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Why the Best Jewelry Isn’t Afraid to Implement the Unconventional

Everything from malachite to citrine to wood is fair game for top jewelers.

best. ofthe best jewelry illustration Illustration by Mathilde Crétier

The Big Idea: Precious Metal

Cartier 18k yellow gold, one 15.48-carat octagonal yellow sapphire, lapis lazuli, and diamond necklace

Cartier 18-karat yellow gold, sapphire, lapis lazuli, and diamond necklace  Courtesy of Cartier

For the most imaginative of jewelry designers, inspiration is no longer confined to traditional materials: gold, platinum, diamonds and such. Even big-name high-jewelry collections have recently begun to dive deeper into the universe of options beyond the precious gems and metals that usually dominate the category. Case in point: Cartier employed rutilated quartz, matrix opal and lapis lazuli—stones not often seen in vaunted high-jewelry salons—for pieces in its Magnitude collection. Their presence alongside sapphires and diamonds gave depth and contrast to the jewels’ expressive multicolored palette.

Boucheron Taille Émeraude Taille bracelet set with a 43-46 ct emerald-cut heliodor beryl and rock crystal paved with diamonds on yellow gold

Boucheron Taille Émeraude Taille bracelet set with a 43-46 ct emerald-cut heliodor beryl and rock crystal paved with diamonds on yellow gold  Courtesy of Boucheron

Likewise, at fellow French heritage brand Boucheron, stones such as malachite, citrine and heliodor beryl were the stars of several high-jewelry designs, rather than supporting players. And at Messika, plume-shaped motifs made of ziricote wood became the backdrop for cascades of fancy cut diamonds.

Messika Black Hawk Necklace in Ziricote wood and diamonds

Messika Black Hawk Necklace in Ziricote wood and diamonds  Courtesy of Messika

Why the sudden rush to explore unconventional materials? For one thing, the industry’s most directional designers derive their creative mojo from challenging the status quo. For another, such unexpected combinations are likely to resonate with the rising number of jewelry clients seeking pieces that are both singular and subtle. In an age of global everything, luxury aficionados distinguish themselves with objects you can’t find on every street corner—or in every jewelry salon. Plus, a liberal approach to injecting unusual materials into designs appeals to both seasoned jewelry connoisseurs with the confidence to dispense with tradition and newer collectors who’ve never felt confined by the expectations of old.

Taffin Colombian emerald and chili pepper red ceramic earrrings

Taffin Colombian emerald and chili pepper red ceramic earrrings 

James de Givenchy’s label, Taffin, ticks all the boxes. He is a master of head-turning combinations. Glass and spinel, steel and diamonds, wood and emeralds all mix freely in his collection of one-off wonders. He pioneered the use of ceramic in fine jewelry and applies it variously in pop-art blocks of color or muted camouflage patterns. The novelty of the material initially was part of its allure for Givenchy. “Ceramic was not used in jewelry when I started working with it, and it was the ‘new’ that attracted me,” he said. “The material allows me to give a very modern, but timeless, spin to jewelry.” The results are uniformly daring, playful and highly sought-after, because in jewelry, as in any creative endeavor, an original vision and the skill to realize it are the rarest and most valuable materials of all.

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