There are thousands of unusual gemstones around today, and they are attracting more and more jewellers’ attention.
Sylvie Corbelin / Delfina Delettrez / Ornella-Iannuzzi
Home page picture : MArc Auclert - Bague perle plate d'agate rubannee
“There is nothing that looks more like a diamond than another diamond!” exclaims the jewellery creator, Marc Auclert, who has featured amongst the ranks of top jewellers for a long time now. So, what a challenge!
Creators are the greatest promoters of unusual gemstones, which exist in their thousands, and which are not always pretty at first glance. But they do quickly attract attention and with it raise a thousand questions. Ornella Iannunzi, who quit France for England, has made a big hit out of golden pyrites, especially when it is still nestled in its black-rock matrix: “It’s nature’s work of art which always produced sighs of wonderment.”
For other creators like Delfina Delettrez, it is heliotrope or howlite...
There is another side, however, to these unusual gemstones, as interest in them is still relatively small, their prices remain reasonable. “It’s the creator’s job to draw out their visual power and value,” explains the antique dealer and creator Sylvie Corbelin, who herself works with ringed agate and crystalline dendrites. For the moment, a gram of pyrites costs between 3 to 5 euros according to its beauty, but all it needs is a bit of interest shown in them by the houses on Place Vendôme and their prices will skyrocket. Just like it did for opals.
From the mine to shop-front window
The consumer is yet to become truly aware of what’s at stake ethically when speaking of precious jewellery. Unlike brands!
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Home page picture : Voids collection by India Mahadavi - JEM
Jewellers’ ethical challenges are sometimes terrifying. It’s difficult to know where all the amethysts, sapphires, emeralds and other tourmalines hark from, which find their way in the windows of Place Vendôme, because they have most probably exited through Thailand or maybe India where they are cut. What’s more, the smaller they are the more anonymous they are, and the path they take is difficult to know. As for gold, mostly extracted in Africa, the market is even more difficult to fathom, in much the same way as it is for drugs. It is firmly in the hands of largely unscrupulous multinationals whose aim is to obtain maximum profitability. Gold-panners working illegally, manage to get their merchandise into authorized channels through rather disconcerting means, thanks to a phenomenal number of intermediaries such as brokers, refiners and cutters, all functioning from the mine to the shop-front window. A difficult ultimatum to make: as gold cannot be identified and its chemical composition is the same no matter what its origin. In any case, it’s quite possible gold responsibly mined in Peru can be mixed with gold from a mine in Africa using child-labour. Jewellers place their hopes in the RJC or Responsible Jewellery Council, created in 2005 and made up of representatives from each sector within the supply chain who endorse its charter in an endeavour to control supply channels whose sources are often many thousands of kilometres away. Unfortunately, sceptics draw parallels with the Kimberley Process, numbering more than sixty member countries since its creation in 2003. This organisation seeks to rid so-called unethical diamonds from diamond commerce’s more acceptable war; notwithstanding, numerous breeches have come to light over the years. Each jeweller in his own way tries initiatives made available by organisations such as Oxfam and Pact. But is a 0-risk factor really possible to avoid finding oneself at the centre of a scandal? No large international brand could claim to feel totally secure in the market. Only small-scale brands like JEM (Jewellery Ethic Minded) created in 2009, could dare affirming totally “clean” jewellery. It has taken many months for Erwan Le Louer, JEM’s founder, to organise a means of tracing the gold he uses, which originates from two irreproachable mines, one in Peru and the other in Colombia. “So my entire supply chain remains water-tight, I have no other solution than working with French craftsmen who respect an environmental charter,” he explains, “thousands of other precautions are taken, for example, the gold founder reserves a kiln just for me so my gold doesn’t mix with any other.” Another characteristic of JEM jewellery is the absence of gemstones, “because still today no system exists which enables me to be sure they don’t come from countries using them to finance war”, considers Erwan Le Louer, who eventually foresees using recycled stones instead. We can only hope consumers take heed of their consciences and then quickly act accordingly.
