Kate Moss came straight from the airport, so you are not the only one,” said Ara Vartanian as I arrived at his top-floor São Paolo studio, with its precious stones, striking jewelry and – when the Brazilian designer flung open a door – its 30 workers in a room looking over the tree-filled city.
Now Kate and her friend Naomi Campbell no longer have to go to Brazil to track down a piece by Ara.
“Ara Vartanian” is written discreetly above the door of his London store, where textures of Brazilian stone and wood offset the sparkle of two-finger double rings and gems that snake around ear lobes. Open since the late summer in Bruton Street, a small road off Berkeley Square, it is housed in the former garage of advertising magnate Maurice Saatchi. Now his many customers from across Europe can visit to take advantage of the “Brexit” fluctuation of the pound sterling and save up to 30 per cent.
From this week, there is yet another London destination as Harvey Nichols opens its re-furnished jewelry rooms with Ara Vartanian in prime position. He joins Annoushka, Marco Bicego, Talisman Gallery and six other forward-thinking jewellers to give accessories in the Knightsbridge store a more contemporary, cool, and innovative touch.
But in spite of these international adventures, this Brazilian jeweler’s heart is on one thing: the stones and how to set them.
“In practically everything that you see, the stone comes first,” said Ara, who had nuggets of amethyst, emerald, sapphire and tourmaline laid neatly on his desk in his São Paulo design space.
“I put this in front of me and ask, ‘What am I going to do with this stone? A pendant? A ring? Or a one-side earring?’” he explains. “It depends on how I feel at that particular moment, because every day is different, everything is handmade – I can explore and not do repeat pieces. It is important for me to give a jewel an ingenious design. If I am free to explore, explore, explore – it sometimes goes Boom!”
I ask Ara about the emerald earrings that are hanging like ripe fruit from their narrow top; and enquire about the pair of grass-green oval stones, laid flat in his palm as we circle the workroom.
“It’s a pear shape – there don’t have to be too many ingredients; just a few that are cooked right,” the jewelry says, explaining over lunch the fastidious care he takes not just in how the jewelry is made, but with its provenance and composition, using software developed for future identification of each major stone.
As I look around, this office-come-workshop gives the impression of a stylish living room, with its eclectic collection of objects and furnishings. They are primarily Mid-Century Modern designs of wooden yachts or boat-shaped sofas that have stood the test of time. Or, as Ara puts it, “back in the days that you knew that things were made to last”.
While working on the singularities of each stone and accepting their individuality, Ara also has some signature pieces, as such the “Octopus” and “Shark” rings, and more particularly his concept of turning diamonds upside down or using a hook fastening to spread the weight of dramatically placed stones in one earring.
Back in London, I felt in the new store a strong and deliberate sense of Brazil in the jeweler’s choice of materials for the interior. There was the curve of corrugated stone in the entry area and more concrete worked like wood panels at the back of the display windows. Both reminded me of the architecture of Brasilia. There was also a sense of raw nature in a table designed by Ara in collaboration with São Paulo-based artist Hugo Franca, known for his “Furniture Sculptures” made from wood salvaged from forest fires and logging runs.
This table top – a fine example of the “raw and refined” inspiration of the jewelry – is 1,000 years old. A little younger (but by now “historic”) is Ara’s collection of vinyl and a record player to listen to it.
But it is the jewelry that makes the strongest impression: the double-finger ring with a spiky surface, as seen in Ara’s own biker look; the “Whip” earring with articulated joints; and, grinning like the mouth of a skull, the “Shark” rings, which he sees as the entry point to his collection (from £1,600 to £2,800).
The jewels are strategically displayed beside chunks of semi-precious stone that glimmer through the glass cabinets.
With Kate Moss as unofficial promoter ever since she wore his emerald earrings at an amfAR event in Brazil in 2016, and with the spread of his name and his jewels through Harvey Nichols, Ara seems to be moving forward at cosmic speed. This must be why the window display of the London store is decorated with astronauts – and the fact that he doesn’t have any store windows to dress in his São Paulo studio.
“In Bruton Place, guys going to the pub down the road suddenly see my window and I plant a seed in the guy’s head,” Ara says. “I wanted to do something that would be enjoyable for them to see – a window of communication.”