The Big Idea: Precious Metal
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.
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.
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.
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.
Designer: Ana Khouri
With curvaceous silhouettes that look compelling from every angle, Ana Khouri’s jewelry resembles sculpture. And it’s no accident: The discipline was her focus before she launched her namesake collection in 2013. Since then, she has applied her artistic grounding to develop a design vocabulary that is minimalist in tone but doesn’t go without embellishment.
Pieces from her Harmony line include wide, softly rounded cuffs—with or without diamonds—that climb and embrace the ear, a bangle bracelet peppered in pavé-set stones that trails a looping length of chain and an arcing collar necklace in diamonds, dangling two luscious drops of vivid Paraiba tourmaline. Khouri’s work exhibits a range that appeals to a broad set of sensibilities, from relatively understated rings that women with a little flair would feel comfortable wearing in professional settings to a headpiece set with diamonds and emeralds more likely to resonate with those of a more whimsical bent.
Shopping Experience: Graff, Paris
Paris is replete with bucket-list destinations. And for fans of spectacular jewelry, the city’s new Graff flagship boutique, on rue Saint-Honoré just a few paces from Place Vendôme, may well become another. Designed by Peter Marino, the space inspires instant awe with its grand proportions and artistic flourishes, beginning with the bronze Jean Arp sculpture—a piece from Laurence Graff ’s private art collection—that greets visitors to the main salon.
Discrete zones have been tailored to different client experiences. Light floods the Bridal Room, illuminating the solitaires that reside in a round vitrine with faceted accents. For the first time in the brand’s history, Graff’s most extraordinary jewels from the founder’s private safe are on display, in a room called the Treasury, bedecked with peacock feathers. And should one of those rarities inspire an impulse to buy, there’s a private VIP salon for up-close inspection of prospective purchases.
The Next Wave: Men in Gems
Appreciation for jewelry has always been an equal-opportunity affair, but recently more men have embraced the chance to adorn themselves in finery beyond conventional watches and cuff links. Take, for example, solo artist and One Direction alum Harry Styles, who’s been known to don a pearl choker or earring when the mood strikes.
Jewelers have expanded their offerings accordingly. At Tiffany & Co., for the first time in recent history, pieces created expressly for men were among the high-jewelry treasures in its famous Blue Book. The assortment included signet rings framing precious stones—emerald, ruby, sapphire, diamond—in streamlined designs that are equally suited to black tie and casual wear. David Yurman devoted an entire floor of its new East 57th Street flagship in New York to the chains, pendants, rings and other men’s jewelry designed by chief creative officer Evan Yurman. And for its first foray into fine jewelry, Rei Kawakubo’s avant-garde fashion house, Comme des Garçons, teamed with Mikimoto to create a unisex capsule of seven necklaces in sterling silver and Akoya or South Sea pearls that are aimed at anyone who has a taste for exceptional gems with a runway-worthy pedigree.
Diamond: The Sewelô
Louis Vuitton is about to make its mark on the second-largest rough diamond ever discovered. In April 2019, in Botswana, the Canadian mining company Lucara Diamond unearthed the 1,758-carat Sewelô, a stone about the size of a tennis ball. Through a partnership with Lucara and Belgian diamond cutters HB Company, Vuitton aims to offer diamonds from the historic stone to a select group of clients.
The fashion house plans to cut made-to-order diamonds in its signature motifs—its monogram, star and rounded flower—in the client’s choice of size and style, such as earrings or a pendant. Additionally, customers will be able to commission cut diamonds in the shapes they desire and participate in the process of realizing their visions from start to finish. It’s the ultimate bespoke jewelry experience, with dia- monds that can be traced directly from their original mine to Louis Vuitton’s Place Vendôme workshops to their eventual owners.
Anniversary Milestone: Fabio Salini
Titanium, leather and silk may sound like unlikely elements for high-end jewelry, but they’re among the ingredients—teamed with diamonds, pearls and colored gemstones—that have captivated Rome-based designer Fabio Salini as he has built his singular brand. His unexpected pairings often look like far-out creations just arrived from the future.
