Never has a classic been twisted quite like this, with such vitality and daring: the lavish lace that swathed the spring runways, in every conceivable colour, shape and form, showed not the slightest hint of Miss Havisham, arsenic or curtain-twitching. This was contemporary lace – young and bold – ingeniously interpreted by Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton, its patterns and colours subverted at Dolce & Gabbana, and its associations transmuted at Valentino, where its girliness was offset by the vampish drama of red and black.
This latest spin on lace has been driven by a mix of new technology and traditional handicrafts, as fashion designers play with the possibilities of laser-sharp cut-outs in various materials, from leather to neoprene. And they have surely been inspired by the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding gown, with its hand-spun lace and appliqué details.
Lace has also excited creatives in other fields – its influence is seen, for example, in the work of paper-cut artist Rob Ryan – but it is in jewellery where some of the most beautiful examples of this inspiration can be found. Both Louis Vuitton and Chanel have recently translated lace into signature jewels. At Vuitton, the high jewellery creative director, Lorenz Baumer, has produced a monogrammed lace design that is incorporated as a background in his L’Ame du Voyage collection (prices on request), the logo-flowers skilfully laser-cut, like a precious web, into a fine fabric of gold.
At Chanel Fine Jewellery, the signature camellia has been spun into the Dentelle de Camélia series (prices on request), with the diamond designs seemingly harking back to the great sparkling jewels and clouds of white lace of the belle époque that made such a powerful impression on the young Gabrielle Chanel.
Reimagining the softness of lace in precious metals and gems has long been a challenge for jewellers – from Cartier’s refined moiré diamond-and-platinum confections of the early 1900s, which are still an inspiration for its newest pieces (prices on request), through Van Cleef & Arpels’ gold-lace handkerchiefs of the 1940s to Buccellati’s miraculously light, hand-pierced honeycomb gauze openwork, developed in the 1950s and 1960s (from £20,000) and, more recently, Michelle Ong’s oxidised silver and diamond lace cuffs, which have evolved into her Stars of the Night jewels, in white, yellow and black diamonds (prices on request).
Today, with the escalating cost of materials, there are pragmatic, as well as aesthetic, reasons for this light and lacy mood: it requires less precious metal and fewer gems, while maintaining a sense of drama and volume that is balanced by floating, airy lightness. (Volume also featured prominently in this spring’s fashions; Marc Jacobs described his collection as “clothes [that] move lightly through the air or allow air to flow through them”.) The new lacy, light jewels exude an intoxicating mix of strength and fragility, femininity and power.
An airy weightlessness is exactly what American jeweller Harry Winston introduced to diamond jewels in the 1950s and 1960s, with his pioneering “wreath” design, clustering pear- and marquise-cut diamonds into stylised floral compositions with minimal metal settings, which caressed the skin much like lace. The late Winston loathed metal and often said that if he could he would attach diamonds directly to a woman’s skin. The company he founded continues this mission with its newest, most ambitious collection to date, Ultimate Adornments (from £30,000), for which design director Sandrine de Laage draws on the embellishments of costumes, including lace, from around the globe.
Of the seven sets of meticulously hand-crafted diamond-and-platinum jewels, two are inspired by lace: Guipure and Queen. In Guipure, lushly layered floral clusters conjure up the density of Venetian guipure lace (prices on request). In Queen, diamonds are woven to recreate the finesse and intricacy of Point d’Alençon, the queen of lace and a favourite, says de Laage, of Marie Antoinette. More than 100 carats of diamond have gone into a necklace designed as a sweet, garlanded Peter Pan collar (price on request).
Before creating the collection, the Harry Winston design team immersed itself in the company’s extensive archives, which contain over 100,000 sketches and gouaches in files that line the walls of the design studio above its Fifth Avenue store, a New York institution. Inspiration came from the designs of Shinde, Winston’s hugely talented chief designer for 40 years, who brought a multicultural perspective, and a sensual link to fabrics and femininity, to the King of Diamonds’ jewellery.
“We spent a great deal of time and effort on research, visiting textile ateliers and lace-makers in Europe to understand the techniques,” explains De Laage. “The process is very similar to that of jewellery-making, both requiring hundreds of hours of highly skilled hand-work. I wanted these jewels to mix the strength of the diamond with the delicacy of lace.”
Rebecca Hawkins, the head of design at British jeweller Boodles, attributes much of the success of its diamond Vintage Lace collection (from £18,500) to this surge of interest in crafts, such as knitting, embroidery, crochet and lace-making: “This influence is seen in all areas of art and design. The Royal Wedding certainly drew attention to lace-making and lace-inspired designs. We’re also inspired by filigree, an important classical element of jewellery-making,” she says.
