MA­TE­RIAL MAT­TERS

Tra­di­tion­ally of­fered in gold and with gem­stones, pre­cious jew­ellery has evolved to in­clude other ma­te­ri­als, dis­cov­ers Laura Rys­man

Adore Gems & Timepieces - - CONTENTS -

New ma­te­ri­als that el­e­vate the art of jew­ellery mak­ing

In our times, fine jew­ellery is flour­ish­ing. What was once a closely guarded pre­serve is today a bustling in­dus­try ben­e­fit­ting from an in­flux of cre­ative tal­ents buck­ing against the bound­aries of tra­di­tion. Where jew­ellery was once val­ued for its in­trin­sic ma­te­rial value, it has evolved to be­come much more than just a sum of carats. Cre­ativ­ity is the name of the game th­ese days and in­de­pen­dent de­sign­ers and even grand Maisons prize in­ven­tive­ness over ma­te­rial. Th­ese ground-break­ing jew­ellers are com­bin­ing tra­di­tional pre­cious ma­te­ri­als — gold, di­a­monds, the big three of emer­alds, ru­bies and sap­phires — with un­usual, even non-pre­cious el­e­ments, from feath­ers to desert sand. Paired with a re­turned em­pha­sis on the high­est crafts­man­ship, what’s pre­cious has now been re­de­fined.

“I’m more in­ter­ested in ma­te­ri­als than jew­ellery,” says de­signer Monique Péan.

Her nearly decade-old New York brand is founded on prin­ci­ples of sus­tain­abil­ity and re­lies on re­cy­cled gold to set un­usual “gems”: Fos­sils of wal­rus tusks, mam­moths and di­nosaurs, and me­te­orite frag­ments, gleam­ing like the sil­very iron of hematite and nat­u­rally laced with a per­fect lin­ear grid, the re­sult of the im­pact against our planet’s crust. They are all ma­te­ri­als that pre­clude in­va­sive min­ing, found on or near the earth’s sur­face.

Péan launched her com­pany with an eco-con­scious frame­work af­ter dis­cov­er­ing the vast quan­ti­ties of chem­i­cals re­quired to mine a sin­gle gold band. “Cus­tomers are much more thought­ful today. They are more in­ter­ested in un­der­stand­ing the life cy­cle of how things are made,” says the de­signer. Her dis­tinc­tive ma­te­ri­als, shaped into her trade­mark ge­ome­tries and framed with re­cy­cled or con­flict-free di­a­monds, are marked by the long, nat­u­ral process of min­er­al­i­sa­tion, where salts and other el­e­ments seep into the fos­sils to cre­ate ex­cep­tional pat­terns of colour, ren­der­ing each piece unique. “It’s awe-in­spir­ing to see what forms over hun­dreds of mil­lions of years,” she says. “Mother na­ture is quite tal­ented.”

For the Lon­don de­signer Jac­que­line

Cullen, a deeper, darker fos­sil fu­els her cre­ativ­ity. It was dur­ing her school days that she first stum­bled upon a now rare form of jet, a pet­ri­fied black ma­te­rial en­demic to the Whitby cliffs of Eng­land. Cullen was fas­ci­nated by the his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of jet, used in the Vic­to­rian era as mourn­ing jew­ellery. “I was look­ing for a ma­te­rial that had pre­con­ceived ideas at­tached to it that I could then chal­lenge,” says the de­signer.

Com­ing from a vis­ual arts back­ground, she ap­pre­ci­ated the sculp­tural pos­si­bil­i­ties of shap­ing jet with lap­idary wheels. She grinds the sur­faces smooth and sets them with di­a­monds or gold balls. Most of her de­signs are com­posed of small mono­liths with matt facets — feather-like pro­fu­sions of nar­row sprigs of jet — or she in­cor­po­rates the ma­te­rial’s raw, nat­u­ral edges into rings and bracelets. Cullen works with a sin­gle ab­seiler — his iden­tity a closely guarded se­cret — who sup­plies the ma­te­rial, rap­pelling down Whitby’s precipices to chisel off chunks of the 180-mil­lion-year-old black fos­sil.

