** To bid on the jewellery pictured in aid of Save the Children, visit Christies.com/HTSI. Online auction ends December 11. **
Wafting in on the same winds of change that are streamlining today’s jewellery design is a re-emergence of the iconic brand signature. Since around 2000, the focus has been fanatically on high jewellery, individualism and extreme exclusivity. Now there’s something in the air about sharing, community and belonging, and jewellery houses are reinvigorating their most recognisable signature collections.
Nicolas Bos, president and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels, calls it a “rebalancing”, after the explosion and then surfeit of newness, nowness and “It” accessories. “We’ve been experiencing a strong comeback of signatures and icons in the past year, particularly in the Alhambra, Perle and Cosmos collections. It’s about social identification, but there’s also something much more personal. It’s no longer what your jewellery tells the rest of the world, it’s what your jewellery says about you to yourself that matters.” A “reassurance factor” is also playing an important part, he adds. “These are the designs that have been confirmed by time, that retain their value and adapt to each age and style. Buying jewellery today means investing long-term. Iconic designs guarantee they will be worn by future generations.”
The iconic motif of Van Cleef & Arpels’ Alhambra, created in 1968, is the curvaceous clover shape. Both amuletic and architectural, it has an effortless, throw-on opulence that strikes a chord today. Alhambra has had various makeovers – the miniature Sweet Alhambra (from £925); Magic Alhambra (from £2,850), juggling different sizes; Byzantine Alhambra (from £500), with its smooth gold outlines; Lucky Alhambra, mixing lucky charms from Van Cleef’s lexicon of butterfly, heart or leaf (from £2,150). Today, though, Van Cleef doesn’t feel the need to bring something sensationally new to this collection; Alhambra is back to being prized for its original style. So this season’s limited-edition Christmas pendant (£2,450) is a version of Vintage Alhambra, a faithful reproduction of the original in pink gold, with grey mother-of-pearl and diamonds.
It’s counterintuitive perhaps that the instantly recognisable icon should make a comeback at a time when people are seeking more intimacy and privacy, a refuge from the transparency of social media and the internet. But that’s the point: personal attachments to a jewel, the memories bound up in it, can remain private and hidden behind brand heritage, or a universal motif. Elsa Peretti’s designs for Tiffany – her open heart, lucky bean and teardrop, created in the 1970s – remain arguably the most unassailably iconic jewels of our time.
Francesca Amfitheatrof, design director of Tiffany, and the first female to hold this august position, admits she feels the urgent need for something much more private in jewellery, something personal in a quiet, secret way. Tasked with updating Tiffany’s famous Atlas collection, created by her predecessor John Loring (now design director emeritus) and inspired by the Atlas clock over the door of the Fifth Avenue store, her challenge was to “talk to the whole world but create something just for you”. She used the latest technology to subtly change volumes and proportions and to add movement, dynamism and new forms and shapes of jewels for the new Atlas cuff collection (from £385). The cuff is one of her favourite accessories: a fine openwork, flat bangle (from £470) and a sumptuously thick, deep gold cuff with roman numerals (£9,775) can be worn together to create an arresting architectural silhouette. She loves mixing metals, too: yellow gold, rose gold or silver. The way a client picks and mixes makes it personal.
Boucheron, on the other hand, has simplified and strengthened its signature Quatre ring through the new monochrome metallic Radiant Edition. The original launched in 2004 under the direction of Solange Azagury-Partridge and sandwiched four layers of different-coloured gold in textures referencing Boucheron’s heritage – golden gadroons, rose grosgrain ribbon, a smooth white wedding band and the chocolate-like cobblestones of Place Vendôme. The striking translation of tradition into modernity was a blend of witty irreverence that brewed a strong, wearable and androgynous look – one that continues to run and run. The Quatre Radiant edition (£7,850) ramps up the glamour as the white-gold band is replaced with diamonds in a reflective “mirror” setting and the four coloured golds are sublimated into all-yellow or all-white.
Emotion, along with heritage, distilled to its essence, is a key ingredient of an iconic jewel. At Chaumet, Liens is the little linear stitch that is crossed to form a kiss symbol that opens two halves of a ring. With its signature contemporary and tailored design aesthetic, it is the language of love that weaves through Chaumet’s history. The sweet simplicity of the Liens motif and its universal message of attachment and union easily translates into different jewels – from the recent asymmetric white-gold and diamond XL ring (£5,470) to the updated watch collection (from £2,070).
Emotion and protection are also the signature themes of Wellendorff’s “magic” spinning rings (from £3,150), which are madly sought after by collectors around the world. The inside band of these seemingly simple but ingeniously complex rings represents the neverending circle of life and love, says CEO Christoph Wellendorff, and spins reassuringly against the finger. They also reinterpret Wellendorff’s long-running story of the jewel as amulet or guardian angel. Angel wings are depicted in a wave design on the enamel of the latest Angel’s Sheen model (£3,450), while the guardian angel is engraved on the inside. The rings are recognised across the globe (a new shop opened last month in Tokyo), and Wellendorff says it is the silky tactility of the jewellery, what he calls the “third dimension”, that is its strongest signature. He says one collector describes Wellendorff jewellery as “the only jewellery I can recognise with my eyes closed”.
