US Holiday jewelry sales expected to skyrocket

According to Mastercard SpendingPulse, US jewelers can expect revenue from jewelry sales in the US between November 1 and December 24 will grow 59% compared to the same period last year.

17 september 2021

Australia becomes world’s biggest producer of gold for first time

Australia has become the world’s biggest producer of gold for the first time, having played second fiddle to China for the last decade. Australia unearthed 157 tons of gold in the first half of the year, pipping China by four tonnes.

17 september 2021

Nigerian minister mulls death penalty for gold smuggling – report

Nigeria’s deputy minister in charge of mines and steel development has called for the death penalty for gold smuggling in the West African country.

17 september 2021

Gemfields back to black

Gemfields is expected to register a net profit after tax of $23.8-million in the first half of the year compared with the net loss after tax of $56.7-million, a year earlier. Earnings per share are expected to be 2 US cents from a loss per share of 4...

17 september 2021

Debmarine Namibia's new diamond recovery vessel to arrive in SA next week

Debmarine Namibia’s new N$7 billion diamond recovery vessel, Additional Mining Vessel #3 (AMV3), is expected to arrive in Cape Town, South Africa next week ahead of commissioning early next year.

17 september 2021

The Second Coming of Fabergé

11 february 2009

Russia's rampant style of capitalism has bred a well-documented taste for bling among the oligarch class, the International Herald Tribune says in an article dedicated to the modern jewelry art in Russia. This gaudy ostentation, however, eclipses a more fundamental truth about Russians and jewelry: At the turn of the last century, they laid claim to one of the greatest jewelry cultures on earth.

Even casual observers can cite the work of Peter Carl Fabergé, whose gem-encrusted Easter eggs are synonymous with imperial glitz and glamour. Born to French Huguenots who had settled in St. Petersburg in the mid-19th century, he inherited the family business from his father, Gustav, and, along with contemporaries Carl Edvard Bolin and Pavel Ovchinnikov, built up a dazzling Russian jewelry tradition heralded for its opulence and incomparable workmanship.

The October Revolution of 1917 put an end, of course, to all that bourgeois extravagance. In its place, it ushered in a drab era of trinkets, or so-called "no-gems" jewelry, marked by lightweight metalwork and the meager sparkle provided by cheap synthetic stones. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russians were poised for a spectacular rejection of its austere sensibilities.

"There's the idea that Russians have had a lot of suffering," said Dr. G. Clotaire Rapaille, a medical anthropologist and psychiatrist and chairman of Archetype Discoveries Worldwide, a market research firm based in New York, who is currently studying what he terms the "Russian code," or the unconscious associations that Russians make when buying consumer products. "Today, they're waking up and realizing that and they want revenge - and luxury is the best revenge."

This uniquely Russian brand of vengeance has given rise to a generation of jewelers eager to revive, if not inherit, the Fabergé legacy. Pallinghurst Resources, a mining investment company that bought the Fabergé brand from Unilever 18 months ago, will claim the most overt bragging rights when it relaunches the name in April. But there are other contenders, too.

More than 3,500 jewelry manufacturers and 20,000 jewelry-trading companies have formed in Russia since 1991, said Alexey Shcherbina, editor in chief of Russian Diamonds & Jewellery, a trade magazine. "The fact that Russian jewelers were isolated for so long became their competitive advantage, as they managed to create really unique pieces," Shcherbina said, citing techniques like enameling, filigree work and stone setting as Russian strong suits.

He might also have said diamonds, fields of which underlie the frozen expanses of the Russian Arctic. Lev Leviev, a native of Uzbekistan, made a fortune exploiting them and parlayed it into a string of eponymous salons - in New York, London, Dubai and as of this autumn, Moscow - that vie with Graff and De Beers for the billionaire business. Giving him a run for his money, however, is a group of emerging designers whose jewels come closer to reflecting the legendary Russian soul.

