FrontRunners: P For Pearl
Piaget’s first-ever pearl jewelry collection, Pearlissima by Piaget (800.359.4538, www.piaget.com), features a mark of distinction that could easily go unnoticed. With a nod to status logos, designer Ella Gafter subtly incorporated two inverted, diamond-pavéed Ps into each of the collection’s 12 pieces. The collection is the first such collaboration for Gafter, who has been affectionately dubbed the Queen of Pearls by her elite private clientele.
For the Pearlissima by Piaget collection, Gafter selected Australian pearls, the rarest and largest (16 to 18 millimeters) variety of South Sea pearls, which are acclaimed for their exceptional luster.
Jewelry: Fashionable Facets
While de beers has spent millions of marketing dollars instilling in our minds that a diamond is forever, its latest joint venture with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton makes a slightly different statement: A diamond is today. The massive South African diamond conglomerate that controls about 65 percent of the world’s diamond market is leveraging its dominant position to enter trendsetting, fashion-driven diamond jewelry retailing.
In January 2001, De Beers Group formed a partnership with LVMH to market a proprietary collection of diamond jewelry through branded retail stores. Because De Beers effectively controls most of the world’s wholesale diamond market, the European Union immediately launched an antitrust investigation. The proposed partnership was approved a year later, and the independent diamond jewelry house De Beers LV was formed. Independent is the operative word, because the partnership creates a separate company that is not prohibited by antitrust laws from selling in the United States, as De Beers Group is.
Spearheading this grand entrée into the retailing world is a high-profile flagship store on the corner of Old Bond Street and Piccadilly, in the heart of London. The new jewelry collection, designed by cutting-edge innovator Reema Pachachi, made its debut on this stage in November.
“We hired Reema as creative and design director to lend a decidedly young and fashionable aspect to the collection,” explains De Beers LV CEO Alain Lorenzo, who hopes to change the younger generation’s perception that diamonds are stodgy and out of reach.
“We are creating jewelry to celebrate the magic of diamonds,” says Pachachi, who is known for providing edgy glitter to London’s fashion shows. “Our collections have essential shapes and clean lines that allow diamonds to speak for themselves.” Pachachi once taught jewelry design at St Martins School of Art and Design in London, and owned her own successful jewelry boutique in the city’s chic Belgravia neighborhood.
Even before the jewelry made its debut, De Beers LV had established the all-important fashion/celebrity connection by partnering with model Iman. She appeared at last year’s Cannes Film Festival wearing the 203-carat Millennium Star, the world’s largest D-flawless diamond, set in a sinuous platinum necklace designed by Pachachi. While the Millennium Star is not for sale, it inspired one of the five debut collections.
Rather than follow tradition, De Beers LV is making its stand at the fashion front lines. The Leather collection boldly pairs woven leather strips with diamonds. In a different vein, the Flowers collection features a minimalist floral motif reinterpreted for the 21st century. One elaborate Flower necklace was auctioned at amfAR’s charity event last May for $175,000.
Given the disposable nature of women’s fashion, most of the pieces are much more affordable: Prices start at around $700—and that includes the diamonds. “Fashionistas usually choose costume jewelry to make their statements,” says Lorenzo. “With Reema’s designs, which are fully rooted in the fashion world, we want to make buying the real thing a possibility.”
Once De Beers LV establishes itself in Europe, it plans to move in on Tiffany’s and Cartier’s New York turf with a Fifth Avenue store in the St. Regis hotel that is slated to open in 2004.
De Beers LV, +44.0208.83413.99, www.debeerslv.com
Jewelry: Artistic License
After a pair of Michelle Ong’s briolette-cut diamond earrings shaped like grape clusters sold in a heated bidding war at a Christie’s auction for $189,500—more than double their estimated value—the defeated bidder asked the jeweler to create a similar pair. Despite his passionate plea, Ong and her partner, Avi Nagar, declined.
“The original earrings were purchased for their artistic value,” explains Ong, who lives in Hong Kong. “I wouldn’t copy them, not even for $1 million. It would be like an artist re-creating a similar painting.”
Ong’s view of jewelry as art has earned her status as one of the world’s leading high jewelry designers. “Her work is beautiful, elegant, and graceful,” says Simon Teakle, head of Christie’s jewelry department in New York. Admittedly, Teakle would relish the chance to acquire more of Ong’s creations for the auction block, but because the designer has been in business for only three years, few of her clients are ready to part with their Ong treasures.
