BE­JEW­ELLED META­MOR­PHO­SIS

A red-car­pet hit, Francesca Am­fithe­atrof’s se­cond Tif­fany Blue Book Col­lec­tion takes on the idea of trans­for­ma­tion, as LAUREN TAN learns in New York

Prestige (Singapore) - - JEWELLERY -

THERE WAS REESE wither­spoon who ac­ces­sorised her ma­jes­tic neck­lace — fea­tur­ing a 40.22ct, D-colour, in­ter­nally flaw­less, emer­ald-cut di­a­mond at its cen­tre — with a J Men­del gown; Naomi Watts in a shim­mer­ing Prada and a fern cuff set with a wild pro­fu­sion of di­a­monds; and Diane Kruger at ease in a red Kauf­man­franco dress and a three-strand tan­zan­ite, green tour­ma­line, aqua­ma­rine and di­a­mond neck­lace with a 52.8-ct cush­ion-cut aqua­ma­rine drop.

It was Jes­sica Biel, how­ever, who had the priv­i­lege of shoul­der­ing the scin­til­lat­ing bib neck­lace with over 3,000 bril­liant-cut di­a­monds that made it into ev­ery web­site and mag­a­zine worth its salt ear­lier in the year, af­ter Cate Blanchett wore it to the Cos­tume De­sign­ers Guild Awards. And Biel was an ef­fer­ves­cent beauty. Just ask any of the some 300 guests, in­clud­ing VIPS such as Sin­ga­pore’s own Dr Karen Soh and Malaysia’s Mar­ion Caunter, who had flown in to at­tend the gala un­veil­ing of the 2016 Blue Book Col­lec­tion at the Cu­nard Build­ing in lower Man­hat­tan. Soh sat next to the ac­tress, in fact.

De­scribed by Tif­fany & Co. De­sign Di­rec­tor Francesca Am­fithe­atrof as one of the most chal­leng­ing pieces from this year’s Blue Book Col­lec­tion to re­alise, the fully ar­tic­u­lated bib neck­lace was also the in­spi­ra­tion for the float­ing sil­ver orbs that adorned the in­te­ri­ors of the or­nate Ital­ian neo-re­nais­sance Great Hall for the evening. With Grammy-win­ning Esper­anza Spald­ing per­form­ing and din­ner catered by Bryce Shu­man of Miche­lin-starred Betony, there was no mis­tak­ing the op­u­lence of the af­fair or the jew­els it cel­e­brated.

Only Am­fithe­atrof’s sopho­more Blue Book Col­lec­tion, this year’s pieces were built around the theme, The Art of Trans­for­ma­tion, which takes its start­ing point from where her first col­lec­tion, The Art of the Sea, left off last year. “It’s like hand­ing over a ba­ton from one col­lec­tion to the next. Over time, you’ll see a very clear thread from one year to the next,” Am­fithe­atrof ex­plains when we meet in her sun­lit “cre­ativ­ity room” at Tif­fany’s cor­po­rate head­quar­ters at 200 Fifth Av­enue in the Flat­iron dis­trict, in which vivid sketches of the col­lec­tion are still tacked to the walls.

“Last year, it was all about en­ergy and power. But wa­ter, whether it’s the sea or the ocean, has an­other side to it — peace­ful­ness and quiet­ness. I felt there was more to say around what hap­pens [at the edge of the wa­ter], where crea­tures and plants start to come onto land and trans­for­ma­tion oc­curs,” she says, a spark of fire still danc­ing in her eyes. The 200-ct di­a­mond bib, for in­stance, was de­signed to be as fluid as wa­ter touched by a soft wind; while the col­lec­tion’s El­e­men­tal neck­lace, an even more gen­er­ously pro­por­tioned col­lar, cel­e­brates the con­ver­gence of air, earth, wa­ter and fire with its use of cabo­chon and faceted tour­ma­lines, tan­zan­ites, io­lites, ap­atites and fancy-colour sap­phires.

“Not to be po­lit­i­cal or to have a so­ci­o­log­i­cal mo­ment, but we are go­ing through a mo­ment of trans­for­ma­tion right now. The world is chang­ing so much and it can be pos­i­tive, it can be neg­a­tive, but is very con­tem­po­rary. It’s what’s hap­pen­ing right now in the world,” she says of the no­tion.

Born in Tokyo, but well and truly a global cit­i­zen, Am­fithe­atrof would be the first to ad­mit that she can be prone to com­plex, even lofty ideas. Al­though a trained jew­eller with jew­ellery col­lec­tions for the likes of Chanel, Fendi and Alice Tem­per­ley un­der her belt be­fore join­ing Tif­fany in 2013, Am­fithe­atrof also had a suc­cess­ful run as an art con­sul­tant and cu­ra­tor — a chap­ter in her life that con­tin­ues to in­form her sen­si­bil­i­ties as a de­signer. “The sub­ject of trans­for­ma­tion is very much a sub­ject about art. Hav­ing worked in the art world, I do thrive on the com­plex. I like the fact that we can take on sub­ject mat­ters that

are very big. I don’t shy away from them,” she says. “I’m not say­ing [what we do] is art, but if it can be as close to art as pos­si­ble, that would make me very happy.”

