High jewelry is serious business, but a new generation of bold designers are infusing a sense of whimsy, innovation, and flair into once-staid statement pieces. The most intriguing figures emerging on the jewelry scene include two young New Yorkers, a third-generation Venetian jeweler, and an inventive Milanese designer. Their fresh creative perspectives and unwavering commitment to heirloom quality place these gentlemen at the top of our list of designers to watch in the coming year.
Scavia: Mutifaceted Magnificence
Milanese jewelry designer Fulvio Maria Scavia is a true Renaissance man. Aside from being an accomplished gemologist, stonecutter, and designer, he has a Ph.D. in physics and studies philosophy and science. “If you are a man of culture,” he says, “then you must pursue many interests.”
For the past decade, Scavia has been focused on forging a dramatic new jewelry technique that sets brilliant gemstones and diamonds within clear crystal to create a voluminous play on color. Having refined his innovative method, he is intently working on new designs for 2003 that will maximize the visual impact of the technique.
Each piece is handmade in Scavia’s ateliers in Milan and Valencia, where uniquely cut aquamarines, amethysts, sapphires, and rubies are set inside large crystals. One elaborate necklace can require as many as 400 hours of labor to create.
“There are three characteristics present in all my designs: innovation, technical perfection, and joyfulness,” says Scavia, whose mother and grandfather were also jewelers. “Above all, jewelry should make a woman feel joyful.”
Taffin: Private Enterprise
Although James Taffin de Givenchy has received numerous offers to sell his jewelry designs to some of the world’s top boutiques, this 38-year-old, a nephew of the legendary fashion designer, prefers to work directly with his private clients, annually creating a modest number of one-of-a-kind pieces.
“I like the intimacy of a private salon,” says de Givenchy, whose 2-year-old Taffin showroom on Madison Avenue resembles an elegant living room more than a traditional jewelry boutique.
De Givenchy, a former director of Christie’s fine jewelry department in Los Angeles, had been a well-kept secret among his elite European and American clients, until word of his eye for gemstones, his great sense of style, and his impeccable attention to detail began to spread.
“Typically, I build a design around an exceptional gemstone,” he explains. “Along the way, a piece develops its own personality and charm.” One of his latest designs, a 45-carat vibrant peridot floral brooch with Mississippi pearl petals, appears as if it is blooming before your eyes.
De Givenchy is already setting aside rare stones for next year’s collection, which he says will feature orange-red gems and exceptional pearls. Among his most significant recent acquisitions is a 100- carat, untreated cushion-cut yellow sapphire that is surely destined for greatness.
Nicholas Varney: A Matter of Taste
“You can’t acquire or learn taste,” says Nicholas Varney. “It’s something you are born with, and it’s not good or bad, it’s simply yours.” Varney’s early exposure to the world of design, however, helped define his own taste for luxury. The boyish 30-year-old American grew up traveling the world, from London to Moscow to Palm Beach. His father, Carleton Varney, is a well-known interior designer, and his mother, Suzanne Varney, is an established fabric designer.
In his early 20s, Varney left for Italy to earn a degree at the Gemological Institute of America in Vicenza. Soon after, he began creating one-of-a-kind pieces for private clients, and just this year he landed a case in Bergdorf Goodman’s fine jewelry salon.
Varney says he strives to combine the “bravado of bold American designers such as David Webb and Tony Duquette with fine European craftsmanship.” His most lavish design is a pair of wisteria earrings featuring two 15-carat cushion-cut diamonds with detachable clusters of white and yellow diamond briolette drops, priced at $1 million. His onion bulb brooch features a rare yellow South Sea pearl bulb, and platinum and freshwater pearl shoots with accents of rainbow moonstones, tsavorites, and pavé diamonds.
In the coming year, Varney plans to experiment with unusual combinations of stones and metals, such as freshwater pearls with bronze, and Peruvian and fire opals. “My challenge is to get people to look at high jewelry in a new way,” he says. “It tends to be austere, but I want to infuse it with a sense of whimsy.”
Nardi: Venetian Class
For three generations, the Nardi family has been among Venice’s most esteemed jewelers. Located in St. Mark’s Square, Nardi is the destination for sophisticated travelers seeking vibrant and original designs that reflect the city’s rich history, its culture, and its artful gold craftsmanship.
Recently, the jeweler opened a private salon on Fifth Avenue to cater to its American clients. “It was a dream of mine to open a New York showroom,” says 35-year-old Alberto Nardi, whose grandfather, Giulio, founded the business.
The younger Nardi is learning the family design philosophy from his father, Sergio. Alberto’s influence will be apparent in next year’s pieces that feature rare fancy-colored diamonds, brilliant precious gemstones, and modern interpretations of the jeweler’s signature Blackamoor figures, which depict the jeweled Moor of Venice in Shakespeare’s Othello. The Blackamoors—made of ebony or jet and decorated with a golden turban and gemstones—command top dollar at jewelry auctions around the world.
Like the Blackamoor, Nardi’s other designs are inspired by Venetian tradition, employing coral, pearls, enamel, and colorful gemstones. “Living and working in Venice, it’s easy to find inspiration for jewelry,” says Alberto. “All you have to do is open your eyes to the art, culture, and beauty of this city.”