With couture clients looking for edge and versatility, contemporary high jewellery embraces innovation – not least from the big fashion houses. The Glossary takes a look at the notable new collections leading the way.
People-watching opportunities don’t come much more dazzling than at the Ritz Paris during Haute Couture Fashion Week. Paparazzi loiter outside, and stiletto-clad editors strut across the marble-and-gold-leaf lobby. We’re here to see the ultimate in creative expression from some of the world’s finest jewellers, as well as that of some of the best known fashion houses. Just like couture fashion, high jewellery is all about unique, exceptionally crafted pieces that push the boundaries of jewellery design, and are made from only the finest raw materials.
Today, at the Ritz, it’s the turn of New York-based jeweller Ana Khouri to present her latest creations to us. On show in a flower-filled suite, Khouri’s jewels bear little resemblance to those worn when César Ritz opened the hotel in 1898. Diamond chokers are asymmetrically embellished with coloured gemstones; chunky rings are miniature tyres of blackened gold and diamonds; ear cuffs creep up the lobe, dangling diamond briolettes in their wake. “Lightness and movement are always paramount,” says Khouri. “I don’t want my designs to simply adorn – my goal is to spin precious materials into something that is much more than an extravagant accessory.”
Khouri’s contemporary approach is all around us on the prestigious Place Vendôme. Modern couture clients’ busy lifestyles call for versatile jewels that can be dressed up or down; worn, if not quite from boardroom to ballroom, then in a multitude of different situations. Van Cleef & Arpels has form in this area: in 1950 it created the highly original Zip necklace, which transforms into a bracelet. Transformability features in many of the creations in this year’s Romeo & Juliet collection, as it does in Chanel’s Paris Russe de Chanel range, inspired by Coco Chanel’s obsession with Russia. Chanel is a major player in haute joaillerie, producing more collections than any other fashion house, and playing a key role in the growing presence of fashion houses in the rarefied world of high jewellery.
This year, Louis Vuitton unveiled the first couture collection from creative director Francesca Amfitheatrof, inspired by medieval heroines: strong and architectural, with subtle references to the beloved LV monogram. But it was Gucci that everyone was talking about in Paris, as it marked the opening of its new boutique on Place Vendôme with a debut high jewellery collection, which translated Alessandro Michele’s maximalist aesthetic into a rainbow of precious metal and gemstones. Significantly, the collection comprised 200 unique pieces (high jewellery collections typically consist or around 60 pieces), making clear its intention to become a major player in haute joaillerie. An objective that was quickly realised, with many of the pieces being sold on the first day of presentations, the innovative designs proving just as popular with the high-net-worth spenders as its clothes are with the fashion crowd on the front row.
Tatiana Verstraeten, a former Chanel accessories designer who launched her eponymous jewellery house last year, believes that to appeal to today’s couture clients, high jewellery pieces should work equally well with jeans as an evening dress. Verstraeten’s couture creations include a showstopping necklace of flexible diamond fronds, alongside fringes of diamond-studded chains that sway from the earlobes with Studio 54 appeal. “There’s no need for high jewellery to be old-fashioned or restrictive,” she says. “I wanted to offer women the chance to wear an outstanding piece that’s young and sensual, that moves with her body.”
Valerie Messika goes one step further: her diamond chains link ear cuff to nose ring, typical of her rock‘n’roll approach. “My aim was always to desacralise diamonds – I wanted them to be cool, casual and easy to wear every day,” says Messika, the daughter of a diamond dealer who launched her brand in 2005. One of the first customers to buy a €1m Messika piece was a 35-year-old woman in search of high jewellery that she would wear, not keep in a safe.
This contemporary approach hasn’t been ignored by the grande dames. Graff’s latest pieces marry exceptional gemstones with daring design, inspired by the work of contemporary artist Cy Twombly.
Meanwhile, 239-year-old house Chaumet might be known for its historic tiaras, but its collections are imbued with a 21st-century irreverence. An array of gemstones – from tsavorites and tourmalines to spinels and topaz – inject life into earrings that splay outwards like a fairytale couture gown.
Colour is also a focus for De Beers and de Grisogono, whose high jewellery creations showcase the beauty of coloured diamonds, far beyond D-flawless stones. “We have access to some of the most beautiful diamonds in the world, including rough diamonds, which have a mystical quality,” says Grace Lepard, head of design at De Beers. “They make each piece unique.”