Just as fashion has cleaned up its act, streamlining silhouettes, paring down and powering up, so jewellery too has taken a turn towards simplicity and strength. The past few years have witnessed a subtle shift away from figurative fantasies spun around convoluted storytelling, and a move into a palate-cleansing abstraction of form and colour in which precious metals and gemstones become the concept itself rather than surface ornamentation. Something similar happened in the 1990s: minimalism brought a much-needed respite from 1970s jet-set glamour and 1980s post-feminist fashion-jewellery frenzy. Adornment was almost totally banished from fashion, and what remained was largely devoid of depth or meaning.
Now, thank heavens, jewellery is very much part of fashion, both creatively and commercially – and this time around, cultural depths, substance and meaning remain essential elements, only distilled into a forward-looking, design-driven idiom. It is what the German designer Stefan Hemmerle has been doing so brilliantly and inimitably since the 1990s, when he began setting diamonds in iron and streamlining and reducing forms into powerful graphic compositions of texture and colour. It is also what Italian-born, New York-based expert gemologist Tito Pedrini does with his hand-chosen, custom-cut stones, using their shape and colour to construct works with strong, tailored silhouettes, highlighting the life and light within the stones (Elica earrings, $13,000). Both have been working against the grain of prevailing fashions.
This spring, Galliano-esque theatricality morphs into modernist high drama, Prada shifts from Victorian-style flower necklaces (from £995) to colossal, 1930s cocktail-style cuff bangles (from £1,120), and Chanel accessorises with streamlined collars and cuffs (from £1,000) boasting a single gigantic pearl. The new jewellery look truly makes its mark: geometric, architectural or patterned like a Spirograph, with undertones of the tribal primitivism that is one of fashion’s strongest themes this season. Always a fail-safe inspiration and a way into timeless modernity, tribal decoration shows the gem at its most authentic and powerful: stripped back, spontaneous and ritualistic. It all ties in nicely: ethnic objects influenced cubism and modern art – another major influence on fashion this season – and the finishing touch thrown into the season’s brew is a street‑style vibe, an edge of tough nonchalance and a new, contemporary, youthful opulence.
In jewellery, the mood veers into architecture, engineering and construction, as well as the beauty of mathematics, the harmony of divine proportions and the sacred geometry of nature. As I see it, this is all part of a design mega-trend, the meeting of art and science, which is especially relevant to jewellery, constantly juggling the science of gemology and the alchemy of creation with poetry, art and design.
Lauren Adriana, one of the hottest new names today, is committed to what she calls “geometric abstraction”, taking a fiercely anti-naturalist, nonrepresentational stance to her work. “My designs are based on clean, simple geometry, but using colour, texture and patination to add detail. I believe pieces can be ornate, amazing and remarkable without being naturalistic.” She does, though, draw loosely on tribal forms and patterns, especially Ikat ones, whose earthy colours – rust, cobalt blue and muted greens – translate well into gemstones. “For fashion, tribal tends to be trend-led; for jewellers it’s timeless,” she explains. “And with any kind of abstract pattern that’s not representational, you can play with scale, which is a lot of fun, and where and how it works on the body.” Her Barb earrings (price on request) are ethnic-inspired in form and colour; the Grid earrings (£28,000) – a square take on the classic hoop, made of slices of chalcedony – are Ikat-influenced, and the Ingot ring (price on request), set with a long, lean blue indicolite, loosely based on African Akan gold weights, also exudes a strong 1930s, machine-age flavour.
With appropriate simplicity, Lily Gabriella, another bright new talent, has named her signature series of sculptural, architectural earrings and rings (£9,000) Collection 1. The pieces are contemporary yet sensual, their dynamic lines and planes swirling around the finger, in yellow, rose, white or black rhodium-plated gold, finished with a matte softness. Other vibrantly coloured versions are outlined or smothered with emeralds, rubies, pink sapphires or rarefied coloured diamonds. Born in Rio de Janeiro, the granddaughter of Lily Safra, philanthropist, art collector and jewellery lover, Lily Gabriella Elia combines the forms of primitive South American tribal pieces with the refinement of her upbringing, surrounded as she was by art, artists and designers, including family friends such as Hubert de Givenchy and Alber Elbaz, for whom she later did a brief work stint in his studio.
Fashion, she says, plays a big part in her process: “It has become very structural, the shapes have changed, emphasising colour and techniques, which has all influenced my work.” Modern architecture and ethnic adornment, however, remain her prime inspirations. “I have always loved architecture, particularly the work of Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid. I try to translate their forms, along with very primitive, organic shapes of tribal jewellery, into my work. The matte finish to the gold is also a little wink to ethnic pieces.” Her collection made its first public appearance last November at William & Son, London. Although young in spirit, the jewels are traditionally handcrafted in a small, family-run atelier in Milan. Clemence Merat, head of jewellery at William & Son, says, “The pieces are minimalist yet feminine. Fashion is so important these days; there’s a need to match cool clothes with cool jewellery, which should be both everyday yet special.”
