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Surreal Times Call for Surrealist Jewelry

Why are pieces of jewelry shaped like human faces having a moment?

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A model wears a pair of circular translucent earrings with a face sketched on them
Earrings from J.W. Anderson’s resort 2017 collection.
Photo: J.W. Anderson

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Very little about 2016 has felt normal, beginning and ending with the United States’s presidential race. Following Donald Trump’s surprise victory in November’s election, an event for which news outlets and vast swaths of voters were wholly unprepared, the word “surreal” seemed like an accurate way to describe the state of the country. A naive characterization, maybe, but one that certainly spoke to a startling breach in many Americans’s sense of reality.

Certain aesthetic leanings that felt on point before Election Day feel bizarrely appropriate now, including jewelry with a Surrealist bent. Recently, retailers like Need Supply and designers like Jonathan Anderson have offered up earrings, bracelets, and rings in the shape of human faces, in so many iterations that you could deck yourself out in an unspeaking army of silver and gold companions if you so chose.

Consider them the descendants of anatomical jewelry like Salvador Dalí’s glittering Ruby Lips and The Eye of Time, both created in 1949. The latter has been in the mix of things recently: The latest issue of A Magazine Curated By features an embroidered rendering of Gucci designer Alessandro Michele and costume designer Arianne Phillips wearing The Eye of Time over black eye patches, replicating a photo of Dalí doing the same.

When displayed flat, a pair of gold Lady Grey earrings shaped like two faces in profile bear more than a passing resemblance to two identically oriented figures on the back of a lavender evening coat created in 1937 by the artist Jean Cocteau and Elsa Schiaparelli, a fashion designer who sewed Surrealism into her clothing.

Other pieces, like Open House’s Sister Earrings and Sarah & Sebastian’s Face Ring, are stylized in the off-kilter manner of a Picasso drawing. They also recall the feature-shifting face paint that appeared in Jacquemus’s fall 2015 runway show and that regularly crops up on Instagram in some form or other. An expressive pair of J.W. Anderson earrings, meanwhile, project degrees of skepticism and unmasked over-it-ness.

As 2016 winds down — a year marked, in the US alone, by routine mass shootings, rising visibility of white nationalism, and anti-immigrant sentiment from the President-elect — it seems fitting that fashion’s cyclical churn would surface threads of Surrealism in contemporary design, since it emerged in 1924 from Dada, the international movement that was born in 1916 as a direct response to the violence and nationalism of World War I.

Still, Surrealism’s rejection of rational thought has parallels to Trump’s own facts-optional take on discourse. While dressing with a Surrealist bent could read as a very intentional critique of the state of politics, the two fundamentally mesh.

Two earrings look like faces in profile.
Lady Grey Crystal Silhouette Earrings in Gold, $192

A wrist cuff shaped like two people facing one another.
Lady Grey Crystal Silhoutte Cuff in Silver, $288
Silver earrings shaped like Picasso-esque faces.
Open House Sister Earrings, $280
A wire ring shaped like a face in profile.
Sarah & Sebastian Face Ring in 14K Gold, $380
Two translucent gold earrings with disgruntled faces sketched onto them.
J.W. Anderson Gold Moon Face Earring, $560