While Ong has been designing jewelry for an international stable of private clients for more than a decade, it was only three years ago that she launched her Carnet collection, which raised her profile among serious collectors. Carnet is known for its intricate yet glamorous designs, such as the Black Lace collection, made of platinum plated with oxidized silver to create a sleek, black finish. The lacy yet modern designs sparkle with diamond accents. Among the standout pieces are a pair of Black Lace cuffs, which appear more like fabric than metal and are appointed with dozens of tiny diamonds.
In Ong’s endeavor to create unique jewelry masterpieces, she has been known to take risks. She recently had a 30-carat rough diamond cut down to 10 carats to create a rare portrait cut—a completely flat, unfaceted cut that resembles a piece of glass. “It’s a big stone, but very subtle,” says Ong. “In its simplistic setting, the diamond appears as if it’s floating on your finger.” With a price tag of $289,000, the ring is for a particular type of woman, she says—a sophisticated client who can appreciate the uniqueness and rarity of a portrait-cut diamond.
“My jewelry is a fusion of Eastern and Western influences,” explains Ong, a petite woman with fine features and cropped black hair. Her graceful manner stems from years of training in ballroom dancing, which remains her favorite hobby. However, these days there is little time for dance, as she travels between her homes in Hong Kong and London and meticulously supervises the production of her one-of-a-kind designs, which can take as long as a year to create. And if a finished design does not meet her standards, the self-proclaimed perfectionist will dismantle it and start from scratch.
Michelle Ong, through Lee Siegelson in New York, 212.832.2666
Symposium: Leaving Legacies
Thirteen years ago, I went to The St. Regis in New York City to meet with a woman of great style, to whom I had been introduced some months earlier. This was not, however, a romantic liaison, but rather a potential business deal. She had a valuable family heirloom that she was considering selling, and as a private jeweler I was naturally interested in discussing the prospect.
After we exchanged some casual conversation, she placed a worn leather box on the table. I opened the box to reveal an Art Deco diamond and platinum bracelet of such stunning beauty that I was pressed to remember an equivalent, despite a long career of dealing in exceptional jewelry and gemstones. The bracelet was a gift from her father to her mother as a token of his love and affection; it also symbolized the success he had achieved in America since emigrating from Europe.
The bracelet, incredibly, was in pristine condition. Precious metals and even diamonds in older pieces often show visible damage or wear, which reduces value. And frequently, estate pieces were made with superb technique but used diamonds not worthy of the craftsmanship. This bracelet was a brilliant exception. The nearly 60 carats of diamonds were of the finest quality. Many were cut in unique shapes, including large bullet shapes and French cuts, which were typical of the era but are not used in modern jewelry because of the difficulty and cost of producing them. The bracelet had every detail, every nuance of a truly great piece of jewelry—a quintessential example of the Art Deco style.
My client had been a proper guardian. But guardianship requires exercising proper care while a valuable object is in one’s possession, as well as making plans for passing it on to future generations. Sadly, many great pieces of jewelry have been lost to history out of ignorance or avarice—antique silver pieces melted down for the value of the metal by uninformed heirs, or exceptional emeralds and opals left to dry out and crack in bank vaults.
“Have you considered your children?” I asked. Her son and daughter-in-law, who were both attorneys, had told her that the bracelet did not fit their lifestyle and that the piece would be relegated to a vault.
By discussing their intentions for the bracelet, she had met one of the most important requisites of guardianship: providing for the future. It is important for heirs to be consulted and informed about valuable heirlooms while the parent is still alive. If pieces are to be sold, plans should be formulated beforehand.
If the owners fail to make provisions for valuable objects, chaos may reign after their deaths. I know of one couple who left millions of dollars’ worth of jewels to their children without first asking them which pieces each preferred. During the settlement of the estate, the three children waged a bitter battle over the jewelry. As a consequence, they have not spoken to each other for more than 20 years. And in cases where the heirs decide to sell the piece in favor of cash, the task often devolves to a family attorney who knows little about the proper sources for accurate appraisals. As a result, heirs often receive a fraction of the true value. If jewelry is to be passed on, the next generation must understand and appreciate its beauty and value—responsibility requires knowledge.
My client did not sell her diamond bracelet that day in New York. In fact, she kept it for the rest of her life. She did instruct her son that if he decided to sell it upon her death, she would like him to offer it to me first. Two years ago, he contacted me and informed me that she had passed away. A few months afterward, I joined the son and his wife for a very emotional lunch to celebrate his adored mother.
Over the 13 years that had passed since my first meeting with that elegant woman, I never once pressured the family to sell the bracelet. In fact, I cultivated a genuine friendship with them and demonstrated my respect for all three generations: the grandfather, mother, and son. As a result, they found me worthy of being the bracelet’s next guardian.
