So here’s the long and the short of it: after seasons of long, layered sautoirs and ethereal chains, the choker is the way to go with neckwear this spring. But it’s no longer the rigid ornament of the Edwardian lady.
Yes, there are traditional, deep dog collars, worn chin to chest, but there are also simple, single coils worn right on the collarbone and ribbon-like strands wrapped around the throat, high on the neck. Or simply wrap your sautoir or pearls tight around your neck leaving one strand hanging long and loose.
At Dior, however, there were no half measures: for spring/summer 2016, his last collection for the house, Raf Simons made a standout feature of the modernist metal and resin choker (£600) to send out a powerful message of romanticised futurism. Seen on almost every model, some were worn over a flower-sprigged Riviera-chic scarf, often hung with a 1947 charm or Dior’s lucky number 8. Strong and hard-edged, highlighting the fragility and eroticism of the neck, the chokers countered and underlined the collection’s essential femininity. Their graphic, 1970s-style, almost Scandi-chic streamlined geometry also reminded us of Simons’ signature architectural silhouette.
In fashion terms, the new choker is a real hybrid of influences and associations: alongside echoes of the 1970s, there’s a 1990s vibe to the rigid open-ended metal choker with gem-set terminals, as in Cartier’s Paris Nouvelle Vague rose gold open collar (£78,000) with stepped motifs lined in haematite, amethyst, smoky quartz, pink opals and diamonds. Cartier’s Etourdissant collection fuses fashion with exoticism to create two dramatic chokers: the Arabica (price on request), in white and rose gold with diamonds and rubies and a lush central cluster of bobbling garnet and ruby berries; and the Hyderabad (price on request), designed in the Indian-inspired tutti-frutti style of carved gems made famous in the 1920s, and which converts to a headband or bracelet.
There’s a 1990s rerun too in the openwork tattoo-like tracery chokers, as in Diane Kordas’ lyrical diamond-set Vine necklace (£10,150) in rose or black gold. Add to this a touch of provocative Victoriana, of Degas’ dancers and belle époque decadence, all cross-fertilised with the enduring image of Edwardian prim elegance encapsulated by Princess Alexandra, her famous neck wreathed in rows of pearls (incidentally also big in fashion again this spring).
Van Cleef & Arpels recaptures the classical appeal of the ribbon tied around the neck in its Rose de Noël silk choker with flower brooch (£23,800), composed of mother‑of-pearl petals. First designed in the 1970s, the brooch is pinned to a curved silk choker that is fastened at the back with a diamond buckle (which looks equally good, and more provocatively belle époque, positioned at the front without the brooch).
The choker’s architectural strength of form and range of cultural and historical influences – tribal, Celtic, boudoir, noble, punk, modernist – also give more contemporary designer-jewellers ample inspiration, whether simple or sumptuous, minimal or maximal. For example, Russian-born designer K Kova, one of the stable of on-trend jewellers represented by Valery Demure, makes rigorously linear, slender chokers (£10,500) of constructivist compositions, in rose or black gold with white, champagne or black diamonds. Demure comments, “There is a more minimal ‘prim’ trend going on right now in fashion, with more defined silhouettes – and a choker that sits high on the neck, creating a neat and more controlled look, responds perfectly to this.” By contrast, Australian sculptor Jordan Askill swathes the neck in black rhodium-plated Monarch butterflies in flight for an open collar necklace (£1,900) in his series for Georg Jensen. The influences couldn’t be more different, but both Kova and Askill play up the strong identity of the choker, delivering a striking statement.
Designer-jeweller Carolina Bucci says she instinctively turned to the choker this season in her Superstellar collection, because “it was something I suddenly wanted to wear myself and this part of the body has been overlooked for a long time”. The Superstellar chokers are made, rather like a scarf, from her signature soft, woven gold and silk strands, and studded with pavé-diamond or glinting gold stars (£3,190), or with cabochon freshwater pearls. Bucci says the choker can be worn alone or with other necklaces of different lengths, but adds “layering is now heavier and more substantial”.
At H Stern, the Fluid Gold neckchains (from £12,300) composed of short tubular segments in exquisite pale matte gold and articulated to flow like molten metal are now piled up into deep chokers (£4,000), alone or fixed with their signature cognac diamond-set star, a subtle reference to the classic Edwardian star brooch. Creative director Roberto Stern suggests wearing a Fluid Gold choker with a chain and pendant hanging just below.
