It’s been just a few weeks since the full gorgeousness of the new high-jewellery collections emerged. As always, ravishing gemstones are transformed into thrilling designs by virtuoso hands, but this time there’s an unusual mood pervading the hauteur of haute joaillerie: a spirit of luxuriant informality, of flexibility, fluidity and effortless elegance. It’s the gemstone equivalent of a Chanel jacket worn with jeans. The route to this thoroughly modern casual opulence? One of the earliest jewellery idioms: precious gemstones fashioned into glossy globules of intense colour and light that tumble in torrents and roll in silky streams, not only in necklaces or bracelets, but often as sculptural accents to a design – on a ring or brooch, for example – in place of the conventional set gemstone. Designs can evoke a tribal feel, a 1920s flapper or perhaps the amber strings of the Bloomsbury Set, but all foster a close connection with the wearer, both physically and emotionally; beads move with and caress the body, and are tactile and comforting when you run them through your fingers, like worry beads or a rosary.
Those in deep, rich tones of mellow gold, succulent berry or peacock blue-green cascade through Cartier’s new high-jewellery collection, Etourdissant Cartier (prices on request), softening lines and shapes with sensuality. A bracelet fringed with beads strokes the back of the hand, a long back necklace trickles lilac chalcedony and shadowy amethyst beads down the spine, while the voluptuous Eté Indien cuff is clustered with leaves and flowers, each one carved, tutti frutti style, from beads of red, mandarin and tsavorite garnets or sapphire, their warm glow picking up the glinting colours of a central opal. The luscious ruby beads of the knockout Mamba Snake necklace ripple down towards a colossal glossy black sapphire, over which slithers a black onyx, lacquer and diamond serpent.
Alisa Moussaieff, the indomitable force behind Moussaieff jewellers, who often wears a lust-inducing rope of glossy imperial-jade beads, loves them because “they’re not too dressy”. She relishes the freedom of the form, the exuberance of mixing cuts and colours, often adding briolette diamond beads to her creations – as in a long necklace (price on request) featuring 93ct of blue and yellow sapphire beads, with a diamond and sapphire beaded tassel. Michel Ermelin, designer, creator and owner of Verney Paris – who produces some of the most exquisite bead and tassel jewels around – loves making a “big show” with hundreds of carats of emerald, sapphire or ruby beads, adding that “beads are the essence of classical, yet they’re fun, they have humour and movement. They’re alive.” His Alhambra earrings (€13,800) dangle 72.68ct of vermilion-red spinels, accented with soft grey diamonds.
And whereas once beads could get away with being fashioned from a less valuable material, their place in high jewellery means that they are of the finest quality. “The material has to be flawless, the beads perfect,” affirms London-based designer-jeweller Lauren Adriana – one of the most dynamic talents in the jewellery world right now, a staunch modernist with an informed passion for the past who reinterprets the role of beads, challenging their form and function. “Beads are not just used now in an ethnic way – they’re modern and sculptural. They bring a new dimension and depth to a jewel and an intensity of colour without glitter. We also use beads to play with contrasts of translucencies and opacity.” On the Glacier long drop earrings (price on request), beads take the form of thin slices of aquamarine trailing light and movement down towards pear-shaped aquamarines. “We try to use beads in a modernist way, to take away the rigidity and formality in fine jewellery,” she says. Similarly, G by Glenn Spiro takes a modern approach – topping and tailing an impressive marquise-cut yellow diamond with a white-diamond bead to create a very different, luminous take on the precious single-stone diamond ring (price on request).
At David Morris too, precious gem beads are a major component – most striking on a radiating fringe collar (price on request) with lusciously rich Burma rubies and contrasting diamonds – adding movement, sensuality, a play of light, colour and texture that is imposing yet fluid, modern yet evocative of royal historic jewels.
Bulgari, the king of coloured gems, also plays with the concept and shape of beads in its latest high-jewellery collection, Giardini Italiani (prices on request). Jewellery creative director Lucia Silvestri uses them as topiary-like accents in jewels such as the Secret Garden necklace, where they are dotted around a diamond collar that bursts into multicoloured gem flowers centred around an emerald bead, and in contemporised chandelier earrings of specially carved pink and green tourmalines, with amethyst beads and diamonds. Such pieces revive Bulgari’s long tradition of audaciously transforming the finest gems into beads, as well as its signature 1920s-inspired style of pinning each smooth cabochon in place with a diamond, so it faces forwards, instead of being pierced through – creating a carpet rather than a string of beads.
