Women's Jewellery

A higher love

Designer-jewellers are elevating silver to a new level of sophistication, says Vivienne Becker.

March 20 2011
Vivienne Becker

The sharp, chic coolness of silver jewellery is the perfect fit for spring’s exuberant neon colours and 1970s vibe. Veering between sleek streamlining, sculptural fantasies and light-as-air ornaments, silver links fashion and fine jewellery: while it’s accessible enough to be given a whimsical, high-fashion flavour, it has also gained new respect. Once viewed in fine-jewellery circles as second-class, silver (like youth) is now seen by jewellers as wasted on the young, and over the past few years it’s become a sophisticated vehicle for innovative design and ingenious craftsmanship.

Designer-jewellers such as Stephen Webster and Shaun Leane give silver the precious but design-driven treatment, using its generous sculptural qualities to tell a story. Webster’s Jewels Verne depict fantastical underwater life (from £200; earrings , £550); Leane goes for the dark romance of the blackthorn and English country hedgerows (from £125; cuff, £1,995). Most recently, Theo Fennell launched Alias, his first silver collection, which includes an intricately crafted cross pendant, scaly serpents and skulls (from £75; cuff, £795). He says, “The price of silver jewellery makes it easier to experiment with, and it can be a bit more ephemeral and at the whim of fashion, but still well-made, with attention to detail. With gold so expensive, silver is a real alternative and has the advantage of being wearable anywhere, with anything.”

Women have tended to be gold- or silver-wearers, depending on colouring, taste and lifestyle – silver being more low-key and sporty. As the rules change, silver is mixed with touches of gold or oxidised silver, and its tone varied and brightness softened through hammered, sculpted or crumpled texture – or through chains and fringes, so that it appeals to a wider audience. Liberty accessories buyer Alexandra Stylianidis says, “Silver really works this spring – it’s the perfect accompaniment to the flashes of neon and white on the catwalk. It’s more subtle than gold, so can work with punchy colour. Graphic shapes of ‘statement’ size in silver work easily with city life. Jordan Askill’s heart rings incorporate two silver hearts and one gold [£155], which is quite a modern way to wear silver.”

The current wave of silver jewellery brings to mind the streamlined modernity of 1950s and 1960s Scandinavian design epitomised by Georg Jensen. Ever since it was founded in 1904 by the Danish silversmith working in a distinctive art nouveau style, the company has been a pioneer in contemporary design. Now that heritage is being revived as the company enters a new phase, signalled by the reopening of its London store in January, revamped to look like a quintessential Danish living room, minimal yet intimate.

Vivianna Torun Bulow-Hube, aka Torun, a Swedish-born artist-jeweller, is one of my design heroines. She had an innate understanding of line and proportion and an ability to translate poetic ideas about the universe, or the patterns and rhythms of nature, into the simplest, most dynamic forms that remain modern and relevant. Her 1968 Mobius design for Georg Jensen (from £220; brooch, £625), a twisting, velvety strip of silver with one surface – inspired by milk pouring into a glass – is still a bestseller. Now Torun’s Dew Drop collection, created in 1955 and worn by Billie Holiday, has been updated, the twisted bands and slender bars set with drops of black agate, rose quartz, blue chalcedony, green prasiolite or amethyst (from £155).

Still more minimal and linear is the new Alliance collection, designed by Allan Scharff (from £115). A striking single strand of silver is twisted, spontaneously and energetically, creating complexity out of simplicity. This style of openwork taps into fashion’s current zest for shredded or holey fabrics.

Lastly, Georg Jensen has reinterpreted its iconic grape motif, first used in 1915 and now stylised into glossy globules, clustered onto the Moonlight Grape cocktail ring (£325) and matching pendant (£350), in silver and black agate.

Silver jewellery is indisputably Tiffany territory, dominated by the protean talent of Elsa Peretti, who revolutionised both silver and jewellery in the 1970s, making them at once relevant to fashion and femininity, and at the same time beyond fashion. She too possesses a rare ability to distil shapes and visions into their purest essence. Her new Wave collection has undulating silver streams in rows that ripple across one another, and rings that introduce colour in the form of blue topaz, peridot or amethyst, reflecting fashion’s colour-blocking (from £285; earrings, £305). New to Tiffany’s mainstream silver jewellery is Tiffany Locks, inspired by archive designs (from £65). The pendants and charms come in different lock shapes, some with gold accents, and provide the perfect opportunity to mix metals for the latest look.

