Blasts from the past

© Written by Rachael Taylor for JFW

The recent launch of Coco Crush was revolutionary. It wasn’t the engraved quilting or the scalloped edges that made it so but the deployment of the ring and cuff collection, because this was the first time Chanel had ever sold its fine jewellery online.

For those of us with long-standing accounts with Net-a-Porter, through which Coco Crush launched exclusively in April, it is tempting to scoff at this statement, but the truth is that the world of luxury jewellery simply does not move as fast as fashion. But, as the Chanel launch shows, change is afoot and a closer look at the world of fine jewels reveals no shortage of innovation.

At the bench, jewellers have been working hard to make a very traditional accessory fresh and appealing for today’s consumers, who crave newness over safe investments. One approach to sating this appetite is to incorporate unorthodox materials, flexing the rules of fine jewellery design.

In New York, Rachael Sarc has been doing just this by following in the footsteps of European jewellery houses Boucheron and Hemmerle by working with meteorite – silvery slabs with a scratched appearance created by the interlocking crystal structure of iron and nickel that nods to its violent journey to earth. “I loved the idea of outer space colliding with Earth’s elements, so I chose to set the meteorite with diamond pavé and suspended the slabs from Andamooka opal beads to create a necklace,” says the brand’s founder and designer Rachael Clark.

Other weird and wonderful materials include scarab beetle wings decorating earrings and rings at Bibi van der Velden, smooth cabochons of mammoth tusk on rose gold rings at deGrisogono, and diamond-set titanium cuffs and pendants at Greek fine jewellery brand Ileana Makri.

Yoko London has taken to the seas in its quest for newness and uncovered a brand new colour of pearl. The intensely lustrous pinkish-purple pearl, named Radiant Orchid, was created by crossbreeding two types of oysters in Lake Biwa in Japan, and Yoko London chief executive

Michael Hakimian says it has captured the imaginations of pearl collectors who previously thought they had everything. “To create something that hasn’t been created before, excite someone who has everything, that’s the brief,” he says. “We are overflowing at the moment with new ideas and new ways of wearing pearls.”

While it has a nautical theme, Shawish’s latest nod to innovation is very much man made. The Genevan jewellery house is known for its pioneering spirit – in 2012 it presented the world’s first ring crafted entirely from a single 150ct diamond, which won it a place in the Guinness Book of World Records – and it is now experimenting with high jewellery technology.

By day, its creation The Octopus is a wonderfully creative rose gold cuff covered with diamond pavé and set with a pale pink pearl, but by night its wearer can turn up the drama by controlling lights within the cuff to make it emit light and colour from beneath the stones. “This is changing the rules of the game,” says Shawish founder and designer Mohamed Shawesh. “Instead of the diamonds reflecting light, the light is coming out of the diamonds.”

The introduction of such technology to fine jewellery is certainly radical, but, in an ironic twist, perhaps the most exciting examples of innovation in jewellery right now have their roots in ancient goldsmithing traditions.

Stephen Webster’s latest collection Gold Struck is inspired by an exhibition held in London last year dedicated to The Cheapside Hoard, a treasure trove of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewellery found buried underneath the floor of a building and accidentally unearthed by workmen in 1912. Webster’s homage to this find are jewels with a tumble of coloured gemstones set using an old technique from the Cheapside Hoard era called rub over, which folds gems into gold rather than using modern claw settings. “Over my almost four decades as a goldsmith I have explored almost all possible techniques,” says Webster, explaining that rub-over settings captured his imagination for the edge of newness that this very old technique could bring to designs of today.

Hand-carved gemstones are another technique making a comeback, and at Rock Vault, London Fashion Week’s dedicated fine jewellery space, both Alice Cicolini and Melanie Georgacopoulos presented collections with gems artfully altered by hand. Cicolini presented Summer Snow, a floral-inspired collection that sets hand-carved rose quartz, rock crystal and green amethyst blooms with traditionally faceted diamond and tourmaline buds, while Georgacopoulos has developed a signature style by faceting pearls to make them look like diamonds.

While all these jewels have been realised using techniques that have been employed by master craftsmen for centuries, what is important is that they feel brand new and exciting to jewellery shoppers. Even Chanel’s pioneering fine jewellery move has its roots in the past, with Coco Crush taking its cue from the brand’s classic quilted handbags, which were first designed in the 1920s.

By its very nature, jewellery craftsmanship will always remain firmly entwined with its history, but in a world where technology and precision manufacturing are dominant, the charm of something made by hand seems very fresh indeed.

This feature was originally published in the Summer 2015 edition of JFW

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