I still own and treasure the bracelet. I often bring it when I give lectures to illustrate the concept of guardianship and to allow people the enjoyment of its exceptional beauty. When the time comes, I will make certain that it once again graces the wrist of a woman of great style.
Style: Rock of Ages
In the silk-upholstered lobby of the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel, actor/director Lou Diamond Phillips and his wife, Kelly, are sipping tea and talking diamonds. The topic is courtesy of their companions, Mitch Edwards and Pericles Rellas of the Beverly Hills jewelry design house Edwards & Rellas, who have come to high tea equipped with a jeweler’s loupe, a notepad, and a few diamond-and-platinum jewels that Edwards keeps pulling from his jacket pockets.
As specialists in custom design and refashioning of vintage jewels, Edwards and Rellas frequently conduct their business in living rooms and well-appointed restaurants throughout Southern California, operating more like business consultants than jewelry designers. Clients come to them through word of mouth, bringing cracked brooches, outdated dinner rings, and inherited necklaces, hoping to salvage the gems and remake the pieces into creations that are uniquely theirs.
Commissioning a custom design is the ultimate coup for anyone who wants a truly one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry. Edwards & Rellas and other custom jewelry designers are developing this niche by emphasizing extremely personal service and drawing their creative inspiration from the client to fashion unique heirlooms for future generations.
Kelly and Lou had heard about Edwards and Rellas in the usual way: socially. They had attended parties and events where they had seen some of Edwards’ designs, including a pearl necklace with a stunning aquamarine drop set in pavé diamonds. “That particular client had come to see us with a plastic baggie of pearls and diamonds and this 25-carat aqua,” says Rellas, who heads marketing and operations. The designs inspired Kelly to take another look at a white elephant jewel of her own.
From a blue Tiffany bag, Kelly shakes out a small, simple, gold-and-diamond pendant. The 3.5-carat diamond, set into a plain gold bezel setting, was in its third incarnation as a piece of jewelry, none of which Kelly had found wearable. “This was in my mother’s engagement ring,” Kelly explains of the diamond, which she inherited when she was only 15. Kelly’s father had bought the stone loose in New York City’s diamond district 40 years earlier, where he had it set into a four-prong, white gold Tiffany-style engagement ring for her mother.
Twenty years later, shortly before her death, Kelly’s mother had the diamond refashioned in late-1970s style, with a four-prong thick gold band that reached to the knuckle. Kelly says the bold ring had looked great on her statuesque mother. “She was tall and elegant and carried it well,” she explains. It didn’t, however, suit Kelly, a delicately featured, soft-spoken former fashion model.
The bezel-set pendant that lay before them represented Kelly’s own attempt to remake the jewel—but that too had its problems: The stone, which was not set properly, scratched her throat, and the heavy gold setting had not aged well. After a while, the diamond, in its bezel prison, had ended up in a drawer.
As she passes the pendant to Edwards, Kelly explains that she would like the stone set into a platinum ring. The challenge, she says, is that the ring needs to suit her own soft, somewhat romantic style while also honoring her mother’s stately taste. “Something classic and elegant,” says Kelly. “Less is more,” she adds, “but not always.”
Edwards laughs. “Okay, throw me for a loop,” he says. Before checking the stone, he first casts a glance at the jewelry Kelly is wearing: a Tiffany platinum-and-diamond cross pendant and a diamond wedding band and engagement ring. She points out that each piece has sentimental significance. Her platinum engagement ring (an emerald-cut two-carat diamond flanked by emeralds) features two full-carat diamonds that Lou added when the couple’s twin girls were born. Kelly notes that at home she has a four-carat heart-shaped estate diamond ring that was a gift from Lou to celebrate the birth of their youngest daughter, Lili.
Designing a complementary ring may appear to be a simple matter—until Edwards takes a closer look at the stone. “This is a European cut,” he says, examining the diamond through his loupe. “It’s an antique stone.” Most likely, he says, the old “Euro”—which features fewer facets and a smaller table than a brilliant-cut diamond of today—was hand-cut in the early 1900s. Originally, it was probably set in an intricate eight-to-12-prong platinum ring with some openwork and tiny textured beads, called “milligraining,” on the band. According to Edwards, any new setting should not only combine Kelly’s style with her mother’s tastes, it should also reflect the diamond’s authentic origins.
