Grand jewellery of the sort beloved by those who are invited to presidential balls, ceremonial dinners and high‑ticket charity events doesn’t adapt too well to everyday life. Too showy-offy and, yes, frankly, too obviously expensive. So what designers have long learnt to do is to make some elaborate pieces that satisfy the occasional desire for something eye-poppingly spectacular, but which can be broken down into smaller, less patently ostentatious pieces suitable for life’s more quotidian celebrations. Historically, most of the grand jewellers did this, though it wasn’t until the start of the last century that transformative jewellery really took off.
Fans of Coco Chanel will know that her first-ever jewellery line featured a necklace that split into bracelets and a brooch. Tiaras – only required at the grandest of dos – were obvious candidates for breaking down into smaller pieces, so the jewels could be enjoyed as pendants and brooches at less formal events. Elaborate necklaces, too, were designed so that elements could easily be detached for use as pendants, hair ornaments or clips.
But, as Erin Morris, of Bond Street jewellers David Morris, puts it, modern jewellers also recognise the need for versatility. “I’m always trying to think of ways to enable our customers to get the maximum pleasure from their jewellery. This is why we often have earrings with a device for attaching a drop to make a glamorous evening version out of a plainer day pair. It’s also why we have rivières of gemstones with a detachable pendant that can be added for extra panache; and earrings with a removable central diamond that can be worn as a single stud. We always have a large number of pieces in stock, but are happy to work with clients to create bespoke ones too.”
At the time of writing David Morris has, for instance, a pair of large, square Asscher-cut diamond earrings, each of which has an 18ct white-gold pear-shaped diamond surround that is entirely detachable – thus they can be worn as simpler, single-diamond earrings or made more scintillating with the extra surrounds. And it recently sold a stunning four-strand opal and diamond-bead necklace (from £300,000) – the diamonds are 78.01ct, the opals 238.97ct – with a glorious opal butterfly at the centre that can be separated off to become a brooch. The butterfly has 34.19ct-worth of opals in its wings, while the body is formed from three diamonds totalling 6.13ct.
Largely because it specialises in such show-stopping jewellery, Cartier has always been at the forefront of devising pieces that can be worn in multiple ways. Last year it came out with the most spectacular collection of 41 jewels called Les Heures Fabuleuses. Illustrating extraordinary skill, each piece contains a beautiful secret watch (price on request). Some are hidden beneath jewels, but a few have spectacular jewelled covers that can be removed and worn singly as brooches. A peacock (£148,000), for instance, fashioned from brilliant-cut diamonds sits beside a carved ruby rose and nephrite-jade leaves on a slim silver strap. Slide back the peacock and a watch with a mother-of-pearl face surrounded by more brilliant-cut diamonds and embellished with the same roses and leaves is revealed. The peacock of course turns out to be a brooch. Another Cartier watch face is hidden by a garland of lotus flowers (£143,000), yet another by a writhing serpent and butterflies (£153,000).
A fourth design (price on request) consists of brilliant-cut diamonds that form a cover for the watch, and a bracelet or hair ornament, while a smaller middle section can serve as a standalone brooch. Each of these is a technical tour de force, featuring many carats of gemstones and extraordinary workmanship.
Bulgari often creates necklaces that can be made more or less elaborate depending upon mood or the formality of the occasion. There is a pretty yellow-gold necklace featuring 68 pear-shaped fancy sapphires (37.31ct), round brilliant-cut diamonds and pavé diamonds (14.16ct), which, by removing two sections, can be transformed into a tiara (price on request). It also has a striking string of Zambian emerald beads (1021.38ct) that can be made even more stupendous by adding two diamond, ruby and emerald serpents. When detached, the serpents can be worn as earrings (price on request).
Wellendorff, the family-owned German company best known for its 18ct-gold “rope” necklaces, has what it calls its Magic Purple earrings (£27,250, from Boodles), which can be worn four ways. Made from 18ct white gold with 1.13ct-worth of diamonds and the brand’s signature cold enamel, the earrings can be worn as white-gold and diamond hoops. For something a little more embellished, some circular enamelled amulets can be added with either a white or purple face. Finally, a further hoop of diamonds can make for an even more decorative earring.
For September’s La Biennale des Antiquaires, Graff devised a hidden watch in a piece of jewellery (price on request). Based round a blaze of blue sapphires and finest diamonds, it consists of a spectacular pair of brooches with a pear-shaped sapphire at each centre, linked with strands of diamonds and sapphires. Each of those brooches can be detached and worn either singly or together. The tiny dress watch is hidden in a tassel made of blue-sapphire beads. It is an utterly memorable, finely crafted one-off piece, featuring 43.26ct-worth of diamonds and 332.13ct-worth of sapphires. On a smaller scale, Graff has a double-flower brooch (price on request) with 41.79ct-worth of diamonds that can be separated and worn as individual blooms.
