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Best Of The Best Part VII: Jewellery

The Big Idea: Mining the Past

Illustration by Shout

The practice of reworking old themes is a familiar concept at the world’s best jewellery houses, but this year designers revised the legacies and dynasties of kingdoms past for today’s increasingly relaxed but no less lavish aesthetic. Jewellers took hefty proportions and antique settings and modernised them, incorporating colourful gems for a fresh perspective and, in one case, using materials, borrowed from the ancient world, never before seen in high jewellery.
Both Boucheron and Santi by Krishna Choudhary delivered spectacular pieces inspired by the ornate jewellery of the maharajahs. Claire Choisne, Boucheron’s creative director, reimagined archival designs from the maison’s largest special order in its 164-year history, which was placed by the Maharajah of Patiala in 1928. Choisne contrived the appearance of lightness by designing the New Maharajahs collection using only white diamonds, rock crystal and pearls, save for a single masterpiece necklace executed with a splash of emeralds. The extravagant platinum parure is set with nine Colombian emeralds totalling almost 39 carats surrounded by white diamonds and rock crystal. Meanwhile, Choudhary, a 10th-generation jeweller whose family has been crafting showstoppers for Indian royalty for centuries, whipped up creations using motifs found in his ancestral trove of rare antique jewels at Royal Gems & Arts, his family’s business in Jaipur, India. Dual three-carat pear- shaped diamonds highlight a pair of titanium earrings fashioned in the shape of poppy flowers, for example, in a design modelled after the base of a 17th-century gold-and-enamel hookah.
While an air of levity at Boucheron and Santi offered a novel take on historically sumptuous jewels, Chanel opted for deep hues and serious weight in a singular 55.55-carat sapphire to accent its Allure Celeste necklace, derived from a diamond star brooch created for the house’s first foray into high jewellery, the 1932 Bijoux de Diamants collection. The heritage pieces were executed primarily in white diamonds, but 90 years later the sapphire is the attention-grabber of the anniversary lineup. Symbolising the moon, it nestles in the collar of the necklace, encircled by a celestial swirl of diamonds. It’s joined by an 8.05-carat pear-shaped diamond in a sun motif along with a “comet” of smaller diamonds that shoots into the décolletage below. The concept is a deeply sexy and decadent proposition for a piece based on a relatively simple Art Deco brooch.
Other designers are relying on bygone eras not only as creative wellsprings but also for literal artifacts that can be used anew. A trip to Egypt yielded unprecedented material for Silvia Furmanovich’s earrings. Sourced from a dealer in the region, authentic century- old papyrus paper — popularised by the early 20th-century tourist trade — is set on wood, covered in a protective layer and then framed in 18-karat gold and topped off with lapis lazuli and diamonds.
Reaching back into the past to find original expressions for the present is a perennial exercise in design, but this year the spirit of jewellery’s history appeared to breathe new life into its modern disciples.

Jewellery of the Year: Boucheron

The crowning jewel of Boucheron’s New Maharajahs collection is a lavish platinum-set parure slathered in diamonds, lined with 220 baguette-cut emeralds, dripping with yet more diamonds — this group encapsulated in rock-crystal drops — and topped off with nine gumball-size Colombian emeralds totalling nearly 40 carats. The elaborate centrepiece detaches to be worn as a brooch, while the remaining necklace transforms into a collar.

If all of that sounds extravagant — and, well, it is — the tale that inspired it is even more extraordinary. In 1928 the Maharajah of Patiala arrived at the Paris maison’s Place Vendôme boutique escorted by an entourage of servants and guards carrying iron safes filled to the brim with 7,500 diamonds and more than 1,500 emeralds, rubies and pearls. The Indian royal commissioned 149 custom pieces to be created from the precious gems. The cache remains the largest single order in the company’s history and inspired New Maharajahs.

Of the present-day pieces, this necklace secures the throne as the most striking. And it’s as close as you likely will get to the gems of the maharajah — since his death in 1938, the whereabouts of the original pieces have been unknown. One of a kind, price upon request

Material Innovation: Silvia Furmanovich

Silvia Furmanovich has a knack for working with unusual elements, whether wood whipped into marquetry from her native Brazil or bamboo woven and twisted into earrings and bracelets using ancient Japanese techniques, then topped with gems and gold.

But her latest find, century-old papyrus paper, is the most unusual to date. Sourced from a dealer during a trip to Egypt, the material, a re-creation of scribal artifacts made millennia ago, was produced for tourists flocking to the country in the early 1900s.

Furmanovich has succeeded in making each unique piece — including these earrings framed in 18-karat gold, backed in 24-karat gold and topped off in lapis lazuli and diamonds — not only a modern-day precious heirloom but also a piece of history from one of the world’s oldest civilisations. One of a kind, £9,680

Diamonds: De Beers

De Beers got downright scientific for its Alchemist of Light high-jewellery collection. Based on structural renderings of a natural diamond’s chemical composition, the graphic Atomique pieces within the series feature white diamonds in an array of geometric patterns.

The showstopper is an 18-karat white-gold collar necklace with 1,906 round brilliant diamonds arranged like floating electrons around its circumference, mimicking an atom’s lattice pattern. At its centre is an 18.57-carat internally flawless F-colour round brilliant-cut diamond with IF clarity. Going one step further, De Beers ethically sourced every single stone and individually selected each by hand, then assembled the lot in a painstaking process. The atelier’s efforts paid off in a thoroughly modern piece that delivers such serious sparkle it practically lights a room. One of a kind, £3.6 million

Transformable Jewels: Tiffany & Co.