At this point, Edwards pulls out his sketch pad. “I definitely don’t see the ring as something contemporary,” he says, sketching. That means no wide shiny band, no trendy engraving, no sleek stylings, and no four-prong setting. “I think we can do something with authentic craftsmanship, something that is more finely wrought, that speaks to the genesis of the diamond itself. It would become a modern antique.”
Since Kelly prefers a solitaire setting, Edwards proposes creating intricacy through beaded metal and a pavé-set diamond band. He pulls a platinum-and-diamond necklace from his jacket pocket, showing Kelly how tiny metal beads are hand-hammered around the pavé diamonds. “Beaded prongs could hold in your stone so the setting looks slightly square,” he says. “It’s clean and simple, and the beading adds just a little something to it. And then you could have little diamonds”—he runs a finger along the necklace’s sparkling river of stones—“in the surrounding band.”
“I do like the beading,” Kelly says, examining the necklace. She then picks up a picture of an Edwards & Rellas Tahitian pearl drop pendant crowned with a glittering pavé diamond cone. “I also like the look of having a stone with a pavé band,” she says. (Click image to enlarge)
Edwards agrees: The close-set smaller diamonds would “pull the ring together” so that the large stone would not jut out. He notes, though, that Kelly’s band would not have a modern pavé setting, in which the diamonds sit flat on the metal surface. Rather, the band’s small diamonds would be hand-set 1920s style, into an open channel with the surrounding metal hammered into small beads.
“Everything starts with a doodle,” says Edwards, as he jots down more notes. “We’ll put down several combinations and see which way we’re going to go with it.”
Back at his studio, Edwards hand-paints the first of three designs—and it is the one he is certain Kelly will prefer. Minutely rendered in oils and watercolors on charcoal paper, it features the solo diamond held in place by six U-shaped prongs. Around the platinum band is a pavé setting of 30 2.5-point round diamonds, with milligraining along the band’s edge.
His next two designs, he says, will give Kelly different stylistic options. One is dressier with two 8-point round diamonds flanking the center stone, which sits in an angular beaded setting that creates the illusion of a square diamond. A third design plays more to Kelly’s preference for the clean, soft curves of her larger rings. In it, two half-carat pear-shaped diamonds, on a plain polished band, embrace the main stone, popping like flashbulbs on the dark page. “This is a 1940s style, simple and clean,” Edwards points out.
Six weeks after the first meeting, as Rellas pours coffee in the sitting room of his Los Angeles home, Kelly and Lou both light up at the life-size oil renderings. At first Kelly is drawn to the third design with the pear-cuts. “I like this,” she says. After a moment, though, she picks up the first rendering, the solitaire supported by its sparkling orchestra of diamonds and beading. “But I love this. This is what I had pictured in my mind. It’s so much more about the stone, for me.”
“From the moment Kelly and Lou left the Peninsula, I knew we would make that first design,” Edwards says later. “Clients like Kelly pretty clearly give me an accurate description of what they want, even if they don’t articulate it. I can look at a client and get a sense of who they are.”
The final task is to turn the sketch into reality. Though a simple design, the ring presents a complex manufacturing dilemma: balancing the delicacy of a thin band with the necessary strength to secure a relatively large stone.
As Edwards and Rellas work with their Los Angeles manufacturer, who specializes in hand-tooling intricate platinum pieces, several challenges arise. Because Kelly wants the band as thin as possible, Edwards needs to refashion the original buttercup setting into a traditional basket, which allows for the use of thicker prongs. Otherwise, the individual prongs may have proven too delicate for the stone and the basket would have overpowered the thin band and flopped around on Kelly’s hand.
Other revisions are made as well. Initially, Edwards wanted to use old European-cut diamonds for the smaller stones to complement Kelly’s antique stone. But the large stone, with its smaller table, fewer facets, and imperfections, already has significantly less flash than a modern stone. “Adding even flawless 2-point Euros would have given the ring no sparkle,” says Edwards. So they select modern 2.5-point brilliants instead.
With the design finalized, Edwards & Rellas’ manufacturer constructs the ring’s band, which is cut from a length of 3.3-millimeter-thick platinum rod and hand-filed to give it a delicate roundness. Hand-drilled holes hold the band’s small stones, which are then secured by hammering the metal into beads around each stone’s edge. Finally, a mallet and fine chisel are used to hand-cut milligraining around the band’s edge. Edwards notes that only platinum can support this level of workmanship. “You couldn’t necessarily make this ring in white gold,” he says. “The beading would disintegrate over time.”
Once the band is finished, the manufacturer solders on the platinum basket for the main stone, polishes the metal, and sets Kelly’s diamond in place. As a final step, the six prongs are hammered into beads at the tips, echoing the beaded design of the pavé diamond band.