That well-honed cu­ra­to­rial eye of hers can be seen in the way she es­tab­lishes rhythm within her col­lec­tions, segue­ing seam­lessly from the serene to the ex­hil­a­rat­ing in a sin­gle breath (a beau­ti­fully un­adorned 8.25-ct oval di­a­mond ring vs a large baroque pearl mas­ter­fully trans­formed into an oc­to­pus brooch with di­a­mond and sap­phire ten­ta­cles). It’s also in the way she is al­most fa­nat­i­cal in the way pieces are dis­played — they need to cre­ate “ten­sion” for the be­holder. “Hav­ing worked as a cu­ra­tor also re­ally helps me ex­plain what we do, be­cause we have to con­vey all these ideas in a way the world can un­der­stand them,” muses the Royal Col­lege of Art and Cen­tral Saint Martins alumna.

All this res­onates even more, when one con­sid­ers that up un­til fairly re­cently, the an­nual Blue Book — first con­ceived in 1845 — was sim­ply a brand cat­a­logue that even fea­tured ta­ble-set­tings. (Un­til 1853, the book it­self wasn’t even blue, but rather, green.) But with its evo­lu­tion in re­cent years into a co­her­ent pre­sen­ta­tion of what Tif­fany con­sid­ers its mag­num opus of the year, the Blue Book Col­lec­tion has taken on added sig­nif­i­cance. “What we’re try­ing to do here at Tif­fany’s is cre­ate the cou­ture high jew­ellery of the fu­ture and Blue Book is some­thing that al­lows us to do this,” Am­fithe­atrof ex­plains.

“It’s good when you have some­one with a cer­tain ex­pe­ri­ence in jew­ellery, but not so much ex­pe­ri­ence that they get caught up in do­ing the same thing they’ve done for years. Her ap­proach to pre­cious stones and colour is com­pletely fresh. I mean the col­lec­tion last year was great, but this year’s col­lec­tion is a knock­out,” her pre­de­ces­sor John Lor­ing, Tif­fany’s de­sign di­rec­tor emer­i­tus, gra­ciously en­thuses of the more than 200-strong col­lec­tion that fea­tures neck­laces, rings, bracelets and brooches in a cor­nu­copia of stones, from yel­low di­a­monds that mimic un­fil­tered sun­light to the rich sat­u­rated hues of green tour­ma­line and pas­sion­ate rubel­lite.

“Ever since she an­nounced The Art of Trans­for­ma­tion and the wa­ter as her theme, I haven’t been able to get Ariel’s song from Shake­speare’s The Tem­pest out of my mind: ‘ Full fathom five thy fa­ther lies; of his bones are co­ral made. Those are pearls that were his eyes: Noth­ing of him that doth fade, but doth suf­fer a sea-change into some­thing rich and strange’,” re­cites Lor­ing, who is him­self an ac­com­plished artist and au­thor. “It’s that trans­for­ma­tion that even Shake­speare spoke about — some­thing rich and strange, or rather, orig­i­nal.”

“Her colour sense is re­mark­able and she’s cer­tainly not afraid of scale,” he adds, with a know­ing chuckle. “You can’t tell Francesca: ‘I think that’s too big.’ Be­cause, no, it’s not too big — it’s ex­actly the right size. It’s like some­one telling Mozart that there are too many notes in his com­po­si­tion. No, there are ex­actly the right num­ber of notes. And that’s ex­actly the way I feel about some of her jew­ellery.”

With the brand since 1979, it was Lor­ing who, in 1981, changed the phys­i­cal size of the Blue Book from a cat­a­logue that could fit into a gent’s breast pocket to the larger square­shaped vol­ume as we know to­day. And in so do­ing, it gave am­ple room for Tif­fany’s op­u­lent stones and neck­laces to show­case their beauty across a printed page.

“It re­ally is a huge team ef­fort do­ing these col­lec­tions,” says Am­fithe­atrof, re­flect­ing on the past two Blue Book Col­lec­tions. “In a way, Tif­fany is the kind of jew­ellery house where we’re all fam­ily.”

And like fam­ily, who have been there ev­ery step of the jour­ney a piece of jew­ellery takes from con­cep­tion to fin­ish, it is with an­tic­i­pa­tion and pride that they wait to hear who it is that has brought their ba­bies home. “It’s not just me, all the crafts­men also want to know that the pieces go to the right home,” says Am­fithe­atrof. “It’s also in­ter­est­ing to know what those clients have, what they’ve al­ready bought and what they want to add to their col­lec­tions. I don’t see them as clients, I see them as col­lec­tors. And we’re cre­at­ing their fu­ture col­lec­tions.”

“What we’re try­ing to do here at Tif­fany’s is cre­ate the cou­ture high jew­ellery of the fu­ture” — Francesca Am­fithe­atrof

FROM TOP: WORN BY JES­SICA BIEL AT THE GALA, THIS BIB NECK­LACE FEA­TURES MORE THAN , BRIL­LIANT CUT DI­A­MONDS; FRANCESCA AMPHITHEATROF WEAR­ING ONE OF HER FAVOURITE STARFISH CUFFS

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT: DRAW­ING OF THE EL­E­MEN­TAL NECK­LACE COM­POSED OF TOUR­MA­LINES, TAN­ZAN­ITES, IO­LITES, AP­ATITES AND SAP­PHIRES; IN­SPIRED BY THE ARCHIVES, THE FERN CUFF WAS WORN BY CATE BLANCHETT TO THIS YEAR’S OS­CARS; OC­TO­PUS BROOCH WITH BAROQUE PEARL SAP­PHIRES AND DI­A­MONDS

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