The Modern-Day Regality of Wales Bonner's Crystal Choker

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Set design by Samuel Pidgen

Combining Masai beadwork with princely elegance, Wales Bonner presents a piece of jewellery worthy of a Maharaja

TextOsman Ahmed PhotographyMax CornwallPhotographic EditorHolly Hay

Depara Beaded Choker, Wales Bonner

Beads, crystals, velvet lining, press stud fastenings, 39cm x 5cm

Legend has it that the Marchesa Casati, the belle époque’s most outrageous dresser, would wear her menagerie of snakes as living bracelets and necklaces, and kept her pet cheetahs in jewelled collars. It was not uncommon to see her prowling the canals of Venice with them, dressed in a silk velvet cloak, mother-of-pearl heels and little else. Elsewhere, she wore blood-splattered albino peacock feathers to frame her belladonna-dowsed pupils, vermillion-painted lips and incendiary auburn hair. This was a woman who devoted her life to being “living work of art”; whose deliciously decadent taste burnt through the biggest industrial fortune in Italy; and whose inherently patrician eccentricity could outshine any Edwardian dollar princess. They don’t quite make them like that anymore, do they?

This silk-lined choker, with its Queen Mary-like strings of globules, is the kind of ornate decadence that one would expect to see on the neck of a Maharaja – or the Marchesa, for that matter. The linear Masai beadwork hints at ragga stripes while retaining a luxuriously crocodilian texture, and the Swarovski crystals glisten like the diamonds on one of Casati’s cheetahs. It is an instant sartorial accelerator; a gilded frame around the face that is unapologetic in its ostentation. What makes it all the more special is that it is designed by Grace Wales Bonner, the eternal afrofuturist who is singlehandedly reframing fashion’s references. Wales Bonner is much more likely to be inspired by unconventional black male beauty and the men of colour who have challenged Euro-centric norms throughout history than by the usual well-trodden moodboard pin-ups. What’s more, whereas once a black man in diamonds would vulgarly warrant the term ‘bling’, Wales Bonner’s designs are unequivocally elegant.

A piece of jewellery such as this has gravitas in its boldness and sincerity – and radiates with objective beauty. Worn with kohl-rimmed eyes and a white silk shirt, it feels princely, like an ancient crown or stately heirloom. It goes to show that although we may no longer live in a world of Marchesas and Maharajas, the world of Wales Bonner glitters with modern-day regality.