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IHT Special Report Explores New, Old Jewelry Trends

16 june 2009

International Herald Tribune: The following five stories explore various jewelry techniques, styles and designs. The report was posted on www.diamonds.net.

The True Grit Behind the Glitter in Paris

Paris swarms with jewelry "créateurs" — the independent designers who sell under their own name, without the backing of major fashion or jewelry houses; few of them reach the Place Vendôme. To get there is an achievement, and to stay requires stamina and a capacity for constant renewal, qualities that Mr. Bäumer and Mr. Tournaire are relying on this year to see them through the economic slump.

"The secret to survival on the Place Vendôme is work, work and work — that is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration," said Mr. Bäumer in his third-floor showroom overlooking the plaza, quoting Thomas Edison. To weather the storm, both Mr. Tournaire and Mr. Bäumer are increasing their visibility and expanding their horizons beyond the ambit of the place.

Last month, Mr. Bäumer introduced a slick, high-tech metal case for the cosmetic giant Guerlain's new "Rouge G lipstick line, a collaboration that represented a first foray into cosmetic design for the jeweler. "I combined design and haute joaillerie techniques to make the invisible hinges, the magnet closure and the laser inscriptions for this case," Mr. Bäumer said. "It was not such a stretch, since the lipstick itself contains ruby powder."

In the past, Mr. Bäumer has designed for Baccarat crystals, Bernardaud porcelains and jewelry for Cartier and Piaget, among others. But this was the first time that his name was officially associated with a corporate label.

"In the past, my designs were identifiable but my name was never mentioned," he said. "This time, having my name associated with Guerlain's was a condition of my collaboration."

At 44 years of age, having spent two decades anonymously designing jewelry for Chanel before striking out on his own in 1992, Mr. Bäumer is on the road to becoming a household name. "My work is about one-of-a-kind pieces — I had an aversion to multiples and collections," he said. "The idea this year was reaching a wider audience. With Guerlain's lipstick, the possibility of touching a large number of women seduced me."

In October, the luxury group LVMH Möet Hennessy Louis Vuitton will introduce a line of fine jewelry designed by Mr. Bäumer for the luggage maker Louis Vuitton. A sample set, titled "Les Ardentes" — a series of white-diamond-set pieces reinterpreting Louis Vuitton's monogram flower — has already been introduced. There again, the designer's name will be prominent.

Still, Mr. Bäumer disclaims any conscious brand-building plan. "None of these ventures was part of a formal strategy," he said. "I go where inspiration takes me."

A few doors away, Mr. Tournaire, who has been on the Place Vendôme since 2004, is embarking on a more deliberate expansion strategy. "Despite the grim economic news from the U.S., we have had a lot of interest there for our mid- to high-range pieces, starting at $10,000," he said in an interview at his boutique at No.7 Place Vendôme.

With the help of ViewPoint, a New York marketing agency that specializes in designer development and brand-building, Mr. Tournaire hopes that, come autumn, he will be selling in several luxury department stores in the U.S. "Even though we are expanding, our focus is on preserving our artistic orientation," Mr. Tournaire said. "We want to be known abroad, but we remain artisanal."

In Paris, Mr. Tournaire is planning to open a new boutique in the more intimate Rive Gauche, or Left Bank, to offset the intimidation factor of the Place Vendôme. "Being on the place is great for marketing, but we need more visibility in a busier, more commercial area," he said.

For the past several months, too, Mr. Tournaire has been paying house calls to show his collection privately to clients, and making presentations at corporate functions about precious stones and the art of jewelry-making. "People like to meet the artist in person," he said.

Mr. Bäumer's architecturally inspired pieces combine geometric design with an engineer's intrinsic sense of balance. "I start with drawings, like an architect," he said. "But to attain fresh, timeless beauty, mathematical formulas and equations must fade away."

More figurative in its conception, Mr. Tournaire's "Dream House" collection has its source in Merovingian rings found in the tombs of aristocratic women dating from 6th-century Gaul. "The 'house' motif was rediscovered in the 16th and 17th centuries with Jewish medieval wedding rings," Mr. Tournaire said. "The edifices on those rings symbolized both the married couple's new home and the destroyed temple of Jerusalem."