Head in the stars
Today’s creators are sharp business people, well versed in marketing. But behind the scenes they still remain artists behaving some quite irrationally.
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Collection Palais de la Chance Collection - Van Cleef&Arpels (2012)
Home page picture : Porte-bonheur room - "Christian Dior... Homme du siècle" exhibition (Granville-2005)
The latest collection from the jeweller Van Cleef & Arpels entitled “Palais de la Chance”, celebrates superstition through around a hundreds pieces featuring clovers, stars and beetles. Louis Vuitton stages its take on luck in its Christmas windows with flour-leaf clovers and bones. Although superstition remains a taboo subject in the jewellery world, its creators seek to conjure up destiny with strings of secrets and strange happenings. In the past, Castillo from Lanvin made all big decisions on the 13th
of each month, 13 being his lucky number. Mademoiselle Chanel preferred the number 5. She named the first model of her fashion show number 5 and after 15 years absence she chose February 5th
1954 for her return. Today, according to close sources, Albert Elbaz always creates a red dress for his collections and Karl Lagerfeld utters a cry each time he sees a hat on a bed or a table. But shhhhh! Few and far between are those who dare tell! “Needles falling to the ground are a sign of bad luck, confides an x-collaborator of Tom Ford’s. He doesn’t hesitate quickly picking them up either!” Extremely superstitious, the Italian Ricardo Tisci, currently artistic director of Givenchy, wears charms around his neck that he fondles all day long to keep in contact with his nearest and dearest. The Sardinian, Antonio Marras, refuses to part with his “legaccio rubio”, a blood-red ribbon typical of his country of origin. In fact, in the 19th
century it was given to emigrants to help maintain spiritual contact with their homeland which is of much the same colour. With each new collection, Guillaume Henry, artistic director of Carven, pays a visit to Saint-Expedit, the patron saint of youth and desperate causes at Paris’ Saint Roch church. “All creators are more or less superstitious, but mostly it’s about certain rituals they have invented which are important for them”, points out the luxury consultant, Jean-Jacques Picart. To find out why most fear talking about them… At Christian Dior, they have always known that superstition brings the house just a little bit more soul, and have never ceased highlighting its founder’s obsession for signs and predictions. Mr. Dior consulted his fortune-teller for everything and nothing; for choosing a new florist or determining the right day for a presentation of a new collection. All anecdotes, which today form part of the house’s DNA and yet never overshadow Mr. Dior’s businessman-side. Behind these secret undertakings, all attempt to control the uncontrollable. “It’s about guessing the fashion trends in six or twelve months time,” explains Guillaume Henry. “It’s anguishing because inspiration is so fragile and impalpable. It’s an real energy, proper to fashion designers.” As though it comes from another world.
Behind each jewel a watch is hidden…
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Secret watch Khepri - Boucheron
Home page picture : Harry Winston
At the end of the 18th century, the first secret watches abided by demands of social decorum – to show the hour in polite society was badly seen and supposed that one was bored. Today, such watches satisfy the desire to wear unusual and surprising pieces. To seek them out, firstly look carefully at the jewel, and then turn it to discover the tiny, secret mechanism, which was created by both the jeweller and watchmaker together. Lightly press the push piece of the Hermès’ bracelet or gently pull on the ring of a Van Cleef & Arpels’ and there it is, the watchcase appears! “A real curiosity, especially in Europe”, points out Stéphane Belmont, international marketing director of Jaeger-LeCoutre, which is the pioneer of such watches. “Middle Eastern and Chinese customers are not so taken by the pieces. They prefer much more straight forward and easily identifiable watches.” There’s lots of humour and poetry to be found in these secret watches, where fauna and flora play out the fantasy of what’s secret and hidden, and ready to be discovered among some of jewellers’ particularly favourite themes. For Boucheron, the watch is discovered once the insect takes flight displaying its lapis lazuli wings, whereas at Cartier, it’s hidden in the mouth of a panther. Evidence of the crisis and of the economy’s downturn is certainly not to be found in these two-in-one pieces. Far from an easy-to-wear jewellery piece, these watches are part of the transformable jewellery range very present in the latest collections - in pieces that double the pleasure.