The Vintage Lace design revolves around a central, substantial precious gemstone or diamond, usually a cut Ashoka diamond (an elongated cushion cut) or a cushion or marquise, floating in lace-like openwork, a scallop-edged curl or flick of diamonds. “Our clients appreciate the lightness and femininity, as well as the romance, of vintage lace,” says Hawkins.
Lacy diamond openwork has been made possible by the perfection of micro-pavé diamond-setting techniques – the skilful setting (using a microscope) of tiny stones that create threads of light and ultra-fine diamond traceries. De Beers Diamond Jewellers uses this technique to great effect in the intricate lace-like bands of its Reverie collection (from £2,050), and the rings, pendants and earrings of the Enchanted Lotus series (from £800), which trace the stylised outline of a lotus flower in glinting diamonds.
In contrast, Annoushka’s delicate diamond-scattered Lattice collection (from £1,100) is graphic yet ultra-feminine and owes much to lacy architectural ironwork, spotted on Annoushka Ducas’s extensive travels. “The see-through sexiness of lace is channelled into exoticism; forbidden glimpses of a secret world stolen through intricate screens, windows and doors in Morocco or India. I tried to balance the delicacy of the designs with the use of black rhodium, which gives the pieces a feeling of strength,” she says.
At the Danish family-owned and -run goldsmith and jeweller Ole Lynggaard Copenhagen, designer Charlotte Lynggaard has turned up the volume and relaxed the mood for her Lace collection (from £1,450), inspired, she explains, by a piece of antique lace found in a Paris flea market. The jewels are hand-worked in thick, smooth, rich yellow or white gold, some sprinkled with diamonds; the crispness of flower cutouts contrasting with the organic curves and amorphous silhouettes of wide gold bands, pendants and earrings, fringed with drop-shaped gems. Working gold into lace-like jewels, alongside the more obvious white diamonds, brings a fresh modernity and warmth to the pieces.
Meanwhile, trend-setting Italian brand Pomellato draws on the nostalgic romance of black lace and 19th-century jewels for its Victoria collection, framing hand-carved lacy black jet in rose gold (from £1,230). And, in her studio in Istanbul, sculptor-turned-goldsmith Aida Bergsen transforms gold and silver into the complex, compelling jewels of her Lace Collection (from £335), inspired, she says, by Ottoman textiles and embroideries: deep knuckle rings in criss-cross mesh or wide openwork cuffs are heavily textured to imitate scrolls of embroidered lace – delicate yet voluptuously rich.
Other jewellers are using more high-tech methods to produce their lace-inspired pieces. Laser-cutting, which has made its mark on textiles, and consequently the fashion industry, can also be used to create precise lace-like open forms in metal. But its use in fine jewellery is highly specialised and still in its infancy. Francis Mertens, owner and designer of IDH Titanium, in Antwerp, is at the cutting edge, literally, of new jewellery technology, creating intricate, openwork titanium jewels (from £3,000). “It is about lightness and beautiful forms,” he says. “There is no limit to the possibilities.”
German-born artist-goldsmith Tom Rucker uses laser technology in a different way: his pioneering process creates light, gossamer-woven platinum jewels, inspired, he explains, by the Geodesic Dome at the Montreal World Expo in 1967. In this painstaking process, developed by Rucker in 1995, he laser-welds ultra-fine platinum wire over a body-shape that is then dissolved, leaving an intricate hollow cobweb-like structure (from £800) that is strong, light and mesmerising in its luminous delicacy.
At the same time, the ancient craft of filigree work, interpreted in so many cultures around the world, is making a comeback. Spanish goldsmith Arabel Lebrusan (formerly creative designer of Leblas) has made her name with a modern take on traditional Spanish filigree work, which is produced by a specialist craftsman in the west of Spain. “I wanted to fuse jewellery with fashion and have always liked lace,” she says. “It was a question of going back to my roots, to Spanish filigree work, but removing a lot of the decoration, working with cleaner lines to create something more modern.”
Lebrusan spent weeks learning from the best artisans, then pushing boundaries of size and pattern. “The beauty is in the translucency of the filigree, and it has to be handmade to achieve this,” she says. She works in recycled sterling silver, plated in rich yellow or romantic rose gold, or black rhodium for a more rock’n’roll attitude. After her bestselling Rosette bangle (£480), she created the Links bangle (from £680), with paisley filigree work giving a tantalising glimpse of skin.
Indian jeweller Amrapali is also revitalising filigree, with its stunning, one-of-a kind cuffs and bangles created from yellow gold (from £9,500). It is committed to preserving ancient jewellery-making techniques, training craftsmen in its Jaipur studios. As Akanksha Arora, the company’s creative director, says, “More than the accelerating gold prices and the need to reduce costs, the trend driving demand for lace collections is the desire to see the handmade fruits of a true artisan; a jewel in which time and skill have been invested.”