Indeed, gem beads reflect the current preoccupation with the finest coloured gemstones. At Graff – world renowned for diamonds – beads of superlative quality are becoming a major feature, adding intense colour, movement and emotion to the signature grandeur of its classic designs. “There is something wonderfully enigmatic about ruby, sapphire and emerald beads,” says chairman Laurence Graff. “With their smooth exterior and inner life, they are beguiling and captivating.” He explains that the process involved in creating a diamond or gemstone bead requires huge skill and is very time-consuming. “The technical ability to pierce each bead and the precision needed to polish it provide their own unique challenges. The results, though, are rewarding, creating an extraordinary sense of liberating movement and rhythm within the jewellery.” Some of the most spectacular Graff creations build drama and splendour through lush sapphire, emerald or ruby beads draped and tasselled on necklaces and earrings; a tassel necklace (price on request) of diamonds and emeralds exudes an air of modern aristocratic grandeur. “Many hundreds of hours are invested in each stage,” Graff continues, “from acquiring the material and matching each individual bead to piercing them. This latter stage alone can take several weeks, as the beads are delicate and easily break, on top of which the three-dimensional nature of beaded elements requires true perfection from every angle.”
The reasons for the bead’s return are multilayered, says Nicolas Bos, president, CEO and creative director of Van Cleef & Arpels. “It’s a way of re-exploring the past, from the Renaissance to Indian jewellery.” More practically, he adds, beads offer ”all the presence and strength of a necklace with the suppleness of a chain”. They’re playful, sensual and soft, with a freedom and freshness perfectly suited to today’s 1970s-style sautoir. ”Beads give us a way of developing high jewellery outside the usual formal approach,” he continues. He considers all these possibilities in the Seven Seas collection, conjuring the continual swaying movement of the ocean, the play of light on water and the sea’s ever-shifting tones. Particularly striking is the Treasure of the Sea long necklace (price on request) of lapis lazuli beads that’s punctuated with rubellite beads and pearls and set with aquamarines, Paraíba-like tourmalines and gadrooned blue chalcedony. What comes across here too is the contribution of the bead to a more graphic design mood. This is part of an overarching trend towards designs that rely on colour and texture rather than on figurative representation, concludes Bos.
Water, movement, light and shade are themes that are also played out in other high-jewellery collections. Cartier’s Etourdissant focuses on the crystalline light of the French Riviera and the shadows of sultry summer nights; a vibrant necklace (price on request) in Chaumet’s Lumières d’Eau collection matches beads of sun-warmed topaz with yellow sapphires and golden pearls, while the Muse suite (earrings, £96,000) in Chanel’s Café Society collection – its softly sculpted sapphire beads contrasting with geometric-cut diamonds – evokes both 1920s flapper necklaces and a twinkling night sky, one of Chanel’s enduring inspirations.
You can also be sure that where there are beads, there is usually a strong Indian inspiration too – witness those luscious multistrand necklaces, wine-coloured spinels and thick swaying tassels reminiscent of ceremonial turban ornaments. Boucheron’s Bleu de Jodhpur high-jewellery collection (from £35,000) mines the company’s close connections to Indian maharajahs in the 1920s. Incorporating beads was a natural step on the way to recreating the flavour and sensations of India, says creative director Claire Choisne, especially in evidence in a pair of one-of-a-kind emerald bead drop earrings (price on request). ”The soft shape of the gemstone beads works well with bold colours and even bolder designs,” she says.
This year too Caroline Scheufele, creative director of Chopard (long an advocate of a more casual, youthful opulence in high jewellery), has drawn on Indian inspiration for the extravagantly long and luscious bead sautoirs and theatrical shoulder-length beaded drop earrings in the Red Carpet collection. ”There is a very important, time-consuming process involved in categorising the stones in terms of diameter, light and exact colour,” Scheufele explains. Each bead has to be cut and hand-pierced by specialist lapidaries, so they all match exactly and flow like silk. She revels in the abundance of beads, which she can use in lavish quantities and unusual combinations of colour and shade, such as in the drop earrings (£107,610, pictured on opening pages) composed of cushion-shaped tanzanites with sapphire beads and amethysts, sapphires, diamonds and Paraíba tourmalines. “I love jewellery that reflects the mood and freedom of women,” she says. “There’s no limit to the creative possibilities of beads; jewellery made with them is sensual and emotional and has a life and a spirit of its own.”