she wears in the shoot. She delights in Félix’s crocodile and snake jewellery describing her as “badass”. Hutton finds fellow feeling with Félix and self-describes as a badass woman who is prepared to forge her own path through old age.
To get a sense of how Félix wore the crocodile necklace take a look at this colour photograph taken by the British photographer, Lord Snowdon in 1975.
Researching high-end jewellery is a fascinating, and sometimes unsettling, deep dive into a world that has its own rules and codes and valued tastemakers.