Based on a pair of dandelion hair pins designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1904, this platinum necklace ups the ante from the original with an onslaught of diamonds and a mammoth aquamarine. Beyond its visual wow factor, the piece demanded a high level of technical know-how. It starts with two head-turning clips. The first is a dandelion made from three variations of custom- cut diamonds: open rose-cut on the outside, round brilliant-cut on the next layer and kite-shaped stones encircling a round 12.32-cut diamond at the centre. Each of these dandelion “seeds” was created to have subtle movement — a feat so challenging “our jewellers were ready to cry”, says Victoria Reynolds, Tiffany & Co.’s longtime chief gemologist. The second clip is an emerald-cut aquamarine of over 31 carats.

Either can be attached to a modern collar necklace with two rows of baguette-cut diamonds or to a mixed-cut diamond Art Deco–style chain (though neither base can hold both adornments at once). The collar can also be worn on its own. In total, the design transforms into five different pieces. One of a kind, price upon request

Historical Tribute: Chanel

At the heart of Chanel’s Allure Celeste necklace — the centrepiece of a series that pays tribute to the house’s first collection of diamond jewels, released in 1932 — is a jaw-dropping 55.55-carat sapphire, a numerical weight so significant to the brand’s heritage (a nod to the house’s iconic fragrance Chanel No. 5), the company sourced a stone to the exact specification.

A singular white-diamond star brooch — the only piece from the original collection still held in Chanel’s archives — served as the inspiration for the platinum-set necklace’s heavenly design. The most literal reference is the diamond star placed off-centre on the collar, which can be detached to wear as a pin. A halo of diamonds and a diamond crescent moon encircle the sapphire, while a diamond comet featuring an 8.05- carat pear-shaped stone dangles beneath it from a row of diamonds that doubles as a detachable bracelet. The 1932 collection was a formidable foray into high jewellery during Coco Chanel’s lifetime, but she would no doubt be impressed that the house’s expertise in the category has risen to such stratospheric heights. One of a kind, price upon request

Men’s Jewellery: Mikimoto

In recent years, pearls have moved well beyond their Nancy Reagan connotations, showing up on the necks of stylish guys from Pharrell to Harry Styles. But even if the lustrous gem has crossed a perceived gender divide, tossing on a classic strand is still a bold move for most men. Mikimoto, however, recently released its first genderless collection, which has proved popular with the sterner sex and illustrates just how universal pearls can be.

The decidedly masculine styles feature smoky grey South Sea pearls — sometimes in earthy, organic shapes rather than the perfectly round specimens usually seen — combined with inky black rhodium-plated sterling silver. It’s easy to imagine the bracelets (such as the one pictured) stacked beside a Sub-Mariner or the minimal chain necklaces peeking out from under a linen shirt. Let the girls have their diamonds; this collection makes a case for pearls being a boy’s best friend. From £215 to £19,000

Engagement Rings: Taffin

Taffin designer James de Givenchy may be known for striking works of wearable art, but he considers relatively simple solitaires to be the ultimate test of a jeweller’s skill. When using just one diamond and its mounting to fashion a ring to be worn every day till death do you part, he says, “it’s much easier to make a mistake; it really becomes all about the detail”.

Even with so few ingredients, de Givenchy manages to create engagement rings, all by special order, that are a visual feast. Case in point: this 7.05-carat pear-shaped yellow diamond, sourced from an antique belle epoque bracelet, secured with four rose-gold talons and seemingly floating beside a sinuous grey ceramic band (Colin Jost apparently commissioned a similar design when he proposed to Scarlett Johansson in 2019). “It’s one of my favourite things to do,” de Givenchy says, noting that this year he was tapped to create engagement rings for the children of several clients who’d also popped the question with Taffins. “Getting the right stone to the right couple, it’s a wonderful thing.” One of a kind, £462,000

Coloured Gems: Louis Vuitton

When an orphaned Louis Vuitton left his hometown of Jura, France, at age 14 to embark on foot for the bright lights of Paris in 1835, he would have had a hard time imagining that nearly two centuries later, an over-the- top high-jewellery piece like this Multipin necklace would be created under the banner of the eponymous luggage company he would found, which itself would become a global luxury superpower.

Set in 18-karat white and yellow gold with a 42.42-carat lagoon-blue tourmaline at its centre, surrounded by a dazzling array of tourmalines, citrines, peridots, amethysts, aquamarines, iolites, garnets and tanzanites punctuated and outlined with 1,011 brilliant-cut diamonds, this collar necklace was inspired by Vuitton’s famous trunks. The central stone and the white diamonds that encircle it are meant to evoke the chests’ locks and their closing clasps, while the drops of diamonds mixed in with the rainbow of gems mimic the brass rivets. Consider it a pot of gold and then some. One of a kind, price upon request

Design: Dior

It’s not unusual for a fashion house to take cues from the catwalk for its high-wattage gems, but in a feat of clever technical design, Dior’s artistic director of jewellery, Victoire de Castellane, took the concept to the next level with the Galons Dior necklace. Each strand is meant to evoke ribbon, hand-stitching or woven braids from its couture atelier.

Presented alone, a single string might look like your mother’s diamond tennis necklace, but connecting the varied pieces gives an entirely new look to the otherwise demure jewellery staple. Over 1,500 hours of work went into intertwining the platinum and 18-karat pink-, white- and yellow-gold settings crafted in round- angled, three-claw, lozenge-cut, zigzag, floret and square shapes. A total of 10 strands decked in 84.97 carats of baguette, pear and brilliant-cut diamonds are securely attached in staggered rows that give the appearance of casually falling on top of one another.

The beautiful entanglement of stones is a stunning high-jewellery take on “neck mess” — the pervasive fine-jewellery trend of piling multiple different necklaces on the neck in a seemingly haphazard arrangement. One of a kind, available by special order, price upon request

 

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