Modern-day talismans and amulets

Talismanic jewellery with the power to protect, bring luck and nurture spirituality is being reimagined with contemporary verve. Vivienne Becker reports. Photograph by Andy Barter

From top: Bee Goddess gold and diamond Light of Heaven earrings, £5,800. Dior Joaillerie gold, diamond and mother-of-pearl Rose des Vents necklace, £6,300. Wellendorff gold and diamond Brilliance of the Shining Sun necklace, £22,400, and gold, diamond and enamel My Lasting Delight Mother-of-Pearl amulet, £19,300. Bee Goddess rose gold and diamond Artemis necklace, £1,990. Left arm from top of hand: De Beers white gold and rough diamond Talisman ring, price on request. Cartier gold, lapis lazuli and diamond Amulette de Cartier ring, £4,550. Dionea Orcini gold and diamond cuff, £17,900. Right arm from top of hand: Dionea Orcini white gold, diamond, ruby, spinel and tsavorite Profumo ring, £5,530. Dior Joaillerie gold, diamond and turquoise Rose des Vents bracelet, £1,150. De Beers yellow gold and rough diamond Talisman bangle, £7,700. Amrapali gold and precious stone bracelet, £29,700







Make-up: Adele Sanderson using Rouge Bunny Rouge. Manicurist: Sabrina Gayle at LMC Worldwide using Chanel Le Vernis and Chanel Body Excellence hand cream
From top: Bee Goddess gold and diamond Light of Heaven earrings, £5,800. Dior Joaillerie gold, diamond and mother-of-pearl Rose des Vents necklace, £6,300. Wellendorff gold and diamond Brilliance of the Shining Sun necklace, £22,400, and gold, diamond and enamel My Lasting Delight Mother-of-Pearl amulet, £19,300. Bee Goddess rose gold and diamond Artemis necklace, £1,990. Left arm from top of hand: De Beers white gold and rough diamond Talisman ring, price on request. Cartier gold, lapis lazuli and diamond Amulette de Cartier ring, £4,550. Dionea Orcini gold and diamond cuff, £17,900. Right arm from top of hand: Dionea Orcini white gold, diamond, ruby, spinel and tsavorite Profumo ring, £5,530. Dior Joaillerie gold, diamond and turquoise Rose des Vents bracelet, £1,150. De Beers yellow gold and rough diamond Talisman bangle, £7,700. Amrapali gold and precious stone bracelet, £29,700 Make-up: Adele Sanderson using Rouge Bunny Rouge. Manicurist: Sabrina Gayle at LMC Worldwide using Chanel Le Vernis and Chanel Body Excellence hand cream | Image: Andy Barker

The most fashionable jewellery this autumn is jewellery with soul. The recent slew of cool, graphic symbols in jewels, many referencing “sacred geometry”, seems to have self-propagated into a whole lexicon of ancient, alchemical, mystical emblems and signs, enriched with sometimes obscure meaning – an element of spirituality that gives them their edge. They’re modern-day talismans and amulets, to keep us safe, bring us luck, or awaken in us something “other” or “inner”. In doing so, they’re tapping into the mega-trend of wellbeing and mindfulness that’s sweeping through luxury.

In fact, this fashion moment also goes right back to historic basics – revisiting jewellery’s primitive role as magical object, an amulet imbued with the power to protect. There’s been a near-epidemic of evil-eye pendants, loved by the likes of French Vogue’s former editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld and Princess Mary of Denmark. Shamballa bracelets (from €2,690), dreamt up by Danish marque Mads Kornerup and resonating with spiritual energy, have been a sensational success story, adorning Diane von Furstenberg and Giorgio Armani. And Karl Lagerfeld and Pharrell Williams both wear necklaces (from about £2,208) by Aaron Jah Stone, the French brand designed by Cyril Bismuth – fusing, so Bismuth says, the spiritual and the tangible.

Established fine jewellers are right at the forefront of the movement. Cartier’s Amulette de Cartier, launched in an eponymous collection last year, is fast becoming the brand’s latest iconic symbol with its combination of minimalist geometry and emotionally charged meaning. The amulet is a plump but graphic disc (the universal symbol of the sun and life force) in gold, encircling pavé diamonds (the invincible diamond being the original talisman), mother-of-pearl (for protection) and black onyx (for courage). Cartier offers it as a ring (from £1,620), earrings (from £8,200), bracelet (from £1,210) or necklace (from £1,290) – but it looks best worn as a pendant, sitting at the base of the throat (from £1,400). The disc itself unclicks like a padlock, symbolising a wish unlocked or a guardian of secrets. This year, five new meaningful materials have been introduced: pink opal (from £1,550) for joy, lapis lazuli (£4,550) for serenity, malachite (from £11,900) for great expectations, chrysoprase (from £1,740) for creativity and carnelian (£1,420) for vitality – adding up to a full range of “lucky seven” stones.