This year, Salini is celebrating two decades of creating some of the world’s most striking jewelry creations, a defining moment that will be marked by an exhibition at Phillips auction house in New York City. Though originally scheduled for March, the event was postponed and will likely take place later this year. While the exact date is still pending, the exhibit will be one of the must-see jewelry events of the year. The chance to view the breadth of materials—traditional and not—that have captured his imagination since he founded his eponymous studio, all under one roof, is rare. The portfolio includes a bracelet in green titanium holding aloft tourmaline baguettes in a matching hue, the soft luster of pearls as a striking foil for matte black carbon fiber in cuffs and bib necklaces and shapely hoop earrings in nubby straw complemented by gold and diamonds. His capacity for invention is immense. So is the anticipation of the work he’ll create in decades to come.
Engagement Rings: Jessica McCormack
Jessica McCormack’s jewelry—a collection that focuses on diamonds along with gemstones that provide flashes of precious color—fuses a Georgian-style stone setting with a contemporary sensibility. “I have always loved antique jewelry—the romanticism of the design and the integrity of the craftsmanship,” she says. “When it comes to designing our own collections, I try to interweave traditional techniques with a modern edge.”
In an art-filled townhouse in London’s Mayfair, McCormack applies those principles to a portfolio of engagement designs ranging from naïve florals to crisp geometrics and personally designs a limited number of bespoke pieces each year. Among the most popular of those commissions are her “party jackets,” festive, large-scale, removable rings that frame heirloom or engagement rings for women who crave a bit more versatility. McCormack’s designs extend beyond rings, with classic diamond drop earrings, studs and rivière necklaces that are just right for wedding-day jewelry—and afterward, too.
Vintage Jewelry: Siegelson
Like some of the jewelry offered from its private New York City gallery, Siegelson has achieved hard-won antique status: The company celebrates its centennial this year. Meanwhile, Lee Siegelson, the third generation to steward the family-owned business, keeps his expert curatorial eye trained on the future. Specifically, the mission is to find and, equally important, tell the story of the next masterpiece he’ll add to the collection. His exacting standards have made him an indispensable resource that draws the most sophisticated of collectors, including museums. “I am looking for the rare and extraordinary, a piece so beautiful and well-constructed that when you hold it in your hand, you cannot let it go,” says Siegelson.
Undoubtedly, it was difficult for Siegelson to part with two of the acclaimed pieces he sold last year: a 1937 Boivin ruby-and-amethyst starfish brooch that once belonged to actress Claudette Colbert, which he placed in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and a 1935 aquamarine-and-ruby belt necklace designed by Fulco di Verdura for the New York jeweler Paul Flato, snapped up by actress Jennifer Tilly. Of course, the entire vintage business is grounded in unearthing buried treasure. “I deal in pieces that may only come up for sale once in a lifetime,” says Siegelson, “if that.”
Multibrand Retailer: The Vault at Saks Fifth Avenue
New York City is awash with jewelry boutiques, but Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship now offers a shortcut to discovering something irresistible, thanks to a stellar curation from an array of designers all in one spot. As part of a $250 million total renovation, the fabled specialty store has transformed its lower level into the Vault, a 12,000-square-foot gem-lovers’ wonderland accessed by way of a gleaming, iridescent escalator designed by Rem Koolhaas.
Much of the selection consists of limited editions and one-offs, such as a Lorraine Schwartz necklace set with a black opal the size of a robin’s egg or Repossi rings featuring fancy shapes and vivid yellow diamonds. In total, more than 25 brands are represented, including the largest selection of men’s watches Saks has ever offered, with a roster of prestige names that include IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Montblanc.
The perks of shopping in the Vault extend beyond its standout wares. There are rooms for private consultations and a lounge and multilingual concierge service for international clients. And when an in-person visit isn’t possible, monthly online trunk shows can offer retail therapy from afar.
