Women's Jewellery

Glowing hot and gold

All that glisters, this season, is gold, as the versatile metal takes a starring role in fine jewellery. Vivienne Becker pinpoints the jewellers following the golden thread. Styling by Annette Masterman.

September 18 2011
Vivienne Becker

The synergy between fashion and jewels, which has been simmering for several years now, giving us jewelled embroideries, gem colours, necklines like necklaces, has turned to gold this autumn. Gold the colour, gold the material, gold the legend. Heroic, fabled and meltingly metallic, gold in different guises shimmered down the catwalk for autumn/winter, in collections from Dolce & Gabbana (expected), to Vivienne Westwood (rebellious, retro 1980s), Bottega Veneta (understated glimmer), Gareth Pugh (futuristic and brooding) and Moschino (beautifully ironic). The latter transformed burnished gold, unexpectedly, into a softly tailored trouser suit and long skirt, its molten folds playing with light and shade.

Personally, I’ve always been captivated by this element of deliquescence; the seemingly irresistible tendency to turn gold into something soft and fluid, with liquid gold, gold cloth or gold dust having a particular alchemical allure. But modernity is always in the mix. Now the metamorphic quality of gold is given a new twist, mixed with a brazen burst of heroism and tapping into a strong yet glamorous urban warrior vibe.

This shift is happening at a time when the price of gold is astronomical and set to rise even further over the next few years. You might think that would be a deterrent but, in fact, it is this extreme preciousness that seems to be driving the move towards gold jewels. Jan Springer, consultant to the World Gold Council, explains: “Gold is almost the price of diamonds, and so it becomes the main event, as it were the ‘gem’, rather than taking a supporting role. There is a gem-like quality to gold jewels that we haven’t seen before, and designers are working in gold in a much more imaginative fashion, exploring its fabulous qualities, its malleability, its colours.”

The fashion houses, understandably, have been quick to pick up the trend. Louis Vuitton harnesses the universal ethnicity and heroism of gold in a series of bold bangles with tribal overtones (from £6,615) and Creole hoop earrings incorporating the signature LV flower logo (from £3,440). Chanel has translated its camellia into a joyful capsule collection of wide bangles, rings and earrings, in abstract, stylised gold openwork, the Camélia Ajouré (from £1,250).

At Hermès, where Pierre Hardy designs the fine jewellery and Haute Bijouterie collections, gold, either alone or perfectly balancing and underpinning diamonds, is the material of choice to conjure up the house’s famous “codes” – bit, stirrup, harness, the hunting dog’s collar, the iconic Kelly clasp, and the strap and buckle. New and exceptional Collier de Chien bracelets match diamonds to the underlying gold, with rose gold shining through brown diamonds (from £322,500); while slender bangles (£4,600) and rings (from £1,370) featuring the Kelly lock, in white, yellow or rose gold, look set to become Hermès classics.

Yet the most dramatic, adventurous use of gold is saved for wide bracelets of silky Milanese gold mesh impressed with a trompe l’oeil crocodile-skin pattern and fastened with the Kelly lock, either in plain rose gold (£33,580) or with brown diamonds (£55,670). Indeed, rose gold, with its low-key warmth and flattering vintage flavour, is one of the biggest stories in fine jewellery this autumn. Proving the point, Van Cleef & Arpels has launched its iconic Alhambra design in a soft and feminine pink shade from £1,700).

Solange Azagury-Partridge, whose boutique brand is fast expanding worldwide, has just launched her first all-gold jewellery collection. Called 24:7, this is jewellery to be worn all day, every day. “Gold is classic, precious and durable, keeps its lustre and is not overtly ostentatious,” she says. “It is eternally modern, and never out of style.” The 24:7 designs are built on simple geometric forms; the triangle, square and circle, with her signature cosmic star thrown in. Working with the malleability of gold, she explains, she was able to give the shapes a hard-edged coolness yet create jewels that are fluid, comfortable and wearable. The sets of each shape (rings, from £900; pendants, from £1,800; earrings, from £2,500;), which come in white, yellow and rose gold, can be mixed and matched, along with a “mishmash” ring (from £3,800) and pendant (from £2,900), layering textured bands, and a series of spinning rings (£1,600), each with a single gold shape – square, circle, star or triangle.

The concept of everyday, easy-to-wear jewels, in tune with fashion’s more linear, less lyrical attitude, is echoed in Chaumet’s Bee My Love rings (from £530); simple honeycomb-shaped bands, either diamond adorned or plain, in rose, white and yellow gold, can be worn alone or stacked. Simon Longland, general merchandise manager for accessories at Harrods, agrees that a more casual mood sweeping across fine jewellery means that “gold is huge”. Clients, he feels, treat gold as an investment, part of the trend towards statement dressing, in jewels as in fashion. “People collect gold jewellery. It’s easy to wear; they dress it up, or stack it up. Gold has more stealth appeal than gems.”