Silver has always been a strong point at Wright & Teague, the husband-and-wife design duo, who both handmake jewels in their atelier at Dover Street. Sheila Teague believes the recent upsurge of interest in silver is driven by its rise in price, which gives the metal more prestige. “We have always made clean, metal-driven pieces that give our ideas clarity and gravitas, and we love the ductility, texture and sharpness of silver.” She feels that heavy metal silver jewels (such as Wright & Teague’s signature heart pendants with inscriptions, from £200) make a strong statement that works well with fashion’s bold mood this season.

The duo’s latest African-inspired Nuba collection (from £150) includes a striking silver pendant: an elongated, softened rectangular shape with tribal markings (£250). A huge Atlas bangle with a smooth silhouette and crumpled silver texture like the surface of the moon (£600) and a Cybele necklace of linked moon discs (£2,500) both show that the silver is their main focus. “We are always looking to draw the viewer into the metal,” says Teague. She sees silver being mixed with other materials, such as rose gold, even by die-hard silver fans. But what she has particularly noticed is the new sophistication of silver jewellery, and the way it is now worn with much more expensive clothes.

The ethnic element and 1970s hippie echoes of Navajo silver, Indian or North African ornaments that resonate with new spring looks add impetus to the current surge of silver. Pamela Love, a hot name from New York, accessorises fashion shows for designers including Twenty8Twelve, and gives tarnished, textured silver jewels her own urban take on tribal: wide cuffs in patinated silver mixed with brass (£535), rings featuring large shards of flint (£510) and necklaces with mounds ribbed with tribal markings (from £200).

Dower & Hall, another husband-and-wife team, tame the tribal look in their Spiral collection, designed as simple, archetypal shapes with spiral markings, a primeval symbol of the universe (rings, from £340). Diane Hall explains the new silver rush: “Silver is becoming more precious as metal costs increase. It is now comparable to low-carat gold.” She also sees a shift towards more feminine designs; the Winter Blooms collection, inspired by a Liberty print, features softly curling petals and bell-like buds (necklace, £395). To vary sheen and add tactility, the silver is mixed with gold-plated elements, oxidised silver and touches of butterscotch and grey pearls.

This move towards gentle tactility is surfacing as an alternative to ethnic and more traditional graphic silver style. At Liberty, Stylianidis says, “A lot of our customers layer thin strands of silver necklaces, almost like a second skin.” For this she recommends Alex Monroe, who creates “beautiful, delicate slivers of silver”. Monroe specialises in charming, figurative and fun motifs on long, slim chains. His new Daisy Bell collection tells its story through picnic-hamper (£156), bicycle and cup-cake pendants (from £120). There is an almost fairylike fragility to these miniature models; meanwhile, his wispy silver feather necklace has become a cool classic (£99). He says silver features more prominently in spring/summer collections as it tends to look fresh and is easier to wear in warm weather.

Also going with the flow is SHO, a young jewellery brand masterminded by Sarah Ho (whose muse and mother, Suki, was a celebrated 1960s model and Bond girl). She has added silver chain fringes to her bestselling Crop Circle earrings (from £180), and to earrings in her new Mari collection, with its lilting openwork wave design, inspired by the Sardinian sea (from £150). Ho, a trained goldsmith and gemologist, turned to silver to infuse her designs with a stronger fashion flavour, but feels that her silver collections are still very much “fine jewellery”. Her sumptuously rich Clementina cocktail rings are set with lapis, black agate or pink sapphires (from £435; ring, £435).

The accessibility and fashionability of silver has been the cornerstone of Links of London since it was founded 21 years ago. Now, among its collections, which include the new bamboo-inspired Silver Palm (from £85; bangle, £250) and its hugely successful silver and silk friendship bracelets (from £110), it is injecting movement. The slinky Infinity chains with figure-of-eight links are tied into knots (from £110; necklace, £550), while the new Effervescence designs have clusters of silver bubbles (from £150). And as it’s spring, love is in the air: its new Love Notes collection of heart-shaped rings swivel open to reveal space for an inscription (from £125).

Slivers of silver have also been knitted into light, bouncy mesh at Tateossian, and tied into voluminous, chaotic knots or woven into neat hoops – super-1970s in style – in the Rondelle (from £175) and Sphaira (from £125; earrings, £495) collections. Ingeniously crafted from fine silver wire, the jewels are extrovert, light and voluminous. Perfectly melding the worlds of jewellery and fashion, they sum up silver’s new status in the realm of fine jewellery.

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