Amrapali gold and precious stone earrings, £770
Amrapali gold and precious stone earrings, £770

German goldsmith Wellendorff has long made annual “amulets”, rondels incorporating a guardian angel. This year it continues the protective theme in its Moments of Delight collection (from £2,980). The centrepiece is My Lasting Delight Mother-of-Pearl amulet (£19,300), a gold locket hung on a signature silky collar (£22,400). Its front is engraved with a sun motif, its rays spiralling like a mandala, and embellished in opalescent, mother-of‑pearl enamel. The back can be enamelled in the colour of the wearer’s choosing, and the inside can be engraved and inscribed – with an invocation, a spell or a wish. In this, Wellendorff turns to what must be the most potent of jewels’ powers: that of the emotional serenity that derives from happiness.

At De Beers, soulful significance, as much as exceptional design, has turned the Talisman collection into the brand’s iconic bestseller. Now the collection is celebrating 10 years with a new series of Talisman jewels (bangle, £7,700, and ring, price on request) mixing yet more varied cuts and colours of polished diamonds with rough stones. The concept revolves around the rough diamond’s ancient role as a powerful talisman, revered for its immutable hardness and inner light. Its power was believed to be encapsulated in its natural crystalline shape, which is Talisman’s central design feature. De Beers’ uncut stones, with their soft natural sugary “skins” in tones of bronze and grey (all hand-selected and each individual), draw you in with their depth and warmth. By setting rough alongside polished diamonds, embedded in Talisman’s signature hammered-gold setting, the series plays with light, the soul of the diamond, and “tells” the story of the diamond from ancient to modern times.

Fashion, like show business, is big on superstition and talismanic powers. When Christian Dior found a curious little star on a Paris pavement, he took it as a sign of good fortune; it spurred him on to realise his dream of opening his own Maison de Couture in 1946. He carried the star with him in his pocket when he travelled and hung it above his desk in his atelier; it reminded him of his childhood home, a villa by the sea at Granville, called Les Rhumbs – a reference to the 32 divisions of the wind rose, a motif that was found on the mosaic floor of the house’s swimming pool.

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Victoire de Castellane, creative director of Dior Fine Jewellery, took this anecdote as the starting point for her Rose des Vents collection of slender chain bracelets (£1,150), necklaces (£6,300) and sautoirs (from £9,100), loading on the luck through an eight-pointed star motif (referencing M Dior’s lucky number), and also recalling his favourite flower, a recurring theme in Dior designs. One side of the small, pleasingly tactile medallion is set with a laser-cut slice of stone – the joyful pink opal, serene lapis or auspicious turquoise and mother-of-pearl – while the other is overlaid with the finely worked wind rose motif, so that the wearer chooses which amulet, gemstone or star to wear next to the skin.

Coco Chanel, more than any fashion icon, was famed for her near-obsessive belief in the power of signs and symbols: the shooting star or comet, the Maltese cross, the wheatsheaf and the camellia were the motifs she surrounded herself with to help her realise her quest to become a couturier and entrepreneur. She always wore a ring set with a golden topaz on her little finger – a gift from an anonymous admirer known only as “a bohemian”. The new High Jewellery Les Talismans de Chanel collection (brooch, £136,000) hones in on these stories; the core motif is the Byzantine quatrefoil, which here occasionally morphs into a star, an exuberant ribbon or a hypnotic mandala shape, drawing the eye to the very centre – the heart and soul – of the jewel. “More and more, in today’s world, our clients are seeking emotional value in jewels,” says Benjamin Comar, director of jewellery at Chanel. “Talismans give us the courage to move on. We have to believe in something.”

What’s interesting about this jewellery is the way in which abstract and graphic designs are conceived to represent emotions – the responses to the magnetism and mysticism of talismans, rather than the objects themselves. “It’s very new for us,” Comar says, “a very open theme, very rich, with a generosity of design, volume and colour that encapsulates the spirit of Chanel, rather than figurative forms.” The different sets, including Magnétique, Hypnotique, Fascinante, Secrète and Solaire, explore unusual techniques and materials, calibrated to arouse different emotional responses or associations: glowing hammered and repoussé-worked gold conjuring the sun, for example, or the use of rock crystal, one of the most allusive of gem materials, to signify the ultimate search for clarity. A limited edition of five rings (about £67,261), each set with an imperial topaz cabochon, engraved on the underside with a quatrefoil motif, pays homage to Chanel’s own mysterious talisman.

