With mechanics, three-dimensional shapes and stones faceted to ripple like water, high jewelry has moved from closeted boudoir to the open air, says Suzy Menkes
It had seemed that high jewelry could not go much higher. But while the quality of stones and workmanship remains as dazzling and detailed as ever, the inspiration now tends to come from nature and the open air.
The haute joaillerie presentations – in tandem with haute couture – is a chance for high-end jewelers to show their goods to international clients. The fact that some of these pieces sell out on sight proves the importance of these early offerings.
What was the message? Nature was the subject that the jewelry makers were nurturing. But imaginative design can make stones and settings seem much more vivid than the sum of their parts.
Piaget: Sunlight Journey
The words tell the story. When the Swiss house of Piaget presented its new collection at London’s Harrods this week (until August 17), it celebrated the collection’s spirit in its title: Sunlight Journey.
All the names given to Piaget jewelry expressed openness and light. A Sand Waves ring in pink gold set with a cushion-cut diamond; Blue Marina earrings set with tourmaline; and the same name for a necklace in white gold set with tanzanite. A Sunburst necklace lived up to its name in white gold set with a pear-shaped yellow diamond.
The link that brought the collection together was color, subtly graded in shades of red spinel and as a cushion-cut yellow diamond set against red, pink, and yellow gold. The overall effect, as in the Sunlight Journey ring, is of golden beams pouring over the jewels.
An alternative vision of watery blue color, using sapphires and white gold, were for jewels poetically named Sea Dance or Under the Sea, while yet another group was named after the Italian Amalfi coast region that was the overall inspiration for Piaget. The watch to remember? A face with waves of the sea swelling in blue and gold.
Chanel: Flying Cloud
A yacht named Flying Cloud, a restless woman, a search for new and distant shores. Who but Chanel would absorb the meld of sky and sea, as ocean spilled onto beach and fleeting clouds momentarily cast shadows over the sun?
Coco’s imaginary world – and especially the life on the ocean she was introduced to by the Duke of Westminster, the English aristocrat who became her lover – was the inspiration for the Chanel jewelry.
The Flying Cloud collection mastered its theme like ducks to water. The setting included a projection of blue sea-shore waves, the better to provide a backcloth for an Endless Knot necklace in 18kt white gold set with a pear-cut diamond and Indonesian cultured pearls. A bracelet with knots of yellow gold braiding or another with a sailor tattoo in diamonds underscored the originality of this jewelry with the imaginary tang of salty spray on ultra-sophisticated pieces. Let’s call it a “Resort” collection with an exceptional sparkle.
Dior: Gardens of Versailles
Up the mansion’s stairs, the hand rails draped with flowers, even in the grand setting, the Dior high jewelry message was clear: say it with flowers.
Creative director Victoire de Castellane displayed her passion for color as a violet opal gleaming at the center of a ring that fanned out into leaf green emeralds and sapphire flowers, garlanded with swirling leaves and water drops of diamonds.
“With each jewel, I wanted to rediscover the combining of nature and culture, so characteristic of Le Nôtre’s work and the park of Versailles,” said the designer, referring to the French landscape architect André Le Nôtre in the service of Louis XIV.
Most regal were the mix-and-match Bosquet de la Reine earrings, paired by the effect of a wrought-iron gate, to which clung roses or other colorful flowers; or a Hameau de la Reine ring with a flowerbed of colored stones clustered around a tourmaline “pond.”
De Castellane has always excelled at world-within-world designs in her collections for Dior high jewelry. This season, she scored not only with the painterly mix of colors, but also with the effect of a secret garden in which, as in a wild flower meadow, a cornucopia of flowers and leaves enveloped the space.
Chaumet: All the fun of the fair
A vintage fun fair – like a structure of a child’s amusement park from a century ago – was the unexpected background for Chaumet to bring out its sparkling jewels. In contrast to the ageing wooden figures of circus animals and rabbits, and a top hatted ringmaster greeting guests, the performance inside the arena was modern and sophisticated.
The jewels were worn by models who walked in and out of high-tech “curtains” inside a central, digitalized “circus tent.” Even Elie Saab’s dresses glinting and glimmering in the half light could not challenge the glitter and glamour of the classic jewelry.
Diamonds played a major role and the conjunction of ultra-modern technology with the deliberately old-fashioned circus setting and a “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” projection of the Chaumet jewelry, made for a striking combination.
Van Cleef & Arpels: Automata
The mystery of jewels in motion was unveiled in a fascinating book, Automata, at London’s Masterpiece Fair. Nick Foulkes, its author, and Nicolas Bos, Van Cleef’s President and CEO, revealed the exceptional mechanical skills, often held up as the secrets of workers in a mountain studio.