Only eight weeks after their initial consultation, Lou and Kelly are seated once again in Rellas’ sitting room and presented with a small white box. Inside is another box of lacquered cherry wood. Lou and Kelly exchange looks before opening the box. “My heart’s in my mouth,” Lou says. Then, a moment later, he exclaims, “Oh my God, it’s perfect.”
Kelly turns the ring over and over, then immediately takes off her wedding band and puts the new ring on her left ring finger. “I love it,” she says.
“It’s perfect for my hand—so pretty and delicate.” As she turns her hand, the pavé diamonds sing like a small chorus behind the 3.5-carat stone.
The six-prong setting holds the large stone in restraint, and the openwork of the basket beneath the stone permits light to flow through.
“And,” adds Edwards, “the beauty of it is that as it ages, it will look more and more like something out of the ’20s.”
“I’m ecstatic,” Kelly says. “And my mother would love it. It’s classy. It’s classic. I can’t stop looking at my hand.”
Edwards & Rellas, 310.475.9979, www.edwardsandrellas.com
FrontRunners: Shine On
In the 1920s, Maharaja Sir Bhupindra Singh asked Louis Joseph Cartier to set some loose gems into a showstopping piece of jewelry. The maharaja was not disappointed. The necklace, completed in 1928 and called the Patiala after the region of India that he ruled, includes five Art Deco–style platinum chains that once contained 2,930 diamonds totaling almost 1,000 carats. At its heart was the 234-carat De Beers Diamond, the seventh-largest diamond in the world.
After Singh died in 1938, the necklace eventually slid into obscurity. It might have vanished altogether were it not for the efforts of Eric Nussbaum, a Swiss-born gemologist whom Cartier has entrusted with finding and collecting notable pieces of jewelry made during the house’s more than 150-year history. When Nussbaum located the necklace in London in 1998, it was partially broken and bereft of many of its spectacular stones, so he took the unusual step of having synthetic stand-ins made.
In this form, the Patiala will be displayed at the Cartier Building in New York (212.753.0111) through January 1, 2003.
Meanwhile, Nussbaum continues to doggedly search for suitable natural gems for the necklace. “I’m very confident that one day it will be exactly as it was in 1928,” he says. “This is my aim.”
Robb Report's 21 Ultimate Gifts: Perfect Pear
Laurence Graff has a reputation for acquiring the finest, most beautiful gemstones—whatever the cost—and the incredible necklace shown here will only enhance that reputation. Completed earlier this year after months of painstaking crafting, it features 144 carats of brilliantly sparkling diamonds. At its heart is an internally flawless, fancy light pink pear-shaped diamond weighing 70.39 carats, which was cut from an exquisite piece of rough stone mined in South America. No other light pink pear-shaped diamond in the world rivals its size and clarity. Surrounding it are 44 fine white pear-shaped diamonds that weigh an additional 73.61 carats. A simple platinum setting was chosen to best display the fiery beauty of the gemstones.
Price: $10 million. Contact: Graff, 212.355.9292, firstname.lastname@example.org
Feature: Jewels of the Ancients
Christie’s does not auction ancient jewelry every day. To be precise, it holds just one sale a year that focuses on rings, bracelets, necklaces, and precious items forged by members of the Roman, Greek, Egyptian, and other civilizations that existed between 3500 B.C. and A.D. 1000.
G. Max Bernheimer, the head of Christie’s antiquities department, has been orchestrating antiquities sales at the New York auction house for the last 10 years, and the annual jewelry sale scheduled to take place on December 13 is his brainchild. Since its debut in 1999, the auction has only gained momentum, attracting a growing amount of interest from collectors and dealers. “We’ve done increasingly better as the years have gone on,” Bernheimer says, and the sales figures bear him out. The first auction totaled just under half a million dollars, while each of the subsequent auctions each collected more than $700,000.
While he says it is “anyone’s guess” about where prices will go in 2002, they will probably remain healthy if history is any guide. The fallout from the September 11 terrorist attacks failed to dampen last year’s totals, and this year’s stock market scandals are fueling a fresh drive to invest in tangibles such as art and real estate. “The very top of the [art] market is performing exceedingly well,” Bernheimer says.
Bernheimer has spent months traveling and gathering items for the antique jewelry auction, which will ultimately consist of nearly 200 lots. Featured here are selected highlights from the sale. All the items in the auction will be on public view at the Rockefeller Center site from December 7 through 12, and they will also be available for viewing online at www.christies.com by mid-November. Information on registering to bid can also be found on the site.