Chanel gold and crystal Magnétique brooch from Les Talismans de Chanel collection, £136,000
Chanel gold and crystal Magnétique brooch from Les Talismans de Chanel collection, £136,000

Individual designer-jewellers are also making the trend their own. Dionea Orcini, a Miami-based former fashion designer, was long preoccupied with the esoteric, medieval lore of gemstones before she launched her own collection, Dionea, two years ago, specifically to celebrate the amuletic role of the jewel. It had to do with “personal soul-searching”, she admits; as part of her research, she dug deep into ancient and sacred sources, studying both texts and objects. “I decided to create something I couldn’t find anywhere: precious jewellery to connect to the power of spiritual roots.” Orcini believes in the electromagnetic force of gemstones, some formed in the depths of the earth over billions of years, and in the power of sacred symbols: the lotus flower growing in muddy waters, reaching towards the light; the Tibetan knot of eternity, symbolising the spiritual path and the sacred geometric flower of life, which she weaves into a deep cuff (£17,900) of gold openwork.

Dionea jewels are stunningly beautiful irrespective of whether one subscribes to their meanings and symbolism; they are both edgy and romantic, and there is a sensual physicality to them too. Her hand ornaments are based on ancient palmistry (from £5,000); her Jaipur earrings (from £5,000) fitted with concealed healing magnets; and her striking Il Profumo pomander jewels (£5,530) – luscious orbs of arabesque gold openwork – open to reveal a flower infused with fragrance. Dionea attributes the current appeal of esoteric jewels to the wish for “something mystical that pulls at our hearts”.

Across the floor-to-ceiling windows of her boutiques in Istanbul, Ece Sirin, the charismatic Turkish founder of Bee Goddess, has written in large script: “Fine jewellery for the soul”. This is both her credo and how she describes her talismanic jewellery brand, launched eight years ago in Turkey with the aim of creating a form of “enlightened luxury”. “Jewellery is about light,” she says. “The definition of that light has changed. It’s not about sparkle now, but about jewellery that empowers and enlightens” – the ancient role of the jewel as protection, something far more profound than an indulgent luxury. “Now that we have all we need, we’re looking for something to nurture our soul.”

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A former Microsoft and Coca-Cola marketing executive, Sirin had her own moment of enlightenment some 10 years ago, leaving the safety of her job to search for a new direction, embarking on an in-depth study of symbols, mysticism and alchemy. Her collection (from £195) focuses on the concept of the goddess; the eternal feminine. To her first naïve elliptical depiction of the goddess Artemis (necklace, £1,990), she added more symbols, building a huge compendium of compelling little signs and shapes. Among them are the arrow of Eros; a bolt of lightning (earrings, £5,800), the light of heaven, inspiration and creativity; and the honey bee, queen of the sun. Part of a new, limited-edition series (from £990), the lacy seven-layered Rosamundi is emblematic, explains Sirin, of the journey towards the centre of the heart. Made in Istanbul, the delicate jewels are set with white or black diamonds, light and easy to wear – precious pieces to keep close at all times. “Each client is intuitively attracted to a particular symbol,” says Sirin.  The wearer, she continues, then adds her own interpretation or wish to the jewel, a process Sirin calls co-creation. “Talismans are like fairytales.”

In India, where beliefs about the powers of gemstones are alive and well, and taken very seriously, a yellow sapphire is often worn on the index finger of the right hand, explains Samir Lilani of Amrapali jewellers, with the stone touching the skin “to keep karma in balance with the universe”. Over the past few years, he has seen a huge surge of popularity among western clients for deeply spiritually imbued Indian jewels (bracelet, £29,700), particularly the traditional Navratna pendant (earrings, £770), with its nine divine gemstones corresponding to the planets. “Our take on it is not literal; we play around with the arrangements of the stones and their sizes, which should really all be exactly the same.” But its enduring appeal is as much in the potency of its symbolism as in its aesthetics – what we think it can do, as much as how lovely it looks. “People believe in its power,” says Lilani, simply. Or as Dionea Orcini puts it, “We all need a touch of magic.”

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