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Can a jewel evoke an artwork such as The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini?

Is it possible for a necklace to replicate fur? What about the crumpled effect of tie-dye?

When Francesca Amfitheatrof, Louis Vuitton’s artistic director for watches and jewelry, set her mind to expressing her fascination with cosmology in her new, Stellar Times, she found validation in the luxury company’s own raison d’être, L’Art du Voyage. Vuitton envisaged a voyage to far-off galaxies, against a backdrop of imploding stars. «the artistic value in stones embodying planets» she muses. A five-row, multi-colored big bang of 153 multi-coloured spinels from Burma that are graded in size make up the Interstellaire necklace; this plastron captures best the circumstellar and chromatic density of the celestial phenomenon. A sapphire faces a diamond, both oval-cut, in the Lune Bleue cocktail ring that is two sides of a planet that has split in half. Then there is the homage to our galaxy, the three-strand transformable Soleils neckpiece: three rows of stones that are held together by a 35.38-carat yellow sapphire from Sri Lanka. Two further color-matching yellow sapphires complete the sequence, and the quality of these crystals allows the optimal display of sunray-like reflections. For Stellar Times, some technical challenges: it took goldsmith work – such as the spiraling lattice of the Apogée series, the signature checkerboard pattern, or the gold basket gem setting – to convey the vigor and movement of a journey across the cosmos.

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EARRINGS TIFFANY (LEFT) AND LOUIS VUITTON, TWEED COUTURE BRACELET CHANEL, RING BVLGARI

The sky’s ever-changing nature also sparked the imagination of Boucheron’s creative director, and it ended up being the conceptof her high jewelry collection, Contemplation. Claire Choisne says that her favorite places on earth are all conducive to daydreaming about the firmament: her second home, a retreat in nature near Comporta in Portugal; the site of Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, where springtime rainfalls create a layer on the ground that mirrors the sky; and the respite found in the open-air museum spaces on the island of Naoshima, Japan. But could she encapsulate a piece of sky in a piece of jewelry? No conventional material was suitable, which prompted her to do something that she routinely resorts to: collaborate with a scientist – Greek physicist Dr Ioannis Michaloudis, the world expert in Aerogel.

Choisne recalls when they first met in Paris and Michaloudis opened a briefcase that contained test tubes filled with the weightless substance. Used in space by NASA to gather stardust, Aerogel is composed of 99.8% air and 0.2% silica. Since it is friable and water-sensitive, the best option was to shield it in a 2mm-thick case of rock crystal for the Goutte de Ciel neckpiece. Further to having the same physical attributes as the sky, the impalpable ingredient also varies in color according to the light. Next, Choisne extended her pursuit to her surroundings, but this exercise opened even more questions. How to evoke the sight of the wind gently ruffling through long grasses, or a stream of sand pouring out of one’s hand? In the case of the core essence of a cloud, a mock-up in cotton wool was first made by hand; then a programmer was asked to translate it into an algorithm. It was that algorithm – rather than a gouache – that was handed over to the workshop for them to plan how to make the foam-like structure of the Nuage en Apesanteur necklace. They immediately suggested the use of fine titanium threads – nearly 10,000 of them, to be precise – capped with 4,018 diamonds and glass beads simulating droplets of water. Another element of poetry in motion that intrigued Choisne was the fleeting moment when one blows on a dandelion. The same tactic was employed, with titanium filaments no thicker than a hair imitating the floating seeds for the Après le Frisson theme. Algorithms were further developed for the Murmuration story (replicating a vast flock of birds whirling in the sky); and, in another instance, spray-paint was used on a mesh of titanium set with mother-of-pearl and diamonds. The craftsman with the steadiest hand in the atelier was enlisted to airbrush moving clouds across the lariat-style Fenêtre sur Ciel neckpiece.

A sense of poetry similarly inspired Mikimoto in studying a single subject matter and projecting their own version of it. Mikimoto Feather Collection, as its name suggests, embraces the ‘panache’ – a fully formed feather. Instilling vivacity in each design through goldsmith work was key. «In other countries, it is more common to firstly mold with wax, then proceed to manufacture with casted metal. However, MIKIMOTO’s goldsmithing techniques originate from techniques in making metallic ornaments from the Edo period. Using traditional techniques, the jewelry pieces are finessed with intricacy whilst maintaining their strength» the design team explains. Imagine a gentle breeze running through the feathers. Only surgical stone setting could bring another dimension, with gradients of colored gemstones echoing the central cabochon stone (burnt orange and greens exude from an opal; purple and lime seep out of a lilac jadeite). «A sense of movement is created by adding a twist to each cut-out feather; then pressing their raised surface, it produces a thinner and lighter, feather-like expression. We were mindful in expressing the color gradation of each colored stone. Applying yellow gold in areas that mainly featured tourmaline and garnet, and likewise, white gold in areas featuring white diamonds; this in order to create an overall sense of seamlessness» they add.