One thing becomes clear when viewing ancient jewelry: Gold truly stands the test of time. As evidence, consider this emerald, pearl, and gold necklace from the late fourth century or early fifth century. Both the intricate openwork disk at the clasp and the strand that unites the emeralds and pearls are made from the precious metal, and as fragile as it might appear, the necklace has survived for more than 1,500 years. “That’s the amazing thing about gold,” Bernheimer says. “It’s a thin wire, but fairly strong.” The disk was fashioned out of gold wire that was folded, rolled, and soldered into the desired shape.
Seal of Approval
This Greek swivel ring from the fifth century is one of Bernheimer’s favorites, although he might be biased: He did write a thesis on Greek seals such as this one. Bernheimer describes the bezel-set stone as a “beautiful bright red carnelian” that is carved with an image of Herakles (aka Hercules) wearing the Nemean lionskin. “A tiny thing, but you could blow it up to 10 feet high and it would still look good,” Bernheimer says of the stone, which is just 13/16ths of an inch wide. The ring is especially rare among ancient jewelry pieces because of its Greek origin (Roman rings of this type are far more common) and because the stone remains in its original setting. “It’s not the most fantastic, but it’s very lovely, and the state of preservation is excellent,” says Bernheimer. “I don’t think I’ve had an original setting [before this] since I arrived at Christie’s 10 years ago.” The ring was a tool as well as a jewel: Its wearer would have used it as a personal seal. The stout loop that secures the ring to the finger indicates that it was designed for daily use.
Updating the Past
Shown above is a gold, boat-shaped Parthian pendant (top), dating from the first or second century, and an Akkadian lapis lazuli cylinder seal (bottom), which dates to sometime between 2334 B.C. and 2154 B.C. In both cases, the necklaces are contemporary pieces, strung with beads made from ancient materials. Bernheimer says that the blue glass strand accompanying the two-headed Parthian pendant is a “reasonable replica of what it might have hung on.” The lapis lazuli cylinder is carved with images of a tree and of a lion attacking a bull, and was designed to leave this mark when rolled across an impressionable surface. The gold caps on the cylinder are contemporary, and its necklace is strung with ancient lapis lazuli and gilt silver beads. It is a modern confection that bears little resemblance to the jewelry of the period, but as Bernheimer explains, “The lapis lazuli beads are similar in color and quality [to the cylinder]. It works together in a simple, tasteful way.”
Estimate for the Parthian pendant: $7,000–$9,000.
Estimate for the Akkadian cylinder seal: $5,000–$7,000.
Large oval stones, such as the carnelian ring stone seen here, were common throughout the Greek world. Dating to the first century B.C., it is carved with a pantheistic image of Tyche, the goddess of luck. It is pantheistic because Tyche is depicted with the attributes of other Greek goddesses as well as her own: She holds her cornucopia in one hand and a ship’s rudder in the other, but she also wears the helmet of Athena, goddess of war, and holds a sheaf of wheat, which is symbolic of the grain goddess Ceres. At some point, the stone was liberated from its original ring setting and remounted as a pendant.
These gold bracelets were apparently made between the second and third centuries. Each set of snake heads appears to be designed to flank something spectacular—garnets, amethysts, emeralds, quartz, or maybe even glass—features that obviously did not survive to the present. The ovals between the snake heads were added more recently by a collector who had a flair for jewelry design. Such modifications are fairly common in ancient jewelry, which rarely passes down through the ages intact. In selecting items for auction, Bernheimer scrutinizes the augmentations a piece has undergone, making decisions on a case-by-case basis. “If there’s too much [modification], I stay away,” he says. “In this case, it is tastefully done, and is a small part of the whole.”
An Egyptian Souvenir
United in this necklace is a collection of Egyptian amulets, the oldest dating to 2040 B.C. and the newest to A.D. 200. While a wide variety of amulets are featured here, most take the shape of scarabs, the sacred symbol of ancient Egypt. Sometime around 1920 the collection was rendered as a necklace, probably in France. Bernheimer explains how it might have come to be: Someone visited Egypt when these ancient artifacts were legally sold on the street, brought the collection home to France, and asked a jeweler to set them.
Less Is More
The center of this small Byzantine cross once showcased a stone or bead. “It could easily have been replaced, but I chose to leave it as is,” Bernheimer says. What has not been lost is the detail work on the cross itself, which was made sometime between the fifth and sixth centuries. Each arm displays opus interrasile, a type of artistry in which sheet gold is pierced and incised with decorative flourishes. Given the beauty of the craftsmanship, the stone would only be superfluous.