"The Dream House series represents a kind of timeless architecture in which one wanders and imagines." Mr. Tournaire has taken that concept about as far as it can go, designing entire villages on a ring, and even, in one case, a version of New York City, complete with high-rises.

But more typically he will replicate, on demand, a client's villa, complete with outdoor pool, stairways and planted gardens. "In the end, it is the one-to-one relationship with the client that is inspiring," he said. Or, as Mr. Bäumer puts it, "Crisis or not, my job is to make my client dream."

The Intriguing Comforts of Carefully Calibrated Chance

In a workshop in St. Maur des Fossés, on the southeast fringes of Paris, a giant table is strewn with brightly colored semiprecious stones, beads, pearls, feathers, crystals and precious woods. Here Eric Lopez, the creative spirit behind the jewelry and accessories brand Appartement à Louer, is mixing and matching, weaving and knitting together his coming winter collection.

On one side of the table lies a series of bracelets executed with a rough, blackened metallic finish, to which are attached strings of black stones of various shapes and sizes. There are definitely 19th century funerary influences.

Yet, by some process of alchemy, the overall effect is sumptuous rather than gloomy. On the back wall, a storyboard of images inspired by a Byzantine theme shows where the collection is heading.

"In times of crisis and recession people want to be comforted and cosseted and elevated in spirit by opulence," Mr. Lopez said in an interview. "The last thing women will give up is that one accessory which will totally change the look of last year's outfit."

Mr. Lopez has a knack for doing just that, and at prices that feel affordable — $490 (EUR 370) for a typical necklace — even amid recessionary angst. How he does it is not always clear, even to him. He says he often does not know, as he works, where his creative edge will lead him, or what the result will be.

He does not follow fashion. He gleans ideas from visits to museums and auction houses, seeking out vintage costume jewelry for inspiration.

Chance plays a role even in decisions like choosing a name for the business. At the Drouot auction rooms in Paris one day, Mr. Lopez bought a miscellaneous lot hoping to find some interesting jewelry; instead, he found a House for Rent sign — "Appart à Louer." He thought, "That would be an intriguing name for the brand."

"I created my company in 2001 and things moved very fast," he said. A hand-sewn carpet, decorated with 50,000 pearls, jadestones and peacock feathers earned early admiration for the interior design side of the business; a chance high-profile endorsement did wonders for the jewelry line.

When Blake Lively, starring as Serena van der Woodsen in the American television cult series "Gossip Girl," twisted one of his multistrand silver chain necklaces into her hair last year, sales soared, Mr Lopez said. Since then, "I haven't looked back."

From modest beginnings in the living room of his home in Fontenay sous Bois, on the eastern edge of Paris, the business moved into its current 300-square-meter (3,200-square-foot) headquarters two years ago. Here, 18 people work, putting together prototypes of the 240 models a year that Mr. Lopez designs, paying meticulous attention to the weight, balance and harmonious distribution of the many elements which go into each piece.

In some pieces, pearls are knitted together with chain links, threaded through with crystals and backed with leather. A necklace may be large and bulky, but it must fit lightly around the neck and not weigh the wearer down. Much research and development goes into adjusting and calibrating: Extra beads and links will be added until a perfect fit is achieved.

Mr. Lopez sources his materials from all over the world — "I have a great address book of suppliers," he said — but production takes place in small craft workshops around the Paris region, each carefully selected for a particular skill. "Every piece is unique, because no stone is exactly the same and the work is essentially handcrafted from the beginning to the end of the creative process," Mr. Lopez said. Appartement à Louer sells through several hundred outlets worldwide, including Henri Bendel on Fifth Avenue in New York, Joyce in Hong Kong, Beams Japan in Tokyo and 40 stores in Paris.

So, is the global crisis hurting? Mr. Lopez smiles. "Vive la crise," he says.

A British Jewelry Tribute to a New Golden age

The Goldsmiths Company of London, one of 12 Great Livery Companies descended from the City's medieval guilds, is preparing an exhibition of contemporary jewelry this summer called Creation II. In 2004, it used Creation I to focus on leading silversmiths. The follow-up brings together work by a dozen of the most distinguished artist-jewelers working in Britain.