On closer inspection, the placement of parts with a deceptive lack of metal catches one’s attention in another brooch. The white gold is nowhere to be seen on strands of Akoya cultured pearls that intermix with diamond-set white gold barbs. A South Sea white cultured pearl is nestled on one side and, yet again, the way in which it is attached to the structure is hidden from view. Natural conch pearls feature in another brooch, where three identical feathers (whose top halves are set with rose-cut diamonds for additional gossamer-like touches) form a circle, a conch pearl on top of each one, and a larger, baroque-shaped conch crowning the center of the wreath; and they also appear in a set of a necklace, earrings and matching ring. The plumage of a white swan is conjured up by a multitude of drop-shaped gold hoops set with diamonds, each containing a pearl, a pear-shaped rose-cut diamond or a pear-shaped diamond, dripping from a six-strand Akoya pearl necklace. The piece with the most intriguing construction is the cocktail diamond ring – looking as if it is made of a wrapped feather within the restraints of two circles. The white gold hoops (one for the gallery, the other for the shanks) are the backbone of the structure. Zooming in reveals round-cut diamonds of different size peppering the arrangement, as well as the carving of each gold spine.

The three collections share a common denominator: exploring the paradox between nature and abstraction. A fourth high jewelry house has grappled with the concept head on. In the SUR[Naturel] collection, Jacqueline Karachi, Cartier’s creative director for high-jewelry, aimed to communicate the beauty of water, flora and fauna, but with an attempt to surpass reality. Karachi wanted to transmute the reality of nature into supernatural prototypes of beauty. This alchemical endeavor started with the identification of natural motifs (e.g., the spots of a feline’s fur, the ripple of water, the scale of a crocodile). These details were then conjured up by the use of hard and precious gemstones. For the Gharial necklace, the study of the reptile’s skin texture is prevalent; a deconstruction of crocodile scales via tapered diamonds set in rhombus or fancy kite gold baskets with bold green accents of octagonally cut Zambian emeralds. The fur of a hybrid feline in the Hemis necklace: indigo blue spots are black opals interspersed with white diamonds. Sprinkled pink diamonds echo the kunzite gem that sits on top, as well as the pink flashes from the opals. Cartier’s emblem, the panther, is incarnated in the technicolored Panthère Tropicale bangle watch, which displays the animal’s makeover from black and white (onyx and diamonds on one side) to orange (coral on the other), whilst aquamarines and tourmalines bridge the two sides on top. As to the question of what water would look like after a [SUR]NATUREL transformation, frothy waves appear that show a blue depth underneath, in Sinopé, a flexible structure of diamond-paved scallops facing in alternating directions set with five sapphires. Narrow lapis-lazuli ingots are set all along the top edges on the inside part, which means that this navy-blue highlight appears on and off as the necklace undulates.

In the next high jewelry collection, nothing is symmetrical; off-centered single round pearls offset dented contours, rivulets of white diamonds flow through colored patterns. The latter evoke the part of a tie-dye fabric that the dye has not stained. The main gemstones are not meant to stand out, but rather to blend into a crumpled configuration. Rewind to a private dinner held in Shanghai on 25th July 2020, where models dressed in a rainbow of silhouettes by Maria Grazia Chiuri took center stage. The clue as to what was unveiled by Dior during this very special evening resides in the dresses themselves, specifically the tie-dye technique that went into achieving their soft hues: this inspired Victoire de Castellane for the new high-jewelry collection, Tie & Dior. Following in the footsteps of previous high jewelry lines, Gem Dior and Dior et Moi, the collection celebrates rainbow tie-dye through clusters made of assorted cuts (e.g., cushion, pear, round and marquise) and an extensive palette (gemstones in saturated colors). Moreover, a single pearl is systematically present in every piece. In all-white diamond ensembles, they are essential; set in yellow gold for the golden or grey pearl, in white gold for the white pearl (in which a gemstone disrupts the pale palette with the fresh tones of orange or green spessartite garnets and pink spinels, or the smooth red of a ruby). Golden, grey, pink or white, the South Sea pearls are chosen for their luster. Case in point with the novel toi & moi ring in tangerine, yellow and pink hues, for which one golden and one pink pearl have been used. Besides, the pearls seem to anchor the asymmetrical and off-balanced compositions, being focal points to rest the eye before wandering over the more helter-skelter array of gemstones.

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EARRINGS AND NECKLACE DIOR, RING CHAUMET

Textiles were explored in Chanel’s Tweed collection, earlier in 2020. A many-years-in-development goldsmith technique allowed the life-like rendering of the warp and weft effect of Chanel’s favorite fabric. The representation of this savoir-faireis to be found in the Tweed Couture plastron: « That is the most complex piece because of the number of articulated elements that are interconnected to create such a supple weft »says Patrice Leguéreau, Director of the CHANEL Fine Jewelry Creation Studio.« A thin curb chain is interlaced in the perpendicular so that the plastron opens up like a fan, and sits over the bust. Different jewelry materials are combined to create a very rich range of shades: several shades of gold, diamonds, pearls and colored stones. The precious stones are tailor-cut, which gives an added complexity. »