Feature: Family Practices
In today’s competitive business environment, with its endless mergers and acquisitions, a thriving family business that is driven by heritage and passion more than the bottom line is a treasure in and of itself. Jewelers have long built their fortunes on family names, some of which evoke instant respect and trust gained through decades (or in some cases, centuries) of commitment to a genuine artistic mission. Still, without the authentic bloodlines and the leadership of subsequent generations who have been imprinted with the family’s values, such names would become mere brands.
This is not the case with these four distinguished family-owned jewelry houses that have passed from generation to generation, all preserving their past as they prepare for the future.
Golden Gene Pool
Buccellati style still shines strong.
Mario’s natural aptitude for design and craftsmanship was passed down to only one of his five sons, Gianmaria, who honed his skills working alongside his father for decades. Today, as the third generation assumes the company’s helm, only one of Gianmaria’s sons, Andrea, has inherited the artistic abilities to carry Buccellati style into the 21st century. Like his father before him, the 43-year-old Andrea works side-by-side with his father.
“Andrea has absorbed the spirit of the company,” explains Mario Buccellati II, Andrea’s cousin and the founder’s grandson, who manages the business in North America. “He maintains our tradition, but with his own individual interpretation, which is not an easy task.” The younger Buccellati designer employs the family’s characteristic techniques, such as the honeycomb texture and braided gold chain, but in pieces that are more suited for everyday wear, in contrast to his father’s often-fantastical designs.
Buccellati family members are not automatically entitled to take over the business, stresses Mario, who joined the company 22 years ago after a series of apprenticeships as a goldsmith and silversmith. His five children will also have to earn their places in the company by working their way up from entry-level positions.
As you may expect, the Buccellatis have had numerous offers to sell, but they are intent on remaining independent and on growing without the help of outside investors. “Some family companies have to sell because they need financing or they lack a future generation who is passionate about the business,” says Mario. “We have both.”
Without the financial backing of a conglomerate, however, the speed of Buccellati’s growth has been restricted. Over the past few years, the family has expanded its offerings with the introduction of a Buccellati watch collection. The company is searching for high-profile store locations, which will include a new American flagship in New York. “We have a huge potential to grow the Buccellati business,” says Mario. “Our biggest asset is our brand equity, and we can grow without having to change our signature style.”
Buccellati, 212.308.2900, www.buccellati.com
A Date with Destiny
Kokichi Mikimoto gave up noodles for nacre.
As the eldest of five children, Kokichi Mikimoto was expected to take over the family noodle shop that had been passed down for generations. To the dismay of his relatives, he turned his back on the restaurant business and pursued his own dream of cultivating a natural-looking pearl.
In 1893, after years of experimentation, Mikimoto unveiled the world’s first cultured pearl. His discovery brought him worldwide acclaim and a nickname: The Pearl King. He was later honored as one of Japan’s 10 greatest inventors. Mikimoto, however, was not just an inventor; he was also a savvy marketer. He traveled around the globe, exhibiting his pearls at high-profile world fairs, and opened offices in London, Paris, Shanghai, and key American cities, establishing his cultured pearls as a fashionable and affordable option to natural pearls.
Today, a new generation continues a similar focus on international fashion and marketing. “The jewelry business is a fashion business,” says Toyohiko Mikimoto, the company’s current president and the husband of a fourth-generation Mikimoto descendant. “It is more important to keep the company modern rather than maintain our tradition.”
Toyohiko, who joined the business in 1977 at the request of his father-in-law, hired a stable of international designers to infuse a cosmopolitan edge into the staid collection. The once exclusively Japanese creative team now includes Italian, French, and American designers. Today, dangling earrings or sexy lariats portray pearls in a fashionable light, a striking contrast to the classic strands that made Mikimoto famous. Toyohiko is also expanding Mikimoto’s global image with new stores in Milan and Monte Carlo. The company also plans to open several more in key cities in America, Europe, and Asia.
As Mikimoto’s business flourishes, it has shifted away from producing its own pearls because it is more cost-effective to purchase pearls on the open market at Japanese Akoya pearl auctions and throughout the South Seas. “It has become more efficient to buy pearls,” explains Mikimoto, “since we use only the top 10 percent of the cultured pearls that are available.”
Kokichi Mikimoto, who lived to be 96, would surely be proud of the way his pearl dream has persevered. Toyohiko says there is no pressure for his two sons to join the family business, though his 29-year-old recently came on board. Like the family patriarch, he believes: “Everyone should pursue his own wishes.”
Mikimoto, 888.701.2323, www.mikimotoamerica.com
Torrini marks its evolution in centuries, not decades.