Design duo Shimell and Madden is definitely a name to watch. Luke Shimell trained as a goldsmith and diamond-mounter, and Emma Madden studied metalworking and 3D design. Both are resolutely modernist, and their work is abstract and linear, yet alive with rhythmic energy, resonating with the dignity of ancient architecture and the purity of classical mathematics. The rings, brooches and earrings in their debut precious collection (from £1,175) are complex openwork structures in heavily textured 18ct gold, an effect achieved by cutting the surface with tiny diamonds. Large, perfectly proportioned stones have been specially cut in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, in the shape of a perfect prism (a “mirror cut”), creating an internal refraction that mirrors or magnifies what lies behind it (ring, £4,400). Madden says she builds the designs by hand-constructing 3D models, so that the jewel gathers its own momentum. “I’ve always been fascinated by science and quantum physics,” she explains, “and we’ve both always been oriented towards geometry, symmetry, primal shapes and complex structures. We’ve just accidentally crossed paths with something on-trend right now.”
In Paris, Charlotte Dauphin de la Rochefoucauld has recently launched her first fine-jewellery collection (from £2,000), and with her brand Dauphin, she has also built a new visual vocabulary for precious gems based on abstraction and architectural expressions of form, line and chiaroscuro, all utterly reduced into sleek, slender yet voluminous sculptures. The squares of massive rings and earrings are divided into crosses and triangles, while the bangle (£32,829) and collar are both constructed as open cages, curved to fit the body. In white, yellow, rose or black gold, all are immaculately hand-set with diamonds.
Danish-born, London- and Copenhagen-based goldsmith Kamilla Ruberg, made her name through her original kinetic collection (from £2,500) of slim gold sculptures, quivering like miniature mobiles, in constant motion. She expands the concept in her new Anamorphic series (bangle, £5,750), which are like Spirograph patterns: intricate structured traceries in fine gold, inspired by Islamic motifs, that play with shapes, changing rhythm and perspective. Kinetic is, in fact, the name of the debut handcrafted silver collection (from £189) by new London brand, Ruifier. Based on the idea of reflected starlight, the topaz- and aquamarine-mounted pieces (from £489) feature cuboid elements that move within their graphic settings. The Icon collection, in silver or vermeil, is equally strong and clean: a wide-band ring over which hangs a slender circle (from £189), or a stepped oblong pyramid ring framed in diamonds (£569).
It is not only young, fresh conceptual designers who are beating a geometric path. Established designer-jewellers and brands are heading in the same direction: Boucheron has cleverly added to its iconic Quatre line with dramatic openwork cuffs (£18,050), and Tiffany & Co will next month launch a new generation of its crisp, numeric Atlas collection (bangle, £8,125). William & Son’s first own-label collection, London (from £1,950), has an architectural, art-deco flavour, its figure-of-eight or interlocking sequences traced in diamonds in rose or white gold (£14,000). Modernist designer-jeweller, Ben Day, creates bold, square rings of rich, soft gold, embedded with three differently shaped stones in strong contrasting colours, styled as modern art works (£9,500). And Shaun Leane, who has long combined art deco with tribal elements, now sharpens his signature tusk motif into the Sabre collection, the knife-edge, elongated curved contours set with tapering, specially cut, cubist-inspired amethysts and citrines: long, slender earrings (£9,900) and a diamond ring (£10,350) that can be paired with a smooth yellow gold version (£2,300) extending the sabre across two fingers.
Danish silversmith Georg Jensen, now under the ownership of Investcorp, has always followed a streamlined Scandinavian aesthetic, leading the way in the 1950s and 1960s with work by the likes of Nanna Ditzel, or the glorious Vivianna Torun Bülow-Hübe – one of my all-time design heroines. A carefully curated selection of these Georg Jensen contemporary classics has now been reproduced as part of its Archive Collection, celebrating its 110th anniversary and the new leadership of CEO and chief creative officer, David Chu. Updating what he calls Georg Jensen’s “luxurious simplicity”, Chu has created a limited edition inspired by the Northern Pole Star, the brilliant celestial body, and its near exact alignment with the North Pole. North Star in 18ct white or yellow gold and set with diamonds, elongates rays of glinting starlight into a spectacular ring (£3,995) that stretches across two fingers, hanging slender gold earrings (£1,025), or winding around the wrist as a star-studded bangle (£10,155).
Chu explains that he wanted to interpret this natural phenomenon of the northern skies in designs that express “bold, empowered femininity”. The very same message, it seems, sent out this season by the fashion world. As Adriana says, “What is happening to jewellery today is the same as last century, when naturalistic art nouveau gave way to art-deco modernism, influenced by the new mechanical age. I believe this is where things are going to go, with the west looking for a western discipline of design.”