In the upper echelons of precious jewellery, the choker’s high drama and sense of regal femininity have been seized upon by stars on the red carpet. At Cannes last year Sienna Miller dazzled in Bulgari’s Magical Reflections Giardini Italiani necklace (price on request), its curved openwork diamond segments recalling ripples of light on water, curling up around the neck like a frilled collar. And for this year’s Red Carpet collection, Chopard has perfected a fluid diamond choker of scalloped openwork design (price on request) that follows the curves of the neck and flows down over the collarbone. The Chopard design team explains that technology now allows them to create chokers that are bigger, completely gem-set, but flexible. Where once a choker might be made of moiré or velvet, fixed with a jewel, now Chopard achieves this soft flexibility through a kind of golden net onto which it sets gemstones. Today’s chokers are wider, but Chopard’s priority is always to fit a woman’s neck like a glove.
In high jewellery, this look of soft fluidity, the sensual choker rippling down the neck and over the shoulder or neckline, is driving the latest necklace designs. Mikimoto, of course, sells the most classic of pearl chokers – several neat rows with diamond bar spacers – but its latest couture collections also send pearls trickling down over the décolletage. The Empress (£120,000) is a two-part necklace, a seven-row choker with a long centre drop-pearl pendant that can be worn alone or with 10 longer strands. Frost Flowers (price on request) and Dancing Drops (price on request) are both deep pearl and diamond chokers that curve out at the base of the neck, flowing over the collarbone to add movement and shape.
At De Grisogono, founder and creative director Fawaz Gruosi has always favoured the choker for its attention-grabbing femininity – the Sevilla (price on request) was one of his first and most distinctive necklaces, a luscious and vibrant choker of layers of gem clusters and dangling drops. For the opening of De Grisogono’s revamped Bond Street store last month, Gruosi designed a series of one-of-a-kind creations, among them a standout choker (price on request) that spirals turquoise, amethyst, diamonds, Paraíba tourmalines and violet sapphires around the neck, out over the neckline and seductively into the décolletage.
Valérie Messika, creative director and founder of dynamic diamond jewellery house Messika, uses new “skinny” technology to create a slender but strong and flexible metal structure for her cage-like curved Amazone choker (from £20,000), an ultra-modern take on the classic dog collar (price on request). She is delighted at the resurgence of the choker. “I have a special love for chokers as they accentuate a woman’s neckline and shoulders, and make a real statement with an off-the-shoulder dress. Our skinny technology adds a level of comfort and lightness not usually associated with chokers, ensuring our necklaces hug the contour of the neck.”
A cage-like or net design is emerging as a strong design direction elsewhere. In her couture collection, Lebanese jeweller Gaelle Khouri weaves a delicate cobweb-like choker (£4,069) from a mix of gold and silver, the trellis traced in white diamonds. She uses new technology too, to keep her dramatic, tribal-tinged Centipede choker (£3,310) in place. Its blue and green enamel-set fringes, on either side of a tsavorite and blue sapphire-set spine, are held around the neck by fine, almost transparent wires. For Brazilian jeweller Ara Vartanian – arriving in London with a Bruton Place boutique in May – architectural composition and anatomical comfort are prime considerations in the design and crafting of a choker, one of his favourite forms of necklace. “I see it as a challenge in the sense that it is very easy to fall into extravagance when creating a necklace around a gemstone. I am always focused on the strong balance between comfort and the anatomy of the neckline to create a piece that fits delicately and perfectly.” He has made a speciality of the single torque-like open collar (price on request), its ends set with dramatic gemstones, tourmalines, emeralds or rubellites.
Just after last autumn’s spring/summer 2016 fashion weeks, as I was pondering the choker as jewel of the moment, I found myself sitting in the New York loft workshop and living space of artist-goldsmith and jeweller Daniel Brush. He asked his wife Olivia to show me his latest work. She pulled out a long shallow drawer that was full of chokers (price on request). Many were gleaming stainless-steel collars, slender curled bands of tough, sharp-edged metal, made soft as silk, each different, hand-engraved, like moiré or with geometric patterns, waves, clouds or wood markings; others were aggressively studded or hung with a pendant; others still were made of black moiré threaded with diamond squiggles of wondrous spontaneity and finesse – Brush’s celebrated diamond-set “loose threads”. The chokers, as Brush explained, were adjustable, fastened with a magnet that is specially made for him to high standards of strength and efficacy. It turned out that chokers have been one of Brush’s obsessive projects over the past year or so, prompted, he told me, by a friend who had turned down an antique choker she’d wanted because it didn’t fit. It started him thinking about the neck as jewel canvas and he thrilled to the challenge, both practical and artistic, of modernising the choker, its roles and associations, the way it looks and feels. An incurable romantic, Brush “loved the look of a choker on a beautiful neck” but wanted to make it youthful, light-filled and relevant to a modern audience. So, the idea of the 21st-century choker – feminine, provocative, tough, mechanical – clicked into place. Working entirely alone in his loft, Brush has caught the mood of the moment, his artistry tapping into fashion. For him, as for contemporary designer-jewellers, the necklace is most definitely going up in the world.