A limited edition gold pendant of a gorilla, which was designed by famed goldsmith Gerald Benney, has provided a timely reminder of the continued threat to African wildlife, almost 50 years after it was made.
Designed in 1972 for the World Wildlife Fund, the pendants were sold to raise funds for the charity and to raise awareness of the plight of the Mountain Gorilla which, at the time, was thought likely to become extinct before the end of the 20th century.
“The threat of extinction to the Mountain Gorilla was very real in the early 1970s,” explains Marielle Whiting, Jewellery specialist at Woolley and Wallis saleroom, where the pendant is being sold on 23rd January. “The loss of large areas of their natural habitat in the late 1960s, combined with poaching, meant that numbers had plummeted. The work of Dian Fossey (Gorillas in the Mist) was coming to the fore, and these pendants not only helped raise funds for the conservation of the gorillas, but also allowed its supporters to help raise awareness by wearing the striking jewellery.”
Gerald Benney, who was the first British craftsperson to simultaneously hold four Royal Warrants, based his design on a sculpture by David Wynne, who had originally trained as a zoologist. One of Wynne’s first public sculptures was of Guy the Gorilla – for 31 years a star attraction at London Zoo – and he specialised in his depictions of animals, travelling the world to see them in their natural environments.
The pendants soon became desirable fashion items and were pictured being worn by several nature-loving celebrities, including Magpie presenter, Jenny Hanley, whose pendant was sold late last year, and remain highly collectable today.
“A report late last year showed that numbers of Mountain Gorillas have actually risen by nearly 15% over the last 8 years,” said Whiting, “but they remain on the critically endangered list, so the message of these pendants remains strong, even though both of the designers are sadly no longer with us (Benney died in 2008 and Wynne in 2014). What is really interesting is that jewellery designer, Jana Reinhardt, has just issued an orangutan pendant to raise funds and awareness for their protection (through charity Ovaid), so this is a trend which has come full circle.”
The pendant is expected to make up to £6,000 when it is sold in the Jewellery auction on 23rd January.