For the ex­per­i­men­tal jew­ellers of today, niche ar­ti­sans and sup­pli­ers like Cullen’s ab­seiler are the rar­i­ties to seek out. It used to be that only the largest and most flaw­less gem­stones were fiercely con­tested over; this demand is now a se­condary concern sub­sumed by the power of de­sign­ers and master crafts­peo­ple. Mi­lanese-based Vh­ernier, who is syn­ony­mous with the art of the Ital­ian gold­smith, has turned to ti­ta­nium in its lat­est col­lec­tion. “Thanks to its light­ness, with ti­ta­nium we have the free­dom to cre­ate larger vol­umes and sur­faces,” says Carlo Traglio, chair­man of Vh­ernier.

The ex­tremely hard ma­te­rial re­quires the ex­per­tise of a spe­cially trained gold­smith.

And its ca­pa­bil­i­ties are im­pres­sive: In Vh­ernier’s new Volta Ce­leste col­lec­tion, the jew­eller used ti­ta­nium to make over­sized disks em­bla­zoned with shades of sap­phire pavé. It also rein­ter­preted the clas­sic Vh­ernier Eclisse de­signs in the sand­blasted, matt grey fin­ish that is a sig­na­ture of the metal. Ac­cord­ing to Traglio, ti­ta­nium al­lows the brand to flaunt the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of Ital­ian crafts­man­ship in mod­ern ways. Ebony wood

and a gold al­loyed with pal­la­dium have been used be­fore and Vh­ernier will “continue to ex­per­i­ment more and more with new jew­ellery de­signs,” says Traglio. “We’re be­gin­ning to be quite dar­ing.”

Vh­ernier is not the only jew­eller who recog­nises the ben­e­fits of ti­ta­nium. Wal­lace Chan’s fab­u­lously sculp­tural high jew­ellery cre­ations are also made of this tough ma­te­rial. Chan likes how ti­ta­nium can de­liver vol­ume with­out com­pro­mis­ing on a jew­ellery’s wear­a­bil­ity. Ti­ta­nium is also the only metal that can turn his de­signs into reality be­cause of the myr­iad of colours it is able to take on when put through an elec­tro­chem­i­cal treat­ment. As for its non-pre­cious na­ture, he is non­plussed about it. “Some peo­ple say that ti­ta­nium isn’t a pre­cious metal but hon­estly, how much of a high jew­ellery piece is com­posed of metal? How much of its value goes into its carat weight?” asks Chan.

The ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with ma­te­ri­als ex­tends to the sto­ried jew­ellers of the

Place Vendôme, where Chanel per­haps best rep­re­sents the house that has el­e­vated ground-break­ing de­sign above tra­di­tional ma­te­ri­als. Past high jew­ellery col­lec­tions have worked with ti­ta­nium, as well as ce­ramic,

WHERE JEW­ELLERY WAS ONCE VAL­UED FOR ITS IN­TRIN­SIC MA­TE­RIAL VALUE, IT HAS EVOLVED TO BE­COME MUCH MORE THAN JUST A SUM OF CARATS

and, since 2012’s 1932 col­lec­tion, trans­par­ent rock crys­tal. Ac­cen­tu­at­ing mod­est stone were strokes of di­a­monds and gold that con­trib­uted to an over­all mys­ti­fy­ing ef­fect. Rock crys­tal was also present in Chanel’s lat­est Les Tal­is­mans de Chanel col­lec­tion that was in­tro­duced dur­ing the July 2015 haute cou­ture week in Paris. The Mys­térieuse and Mag­né­tique pieces set crys­talline cabo­chons of rock crys­tal over bases of golden loops, reams of di­a­monds and deep black lac­quer, act­ing as a sort of mag­ni­fy­ing glass for the sparkle and depth of the foun­da­tions, and high­light­ing the crafts­man­ship of the pieces. The ef­fect is a mys­te­ri­ous vis­ual play — it shifts and grows with the light — and it is a wholly dif­fer­ent game from tra­di­tional haute joail­lerie.