Jewelers turn more and more to artists, sculptors and architects to create their jewelry.
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Ron Arad à la Galerie Béatrice Saint Laurent.- Boucles d'oreilles Hot Ingo
Bulgari invited Anish Kapoor to reinterpret their B-Zero 1. Fred worked together with Jean-Paul Goode. Tiffany&Co collaborated for a collection with Frank Gehry. As for the Brazilian jeweler H.Stern, he drew inspiration from designs by Oscar Niemeyer. From the between-wars period onwards many artists have explored this territory, from Arman, Magritte, Cocteau and Man Ray to Ben and Picasso. But it’s only from the 1970s that this kind of jewelry became more widely known. Dinh Van exhibited the breast pendant by César, with its mould taken from a dancer at the Crazy Horse, which was then miniaturized. Thanks goes especially to the gallery Artcurial and its philosophy of making art part of every day life. It offers an entire space dedicated to these pieces whose value is due more to their high-level of creativity than to the materials used, like Sonia Delaunay’s enamel brooches or Lalanne’s gilt-metal necklaces featuring berry fruits, leaves and also butterflies. Artists would challenge jewelry’s basic constraints when reconsidering the size and weight of pieces: César no longer compacted cars but gold chain bracelets, rings and necklaces which were metamorphosed into pendants. For Stella McCartney, Jeff Koons downsized his rabbit. “It’s also a way to see their work, once miniaturized, can arouse the same level of emotion”, explains gallery owner Pierre-Alain Challier. Along with often being highly creative and full of humor, artist-jewelry can also be sentimental with many examples being created for family and close friends. Calder began sculpting necklaces for his sister’s doll. The collector, Diane Vernet recounts the day when her husband, Bernard, spontaneously wound metal wire around his finger. “For Picasso, it’s clearly question of seduction, a way of saying I desire you or I love you”, explains Pierre-Alain Challier. It is never really a question of producing a series of jewelry pieces; they are often edited in just a few examples or even just as a one-off piece.
*Bijoux d’artistes aux éditions Flammarion
Signs of cross
Without second thoughts, women and men alike wear a cross like a simple heart, arrow or flower.
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Golden regional crosses - Eliane Roudillon
Home page picture : Wild Cross earring - Elise Dray
Crosses have become an offbeat and debunked fashion accessory. Major brands have no taboos when it comes exploiting these largely Christian symbols, most often found as pendants. Those by Harry Winston or Cartier are divine with white diamonds. The sacra-sanctity models from Dinh Van are in gold and pieced at the centre. The young creator, Elise Dray, has created a whole range including earrings, rings and bracelets. What they all love about the cross is its pure graphic quality and the chic allure of its two simple bars and right angles - they certainly don’t see the austere and morbid symbol of Christ’s passion! It’s a classic jewellery theme which goes beyond merely Christian symbolism, and sticks more to this magic and mystical symbol used to represent the crossing of paths and destiny. Today, regional crosses like those by Eliane Roudillon are also extremely successful. Her filigree Artois crosses and Jeanette crosses adorned with a pansy or tulip at their centres are especially delightful! “They were often the only jewellery piece peasants owned once,” points out the historian, Claudette Joannis. “Already in the courts of Louis XV and Louis XVI, aristocrats had adopted wearing them by sheer coquetry and without a thought given to their signification.” One only needs to think of this extremely poignant symbol in the hands of American rappers, decked out in bling-bling style crosses, studded with diamonds and who scandalise with their rapped allusions to God. Or even of pallid faced Gothics with black eyeliner who swear by the symbol’s satanic side. Provocation and an exaggerated sense of aestheticism; could these be the only reasons for wearing this religious trinket? It’s best not be fooled by appearances. If the cross as a religious symbol has all but disappeared, maybe hidden somewhere in there, could be a genuine spiritual investigation - a sort existential quest.