Lucia Silvestri, Bulgari’s jewellery creative director, believes a huge part of the enduring appeal of the iconic BZero1 ring (£5,900) is “the material pleasure of wearing it”. The spool-like ring, launched in 1999, was based on the Colosseum. The spiral represents Bulgari’s link to the Eternal City – its past, present and future. The industrial-chic design, with its little cotton reel-like notches in the bands above and below the spiral, fuses two Bulgari features: the springy Tubogas of the 1970s and the double-Bulgari logo that was introduced in 1934. At different times, the BZero1 ring has been diamond sprinkled or encrusted; spiralled in coloured marble or white, black or warm-bronze ceramic; or edged in rose gold, as in this year’s 130th anniversary BZero1 Roma ring (£1,100). Silvestri aims to bring femininity to Bulgari’s architectural style, but admits that the best-known collections present the strongest challenge when it comes to exploring different design directions and interpreting the “personality and energy” she believes are the soul of all Bulgari creations.
The Cartier panther has become something of a legend in its own right – not only an icon of jewellery design, but of 20th-century cultural history. From the first diamond- and onyx-flecked pattern that replicated the animal’s pelt, created in 1914, the panther grew into a figurative, sculptural jewel that was the prized and proud badge of great 20th-century women of style and status – emblematic of the modern, bold female who relished her freedom. This year, to celebrate 100 years since its first appearance, Cartier has launched a collection devoted to the panther in all its stylistic expressions, moods and attitudes. Image, style and heritage director Pierre Rainero explains how the panther has prowled its way through every decade of Cartier’s history. “We never stopped making them. And now the image is so established and recognisable, we have more freedom. We can be more allusive, either cannibalising or deconstructing the original idea; for example, using black and white in abstract ways. People immediately make the link to the panther.”
Rainero has noticed a return to signature and classic designs, like the panther or the 1970s Love Bangle (£4,450). “Consciously or unconsciously, people want to be part of a tribe, and the jewel has always marked a rite of passage for a group or generation.” He feels that the panther, however, is beyond a signature. “It has such authenticity and its identity is so strong, some women might even find it too powerful, too iconic.”
In the new Panthère collection (from £2,020), the original diamond and onyx abstract fur pattern is contemporised in different ways – on a bangle segmented with strips of chalcedony, or translated into a geometric mosaic of black onyx and diamonds (price on request). The sun‑yellow and black enamel spotted creature of the 1940s and 1960s sits atop a massive faceted citrine (£20,000). Most fabulously ferocious of all is the ring of structural, openwork gold, where the gleaming and predatory panther head, with its chiselled profile and slanting sun-lit tsavorite eyes, envelops the finger as its willing prey (£14,200). The roar of the new power ring.
Nothing, however, is more universally iconic in the world of jewellery than the diamond. For diamond houses such as Graff and De Beers, the diamond itself becomes the brand signature, hero and muse at once. Yet both report growing demand for design collections that sum up their style and take on the story of the diamond. At De Beers, the Talisman showcases the diamond in its earliest role as a magical amulet, as it charts the journey of the diamond from raw to refined. It sets rough stones in muted natural shades of brown, pink and yellow alongside polished diamonds of pure, white brilliance in hand-hammered gold medallions. Jennie Farmer, brand director, says: “We are still quite young, but the Talisman has become our icon, less a motif and more a concept that can grow with the brand and stand the test of time.” Talisman’s success generates a continual evolution: this year’s lighter and more feminine Talisman Sublime medallions set a rough diamond within a circle of sunray-like baguettes (£6,050); 2015 will see a capsule collection (from £10,000) of eight one-of-a-kind Talisman medallions, each embedded with rough diamonds in natural, pastel colours. The appeal of the Talisman and what makes it an icon, says Farmer, is the mix of brand signature with individual identity; each rough diamond and each composition is different, so that clients buy into the brand with a jewel that is unique and talismanic to them.
Graff’s signature collection is appropriately called Icon. Motif-based, the jewels are composed around the little scallop shape that accompanies the Graff logo and is repeated in both the interiors and exteriors of Graff boutiques around the world. It’s inspired by the 1970 Graff image of a jewelled coiffure (recently recreated for a head-turning advertising campaign), explains CEO François Graff, which in turn was inspired by the extravagant French bejewelled wigs of the 18th century. The Icon outline is delicate and feminine, with a hint of the grandeur of Versailles, and is applied to pendants ( £8,300), bracelets and earrings. So popular has it proved as a way to access one of the great classical diamond houses, that it is now being extended to more ornate jewels, such as a lacy diamond openwork band ring and wide bracelet, or a sautoir and fringed pendant accented with emeralds or sapphires, with matching long drop earrings (all price on request).
It was the diamond that the British jeweller Boodles turned to when it came up with its bestselling ring Raindance (£8,500), which was inspired by rain – an iconic British theme if ever there was one. Launched in 2000, the white-gold multibands are scattered, seemingly at random, with diamond raindrops set in tailored settings – a resolutely modern distillation of an emotive theme. Head designer Rebecca Hawkins spent months finding a perfectly balanced yet spontaneous arrangement to suggest rain dancing in sunlight. Raindance has had one or two makeovers, from the Anniversary Raindance (from £7,200), with its subtle twisted line, to the Watercolour ring (£4,600), sprinkled with pink spinels, mandarin garnets, rubellites and diamonds, and recently a Raindance sautoir (£82,000). In 2010, the 10th anniversary year, the V&A chose Raindance for its permanent collection, singling it out as an enduring icon of British design. Fashionable yet beyond fads; enduring and emblematic; and private, personal and pleasurable – this is the beating heart of the icon jewel. Join the club.