The New York-based, Turkish master goldsmith Gurhan is a major addition to Harrods’ Designer Jewellery Room, bringing with him the glow of his signature 24ct burnished, hammered gold (from £129). Gurhan embarked on a second career as a goldsmith after he was offered a small sheet of pure gold. It was, he remembers, love at first sight: the gold provoked intense feelings. Learning by trial and error, he eventually mastered the ancient techniques he uses today in his workshops in New York and Istanbul. “Fashion always puts some traces into the process,” he says, but he also understands the many beliefs and superstitions associated with gold. Thought by ancient civilisations to be imbued with the power of the sun and embodying the life force, gold has been linked for centuries to wellbeing, happiness and success. As Longland says, “Jewels like those by Gurhan have a real soul, a real integrity to the design and craft.”

There is definitely soul in the rippling gold jewels of Italian designer-jeweller Carolina Bucci, descended from generations of Florentine goldsmiths and celebrated for her gold bracelets woven with silk. In her newest collection, Lei Zu, Bucci goes one step further, trying, she explains, to make gold look and feel like silk. (Lei Zu, the daughter of a Chinese Emperor, discovered the secret of silk when a silk-worm cocoon fell from a Mulberry tree into her green tea.) For the Lei Zu statement necklaces and bracelets (from £2,000), Bucci has pioneered a new technique, layering different colours of 18ct gold, brown, black and rose, with the satin finish etched away to create a soft surface shimmer, truly like silk. Ippolita is another Florentine-born designer-jeweller, who works 18ct gold in a slender but strong, organic, hand-hammered sculptural style (from £100), shaped by her art-school training. Gold, it seems, is embedded in the soul of Italy. The cult brand Vendorafa, newly launched in the UK, revives the quintessential “made in Italy” style and craftsmanship with strong statement gold jewels (from £1,000). For all of these designers, and their loyal clients, gold offers an emotional engagement, a sense of continuity and an intense physicality as the metal warms and moulds to the skin, developing its personal patina over years of wear.

Along with soul and a sense of wellbeing, a strong graphic element is bringing an edge to uncompromising, contemporary gold jewels. H Stern, always ahead of the game in design terms, has made a conscious decision to focus on gold, even introducing its own alloy, Noble gold, a pale straw colour between white and yellow gold. Now, as part of its series of collaborations, which have included Diane Von Furstenburg and her signature chunky gold bracelets (from £1,000), it has teamed up with Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. The result is a collection of spirited, linear, hammered gold jewels, developed from Niemeyer’s high-energy sketches, in free-form curves, flowers and twists (from £1,100). Julia Muggenburg at Belmacz blends art with tribal ornaments in striking all-gold jewels, notably her Zeppelin ring (from £23,800). And London-based jeweller Alexandra Jefford’s newest collection of all-gold rings, created in collaboration with writer Emily King, is based, intriguingly, on the letter “O” (from £2,300). Depicted in different typographic fonts – such as Josef Albers’ 1920s stencil typeface (Albers ring, £3,800) – the letters are made in deep, textured gold, their strong shapes given an appealingly sugary crust. “Gold goes with the pure, bold, confident shapes and colours of fashion,” says Jefford, “and always stands alone as a design theme in its own right, being sensual, strong and warm. I also think gold is a universal symbol of heroism, human merit and power.”

A single, standout, no-nonsense gold ring – worn on the index finger, if you dare – could well take over from the ubiquitous gem-set cocktail ring, especially when matched with the autumn’s other key statement jewel: the bracelet. Whether a bangle, slim and stacked, or a gold cuff, sophisticated and armour-like, the bracelet is a classic reborn in this new golden age. Italian brand Pomellato originally sold only gold jewellery. “Gold is part of our DNA,” says CEO Andrea Morante, who also confirms a resurgence in demand for gold-intensive jewellery: “It is seen as an elegant investment.” Sensually rounded gold chains, in Pomellato’s own colour and blend of gold, feature in every collection. Now the curvaceous gold chain is formalised into the wide Tango bangle (£11,155) and band ring (£2,355) in rich rose gold. Meanwhile, the classic curb-link chain is reinvented by British brand Noa Fine Jewellery as the Bulldozer necklace (£12,540) – the perfect glamazon accessory.

At Boodles, head of design Rebecca Hawkins sees a return to “plain, polished surfaces and bolder shapes”, such as the new Tortoise bangle (£7,850), a wide cuff in sumptuous sun-yellow gold, textured with the cushion-like quilted markings of a tortoiseshell, and its matching ring (£1,700) and earrings (£875). Texture, a key feature of the new gold jewels, along with a strong organic flavour, is explored by Danish family-run house Ole Lynggaard Copenhagen with the Lace collection (from £2,650). And one last word: The Goldsmiths’ Fair (September 26 to October 9) is a rich hunting ground for bold gold. Top talents include Andrew Lamb, famed for his rippling textures and optical colour effects (from £450); Angie Boothroyd, whose layered leaves and petals in ravishing rose, yellow and green gold (from £200) are the perfect autumn accessory; and Sarah Herriot, for clever, architectural designs (from £800) – all of them pure gold.