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Jewelry: In Living Color

Jill Newman

When Peggy Guinness visited Brazil 20 years ago, she was awestruck by the country’s colorful and mesmerizing gemstones. On a whim, the free-spirited designer moved to São Paulo, where she spent the next decade exploring gem mines, acquiring rough stones, and discovering local gem cutters and artisans, whom she enlisted to create her one-of-a-kind pieces.
While living in Brazil, Guinness developed a signature style that presented a mix of bold and vivid gems—including beryls, kunzites, rubies, and emeralds—in simple gold designs. Her pieces resonated with her American and European friends, who were attracted to the large, lively, and exotic stones, and she quickly established a roster of international private clients.

From Brazil, Guinness went on to travel the world with her husband, spending five years exploring remote areas of Southeast Asia. During her adventures, she became enamored with the artistic jewelry techniques in Indonesia and Thailand and began working with a group of local artisans to create the 18- and 22-karat granulation used in her designs.

These days, Guinness divides her time between New York and a home outside Barcelona, while her associates in Brazil and Indonesia, as well as New York City, continue to produce her jewelry.

“My clients already have serious jewels,” says Guinness, who, as the granddaughter of heiress Peggy Mellon, grew up around grandiose jewels. “My designs are an add-on to their collections; my jewelry is about fun, color, and style.”

Guinness mixes contrasting gems in surprising combinations, as evidenced by a ring featuring a chunky turquoise stone held by prongs set with sparkling deep blue sapphires. Another large, pale green beryl ring is surrounded by purple amethyst and vivid blue Paraíba tourmaline gems. She also gravitates to unusual stones such as watermelon tourmaline, a green, red, and black stone, and rutilated quartz, a translucent stone that appears to have strands of gold thread running through it. Her latest creation is a necklace featuring 54 6-inch quartz crystals appointed with gold accents that give the impression of icicles dripping from the neck.

Several of Guinness’ clients have also commissioned her to transform family heirlooms into wearable, contemporary pieces. For instance, she once made a pair of multidiamond earrings and a ring from a family tiara. Another client inherited a 50-carat diamond brooch that became two large diamond rings. “Women want jewelry that they can wear every day, not just for an evening event,” says Guinness.

Still, her true passion is for exotic colored gems and for uncovering natural, untreated stones, which are increasingly difficult to find. “I’m always buying stones,” she says. “I’ve learned that when you discover something special, you must buy it immediately. Otherwise, you may never see it again.”

Peggy Guinness, at Greenleaf & Crosby

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