Red-Carpet Trend: Diamond Collars
It sure seemed as though most Oscars-bound actresses got the memo: A diamond necklace—don’t leave home without one. But ubiquitous though they were at this year’s Academy Awards, the jewels didn’t look monotonous in the least. In fact, the variety on display revealed the versatility and adaptability of the style. Zazie Beetz wore two diamond Bulgari high-jewelry necklaces (pictured) in a maximalist counterpoint to her strapless black dress; Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s simple slip gained gravity with the addition of a shapely diamond strand from Harry Winston, and Gal Gadot wore her Tiffany & Co. necklace layered over the high neckline of her Givenchy gown. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong by following the lead of ingénue Camila Morrone, who arrived in a sweet and simple rivière from Tiffany. The ease of a straightforward string of diamonds made the case that just about every jewelry wardrobe should have one.
Auction: Christie’s Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence
The collection of Indian and Mughal jewelry and objects of the Qatari Al Thani family is widely considered the finest of its kind, spanning output from 17th-century royal courts to 20th-century French maisons influenced by Indian design. When word came that some of its most special objects would hit the block at Christie’s, the “auction of the century” buzz began immediately.
The sale didn’t disappoint. Highlights among the nearly 400 lots included the Mirror of Paradise, a D-color internally flawless diamond of 52.58 carats; items from contemporary masters JAR and Bhagat; and the top lot of the sale, a Belle Époque diamond devant-de-corsage brooch by Cartier, which sold for $10,603,500.
Exceptional in terms of its breadth and grandeur, the record-breaking, 12-hour auction left a trail of staggering figures in its wake: Three world auction records were set for Indian works of art; 29 lots achieved over $1 million each; registered bidders hailed from 45 countries; and the final tally topped $109 million. It was the second-highest-grossing auction of a private jewelry collection ever and came close to matching that other auction of the century, of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry, which brought in just shy of $116 million in 2011.
One to Watch: Loren Nicole
She’s one of contemporary jewelry’s newest stars, but Loren Teetelli, the designer behind Loren Nicole, has her sights trained on the past—the very distant past. The former archaeologist, who also worked as a conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has maintained a fascination with bygone cultures since launching her company in Southern California in 2016. Even as she has set a course of creating new artifacts, her work is firmly rooted in exploring motifs and methods drawn from antiquity. “I want to help keep a record of ancient jewelry-making techniques, so we won’t lose this knowledge,” she says.
Favoring Fairmined 22-karat yellow gold that resembles the alloys used by ancient craftsmen, Teetelli produces work much the way it was made millennia ago—without electricity and entirely by hand. Intricately woven chains, finely executed granulation and hammered surfaces have a warmth and texture that immediately convey the painstaking labor that goes into their creation.
Her most recent collection, Nebu, looks to ancient Egypt. Amulet rings topped with animal-shaped gem carvings represent a cast of deities: A golden beryl frog is a totem of Heket, goddess of magic and protector of mothers and children, while a lavender chalcedony goose embodies Geb, protector of the Earth. Pendant earrings borrow a melon motif from a famous 21st-dynasty necklace, and a gold cuff with the hammered and embossed relief of a crocodile is a nod to the Nile.
Teetelli’s objective is to create a dialogue between past and present, finding in that conversation a modern interpretation of the elements that lend her inspiration. “I am not interested in creating replicas,” she says. “My goal is to capture the spirit of ancient civilizations by working in their techniques, with their materials, and understanding what was important to them.”
The Big Deal: LVMH Buys Tiffany & Co.
LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the largest luxury-goods company in the world, stood poised to add a remarkable jewel to its crown when it reached an agreement in November to acquire Tiffany & Co. With a purchase price exceeding $16 billion, the transaction, which is expected to close this summer, was the largest ever in the luxury market.
The deal is widely viewed as a colossal win for both parties: Tiffany, which had been one of the last major independent jewelry brands, will gain access to LVMH’s financial and strategic might to proceed with an image update and build a bigger presence in regions where it has room to grow, especially Europe and China, while the French conglomerate will be able to expand its foothold beyond fashion to the jewelry and watch categories. Expect to see more blue boxes, and sparkling new product offerings within, popping up the world over.