Among the jew­ellers of Place Vendôme, rock crys­tal has re-emerged as a foun­da­tion ma­te­rial for ex­per­i­men­tal de­signs. It first ap­peared, vo­lu­mi­nous and per­fectly limpid, in the pi­o­neer­ing ar­chi­tec­tural de­signs of art deco jew­ellery by Cartier. But it was the avant-garde de­signer Suzanne Belper­ron, who also cre­ated, among other crys­tal pieces, a mon­u­men­tal bracelet with pyra­mid-like, di­a­mond-set crys­tal plat­forms that best de­fined the new spirit of the 1930s. Crys­tal’s mag­i­cal pow­ers are be­ing har­nessed again by Chanel, Cartier and Boucheron, whose Cre­ative Di­rec­tor Claire Choisne used the ma­te­rial to play with light, as her pre­de­ces­sor, Frédéric Boucheron, did a cen­tury ago. Tak­ing the legacy fur­ther in her lat­est haute joail­lerie col­lec­tion, Bleu de Jodh­pur, she in­tro­duced pieces such as the Na­gaur neck­lace with a pen­dant made of rock crys­tal filled with sand from the Thar desert. An­other em­blem­atic cre­ation, the re­versible Jodh­pur neck­lace is com­posed of many del­i­cate pieces of Makrana mar­ble, the same mar­ble used to con­struct the Taj Ma­hal.

At a newly opened store just above Place Vendôme on Rue de la Paix, Piaget un­veiled its haute joail­lerie col­lec­tion the same week as Chanel, with what might be the great­est sig­nal that pre­cious jew­ellery is not what it used to be. There were sap­phires, emer­alds, di­a­monds and gold — yes — but then there were sprays of feath­ers as lu­mi­nous as the stones them­selves.

Work­ing with master plumas­sière Nelly Sau­nier, one of the few feather artists in the world, Piaget cre­ated a di­a­mond head­dress with a froth of os­trich and Vic­to­ria crowned pi­geon feath­ers sprout­ing from the cen­tre, as well as a white gold cuff bracelet with iri­des­cent pheas­ant and pea­cock feath­ers ra­di­at­ing from un­der an emerald cen­tre.

“We turn the feath­ers into works of art be­fore plac­ing them in the piece of jew­ellery,” says Piaget’s Jew­ellery Mar­ket­ing Di­rec­tor Jean-bernard Forot, who de­fines the art­ful com­po­si­tions as the “mar­quetry of feath­ers”.

From the Se­crets & Lights — A Myth­i­cal Journey col­lec­tion, th­ese pieces are part of a tale about the Silk Road; with the feath­ers, they re­count the won­ders of Venice, a key city on that an­cient trail, and cap­ture the mys­tique of its masks, theatre and car­ni­val. They also equate the vivid blue of pea­cock feath­ers with that of sap­phires, and the feather mar­quetry skill of Sau­nier with that of the gold­smiths. Sau­nier was also re­spon­si­ble for the feather mar­quetry watches from Harry Win­ston.

As the very no­tion of what’s pre­cious changes, jew­ellery is more and more about dar­ing to try new tech­niques, new ar­ti­sans and un­ex­pected ma­te­ri­als. What will de­fine our times is much more than the sum of jew­ellery’s com­bi­na­tion of tra­di­tional and ground-break­ing parts — it’s the grand to­tal of cre­ativ­ity and crafts­man­ship, ex­pressed with the free­dom of un­lim­ited ma­te­ri­als.

The fu­ture of jew­ellery looks bright with in­ven­tion.

Monique Péan’s neck­lace and ring, adorned with di­a­monds and un­usual ma­te­ri­als like fos­sils and me­te­orite frag­ments

From top: Col­lier Mag­ne­tique from the Les Tal­is­mans de Chanel col­lec­tion from Chanel; Black di­a­monds over­lap­ping cuff from Jac­que­line Cullen

Piaget “Se­crets & Lights” Cuff bracelet in 18k white gold set with a cush­ion-cut emerald (3.46ct), eight mar­quise­cut emer­alds (4.80ct), eight mar­quise-cut blue sap­phires (7.66ct), 10 bril­liant-cut di­a­monds (1.08ct) and feath­ers

Vh­ernier’s Eclisse jew­ellery made in ti­ta­nium and adorned with di­a­monds

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