Versatile one-off designs are a feature of Van Cleef & Arpels’ haute-joaillerie collection. Its Pagode Précieuse earrings are made of yellow gold and brilliant-cut white and yellow diamonds placed around a splendid oval-cut purple sapphire. They come with pendants of gold, diamonds (some pear-shaped) and rubellite beads, which can be added to turn them into something more spectacular. In much the same mood is its Miroir Enchanté necklace (price on request), made from emerald beads and diamonds with an exquisite disc of brilliant-cut diamonds circling a large cabochon‑cut sapphire and a fabulous tassel made from diamonds, pearls, sapphires and emeralds. The disc can be detached, and doubles as a stunning brooch, leaving the beaded necklace and tassel to make a simpler statement.
Harry Winston has made a name through the years for finding fantastic stones, and has created the Incredibles cluster necklace (price on request), worn by Charlize Theron to this year’s Oscars. An almost classically simple fancy-diamond shaped necklace of scintillating finest-quality diamonds set in platinum, it can, by the addition of a pendant featuring a 31ct square emerald-cut diamond, be turned into something infinitely more dazzling. The pendant itself also transforms into a splendid brooch. Altogether the 155 diamonds add up to a show-stopping 58.56ct.
Like Cartier, Harry Winston has also been exploring delicious ways to play hide-and-seek with precious timepieces. Its Emerald Signature watch (price on request) can be worn on a black satin strap with a diamond-embellished cover to hide the face, making it look like a very grand bracelet. Alternatively, the entire watch, with or without its face showing, can be worn as a pendant and as a brooch. Both this and the Incredibles necklace are one‑off pieces.
For many years, Lalique only made jewellery from its inimitable glass, but about two years ago it returned to René Lalique’s tradition of creating fine jewellery, and in July opened a charming boutique for haute joaillerie in the Rue de la Paix in Paris. For the launch, Lalique designer Quentin Obadia drew extensively on its archive and came up with a collection of fantastically elaborate designs that would make splendid statements at a grand soirée but which can be broken down into smaller, less showy pieces for every day.
The Lalique Gaia necklace (£120,000) is made from five strands that can be presented in five different combinations. There are three rows of 86 hematite beads, two rows of 82 blue sapphires, 30 green sapphires and 16 yellow sapphires set in yellow gold, and then there are two scarab beetles composed of pavé-set diamonds, black spinels, hematites, cabochon-cut opals, mother-of-pearl and lacquer. While the five necklaces can be worn separately or together in any combination from a single rope to the full set of five, the scarab-beetle motif, beloved of René Lalique himself and so emblematic of the house, can also be worn as a headband on a satin and leather string. Admirers of the founder will find a treasure trove of pieces in the Rue de la Paix designed by Obadia but inspired by a deep love of Lalique’s traditions and using many of its most famous themes.
At Chaumet there is an enchanting starry Joséphine Aigrette diamond brooch (£42,090 with chain) made from 240 brilliant-cut diamonds set in 18ct rhodium-plated white gold, which can be worn as a pendant on the accompanying chain or attached to a hairband by means of an adjustment ring. Pomellato’s Tango range consists of a series of chunky links made from rose gold and either brown or white diamonds– two bracelets link easily together to form a necklace (£46,000 for the set).
“Modular” is the term that Chopard prefers to use for its versatile jewellery. Its gem setters, cutters and polishers have taken 300 nizam-bead diamonds (66ct), more than 2,600 brilliant-cut diamonds (13ct) and 27 deep-blue sapphires (56ct) and made an enchantingly pretty diamond and sapphire necklace (price on request). In its grandest incarnation it has five linked circles of diamonds surrounding sapphires with seven long tassels. But the seven tassels can be removed leaving a sweetly delicate diamond and sapphire necklet, and either piece can be worn with a matching ring and earrings (all price on request).
Meanwhile, Boodles has two pairs of Ashoka earrings that, come the evening, can be transformed into some extraordinarily glamorous chandeliers. The first combines Ashoka‑cut diamond earrings with detachable (and very gorgeous) aquamarine drops (£94,550), while its Thrilliant earrings consist of a plainish Ashoka‑cut diamond to which long diamond drops can be fitted (£63,000). Finally, its Thrilliant Ashoka necklace can be worn with a simple pendant or with a long trailing chandelier-style diamond tassel (£50,000).