The 12 artists, spanning three generations, have created miniature sculptures in precious materials that aspire to be both expressive pieces of art and companions of the people who will wear them. Mary La Trobe-Bateman, a champion of the applied arts in Britain, is curator of the show, which will be on view at Goldsmiths' Hall from May 29 to July 11.

For most of the 20th century, jewelry making was dominated by famous houses like Cartier, Bucheron, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany and Asprey, where skilled craftsmen and women toiled anonymously to create exquisite settings for precious stones of breathtaking rarity and expense. What mattered ultimately was the value of the stones, not the originality of the setting.

But in the 1950s and '60s, independent artists in Europe began to find in jewelry not just a satisfying technical and design challenge but also a stimulating medium for expressing their ideas. New priorities led to the exploration of new materials and techniques, and a different relationship, more like that of artist and collector, was forged between creator and customer. The "New Jewelry Movement" evolved.

Britain was slower to catch on. When Gerda Flöckinger started to study painting, in 1945 at St. Martin's School of Art in London, jewelry was still taught there essentially as a design and craft discipline, considered of little value to a serious artist. It was Ms. Flöckinger — who later became a noted artist/jeweler — who eventually set up a pioneering course in modern jewelry at the Hornsey College of Art in 1962.

Since then, other colleges — notably Middlesex University, Edinburgh College of Art and the Royal College of Art — have developed thriving jewelry departments, represented in this show.

Medieval Emblems of Piety

From the pious gold stirrup rings of the Gothic period to the flashy, bezel-set jewels worn by Byzantium's wealthiest merchants, medieval society had a ring for every occasion: marriage rings, signet rings, iconographic rings, merchant rings, bishop's rings, mourning rings and posy rings for lovers, engraved with lines of verse. In "Roman to Renaissance: A Private Collection of Rings," on view May 12 to 22 at the London art and antiques dealer Wartski, the collector Sandra Hindman offers an original take on art history in the Merovingian, Byzantine, medieval and Renaissance periods through her collection of 35 museum-quality rings, valued between $20,000 to $110,000 each.

"I wanted to relate the rings to other works of art, to put them in an art-historical context," said Dr. Hindman, a professor of art history at Northwestern University in Chicago. She cited a thin 13th-century gold stirrup ring that belongs to the collection. Although shaped like a horse's stirrup, the name, she said, is a misnomer. "In fact, these are bishop's rings, and they originated at the exact same time they started doing pointed arches in Gothic cathedrals," she said.

Gemstones appeared later — polished into cabochons, said Dr. Hindman, so as not to offend God, who, it was thought, would have cut them with facets if he had wanted them that way.

"People say you buy Bulgari or Chanel to show to others and you buy medieval rings to please yourself," Dr. Hindman said, looking down at a 15th-century English iconographic ring on the middle finger of her left hand. "It's not a status symbol," she said, holding the ring up to display an inscription on the inside of the band — "Nothing so good as you." "It's very personal."

Paris Street Art Becomes Elegant Knuckle-Duster

Béatrice Philippeaux, known as Anjuna, was born in 1971 near Paris, she trained as a goldsmith at the prestigious Boulle school in the French capital, and subsequently worked in haute couture jewelry before starting her own brand 10 years ago.

"Friends brought me broken hip-hop jewelry that they had bought in New York, and I repaired it for them. Then I decided to create it myself."

Using traditional techniques, Anjuna creates handmade, made to measure, personalized pendants, rings, bracelets and buckles that turn street art into body ornaments. "I use ancestral techniques that have existed since further back than the Egyptians and create contemporary jewelry," she said in an interview.

Basing her work on calligraphy, she calls on a mix of typographies, from graffiti to gothic. Her client list includes Virgin Records, Kylie Minogue, Warner Bros. — she made 300 rings inscribed with the word "Music" to go with Madonna's album of the same name — and Karl Lagerfeld.

A silver name bracelet by Anjuna costs about $800 (EUR 600) and weighs in at about 200 grams, or seven ounces. In 18-karat gold it costs $16,000 (EUR 12,000) and weighs 300 grams. Her latest collection is in bicolored plexiglass, with high-profiled sculptural pieces inspired by Mongol and Indian architecture.