The Hexagon Cuff by David Morris: the human mind envisioned it, technology made it possible, and a leap of faith was the catalyst. Time is not of the essence, prototyping is key
To set fancy shaped diamonds is in itself a difficult task. To make a piece flexible requires additional skills, especially if the flexibility is transversal, not just one-directional.
First conceived two years and a half ago, the Hexagon Cuff by David Morris, the London jeweler, has just recently been unveiled to a select audience — first exclusively to private clients, then to the international press during Paris Couture Week. In terms of timeline, it took longer to achieve this compact piece than to make a movie or to build a home. And as happens with any feat, the complexity of the Hexagon Cuff is not readily apparent: a domed, entirely diamond-paved wrist ornament, whose prime attribute is the use of hexagonally-cut diamonds in the centre.
What went into making the Hexagon Cuff? What did it take to succeed? I sat with David Morris’s senior designer, Devyn Downing. «High Jewellery pieces include rare or unusual gemstones. This is the case for the Hexagon Cuff», Downing shares. «Jeremy Morris, our CEO and Creative Director, collected an excellent set of hexagon diamonds at auction and so we immediately started to brainstorm around the shape of the stone, which in this case, was distinctive. We thought that the diamonds had a lot of character, so the inspiration came from the stones themselves and the piece was built around them».
Jeremy Morris described his vision: the design had to be a modern, unique and flexible cuff that would challenge the atelier. At this stage of the interview, Downing opened his sketchbook. The spread shows a photograph of a white structure made of hexagonal, hollow components with Downing’s own interpretation sketched beside it. The sketch envisioned a cuff set with hexagonal gems that are surrounded by a warp-like paving.
«This is typical of how I work. I was mulling over the idea and exploring different forms…from the initial thought, it evolves and changes a lot in the process», he adds. «What I do is give way to a stream of consciousness drawing and then I sit with Jeremy to discuss it». Jeremy Morris liked the idea of a soft, voluminous shape that would go off to the sides. «As much as we like 3D, everything starts in the sketchbook. And I find that you get the best results when you start by hand and move to the 3D afterward», Downing says.
The hexagon shape is traditionally a symbol for harmony and balance — the idea of unison can be found permeating every step of the making process. In other words, everything fell into place at each stage, with engineering and the human hand complementing each other. Once the sketch was finalised, Downing digitally generated the design on a CAD system and then proceeded to obtain a first 3D print with the in-house printer in just two hours. He is strongly in favour of using this technology to produce prototypes since it allows the designer to fully realise what is in the sketch.
«The lovely thing about a 3D model is that you really end up with the finished piece. There are no surprises; it is exactly what it is meant to look like as per the initial script. It is bulletproof and helps avoid costly mistakes and therefore, a great tool», the senior designer says. «Besides, the best thing about 3D is that it opens your mind by helping you think in three dimensions. Suddenly you know how the 3D object is formed and you can easily rotate it in space. I find that I even have dreams about 3D. It really changes how you conceive design».
And as if to illustrate his point, the first 3D print showed a design issue. The ends on each side of the central dome shape were too narrow, creating an imbalance in proportion. Now compared to the final prototype, one can see the difference. Had they not used a 3D printer at this early stage – even though it looked fine on the drawing — they would have not been able to anticipate the problem. «When something is three-dimensional, it recedes in space. As a result, things often look bigger when they are flat than what they are in reality, so we could not spot the problem from the sketch; yet the minute we 3D-printed it, it became obvious», Downing points out. It would have been an expensive mistake had they not produced a 3D prototype first.
A revised prototype was eventually sent to the atelier, and it was at that stage that the bulk of the two and a half years was spent, notably on the goldsmithing, stone cutting and setting. Upon receiving the 3D prototype, one of the goldsmiths pulled it out of the box, then immediately placed it back inside, ready to ship it back to the design team, as he thought that it looked impossible to make.
The stone cutting then setting were crucial steps that had to be nailed first. None of the initial twenty-three antique diamonds bought at auction were retouched and those diamonds are used for the main body of the cuff – «We didn’t tamper with any of the central hexagon stones as it was very important that they maintained their integrity», Downing stresses. That said, further white diamonds had to be added to fill the rest of the structure. This is where the on-site gem cutters spent most of their time, obtaining the necessary irregular shapes as well as the few recognisable triangles in order to fit the precise marquetry.
«The irregular shapes had a lot of wastage because they are so different and are very thin. The other ones not so much, the triangles and small hexagons for example, were easy to cut. But obviously we try to reduce as much wastage as we can. But it was unavoidable for the more unusual ones», Downing says. In the end, they cut around fifty stones to be positioned around the sides to achieve a smooth gradient of shapes and sizes
Initially envisaged as an all-white diamond piece, it was again Jeremy Morris who recognised the necessity of including outlines of pink diamonds as well. The task of the master gem setter was suddenly becoming more challenging. «He felt that by framing the central white stones, they would not disappear. This is why we have used pink accents to create a halo around the main white diamonds so they would really pop out», Devyn Downing explains. There are two rings of diamonds around each hexagon, the pink gems only partly lining the inner ring. “A full pink diamond pavé would have been too overpowering, but also it would have been very expensive. For this reason, we did use only a few of the best, most intense, we call them ‘raspberry pink’ diamonds».
Once all the segments were paved, some further pink diamonds were set in between each of the hexagons. Overall the gem cutting and setting took the longest time, approximately a year. Simultaneously, further CAD investigations were undertaken to plan how to make the structure entirely flexible, one of its key attributes. As with most of DAVID MORRIS bracelets and cuffs, there are no hinges. The torsion of the piece allows the fitting. Here, the idea came about to use not just two unseen flexible metal cables – which is done in their Pirouette line – but multiple cables that crisscross the composition, a similar yet essentially different solution to the rail technique used for the Mystery Set™.
The whole making-of process culminated once every segment was finally set with stones. It was then that the goldsmith began the intricate process of assembling the structure, finishing by soldering each cable in position before a final soldering to lock the cables tightly in place. «It is definitely like a sculpture. You cut the stones, you create the armature and then you close it at the end», Devyn Downing explains.
Of course, no one could know in advance whether the CAD planning would actually work. «You have to rely on theory. A couple of months before the Hexagon Cuff was finished, when we visited the atelier, the goldsmith had all the individual gold parts laid out in front of us and he said now is the time of reckoning: ‘let’s build it together and let’s hope that it works’», Downing recalls. Months of planning led to this watershed moment. «At that point we had to take a leap of faith. Thankfully it ended up working perfectly. Had it not worked, more than two years of work would have gone down the drain», the senior designer says.
Here resides one of the important lessons gained during the making of the Hexagon Cuff. It has opened new doors for future creations, namely the all-directional flexibility. In addition, it has increased their confidence in using 3D printing. «We will use it a lot more because it was such a success with the Hexagon Cuff. Besides, I believe that I have improved my own skills as a designer just by using 3D», Downing shares. It is also a testament to David Morris’ bravery to have commissioned a complex, yet highly precious piece with 69.79 carats of white and pink diamonds. Most other practitioners would have probably attempted this experiment by investing less of their resources in such costly materials.
Text Olivier Dupon