By the time I saw the Paris collection Le Secret, I understood a little more about the mysteries and games that turned an apparently white lacey bracelet to black, or made a labyrinth out of an onyx and diamond ring that changed according to its angle.
Nicolas Bos showed me the metamorphosis of a swan into a princess – a piece inspired by a poem by Alexander Pushkin. As the back of the swan with its wings of feathers is rotated, a young woman in a lace ball dress appears, as if by magic.
In lyrical words, Van Cleef suggests this poem to its clients:
“I am unique and diverse,
I am hidden and revealed,
I am the riddle and the answer.”
It would be difficult to find a more imaginative set of jewelry.
Cartier: Precious stones set the tone
Mixing diamonds and pearls is hardly new in jewelry which has, for centuries, melded the smooth round stones with the sharply cut, translucent sparkles. But Cartier has stirred the two different stones together using a watery lightness as a cascade of freshness. This jewelry story is all about a third dimension: setting stones so that diamonds swirl over clumps of sapphires; or undulate in rhythmic waves. More conventional, but still beautiful, are cushion-shaped sapphires from Kashmir, set against square-cut diamonds. This idea of mixing – but not matching – includes cushion-shaped aquamarines facing off emerald “eyes.” The overall effect is a play on nature, mixing leaves and buds or Cartier’s signature panther sitting on a grass-green base – made from a bank of aquamarines.
Repossi: Modern Woman
When Gaia Repossi started to work in the family jewelry company, there was an almost deliberate stand-off: hyper-modern designs aimed at an independent woman versus classical sparkle in a style traditionally presented to women by men.
But after making her vision as clear and clean as the metallic curves only lightly garlanded with small stones, the designer took a new direction that she described as “blending opulence with modernity.”
Under the influence of Picasso and referring to abstract shapes from Fauvism and Cubism, Gaia Repossi took that idea of opulence forward, especially in her Ode collection, where narrow bands of gold are speckled with diamonds. A ring came with intertwined circles, some of them metallic, others decorated with stones. They came under the overall name of a “technical Berbere” referring to the spice mixture used in north African cuisine.
Teardrops of emerald attached to thin strips of gold or a nest of diamonds underscored the message that the designer, although fervently attached to her architectural aesthetic, is now prepared to embrace a decorative modernity.
Who are likely clients? Judging by the dinner co-hosted with powerful French actor Isabelle Huppert and with the presence of steely elegant Delphine Arnault, Gaia Repossi is finding women who share her independent spirit.
Mellerio: An Island on the Lake
From Como to Lugano, Italy is not short of lakes and islands. But for the Mellerio family, Isola Madre, along with the other Borromean islets in the Italian part of Lake Maggiore, has long been a source of inspiration. Its botanical gardens contrast lush greenery with the intense blue water.
Translated into jewelry at the 400-year-old house, the paradise island was reflected in deep green tsavorite stones mixed with opaque green enamel inspired by Italian cypress trees.
Nuances of color in Mallerio’s traditionally subtle use of stones included the crystalline blue-washed chalcedony and pink-tinged rose gold. Each showcased the delicate skills gleaned from 14 generations of the now Paris-based jewelry family.
Louis Vuitton: The Monogram Flower
Naming a collection Conquest suggests a self-assured attitude to jewelry design. And for its new haute joaillerie collection, Louis Vuitton seized on two of its signature symbols. That meant its monogram and a V for Vuitton – or maybe victory?
The result? A bold and colorful collection with gleaming gemstones as a symbol of power. Heraldic patterns, giving a hint of the Middle Ages, suggest a mediaeval talisman. What did the bold gemstones and deep V shapes add up to? Strong women summed up by Vuitton in the French word conquete. No, not “coquette” meaning a saucy woman, but rather conquete, which is French for “conquest.” Power women, by any other name.
Dolce & Gabbana: The Leopard
A lush, plush Italian beauty played by a young Claudia Cardinale, dancing under giant chandeliers with her princely lover – all the drama and tragedy of Il Gattopardo or The Leopard was in this Sicilian mansion.
Dolce & Gabbana took the location of the 1963 Luchino Visconti movie and used it as the intensely decorative backdrop to their high jewelry collection – which they make for both women and for men.
The setting was so spectacular, would anything be able to compete with golden doors, patterned with pink flowers edged with gilded frills? Or with chandeliers so brightly lit that they illuminated the painted ceiling? Or floor tiles decorated with big cats?
But, of course! No problem for the design duo to whom rocking the baroque is a way of life.
Jewels in gold with stones set as raspberries or pineapples managed to include a luminous pearl balanced like a crown and table-cut emeralds set in a swirl of gold.
Like the elaborate Italian food once laid out for dinner at the ball, Dolce & Gabbana made their collection of jewels as juicy and succulent as ripe fruit.