Nature and textiles have made way for architecture in two other collections: one looking at Italian Baroque, the other at Deconstructivism. The architectural heritage of Rome – inseparable from Bvlgari’s own history – is magnified in the Barocko collection. A 10-carat cushion-cut ruby from Mozambique presides over white diamonds in the Rosso Caravaggio necklace, which required 1,500 hours in the workshop in order to achieve multiple options of transformability. Curves of sixteenth-century baroque décor become swirls made of gold in the composition of the Lady Arabesque necklace and watch bracelet. For the latter, the dial sits underneath a flat-cut ruby. It is not a secret timepiece, but it bears all the hallmarks of one. In the same Colore chapter, the profusion of colors in one ring has been made possible by rows of buff-top amethysts and turquoises that have been tapered-cut to go with the scalloped motif of the convex shanks. The use of cabochon – a Bvlgari signature – is elevated in the Cabochon Exuberance neckpiece, with its succession of varied cabochon cuts on sizeable rubellites, aquamarines, emeralds and tanzanites, which recall Rome’s Horti Farnesiani complex on the Palatino hill. Hedonism is represented in the Gems Banquet parure by alternating rows of rubellites and mandarin garnets. Take one of the masterpieces of the High Roman Baroque, Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa sculpture. Its equivalent is the Raggio di Luce ring, which is set with a yellow, kite-shaped diamond. Or, from the same Luce theme, there is the Wings of Rome platinum necklace, an all-white diamond piece inspired by a bronze statue of Archangel Michael on top of the Castel Sant’Angelo papal fortress.

Architecture is central to Chaumet’s current history. Coinciding with their 240th anniversary, and following the re-opening of 12 place Vendôme for which a limited series of bagues maison were unveiled earlier this year (the Trésors d’Ailleurs collection, a few rings in the form of iconic houses or buildings), Perspectives de Chaumet: play on volume, the dialogue between void and solid spaces – many attributes of the Deconstructivist movement seen through a 1970s prism. Architectural prerequisites are broken down to free possibilities around shapes and volume. Six chapters compose the collection. In Ondulation, gold ingots create a mesh akin to textile. In Skyline, the main neckpiece is dual (embossed gold plates face openworked ones), whilst in both Skyline and Labyrinthe uneven and broken lines defy gravity. Hide and seek is predominant in Lacis and Mirage. In the former, fil-couteaux in grey gold either make a nest for yellow diamonds or form a veil over rubellites. It is the first time that this – Chaumet’s signature technique, usually used to insert lightness in a piece – has become the main edifice of a piece. In the latter, a white diamond-paved grid slips to the front of a grid that is sapphire-paved; the blue sapphires may appear, or they may not. Lastly, Italian Renaissance polychromatic domes that open to the sky are the inspiration behind Lux. Black opals represent this view, while tapered- and bead-shaped gemstones recall the pictorially-charged vaults of the roofs. In the movie I’m Thinking of Ending Things, what starts as a perfectly normal family reunion slowly veers into surreal territory.  This analogy somehow helps to understand Extraordinary Tiffany by Tiffany & Co. What appear at first sight to be classical pieces lavished with gemstones are, on closer inspection, idiosyncratic. Shoulder-duster earrings are set with princess-cut yellow and white diamonds, one after the other. Are they conventional? No. The yellow squares are rotated on a 90° angle, each followed by a straight-facing white square. This kind of unexpected positioning of cuts and colors runs through the collection. What could be a simple diamond and purple sapphire rivière neckpiece is more complex: two pink oval-cut sapphires are thrown into the mix, then in between the colored gemstones, a sequence of two princess-cut white diamonds surrounding an emerald-cut one is repeated all over. The princess-cut stones are once again flipped at a 90° angle, thereby forming a jagged outline. Add to this the use of different types of stone setting in one single piece (peg head, bezel or channel settings coexist). In another necklace, color-matching pink tourmalines are set on two strands. They come as a medley of pear-shaped and oval, cushion- and emerald-cut. The white diamonds too, and it is easier to label them as mixed-cut, but some are bezel set, while others are peg headset. This helps build light and shade, and depth as seen in the slight unevenness of the neckline. The eyes are tricked in this collection: something is off-balance, asymmetry prevails. The re-defining of a new type of timeless classic in high jewelry was the main inspiration for Reed Krakoff, chief artistic officer, who worked in tandem with chief gemologist Vicky Reynolds for the specific sourcing of lesser-known gems in delectable tones (pink and blue Cuprian Elbaite tourmalines, purple sapphires, fancy intense yellow diamonds, morganites, pastel pink to intense purple kunzites and pink spinels). The latter comes as an over-20-carats pendant in a diamond necklace. A further confirmation that size matters is a baguette and round diamond link pendant set in platinum and featuring a rare emerald-cut tanzanite of over 91 carats. Or there are the pendant earrings set with sizable elongated mauve kunzites, on top of which sits an unusual permutation of oval, marquise and round diamonds. The marquises are purposely horizontally placed; the softness of the colored spodumene is counterbalanced by the fish-bone lines created by the diamonds.

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TOP LEFT BOUCHERON, NECKPIECE MIKIMOTO, RINGS CHAUMET (LEFT) AND MIKIMOTO COLLAGES BY ALESSANDRO GOBELLO

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