The House of Torrini has been in the same Italian family for over 600 years, making the jeweler one of Italy’s most revered and historic treasures. Founded in 1369 as a blacksmith shop that forged armor for the knights of the day, Torrini evolved into a goldsmith that prospered throughout the Renaissance era and beyond.
Its historical standing qualifies Torrini as a member of the prestigious Les Hénokiens, an association of international companies that are at least 200 years old and still managed by the original founder’s descendants. Naturally, Fabrizio Torrini, who represents the founding family’s 25th generation, felt pressure to join the business and carry on its legacy. “This is not just a company, it’s a family heritage,” says the handsome 40-year-old, who works with his father, Franco, and sister, Francesca.
Despite its impressive lineage, Torrini is a low-profile jeweler that prefers to keep its business small and exclusive. It operates Torrini boutiques in Florence and Sardinia and sells to only 30 other jewelry stores worldwide. In its small Florence workshop, the jewelry is still made entirely by hand, employing some techniques that date to the Middle Ages. “Our mission is to keep an eye on the past but also look to the future,” says Torrini. One thing that has remained the same through six centuries is the company’s trademark insignia: half of a four-leaf clover for luck and a spur to represent its blacksmithing origins.
Some of Torrini’s goldsmithing techniques are family secrets that will never be revealed. Most of its designs are inspired by the tradition of Florentine goldsmiths, who hammer, emboss, and chisel the metal to create a subtle texture. After hours and sometimes days of tedious handwork, each piece is dipped in “Cellinian Water,” which is made from a secret formula and used to enhance the texture and gold color. Next, each piece is polished with a pure cotton brush, and then some are set with diamonds or colored gemstones.
Even Torrini’s contemporary and bold jewelry styles echo the past with their distinctive finish and gold hues. While change is slow at Torrini, Fabrizio still insists his generation is more daring than his ancestors. “We want Torrini to last several more generations, and we need to keep creating new designs to survive.”
Torrini, +39.055.209431, www.torrini.it
Wellendorff carries on a symbolic legacy.
Ernst Alexander Wellendorff recognized the power of an identifiable status symbol even back in 1893, when he established his company. This prominent German goldsmith, who catered to European royalty, decided to mark each of his pieces with a diamond-studded W. Today, Wellendorff jewelry still bears its diamond W, which is now a familiar luxury logo among Germany’s elite.
Twenty-five years ago, Wellendorff introduced its revolutionary gold silk rope design, which quickly became the company’s signature design. The soft, smooth gold rope necklace is made from an 18-karat gold wire that is the length of two football fields and is hand-woven and twisted in a process that can require four weeks of labor.
“We are specialists in 18-karat gold just as our great-grandfather was,” says Christoph Wellendorff, who works alongside his parents, brother, and sister-in-law at the company’s headquarters in Pforzheim. They closely guard the familial name and business, and strive to maintain its original values. “We are a vertical company, which means we design, mix our gold alloys, manufacture, and polish each piece of jewelry under the control of our own workshop,” he says. “That is the secret to our success.”
While the family prides itself on carrying on tradition, it is also keenly aware of the need to stay fashionable and fresh. “Jewelry should be full of energy and fun,” declares Christoph, who designed the company’s first enamel pieces as a gift for his wife 10 years ago. Now, each year, new enamel colors are introduced to complement the latest trends in fashion.
“As a child, I always dreamed of joining the family business because I have a love of jewelry and gemstones,” he says. When it comes to his own three small children, he wants to give them freedom to make their own decisions. Even so, his 6-year-old son has already memorized numerous gemstone names and colors.
Wellendorff, +49.7231.284010, www.wellendorff.com
Feature: Singular Sensations
Only one. That is the essence of a masterpiece. A celebrated painting or sculpture can surely be copied, but those reproductions can never quite capture the precise aura of the original. Even the artist who rendered the first cannot duplicate a work of art exactly. In fine jewelry, nature, more than anything else, dictates whether a piece can be reproduced—there is no guaranteed supply of truly extraordinary natural gemstones. For this reason, a jewelry designer recognizes that an exceptional stone requires exceptional treatment, because he or she may never again see another with the same characteristics. When a stone is not the centerpiece, technique steps into the spotlight. A designer who specializes in intricate metalwork may create a pièce de résistance that expresses the true height of the craft. But the investment in time and talent required for such a creation prohibits their reproduction. Ultimately, jewelry can attain the allure of high art only when it exhibits the thrilling combination of a spectacular one-of-a-kind stone, finely manipulated metal, and an artist’s inspired vision.