Among the rising stars, a standout is Jewellery Theatre, founded 10 years ago by Irina Dorofeeva and Maxim Voznesensky. At their boutique on Kutuzovsky Prospekt in Moscow, windows cloaked in black cloth feature shifting spotlights and music evoking an elaborate stage production. The leading roles belong to an avant-garde collection of diamond and pearl jewels with a supernatural beauty that recalls the brilliant world conjured up in Mikhail Bulgakov's celebrated novel, "The Master and Margarita."

"We are doing all we can to revive the traditions of Russian jewelry art and return it to the level it was at before the revolution," Voznesensky said. "Today, Jewellery Theatre is less a commercial enterprise than it is a cultural and educational organization."

Indeed, an entire art history lesson could be gleaned from just one of the company's myriad collections. Karen Kettering, vice president of Russian works of art and icons at Sotheby's in New York, said a pearl pendant on the Jewellery Theatre Web site fashioned in the shape of a pommée, or bezant, cross - a cross with a roundel at the end of each arm - was "straight out of Byzantine art, which makes perfect sense because the Russians are the sole heirs of Byzantine culture and were its preservers after the Ottoman Turks took over Constantinople."

Another company, Lobortas & Karpova, founded 17 years ago in Kiev, filters the same traditions through a distinctly Ukrainian lens. Its collection of hand-fabricated, one-of-a-kind jewels includes a wide selection of hard-fired enamels, made by a technique brought to the medieval state of Kievan Rus from Byzantium. One enamel brooch, for example, depicts a fairly-tale lion inspired by the artwork of Ukrainian painter Maria Primachenko.

"They call their style 'romantic avant-garde' and I describe it as Russian art nouveau - very flowing, more natural and organic than the French," said Gene Davidov, a distributor based in New York who is working with the husband-and-wife designers Igor Lobortas and Irina Karpova to expand their business beyond the Ukrainian market.

The effort, Davidov said, is not without its challenges. While Russia is blessed with precious resources beyond diamonds - including the historic Malyshev emerald mine on the outskirts of Yekaterinburg, where the Soviets notoriously crushed gems to make use of their beryllium content - a dearth of suppliers of components, like clasps and hooks, means "Lobortas has to make everything from scratch."

In this respect, they are following in the footsteps of an earlier age, best represented by Ukraine's most famous jeweler, Joseph Marchak. His firm, once known as the Cartier of Kiev, opened for business in 1878 and quickly earned a following among the Romanovs. The revolution drove the Marchak family to Paris, where they opened a boutique on Rue de la Paix in the central First Arrondissement. It closed in 1989 and remained shuttered until 2005, when Daniel Marchac, heir to the dynasty, led an effort to reopen a salon on the nearby Rue de Richelieu, breathing new life into the family name.

Marchak's exuberant gemstone creations epitomize the vibrancy of the Russian jewelry diaspora, a far-flung community of émigré jewelers with their own idiosyncratic takes on Russian style.

At M&L Jewelry in Los Angeles, for example, brothers Michael and Leon Landver, originally from Kiev, recently unveiled the Jirayr collection of cocktail rings paying tribute to the crests, cupolas and heraldic eagles of Russian iconography. Designed by the Armenian expatriate Jirayr Gyurjyan, the candy-like rings are crowned by jawbreaker-size quartz and topaz stones set in wide 18-karat gold shanks. The Russian aesthetic, Michael Landver said, is "elegant but also a little barbarian."

Perhaps, then, it is no coincidence that jewels big enough to pack a wallop are a specialty of the Belarus-born Lena Sklyut. In 2005, the New York designer launched a fine jewelry collection featuring stones weighing as much as 500 carats, along with her signature motif, an S-shaped snake coiled around the letter L.

"Most Americans who see the pieces say the Russians would definitely like them because everything is so big," Sklyut said. "But when I went to Moscow in May, the Russians said they thought the jewelry looked American because 'they like everything big - big houses, big cars."'

"I think the jewelry incorporates both worlds," Sklyut said. "You can't really separate them."