Having searched the depths of the earth for stones, high jewelry’s next frontier is inspired by space.
This past summer, the Emirates Mars Mission launched its Hope Probe into space. It is currently making its way through the solar system, to study planet Mars. At the time of launch, one could almost hear a collective prayer, a wish to somehow be transported to that probe and leave Earth’s human-inflicted illnesses – pandemics, famine, war, climate change, racial hatred, and cancel culture – behind. In Paris’s Place Vendôme, considered by many to be the beating heart of the high jewelry world, one woman has long toiled to bring a piece of the sky and all the hope it represents, to earth. While poetic, it is ultimately a scientific discovery, and one that bravely dips the high jewelry industry further into unchartered waters.
Boucheron creative director Claire Choisne’s eyes smile like the cat who caught the cream. Before her is a high jewelry collection of 67 pieces, and within it, is one set like no other. Ahead of the showcase, she unveils a velvet tray; on it quivers what appears like blue-hued cotton candy – a substance as light as a feather that is 99.8% composed of air and silica. Developed by Nasa, it is traditionally used to clean stardust off windows in space. It seems to capture the sky’s soft light and emits a glow; some fragments crumble off as it is passed around. The emotion of handling such rare and delicate matter – out of reach for the majority of us earthlings – is palpable in the voices that hush about the gilded room. A new tray emerges and the matter is transformed once again, this time ensconced in rock crystal and dangling from a pavé diamond choker.
A few heavily guarded doors over, inside the newly renovated maison Chaumet, a high jewelry collection three years in the making explores themes denoting architecture. Chaumet CEO Jean-Marc Mansvelt expresses that this new collection pushes the limits of the maison beyond its 240-year history and its four key skills, among them the signature fil couteau technique, the transformable nature of the jewelry, the work with the gemstones, its colors, and goldwork. One necklace takes all pillars of virtuosity to new heights. The Skyline necklace juts downwards – one part gold hammered and the other part featuring piercing techniques – to meet at a deep green, 16ct, pear-shaped emerald. Next, Chaumet unveils an asscher-cut diamond ring of spectacular rarity. This D FL type IIa diamond – the highest grade of diamond rating – weighs a formidable 7.34ct. It is not its weight or cut that makes for its rarity; rather, the diamond is chemically flawless, with no nitrogen inside the stone, which is composed of 100% carbon atoms.
Velvet trays, physics, and chemistry aside, nothing brings high jewelry to life like a woman. A few weeks following Boucheron and Chaumet’s spectacular showcases, Aicha Hammam, the 19-year-old younger sister of Vogue Arabia cover star Imaan Hammam, arrives in Paris from Amsterdam to model this high jewelry shoot. The burgeoning model of Egyptian and Moroccan descent is calm and serene; irrespective that this is both her debut high jewelry and Vogue Arabia feature. In her soothing voice, she admits to having goosebumps as the pieces are revealed to her. She expresses particular interest to learn of the Nasa-Boucheron pendant while – being a proud Arab – also shows a special affinity for the high jewelry by Saudi house Nuun.
These are pieces that call to mind technical advancements in high jewelry making, such as the pavé setting. The method to secure stones without prongs was created more than 100 years ago, and with it came a wave of new forms and styles. Yet another development propelled the industry forward when pocket watches were increasingly replaced with wristwatches, first fueled by the operational needs of military pilots. On the customer side, technology has advanced the industry further, allowing for high jewelry to be purchased over the internet with jewels in the hundreds of thousands of dollars being sold over WhatsApp. Remarkably, Net-a-Porter sold a full pavé limited-edition Panthère de Cartier watch for US $137 500 via the messaging app. It continues to report surges in online sales of watches by the likes of Cartier and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Storied Italian house Bulgari is selling its full range of fine jewelry online and has even implemented a dedicated UAE site. Jewelry consultant Sheikha Dana Al Khalifa assures that while online shopping facilitates her and other’s fast-paced lifestyles, it is the human behind the virtual screen that makes any online experience personal and trustworthy. Perhaps the only recent innovation that has experienced measured success is the emergence of artificial diamonds and manmade pearls. Resonating with the times, authenticity in high jewelry, whether it be on the side of innovation or surface beauty, is essential.
As Hammam confidently poses in various high jewelry pieces, Moroccan hairstylist Ilham Mestour, who has known the young model for years, comments of her journey, “I tell her to stay true to herself and to believe in herself, because the chances are coming. I want her to enjoy the path to success.”
While focused on maintaining her center, Hammam later humbly reveals that she wholly enjoys the transformation that fashion can afford. “I can be anyone and that is so powerful; it inspires me,” she says. As the team studies the photos as they appear on the computer screen, everything from Hammam’s soulful essence to the jewels that rest against her skin evoke a powerful message – the future is here.
Originally published in the October 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia